Isaac Asimov’s Book of Ruth

I’ve written about Shavuot several times over the past few years. In 2015, I wrote on the culmination of the counting of the Omer and the concept of “our lives as torah.” Last year, when Loving Day and Shavuot fell at the same time, I reflected on Jews and interracial marriage. In that blog, I recounted reasons I’d found that we read The Book of Ruth on Shavuot, “…the story takes place during the seasonal harvest that the holiday marks; Ruth’s acceptance of the Israelite faith is analogous to the Jewish people’s acceptance of Torah; and because of the legend that King David, a descendant of Ruth, died on Shavuot.”

Last week my friend Abbie Egherman told me about the 1972 Isaac Asimov book, The Story of Ruth. Abbie is on a search for books that will inspire us, as Jews, to become more deeply and actively involved in refugee support and resettlement. According to Asimov’s memoir, his retelling of Ruth’s story is a long essay treating the book “as a plea for tolerance against the cruelty of the scribe Ezra, who forced the Jews to ‘put away’ their foreign wives.” Asimov’s essay places the story in context of the culture of the time it was written, but his purpose, as explained in his memoir, was to reflect on the potential of any people to become persecutors when in positions of power. In particular, he wanted Jews to look at our own history, situations in which we have been in power as well as eras when we have not.

There will be plenty of time to discuss Asimov’s reflection, as well as other retellings of the Book of Ruth at our congregation’s Shavuot gathering.

 

AARC Shavuot in Stages

May 30, 2017

Everyone Welcome

RSVP Here 

Location: Marcy Epstein’s home, 1307 Henry St.:

6:30pm Holiday blessing, Parsha Study, and Spring Soup

7:30 Community celebration with flower strands and wreaths and Ice cream treats

8:30 “Many Books of Ruth” Real storytelling, with wine and cheese tasting

Also:

May 31st 6:30-7:30 Yiskor/Memorial Serivce at the JCC

contact for Marcy: dr_marcy@hotmail.com

Loving Day and Shavuot

Diaspora mapping at Jews of Color National Convening May 2016

Diaspora mapping at Jews of Color National Convening May 2016

This year, 2016, the Jewish festival holiday of Shavuot, and the celebration of Loving Day, fall on June 12. This has set me to musing. Shavuot is our celebration of the giving of Torah at Mt. Sinai, and Loving Day commemorates the day in 1967 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all laws (which still remained in sixteen states) that banned interracial marriage. It is celebrated by interracial families around the globe, according to the lovingday.org website, to fight racial prejudice and to build multicultural community. This is the first year that Shavuot and Loving Day have occurred on the same day.

On Shavuot, Jews traditionally read the Book of Ruth, the story of a Moabite woman who, after her Israelite husband dies, joins her mother-in-law Naomi, and confirms her Israelite identity with the words, “whither you go, I will go, wherever you lodge, I will lodge, your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” The reasons given for reading Ruth on Shavuot are that the story takes place during the seasonal harvest that the holiday marks; that Ruth’s acceptance of the Israelite faith is analogous to the Jewish people’s acceptance of Torah; and because of the legend that King David, a descendant of Ruth, died on Shavuot.

The confluence this year of these two holidays is an opportunity to think about Ruth’s words in today’s racially tense and divided world, at a time when many of our families are interracial and there is a growing recognition that Jews are a multiracial people. Traditionally, we view Ruth who, as a convert, leaves her Moabite self behind and throws in her lot with the Jewish people. Today we understand marriage and all relationships as reciprocal: Ruth and Naomi will need to lodge where each, and both together, are accepted and safe. Today we recognize and appreciate that individuals bring all of themselves into their relationships and families. We don’t ask a convert to cut themselves off from their past, or leave out any part of themselves. And corollary to this, we recognize that, as a multiracial people, all Jews are affected by racism. Which makes me think: How would our community and our lives be different if each of us would say to each individual in our community “whither you go, I will go, wherever you lodge, I will lodge, your people will be my people, and our God is one.”

Saturday June 11, 7:30pm: Shavuot–the celebration of our receiving the Torah. Judith Jacobs will host us at her house, and serve the traditional blintzes. Sign up here to attend. We’ll read a retelling of the story from “Listen to Her Voice: Women of the Hebrew Bible” and then focus on a chapter of “Reading Ruth: Contemporary Women Reclaim a Sacred Story” (Please note, this gathering is instead of our Second Saturday service that morning.)

This year’s Michigan Loving Day celebration is in Grand Rapids, hosted by Ebony Road Players.

“We heard God’s words without using our ears.”

Shuli and Me“We heard God’s words without using our ears.” So Shavuot is described at the end of Shuli and Me: From Slavery to Freedom, the storybook Omer calendar by Joan Benjamin-Farren you will hear at the AARC havdallah and Shavuot observance. The story, told from a freed slave child’s point of view, imagines those first seven weeks in the desert. We have been following the cloud. Today we are camped at the foot of the mountain. We’ve washed our clothes. We are waiting.

After havdallah, Rabbi Michal will lead us in a discussion of approaches to the concept of torah; the capital “T” Torah, the five books in our traditional scroll, and other uses of the concept of torah. A couple that speak to me, for instance: In a Kol Nidre sermon Rabbi Mona Alfi quoted the medieval scholar, Bachya ibn Pakuda: “Days are like scrolls, only write on them what you want to be remembered.” She explained, “In essence, what Bachya ibn Pakuda was saying is that each life is a Torah for future generations to examine and learn from.”

A description of Carol Ochs’ book Our Lives as Torah: Finding God in Our own Stories, says “Through the process of seeing our experiences in relation to Biblical stories, we begin to recognize our lives as part of the ongoing story of the Jewish people–as Torah.”

Let’s meet there, at the mountain, and discuss: May 23rd 7:30pm till ? At the home, still, of Rabbi Michal and Jon Sweeney, 2960 Lakeview Drive. Dairy, dessert potluck. Early evening all ages, after havdallah for adults, childcare available. Email Clare or Rabbi Michal.