Gathering Our Stories This Shavuot

Thursday, May 28, 2020
Posted by: Rabbi Samantha Safran, Director, Bobbi and Vic Samuels Center for Jewish Living & Learning

Days of GratitudeWhen I was in elementary school, I was given an assignment to interview one of my grandparents about World War II. I chose to interview my Poppy Joe, who I knew had served in the army during that time, though I knew little else. We sat down in my grandparents’ kitchen and he told me all about how he flew planes over Burma. He had immigrated to the United States from Poland at 7 years old, and he was so proud to have served his country. And I was so proud to hear his story! I knew him as a small business owner who loved swing music and a good joke, and I had no idea about his military history. The interview revealed a completely new side of my grandfather to me, and I still treasure the recording of it to this day.

In a recent Op-Ed piece from the New York Times, Dave Isay encourages all of us to interview our loved ones. Isay is the founder of StoryCorps, an organization whose mission is “to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.” For 17 years, StoryCorps has been doing just that—collecting people’s stories for the greater good. In these days of quarantine, Isay writes:

“Before sheltering in place with my family, almost every day I’d have someone come up to me and say, ‘I wish I had interviewed my grandmother' — or mother or brother or father — ‘but I waited too long.’ It’s easy to put these conversations off. It’s human nature to say, ‘I’ll get around to it eventually.’ But why shouldn’t ‘eventually’ be now?”

Speaking of people’s stories, the upcoming holiday of Shavuot commemorates the Jewish people receiving our quintessential story, the Torah, which lays the foundation for our narrative throughout history and our laws and moral code in the world.  From its origins, Torah has been passed on from generation to generation. Pirkei Avot teaches:

“Moses received the Torah from Sinai and gave it over to Joshua; Joshua gave it over to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; the Prophets to the Men of the Great Assembly.”

Over the past week, the J has been a partner in the international initiative, Days of Gratitude. Each day we have been posting gratitude prompts on our Facebook page and encouraging you to share your responses on social media. As the holiday of Shavuot nears and these gratitude days come to a close, I am reminded that as a collective people, we have a Torah; and as individuals, each of us has a Torah too. Each of us has wisdom and valuable experience to pass on to future generations.

So, if you usually overlook Shavuot, or even if you don’t, I invite you to observe the holiday differently this year by asking three questions:

  1. Who are the loved ones you are grateful to have in your life?
  2. What is the “Torah” you have received from them?
  3. How will you preserve it for yourself and future generations?

Isay continues:

"There has never been a more important time to connect meaningfully with our loved ones and preserve the wisdom of our elders. 'Eventually' is here."

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a meaningful Shavuot holiday.


Category: CJLL