Paul Mirbach

Shavuot: The Festival of Jews by Choice. A Salute.

Shavuot is my favorite chag. Every year I am amazed how viscerally I connect to the magic of it all. I am reminded of the Children of Israel from biblical times, who for seven weeks toiled arduously, in a race against time to complete the wheat harvest, which begins on the second day of Pesach, before the picking of the first fruits, which begins in the summer months. The 49 days of the Omer, which we count, reminds us of the urgency to finish the harvest before beginning to pick the fruits – so much so, that our forefathers had no time to shave, or cut their hair, or be distracted by celebrations, which is why those of us who observe the Omer eschew such grooming habits during this period, even today.
Every year, I find myself spellbound by the rustic enchantment of the chag. Part of this is because of a feeling only those of us who made Aliya from the Southern Hemisphere could understand – the way Shavuot aligns with the right season. In Zimbabwe, when we were asked to prepare a basket for Shavuot, it was autumn. We would decorate it with the red and yellow leaves that fell from the trees. The first fruits were from the wrong season – winter fruits; oranges, lemons, bananas, and avocado. And the ceremony would be held indoors, or we would be bundled up in jumpers and jackets against the chill. When I made Aliya, it all came together. It was a completion of the alignment. Not only seasonally, but emotionally. NOW I understood it all: the counting of the Omer, the hay bales, the ceremony of the presentation of first fruits, like the Temple priests would receive from the Israelites, who made the pilgrimage. It became so much more meaningful!

Shavuot on Tuval is simply sublime. The whole community comes together. Generations reunite as our children – both those who live here and those who have left, who make their own pilgrimage back home for the chag, come together, and for this day our family home is complete again. It becomes a reunion for them too with their childhood friends, and the camaraderie in the atmosphere is so tangible you can almost touch it. You just want to embrace it and cherish these moments. I delight in seeing our children’s generation grown up and with their chosen partners, enjoying the chag together. It fills me with a deep, serene satisfaction.

Courtesy Times of Israel (Noam Moskowitz/Flash 90).
There is another aspect of Shavuot which I love:
“Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god; where you die, I’ll die, and that’s where I’ll be buried, so help me GOD—not even death itself is going to come between us!”
The story of Ruth. The first convert. The Moabite woman who chose to become a Jew.
I dedicate this Shavuot to all Jews by choice. Those who fell in love with our religion and our people. I think there is something noble in the character of a person who made an active choice to become Jewish.
As much as I love being Jewish and embrace my identity, that was bestowed upon me at birth, sometimes being Jewish in this world is a burden. We all know what I mean. We are destined to endure perpetually being seen as “different”. For us, grappling with antisemitism is a perennial struggle, an onus thrust upon us, that we must live with forever. A never-ending threat or sore point, woven into our collective psyche. We have no choice.
Jews by choice had a choice – and they chose to become one of us. It takes a special kind of courage to literally make a leap of faith to join this tribe, and to voluntarily take upon oneself this burden, and join their destiny to ours. Not to mention undergoing the arduous process of conversion – no less arduous than the toil of our biblical forefathers during the weeks of the Omer. We sure don’t make it easy to convert! In a way, there is no solidarity more meaningful and fundamental than that.
This year especially, when antisemitism has become a morally accepted norm in so many societies, when we are being vilified and accused of the most heinous evil, denounced as a moral blight on humanity, as much as it is not easy for us Jews by birth to withstand this prejudice and rejection, for Jews by choice – converts – it must be doubly hard.
So this year, I salute you, Jews by choice. I feel honored to have you among us, in our community, as one of us.
“Where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people” has never held more significance on Shavuot, than it does this year.
Anachnu Am Echad!
About the Author
Paul Mirbach (PEM), made Aliya from South Africa to kibbutz Tuval in 1982 with a garin of Habonim members. Together they built a new kibbutz, transforming rocks and mud into a green oasis in the Gallilee. Paul still lives on Tuval. He calls it his little corner of Paradise.
Related Topics
Related Posts