There were very few religious occasions in my childhood, but there were rites of passage. One was my 13th birthday, on which I was finally allowed by my film-rating-observant mother to see a PG-13 movie: Fried Green Tomatoes starring Jessica Tandy, Kathy Bates, Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary Louise Parker.

I haven’t seen the movie in a while, but I’ll never forget it. On a Friday night in seventh grade, it showed me my first vivid images of racism, brutality, segregation, alcoholism, adultery and domestic violence. I felt like a real grown-up watching it in the theater, a woman with knowledge of the dark side of life. I loved doe-eyed, open-mouthed Ruth - and because of her I always had a soft spot for the Biblical protagonist for whom she was named. To this day, that passage from the Book of Ruth is the only part of the Bible I can recite by heart. But I can do it. All 38 words!

So I was feeling pretty confident when I showed up to interview Rabbi Barnett Brickner of Alameda’s Temple Israel to talk about Shavuot, a Jewish holiday in which Ruth figures prominently. I was all set with a list of questions that would show off my familiarity with the lesser-known Jewish festivals, quickly distinguishing me from the larger, clueless Gentile public.