Old and New Rhythms (April 2021 KOL Article)

The Jewish calendar is quirky.  It is fundamentally lunar, not solar like the “regular” calendar, so the days of one don’t always correspond to the same days of the other.  There is a leap month seven out of every nineteen years.  That keeps the holidays in their appropriate season each year, but means that the dates of celebration from one year to another may be weeks apart.  This is why we sometimes say that the holidays are “late” or “early” in a given year.  They’re actually at the same time by their Jewish date, but how that fits into our secular year can differ.

Still, there is a rhythm to the Jewish calendar, a regular flow of festivals and holidays.  That rhythm gets particularly syncopated in the spring.  The season starts with Pesach.  It ends seven weeks later with Shavuot.  These two festivals have agricultural significance, as Passover marks the barley harvest and Shavuot is the early wheat harvest.   The rabbis also noted their theological connection.  Passover is the festival of freedom, our celebration of going out from Egypt.  Shavuot is the time of the giving of the Torah to Moses.  From the crossing of the sea to the foot of Mount Sinai, from redemption to revelation, springtime on the Jewish calendar is a journey.

But the rhythm of the spring isn’t simple or a straight line.  Between Pesach and Shavuot, two Biblical holidays, are three modern additions to the calendar widely celebrated in the Jewish community.

Yom HaShoah is Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Yom HaZikkaron is Israel’s Memorial Day.  Yom Ha’Atzmaut is Israel’s Independence Day.  These days commemorate significant contemporary events in Jewish history, not nearly as old as leaving Egypt or receiving the Torah, but part of our ongoing story.

That, for me, is the beauty of the Jewish calendar, in fact, of all of Jewish life.  Our days are marked by moments that are millennia old and moments that happened within the past 75 years.  We are an old and new people, with old and new memories.  Both are commemorated and incorporated into the rhythm of our lives.  We are an ever-evolving community, navigating through modernity and attuned to contemporary norms, while guided by eternal values and ancient wisdom.

Our calendar is quirky.  Our celebratory rhythm is complex, woven throughout the ages.  And our community’s life is rich and varied and full of moments that bring meaning to our lives as individuals and as a collective.  As we enter the spring, with its old and new holidays, may we mark all of these times together.


Rabbi David S. Widzer