Rachel announced that this was her favorite holiday! It being so close to Memorial Day… I figured it was that holiday to which she referred…
But no, she had another day in mind. “Come on”, she prodded me… “you know… that Jewish Holiday…”
Armed with that hint I was able to dredge up from memory the holiday of Shavuot (as a kid growing up it was called Shavuos… the variant spelling owing to the difference in Ashkenazic — Germany & Eastern Europe — pronounciation and the Sephardic — Spain, the Levant & now Israel itself). Regardless of pronounciation and spelling… this Holiday is not “front page stuff”, like say Rosh Hashonah, Yom Kippur & Passover. Dollars to donuts a sizeable majority of American Jews know little of nothing of this Holiday beyond it’s name.
You can mark Rachel’s Day on your calendar: May 24th… or more to the point: the Sixth Day of Sivan. The day is calculated by measuring seven weeks from the second day of Passover… and the next day is Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks). Passover marks the liberation of the Hebrew slaves from Pharoah’s yoke and Shavuot marks the Nation of Israel accepting the Torah and committing itself to serving God.
You wonder about the intervening 49 days. What was that about? I figure they should have signed on right after crossing the Red Sea. “Thank God we’re out of here!” Something held them back… maybe they were concerned about getting stuck with a whole bunch of rules that made living difficult… things like no bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches… and you can’t turn on lights during the sabbath, and you have to memorize a bunch of stuff for your Bar Mitzvah, and the services are far too long… and then real technical things that scholars study, argue and debate about (for thousands of years, I might add) without resolution. Yes, I can see that it would have given one pause for thought.
I think the instigator for the delay was Dathan, the Hebrew overseer for the Pharoah. Portrayed by Edward G. Robinson in the film Ten Commandments, he was my favorite character… a poor weasel of a man who would sell his soul for a talent of gold: “I am here, girl, because I would put no fear in a desert god and his mud-pit prophet. I am here because I bowed lower than my brothers before the Egyptians. Now the Egyptians bow low before me. Joshua wanted you. Baka wanted you. But you belong to me, a gift from Rameses.”
Dathan, even if he was ficticious, could stir things up… I can see it… “Do you really want to give up lobster?? Do you really want to fast on Yom Kippur?” Yes… I think it would take me 49 days to think about it. Maybe we should have thought about it a little longer… like maybe 4000 years, or at least until Sandy Koufax could have pitched in the World Series. Well… what’s done is done, and we have Shavuot every 6th of Sivan.
I don’t ever recall “celebrating” Shavuot when I was growing up… I think it was mentioned once or twice in Sunday School. The other Jewish Holdiays are more understandable to me. Feast of Weeks? “Feast”? Well… we commemorate the day with an all-night Torah study session. In Synagogue we read the Book of Ruth. We eat dairy foods (a good blintz every now and then is a good thing). We decorate homes and synagogues with greenery. I don’t know if all this constitutes a “Feast”. Personally… the “all-night Torah sudy session” would be a deal killer for me. I didn’t even do that for Erik Hansen’s 20th Century European History Final at Union.
I can live with blintzes.
Still, it’s mighty impressive that our Miss Rachel has adoped this day as the highlight of the year. Impressive, in part, because Rachel was raised as a Catholic. But it gets a little complicated here… Rachel’s Dad is Jewish… Rachel’s Mom is Catholic. So I am told… when Rachel was 5 a plate of Manicotti and a plate of Gefilte Fish were put before her and she was asked to choose. I can understand her choice.
Yet… here it was… the 6th of Sivan… and she felt the primordal tug. A tug that goes back 4000 years when Dathan asked, “Do you really want to give up cheeseburgers?”