Time may have ceased to have meaning, but the Jewish holidays are still happening, and yes, this week is Shavuot! The ancient harvest festival that commemorates the receiving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai (and sort of inexplicably revolves around eating a lot of dairy) begins the evening of this Thursday, May 28. As you ponder how the heck you’re supposed to do another Jewish holiday alone, or holed up with your immediate family, or making your first, cautious ventures back out into civilization, might I humbly suggest you watch Gilmore Girls?
I mean, you don’t need a reason to watch (or, let’s face it, rewatch) this early-aughts classic about a thick-as-thieves mother and daughter duo in an idyllic New England town. It’s never a bad idea to watch Gilmore Girls. It’s sweet. It’s soothing. Things have a way of working out. People eat an alarming amount of comfort food and guzzle coffee with abandon. It even has a subtle bit of Judaism, as a treat!
But it is a particularly apt binge-watch for Shavuot. In fact, I’d say this show is the definitive Shavuot classic.
Consider its iconic theme song, “Where You Lead,” written by the legendary Jewish songstress Carole King and performed together with her daughter, Louise Goffin. The song plays over scenes of Lorelai and Rory together, a mother and daughter, and anyone with even passing knowledge of the show knows that this is the central love story of Gilmore Girls.
Careful listeners and Carole King fans will note that the version that graces the opening credits is a little different from the original on her 1971 Tapestry album. The chorus, however, has always remained the same:
Where you lead
I will follow
Anywhere that you tell me to
If you need, if you need me to be with you
I will follow
Where you lead…
While the original song contains references to a love for a man, the song was reworked for Gilmore Girls. These edits, as it happens, are even more in keeping with the source material than King’s 1971 version. That’s because the lyrics are adapted directly from a key scene from the Book of Ruth, and are spoken not between a man and woman, but between a woman and her mother-in-law.
A quick refresher: On Shavuot, we traditionally read from the Book of Ruth. This follows Ruth, a Moabite woman married to the son of Naomi, an Israelite. After both their husbands die, a heart-broken Naomi decides to leave for Bethlehem. Learning this, Ruth clings to her mother-in-law and begs to go with her, saying:
“Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May God punish me ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”
Naomi agrees to take her along. Ruth sticks with Naomi, becoming an Israelite. Together, they rebuild their lives. Ruth eventually remarries, but this powerful bond between two women, Ruth’s commitment to Naomi, is at the heart of what we celebrate on Shavuot.
Men are secondary to the Ruth and Naomi story. As Rishe Groner writes, Shavuot is the only Jewish holiday with a text that passes the Bechdel Test. The key conversation here is between two women, and has nothing to do with a man. Ruth and Naomi are two independent women making their way in the world together. Ruth decides to become an Israelite of her own volition, but we see that it’s motivated in part by this profound love she has for her mother-in-law and the desire to remain part of her life forever. Ruth and Naomi’s strength comes from their love for each other, a love that outlasts grief and the way their lives change.
In light of that, it’s clear just how perfect those words are for Gilmore Girls. When we meet Lorelai and Rory, Lorelai is a young, single mother who has put distance between her old life to carve out something on her own, and Rory is her smart and precocious 16-year-old. Rory has friends, crushes, and rivals — and Lorelei attempts to finally find a healthy relationship after years of focusing on raising her child — but the deepest relationship explored in the show is the one they have with each other. They have a constant running banter, and for much of the series are inseparable. The show follows the both of them through changes in their lives: new relationships, career changes, and some fierce fights. In spite of everything, though, the one thing that never changes is the love between them. Rory and Lorelai are fiercely independent, but ultimately they always need each other. Where one leads, the other follows.
So this Shavuot, have some Red Vines with your blintzes and cheesecake. Stay up late binge-watching Gilmore Girls. Call the Lorelai in your life, whether that’s your mom, your mother-in-law, or just that special woman you would follow anywhere. Chag sameach and oy with the poodles already!