The signs of spring are everywhere. I never cease to marvel at the rebirth of the Earth, from the flowers and trees to the profusion of new life. We tidy up the garden, move out the plants, and hang up the hummingbird feeders. The hibernating species shake awake and the migratory types wing their way back. And as Jews we celebrate our spring holidays.
By the time you read this, our great spring festival of Pesach will have passed over. Pesach celebrates not only spring awakening (in a nice coincidence it corresponded with Earth Day this year), but the rebirth of our people to freedom. If our biblical ancestors were to drop by they would recognize our holiday celebration with little problem. While the fifteen steps of the seder and the Haggadah have evolved over time, the essential story and symbols have remained unchanged. Passover, as essentially a home holiday, is the most widely observed of the Jewish holidays, by a long shot.
The same cannot be said of the biblical festival that follows “a week of weeks” later-Shavuot. Though it celebrates the first harvest and the momentous giving of the Torah at Sinai on the fiftieth day after the Exodus (and like Pesach was the object of a national pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem) today Shavuot is not well marked in the non-Orthodox community. Yet it is when we read the Ten Commandments and the beautiful Book of Ruth. Our Confirmation Class will uphold that tradition at our service on June 10 (7:30 pm). Celebrate the holiday and support our wonderful teens who dedicate three years after bar/bat mitzvah to this accomplishment.
Our biblical forbears would certainly not recognize two other special days that mark spring in the Jewish calendar, because they commemorate two epochal events of the 20th century-the Holocaust and the creation of the State of Israel. Yom HaShoah falls this on May 5 (there is a community ceremony in Fair Lawn that evening) and we will include appropriate music and words at our Shabbat evening service on May 6. One week later is Yom Ha’Atzmaut-we gladly celebrate the 68th birthday of modern Israel at our Shabbat evening service on May 13.
The Holocaust and the rebirth of Israel happened within the lifetime of older members of our community. But the passage of decades dims the memory for the generations that follow. There is no substitute for directly hearing from and seeing the eyewitnesses to the tragedy and the triumph. In the same way that I feel sorry that my children did not know my immigrant grandparents, and learn first-hand what it took to leave Eastern Europe and rebuild their lives in America, so we will face the challenge of the Holocaust and Israel’s founding moving from living history for us to “ancient” history for our youth.
As the most successful example of keeping memory alive, perhaps we can take a clue from the Passover seder. What new rituals can we create for the spring holidays that will enlighten and endure? The genius of the Jewish holidays is how they link the cycle of the seasons to the cycle of our history. In this age of environmentalism and globalism, as world citizens, but as bearers of ancient wisdom, there is much to ponder and to celebrate.