I checked my outfit 3 different times, changing clothes and kept pestering the kids to get them ready. Mr. Safek nervously tied his tie. It had been a little while since he’d gone to the Synagogue. I didn’t understand his apprehension. After all, I’d heard it was a holiday party. This should be fun, right?!
“What holiday is it that they’re celebrating?” I asked between swipes at my son’s face with a wipe.
“Shavuos,” he answered, retying his tie for the third time, frowning into the mirror.
“What is that anyway?” I asked, having no idea. He mumbled some response that probably was really helpful, but I was too distracted.
We walked through the sticky heat of what was already summer in Jacksonville, Florida, to the nearby Chabad house. It was small, mostly there for the college students nearby, but there was a young, friendly, energetic Rabbi my daughter immediately nicknamed “Rabbi Smoothie” because she had trouble pronouncing his last name and she really thought he was the coolest. We didn’t yet know about Mr. Safek’s safek-ness. At that point, for all any of us knew, he was Jewish. I swelled with pride when he got an aliyah, even as I struggled with the Hebrew letters in the Siddur. The kids played with other kids. I listened to the story of the giving of the Torah and dreamed that maybe, just maybe, one day we could belong here, all of us.
Shavuos was the first Jewish holiday we celebrated, all those years ago, before all the twists and turns. I already knew then I really wanted to convert and for us to be a Jewish family, but that’s really about all I knew. I came to our Chabad house wide-eyed, like a child.
I feel like, this year, I have been able to regain some of that childlike wonder and joy that I had lost somehow along the way. As I pick through my recipes, looking for what will survive in the RV over the Yom Tov, I’m able to find that same freshness and enthusiasm again. I’d lost that in all the tears and disappointments. My relationship with Judaism had become one more of duty and commitment and less one of joy and love, like a pendulum that had needed to swing more in that direction, but had swung too far.
Each Shavuos we receive a gift of the Torah anew. This Shavuos, I really do feel like I’m receiving it again and looking at it with fresh eyes again. That is a HUGE gift!