We are staying over the long weekend in a neighborhood that’s home to a substantial population of Orthodox Jews. In addition to the Christian celebration of Pentecost and the national holiday Memorial Day, this year the weekend also marks the Jewish festival of Shavuot. Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah to Moses and to the gathered Jewish people at Mount Sinai.
From the beginning of the Sabbath all through the weekend, we’ve noticed groups of men in suits and yarmulkes striding, women in soft hats and long dresses pushing strollers and carriages, attentive fathers listening to stories and answering questions from their small children, and older couples, accompanied by caregivers, making their way deliberately along the sidewalk. These assorted groupings of well dressed, carefully covered men, women, and children have repeatedly made their way back and forth from home to one of the several synagogues scattered around the area.
One memorable grouping was led by a father and an older daughter swinging a younger daughter by the hands as she jumped her way to morning services. They were trailed by the mother pushing an older woman in a wheelchair. The older woman’s husband walked alongside. This latter trio looked quite austere until the older man, dressed in a sharp navy suit and fedora, broke into a huge smile and complimented my dog for waiting so patiently for them to pass through a narrow passage of sidewalk.
The term ‘observant’ is applied to Jews who follow the careful prescriptions of Talmudic teachings. I heard a young Christian friend say recently that Jews had it easy because all they had to follow was the Ten Commandments. This woman was unaware of the vast scope of Jewish scholarship and prescriptive law that governs the behavior of the faithful. Observant Jews must pay attention throughout daily life and on the Sabbath to a range of guidelines that immerse them in a faithful life.
While their traditions differ from my own, I appreciate the idea of being ‘observant’. In doing this work, I’ve made reference to the sacrament of the everyday, to the acknowledgement of the sacred that permeates daily routines and encounters. We all have the potential to live lives suffused with holiness and justice and mercy . We can be observant in our daily practice of living with one another and in our connection to God.
It is not casual, but it can become habitual, our accustomed way to engaging with the world around us. We all have the potential to be observant. I thank those attentively observing Shavuot this weekend for the steady reminder.