Joanne Palmer
Joanne Palmer

Shavuot and Memorial Day

It feels like this shelter-in-place thing has been going on for a very long time.
Many of us have found that our sense of time is unreliable. Time slips and jumps like a silent movie. Some things take forever although they shouldn’t, and other things go by so very quickly.
It’s been just about seven weeks since Pesach; Shavuot starts on Thursday. Those weeks often seems to go slowly, but now, with no events — no evenings with friends, no theater, no movies, no shul, no restaurants, really no nothing — it seems to have flown.
So it’s almost surprising the Shavuot is just about here.
There’s another day that sneaked up on us, looming over the formless void of our days, formidable and grim. It’s Memorial Day. It’s this Monday. The overwhelming oddness of our situation is encapsulated in the fact that this is Memorial Day weekend, and we don’t even really realize it.
Memorial Day, like Shavuot, is more than one thing. Shavuot is both the revelation at Sinai and the spring harvest. Memorial Day remembers the sacrifices of our armed forces, who died to keep us free, and it is also – perhaps ironically, because who wants to remember death in the glorious bright green and flower-bright air around us – the unofficial start of summer.
These two holidays are very different, but they’re also alike. Both are seasonal. Both happen in the midst of beauty. Both are about sacrifice and responsibility. (The yoke of the Torah that the Israelites accepted isn’t always easy to bear.) And right now, despite the blossoming around us, death is in the air.
And so is gratitude.
Now seems to be a good time to thank everyone who has sacrificed to keep us safe, both now and then.
Now seems to be a good time to say no to the hatred, the name-calling, the blame-shifting, and all the other diversionary tactics that are dividing us. If we are going to fight covid-19, if we are going to honor the dead and nourish our world and retain our belief in science and goodness and democracy and hope and love, we have to do it together.
That’s the lesson of Shavuot, and it’s the lesson of Memorial Day.
We wish all our readers a joyous, inspiring, intellectually and emotionally and spiritually uplifting Shavuot and a happy and grateful Memorial Day. We hope that the world will follow the values of both days, and that it will result in a better summer. A summer of hope.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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