Friday, May 22, 2015

Why Shavuot Is Jewish Mother-in-Law’s Day

A convert to Judaism reflects on the Jewish woman who embraced her, and honors her with a holiday recipe

By Marcia Friedman for Tablet

As someone who converted to Judaism, I consider Shavuot, the festival on which we read from the Book of Ruth, an especially meaningful holiday. Ruth, a Moabite woman, is considered the first convert to Judaism. Following the death of her husband, Ruth decides to remain with her mother-in-law, Naomi, instead of returning home to her Moabite family.

But Shavuot, with its emphasis on acceptance—the festival marks the day the Israelites received the Torah—isn’t just significant for those who have converted to Judaism. It’s a time to honor all the modern-day Naomis: the Jewish mothers-in-law who accept converts not only into their faith, but also into their families.

My Naomi is named Gloria. The day we met at her son’s graduate-school graduation, Gloria—my then-boyfriend’s mother—seemed overjoyed to meet me. A few years later, when I began conversion classes, however, I feared that I would never truly bridge my knowledge and cultural gap and feel completely “Jewish”—or be considered so by my future husband’s family. Gloria had a concern, too. But it wasn’t about any of that. She later told me she worried that abandoning my family’s religious traditions would be a sacrifice that would ultimately make me unhappy. Even then she placed my well-being above her own interests, just as Naomi urged Ruth to return to her family upon being widowed. But once I completed my classes, Gloria understood: I, too, was along for the journey. And as a gift following my conversion, she and my future father-in-law, David, sent their son and me on a trip to Israel, where I could walk in the footsteps of Ruth.

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