There is a Jewish holiday to talk about: Shavuot has just occurred, from May 31-June 1.
Shavuot is one of the three “pilgrimage” holidays. This holiday is prescribed in the Torah, so it is of very early origin. The holiday commemorates the Giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. It is also a holiday for the first harvest of the year.
When there was a Temple in Jerusalem, prior to the year 70 CE, Jewish families would make a pilgrimage to the Temple, bringing the “first fruits” of the barley harvest, and of other new growth. Traditionally Jews eat dairy meals on Shavuot. At the synagogue services, the Book of Ruth is read, because it describes the barley harvest. I personally love the story of Ruth, because she is the prototypical “convert” to Judaism, and I am a convert myself.
I want to mention the Interfaith Service for Peace and Justice that I attended on May 8. The service was a collaboration of many religious groups in the Harrisburg area. It was held at the lovely Hadee Mosque on Division Street in Harrisburg.
There were representatives of many faiths present. The service was opened with a Buddhist ceremony. There were prayers given by Christian ministers, prayers given by Muslims, prayers given by a Hindu, prayers given by Jews, prayers given by a Bahai. We heard the Muslim call to prayer. Rabbi Choper and Rabbi Cytryn collaborated in blowing the Shofar. There was a lovely interpretive dance performed. There was a beautiful drum performance.
We all sat in silence, led by a local Quaker. We all prayed together—people of many faiths—for peace and for justice in our world, because we all know that much work needs to be done to bring it. I was so happy to be with such a wonderful diverse group of people who all wished to reach out to others and to join hands in friendship. We need so much more of that.
I also wanted to mention that we now have a chapter of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom established in the Central Pennsylvania area. We started meeting in April, and already I feel so blessed with new friendships with local Muslim women.
At our last meeting, I learned about Ramadan, which started at the end of May. Ramadan is based on a lunar calendar, so it moves around the year. So this year it is in June, during the longest days of the year. That is very hard on those who must refrain from food and water from sunrise to sundown. Most Muslims must work or go to school, so this places an extra burden on them.
I quite admire my sisters ability to do this—for 30 days! It almost makes me feel that we Jews have it relatively easy with fasting on Yom Kippur, and on minor fast days. I wish all my Muslim friends a Ramadan Mubarak, and hope that you find this holy month spiritually refreshing.
I feel so blessed to be living in this Central Pennsylvania area, where we can build such friendships. I hope that we can all can work to build bridges between our faith communities—all our faith communities—especially in these times where there is so much polarization.
We need to talk to each other and make friends with those that worship differently from us. We will find, I believe, that we are so much more alike than we are different. And we all worship the same God, regardless of the names we use.
Emily Burt-Hedrick is the President of the Congregation Beth Tikvah