Shavuot is one of those holidays when my Israeli past and American present have a tug of war. Growing up in Israel, this holiday was celebrated as an agrarian event. As children, we carried in processional baskets of first fruits and flowers in our schoolyard – echoing the pilgrimage our ancestors took to the holy temple in Jerusalem on this holiday. Israeli culture, which was founded on agriculture, embraced Shavuot with chalutzim (pioneers) fervor. Emphasis was placed on connection to the land, its fertility and the promise of future abundance in the fulfillment of the founders’ vision.
Not surprisingly, that is NOT the case in the diaspora. Jews did not traditionally find employment in agriculture, in fact, throughout history – they were forbidden from it. Thus, Shavuot is a holiday based on a religious event among Jewish communities outside Israel. It focuses on celebrating the momentous and nation-building event of receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. It is a reminder of the covenant between Jews and God, a reaffirmation of faith and devotion.
So, while I grew up celebrating this holiday decorating baskets of glistening young vegetables and riding tractors on kibbutzim fields, my head adorned in a wreath of colorful carnations, our children did not. Their experience of Shavuot, which usually falls within the school year calendar, has been decidedly American. Trying to infuse their experience with Israeli flavor, our Shavuot table did not include blintzes, but bourekas, not New York style cheesecake, but Israeli cheesecake.
This Shavuot, you can expand your dairy repertoire to the Middle East. Shake things up a little and replace your blintzes with Syrian cheese Sambusak, Israeli Bourekas or Israeli cheesecake. Add an Israeli chopped salad, some hummus and pita and you’ll have a light, flavorful spring meal. This Shavuot – celebrate like an Israeli!