This year, the two-day holiday of Shavuot begins at sundown Tuesday, June 3 (the 5th of Sivan), and will end when the sun sets on Thursday, June 5 (the 7th of Sivan). Shavuot, which means “weeks,” marks the completion of the seven-week counting period known as the “omer” that began with Passover.
Shavuot is a time in which we celebrate and renew our acceptance of the Torah, which was given to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai more than 3300 years ago.
Like all Jewish holidays, Shavuot is associated with a number of laws and customs. Here are a few:
• Study Torah…all night – It is customary to stay up all night learning Torah on the first night of Shavuot.
• Hear the Ten Commandments – Since all Jews stood at Mount Sinai, we reaffirm our covenant with God and His Torah by going to synagogue on the first day of Shavuot (Wednesday, May 19) to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments.
• Read the Book of Ruth – The Book of Ruth is read on the second day of Shavuot. Among the reasons for this custom: (1) Shavuot is both the birthday and yahrtzeit of King David, and the Book of Ruth records his ancestry. Ruth and her husband Boaz were King David’s great-grandparents; (2) Ruth was a sincere convert who embraced Judaism with all her heart. On Shavuot all Jews were converts – having accepted the Torah and all of its precepts.
• Eat dairy foods – It is customary to eat dairy foods on the first day of Shavuot. One reason: With the giving of the Torah the Jews became obligated to observe the laws of kashrut. As the Torah was given on Shabbat, no cattle could be slaughtered nor could utensils be koshered; thus, on that day they ate dairy. Another reason: The Torah is likened to nourishing milk.
• Adorn the house with flowers – Since Shavuot is also called the “Harvest Festival,” it is customary to adorn the home and synagogue with fruits, flowers and greens. Furthermore, our sages say that although Mount Sinai was situated in a desert, when the Torah was given the mountain bloomed and sprouted flowers.
• Observe the laws of Yom Tov – On Shavuot we observe the basic laws of any Yom Tov, or holy day: We enjoy two meals on every day of Yom Tov – one at night and another during the daytime; we wear new or special clothing; we don’t use electrical appliances, go to work, handle money or write. Unlike Shabbat, however, on Yom Tov we are permitted to cook and bake, lighting a fire from a pre-existing flame.
This information is culled from www.chabad.org.
From the kitchen of Levana Kirschenbaum
Lévana Kirschenbaum is the author of four popular kosher cookbooks, including the recently published The Whole Foods Kosher Kitchen: Glorious Meals Pure & Simple.
For 32 years she was co-owner of Levana Restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and a pioneer in kosher upscale dining. She has gained countless devoted fans for her fearless, practical and nutritious approach to cooking. In addition to her cookbooks, she offers private demos and teaches weekly cooking classes in New York City and around the country.
Below are two of her favorite Shavuot dishes — with her comments added in. Both recipes, she points out, can easily be made pareve, using, as always, all-natural ingredients. For more of Levana’s “cheesy” dishes, visit www.levanacooks.com.
Cheese Babka Recipe
Makes two loaves
In this cheese babka, the ricotta filling is wonderful, but you might prefer to use it in combination with farmer cheese, just as long as you use two cups total. I make one double-length roll, and cut it right down the center to make two loaves. If you choose not to use the crumb topping, all you will need to do is brush the top with egg wash (egg mixed with a little water) Hint: This is what makes my babka and all my yeasted preparations so light: I resist with a vengeance adding flour to the dough, unless I absolutely have to. You will find that if you knead the dough properly, by hand or by machine, the dough shapes up without any added flour and yields a light and airy pastry.
1 1/2 tablespoons dry yeast
1/3 cup warm water
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups flour: all purpose, whole wheat pastry or spelt
1/2 cup unsalted butter (not whipped)
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons lemon zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
Mix the first three ingredients in a bowl, and let the mixture bubble 2-3 minutes. Stir in the remaining dough ingredients. Transfer the mixture to your dough maker and knead 10 minutes, or knead by hand, turning the dough occasionally to make sure all sides have been worked. Soon the dough will get into shape, elastic and resilient when poked with a finger. Sprinkle the dough very lightly with flour all over, place in a large bowl (remember, it will expand to a little more than double in size) Cover with a clean towel and let rise in a warm draft-free place for one hour.
Roll out on a very lightly-floured counter, into a 12 x 16 inch rectangle. Mix the filling ingredients in a bowl, and spread all over the dough, using it all up. starting from the short side, roll tightly jelly-roll style. you will end up with a 12” log. Cut it right down the middle, to get 2 6” logs. Transfer to 2 greased loaf pans, seam side down. Mix the topping ingredients lightly, adding a drop of flour if necessary, to get the texture of coarse meal. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the loaves. Let them rise about ½ hour. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven 35 to 40 minutes, or a few more minutes, until golden.
Ricotta Almond Pie Recipe
Anyone looking for a nice departure from the traditional all-American Cheesecake? This Ricotta Almond Pie is for you! It is light and ethereal, with a wonderful almond crust and scented with lemon peel. I just made it for a fundraiser demo and watched it disappear with great pleasure!
Almond crust ingredients:
1/2 cup almonds
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 cups flour (any flour, including Gluten-free)
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut in pieces
2 tbsp very cold water, or a little more if needed.
3 cups ricotta
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons brandy or rum
2 tbsp lemon zest
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Make the crust: finely grind the almonds with the sugar. Add the salt, flour, vanilla and butter and pulse just until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the water and mix just until the dough comes together. Working quickly, spread into an 11” springform pie plate, coming up the sides. Whisk all the filling ingredients together. Pour into the pie crust. Bake about 40 minutes, or until set.
Sweet Memories: A Shavuot Recipe Sampler from Israel’s bereaved mothers
Over the last year, OneFamily (www.onefamilytogether.org), Israel’s leading national organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of victims of terror attacks and their families, has compiled a unique cookbook to honor the lives of some of Israel’s youngest victims of terror and help their mother’s grieve.
Coordinated by OneFamily office manager and bereaved mother Dina Kit, the cookbook project has helped Israeli bereaved mothers connect with each other through the act of cooking (specifically recipes that remind them of the children they lost), and allows them to memorialize their children in a positive way.
The stylish, glossy cookbook is scheduled for publication in September 2014, and will be available for purchase via the OneFamily website. Each set of pages includes a recipe, the terror victim’s story and pictures of the bereaved mother (the chef) and her child.
As a Shavuot treat, OneFamily is sharing these two seasonal recipes.
From Dalia Ozorov – Orit’s mother
This cheesecake is round and impressive.
It reminds us of the time when our family was complete and happy. Orit wasn’t very fond of dairy products but she loved this cake. The cake rises, browning slightly as it bakes. To this day, whenever I bake the cake, it seems as if the radiance emanating from Orit – the radiance of a full and happy life filled with beauty – shines through to me from the cake. Sometimes the cake reminds me of a small, shining star, Orit’s star, looking down at us from above and continuing to light up our lives.
150g (5 1/4 oz) biscuits
4 tablesppon. oil
5 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
750g (26 ½ oz) cream cheese
1 container yogurt or sour cream
1 packet vanilla flavored instant pudding
5 tablespoons cornstarch
Grated rind of one medium-sized lemon
Round, greased 10.2” pan
Crumble the biscuits into a bowl, add the oil and mix. Flatten the mixture on the bottom of the pan. Beat egg whites with ½ cup sugar until stiff. Set aside. In a separate bowl, mix yolks with the remaining ½ cup of sugar. Add the cheese, yogurt, instant pudding, corn starch and lemon rind. Mix briefly at lowest speed. Add the egg whites to the cheese mixture and fold gently. Spread the mixture over the layer of biscuit crumbs. Heat the oven to 180°C, and place a pan with warm water on the bottom of the oven. Bake for 45 minutes, until the cake is slightly brown. Turn off the oven and leave the cake in for an additional 30 minutes. Then open the oven door, leaving the cake inside for an additional 30 minutes. Refrigerate for a few hours before serving.
Makes 20 blintzes
From Geula Hershkovitz – Asaf’s mother
When Asaf was a soldier in active service, he served very close to home. Unlike many others, who considered serving in Judea and Samaria as being the ends of the Earth, for Asaf, ‘close to home’ meant over the Green Line. Asaf served in a combat unit and his squadron served in the area for quite some time.
Every Thursday, for as long as I can remember, I would make a pile of about 30 – 40 blintzes. We wouldn’t eat the blintzes at mealtimes, but whenever anyone passed through the kitchen they would grab one. Around that time, I would make the blintzes and bring them to Asaf and all his friends. Once I began, they wouldn’t let me stop – if there weren’t any blintzes, his friends were sure to comment on it.
3 cups flour
1 quart milk
1 cup oil
1 kilo (2.2 lbs) 5% cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 packet vanilla sugar
Grated rind of one lemon
Combine all ingredients for the blintzes in the food processor to make a smooth batter. Pour into a bowl, cover with cling-wrap and cool for an hour. In a separate bowl mix together all the filling ingredients. Heat a 9.5” non-stick frying pan, grease lightly and pour in a little batter. Tilt the pan so the batter covers the bottom in a thin layer. After a minute, flip the blintz over briefly. Remove and continue with the rest of the batter. Fill the blintzes with filling, roll up and serve hot or cold, sprinkled with powdered sugar.
A calendar of Shavuot study sessions around Connecticut
TUESDAY, JUNE 3
Meriden – Tikkun L’ayl Shavuot study session; homemade cheesecakes will be served; 8 p.m.; Temple B’nai Abraham, 127 East Main St., (203) 235-2581.
Stamford – Community Tikkun L’ayl Shavuot: An Evening of Music, Prayer, Torah, Conversation and Cheesecake; learn about contemporary and ancient ideas about Jewish identity and peoplehood, and the changing faces of Jewish identity in our time; hosted by Temple Beth El, Selah, Temple Sinai and United Jewish Federation of Stamford; bring your homemade cheesecake (kosher ingredients only); 7 – 10 p.m.; at Temple Beth El, 350 Roxbury Rd., (203) 322-6901.
FRIDAY, JUNE 6
Norwalk – Shavuot dinner with special guest Dr. Jeremy Pressman from UConn.; Congregation Beth El, 109 East Ave., (203) 838-2710, email@example.com.
Greater Hartford celebrates “First Night for the Torah”
In keeping with the tradition of Shavuot, on the evening of Tuesday, June 3, synagogues all across the world will a night of Torah study, known as “Tikkun L’ayl Shavuot.” Many synagogues will start the holiday with a light dairy meal, followed by various periods of study. The most devoted will stay up all night and daven the Shaharit service at dawn!
This year, the rabbis of the Greater Hartford Rabbinical Association (GHRA) have joined together to present “First Night for the Torah”. First Night for Torah is a cornucopia of learning opportunities presented by 11 Greater Hartford congregations. Some synagogues are presenting programs together; others individually. Participants are invited to attend sessions at any shul of their choosing.
“We invite the Jewish community to attend wherever they wish, whether it’s one’s home congregation or any other congregation, where he or she will be welcomed in the spirit of ‘ahm echad’ — one Jewish people,” says Rabbi David Small of The Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford, who is co-chair of First Night for the Torah, together with Rabbi Gary Atkins of Beth Hillel Synagogue in Bloomfield. “We want to send the message that we are allies, working together to create a vibrant and meaningful community.”
Rabbi Atkins agrees. “Love of learning, enthusiasm for Torah unites us. We hope to appeal to the wider community, to come and have a taste of Torah,” he says.
The following is a listing of participating congregations and their activities:
Beth El Temple/Emanuel Synagogue at Emanuel
160 Mohegan Drive, West Hartford, (860) 236-1275)
8 p.m. — Mincha/Festival Maariv
8:30 p.m. — Dr. Avi Patt, Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies, University of Hartford
Study session: Zakhor: Jewish Memory, Jewish History, and Jewish Identity
Refreshments will be served
Congregation Beth Israel/Beth David Synagogue
at Beth Israel, 701 Farmington Ave, West Hartford, (860) 233-8215)
7 – 8 p.m. — Special programs with learning sessions taught by Cantor Siskin and Rabbis Pincus, Shaffer and Fuchs. A youth program will be available and a holiday-appropriate ice cream bar.
Beth David Synagogue/ Congregation Beth Israel at Beth David
20 Dover Road, West Hartford, (860) 236-1241)
11 p.m. – 1 a.m. — Learning for night owls!
180 Still Road, Bloomfield, (860) 243-3576
7 p.m. – Got Faith? A Multimedia Exploration with Rabbi Deborah Cantor
Featuring Shavuot Cheesecake Bar and followed by minyan at 9 p.m.
Beth HillelSynagogue/Congregation Beth Ahm at Beth Hillel
160 Wintonbury Ave, Bloomfield, (860) 242-5561
7 p.m. — Light dinner
7:30 p.m. – Maariv service
8 – 9:30 p.m. – “The Meaning of Torah;” Two study sessions led by Rabbis Atkins and Lefkowitz – The Meaning of Torah
Temple B’nai Abraham
127 East Main Street, Meriden, (203) 235-2581
8 p.m. — Learning sessions taught by Rabbi Kohn and congregants, with cheesecake breaks
Temple Beth Hillel
20 Baker Lane, South Windsor, (860) 282-8466)
6 p.m. — Service, study and Confirmation
Beth Sholom B’nai Israel
400 East Middle Turnpike, Manchester, (860) 643-9563)
9 p.m. – Maariv service
9:45 – 11 p.m. – “Conversion to Judaism: Historical overview and current issues”
Traditional Shavuot ice cream sundaes.
Young Israel of West Hartford
2240 Albany Avenue, West Hartford, (860) 233-3084)
Service times to be determined