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.