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We are currently in the season of love on the Jewish calendar. These are the days between the festival of the Exodus from ancient Egypt (Passover) and the giving of the Ten Commandments and Torah, the sacred code, covenant and constitution of the Jewish people at Mount Sinai some seven weeks later: the festival of Shavuot aka Pentecost. It is celebrated from the eve of Tuesday 11 June until nightfall on Thursday 13 June.

The Exodus story is a love tale. The Hebrews, or people of Israel, left Egypt with their partner, God, on a journey to the new home they would build together in the land of Israel. They honeymoon in the haunting wilderness of the Sinai desert so evocatively captured in the prophet Jeremiah’s words: “I remember the kindness and forgiveness of your love when you were a bride walking after me into the wilderness.”

Later in Jewish history it became associated with suffering and loss, the sudden death of tens of thousands of young students of the fabled Rabbi Akiva. It is commemorated with some rituals of mourning, like not celebrating weddings nor cutting one’s hair. This duality of celebrating and grieving encapsulates so much of the existential identity and reality of Jewish life. Our long history is about periods of contentment and noble contributions to the wisdom and civilisation of the world, but it is punctuated by seasons of pain and persecution, pogroms, blood libels and genocide.

Notwithstanding this, Judaism has always believed that the world is redeemed by love – the love of God, the love for others, love for the stranger. This is why we read the Book of Ruth in the synagogue on Shavuot; the story of a selfless Moabite stranger who is welcomed into the Jewish people even though Judaism doesn’t seek converts. Ruth becomes the great grandmother of the celebrated monarch of Jerusalem and leader of Israel, King David. The best act of faith and love is bringing children into a wounded world, children who will help carry hope and courage into the future.

Today, in these hard times for our people, with a dramatic escalation of toxic antisemitism and hostility towards our spiritual centre and pivot of Jewish consciousness – the land and State of Israel – we restate and reaffirm our conviction that love, faith and hope will triumph over the hatred and hostility of our enemies and help make our world a better place for all.

On this festival, we celebrate with our friends, allies and our divine partner, God. On this holiday we recall the Revelation at Sinai which forever shaped the world and became the basis for Western civilisation with its call for respect, love, and justice for all. We remember the words of Albert Einstein who said “The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, an almost fanatical love of justice and the desire for personal independence – these are the features of the Jewish tradition which make me thank my lucky stars that I belong to it”.

On this festival, in these times, I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on these universal ideas and reach out in love to my people and to all Australians, from our first peoples to our rich mix of multi-faith and multicultural communities.


You may also want to watch a brief inspirational message about what this holiday has to say to you:

Rabbi Ralph Genende OAM – Episode 6 – Don’t forget your wakeup call – YouTube

Wishing you a joyful festival | Chag Sameach

Rabbi Ralph Genende OAM 

Director: Jewish Life

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