Shavuot: A Time of Transformation

by Roselyn Allen, May 27, 2020

On May 25th, 2007, the day after Shavuot, my mother died of cancer. For me this is a bittersweet time: every year as I count the Omer, I remember the timeline of those last weeks with my Mom. My sister and I cooking for Passover as my mother directed from her seat, making sure we got the family recipes right. For Mother’s Day, my brother went to Nova Scotia to be with her and help her throw a party at a hotel for all her friends as she was too weak to host at home, but wanted to be surrounded by people. We had a wonderful phone call on my son’s birthday and I remember us talking about mother-daughter conflict and how it was easy to throw that all away and just love each other now that she was so sick and we could see what was most important. The following week, all my siblings were lucky to make it home to be with my mother when she died.

This year, again, is another bittersweet Shavuot. Where we should be celebrating the gift of the Torah, the covenant of God and Israel, the choice of Judaism, the rebirth of the plants and return of the birds in spring, and ice cream (yum!), many of us have spent the Omer (and a few weeks more) in isolation while, for Solel itself, our building is temporarily closed.

But this sadness is not new for Shavuot – when the last Temple fell, the people could not make their way to Jerusalem to offer their wheat and barley, bringing a sense of loss to their commemoration of the holiday. In the second century CE, it is told, that during the period of the Omer, 12,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students died due to a plague.

It is certainly not difficult to draw direct parallels to our situation in the time of COVID19 here: Pandemic and plague; Temple and synagogue; Isolation from our community. But, just like the ancient Jewish community, we still find a way to be together. Shavuot didn’t stop with the pilgrimages; it transformed. We can’t attend services in our building right now, but we can still be a community in transformative ways.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, Solel has remained an active hub through technology with online shabbat services and holiday celebrations culminating this past week in a wonderful and creative bat mitzvah (mazel tov Gabby). We’ve had to adjust, other b’nai mitzvot have been rescheduled as we (and the world) have needed time to find a way to make meaningful gatherings without actually being physically together.

To that end, last month I sent a letter to our members explaining that we were postponing the AGM indefinitely as we felt we could not carry on a fair meeting with technology alone. But, we’ve had time to reflect, research and take in others’ experiences with online general meetings. We will use Zoom computer and telephone platforms for our meeting on June 22nd at 7 pm.

We are busy carrying on with community outreach, renovation plans, fundraising, the upcoming year for Bet Sefer Solel, for life cycle events and for High Holidays. We are still in touch with our community and if you haven’t received a call from one of our board members, staff or Mitzvah Committee members, please reach out to us to update your contact information.

So, as I write this post during this final week of the Omer, as I remember how hard it was to deal with the last days of my beloved Mom, I also think of how wonderful it was to clarify our relationship and appreciate each other in new ways, the closeness it brought my dad and my siblings at that time, which still stands today. I appreciate how, though painful, that experience changed my life for the better. I hope that when we look back on this time of COVID19, that we remember how we remained a strong community while, perhaps, transforming the way we gather, worship, commemorate and celebrate. After all, as a festival showcasing the major change for the Jews through the gift of the Ten Commandments and the Torah, Shavuot has always been a holiday of transformation, no matter the circumstances.

Chag sameach.

Filed under: President's Message

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