Begins at sundown, Thursday, May 28
Continues through sundown, Saturday, May 30
Zoom study sessions, collaboration with Shomrei Emunah, Bnai Keshet, Temple Sholom of West Essex, and Temple Ner Tamid
Study sessions 8-11 p.m. Thursday, May 28
By GWEN OREL
Nobody really knows why Jews eat dairy on Shavuot.
The holiday, which begins tonight, Thursday, May 28, and lasts through sundown on Saturday, May 30, commemorates the Jews accepting the Torah from Moses, and is also a harvest festival.
The two elements have been blended together in a tradition that involves all-night study sessions, and cheesecake.
“It’s one of the three pilgrimage festivals,” said Rabbi David Greenstein, of Montclair’s Shomrei Emunah. On this festival, Greenstein explained, everyone would go to the Temple in Jerusalem and bring gifts, the first fruits of the harvest.
After the days of the Temple, the focus became the study of Torah, and as the Jewish people became dispersed, the holiday was understood as the wedding between the people of Israel and God, he said.
The study of Torah honors the 50th day after the Jews left Egypt, when Moses brought the Torah to the Jewish people.
For some reason, the holiday is often a bit overlooked, though Chabad of Montclair, which had Passover-to-go boxes a few months ago, offers “Ten Commandments to go” boxes, which include cheesecake, a holiday-themed game, a Torah-shaped cookie, and a family Shavuot booklet with a Ten Commandments card, available on its website, chabadmontclair.org. (The website states that the boxes are packed using masks and gloves, and are available for porch pickup.)
Back to the cheesecake, though. Why?
Meat was considered a luxurious thing, reserved for holidays. The laws of Kashrut say that Jews do not eat milk and meat together. So why would Shavuot be associated with dairy?
Greenstein’s favorite reason, of the many proposed, is that “Milk is the first food, the first food of life. It’s food that comes from the mother to the infant. That’s the image we have of God nurturing us.”
The all-night cramming sessions reflect the legend that Moses had to wake the Jews up when he came down from Mt. Sinai; people said they overslept. “To make up for that, we stay up all night so we won’t oversleep,” Greenstein said. “We prepare for it this time by studying the Torah we’re about to receive.”
The all-night study sessions are like “adorning the bride,” he said.
Shomrei Emunah traditionally holds study sessions, known as Tikkun Leil Shavuot, together with Bnai Keshet, Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, and Temple Sholom of West Essex in Cedar Grove. This year, they will be held online.
MILK AND HONEY
Jennifer Zinman, of Bnai Keshet, makes cheese blintzes for the holiday.
“The beauty of a blintz is you can fill it with whatever you like,” Zinman said. She likes to
go sweet, using ricotta cheese, powder and granulated sugar, and orange zest.
“Food is culture. I’ve been cooking since I was 12, maybe before. Every holiday has its own rhythm and foods,” she said.
“My grandmother was queen of this; she would make cheesecake for Shavuot. I’m married to somebody who doesn’t like cheesecake.”
Though her husband’s aversion never made sense to her, she decided to tackle crepes, and, she said, “once you’ve got a crepe, you’ve got a blintz.”
Why cheesecake? Why blintzes?
Zinman does not know. “My gut is that it has to do with Israel being the land of milk and honey,” she said. “There’s a contract that occurs. It commemorates getting the Torah at Mt. Sinai, when Jews create the covenant with God. You’re coming to the land of milk and honey; why not make foods out of milk and honey?”
She pointed out that traditionally, when children begin studying Torah, they are given a taste of honey, to create a sweet connection with studying.
Then, too, maybe cooking with dairy is less work than meat.
Ultimately, she said, “food is my comfort zone, and connection to family.”
JENNIFER ZINMAN’S CHEESE BLINTZES
Cheese blintzes are a wonderful and easy way to make Shavuot dessert or brunch. At their heart, they are crepes and cheese. You can make your own blintzes or buy them at the supermarket. For this recipe, I chose to fill them with ricotta cheese flavored with orange and almond and served them with a berry sauce. That said, this recipe is flexible. You can substitute the cheese or any of the flavorings. Make it your own.
1 orange, zested and juiced
2 cups ricotta cheese
½ cup powdered sugar
¼ tsp. almond extract
1 cup frozen berries
¼ cup granulated sugar
8 crepes, about 6 inches in diameter
- Zest the orange, and juice it.
- Whisk the two cups of ricotta with the ½ cup of powdered sugar, ¼ tsp. almond extract and the zest of the orange.
- Make the sauce by mixing the berries, the juice of the orange, and the ¼ cup granulated sugar in a saucepan. Bring the mix to a boil, then simmer until the berries break down.
- To form the crepe, scoop two tablespoons of the filling and place in the center of the crepe in a roughly triangular shape. Fold down the top and fold up the bottom flaps over the filling. Next, bring the left flap across over the filling. Roll the remainder over until all the crepe is wrapped around the filling.
- Heat a skillet on medium-high heat. Use either butter or a neutral oil to grease the skillet. Put your crepes into the skillet. Do not crowd them. Once they have browned, flip them over and brown on the other side.
- To serve, drizzle a little bit of the sauce over the blintz.
בתאבון – B’teyavon – Bon appetit!