Shabbat Surfing: Long Weekend

This weekend has got it all going on: Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer, and Shavuot.

Memorial Day was originally observed to commemorate fallen Union soldiers following the Civil War. After World War I it was expanded to honor soldiers from all American wars and in 1971 was declared a national holiday.

Jews have been a part of American military history since the colonial era, when many served in General Washington’s Continental Army. On August 1, 1776, Francis Salvador was the first Jew to be killed in the American Revolution as he led a small army of 330 men.

Songstress Regina Spektor is releasing her new album, What We Saw From the Cheap Seats, on May 29. NPR is currently streaming it and if the album’s third track “Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)” doesn’t make you want to go outside and bounce around, I’m not sure what will.

Shavuot, the holiday in which we celebrate by eating dairy, is sadly still a bit of an underdog when it comes to popularity among American Jews.  The theological significance of the holiday is certainly noted by the Chag Sameach greetings I received from my mother in my inbox this morning: a Photoshopped picture of Charlton Heston as Moses in Mel Brooks’ The Ten Commandments clutching a pair of iPads.

Lastly, here is a photo of the cheetah cubs  that recently arrived at the National Zoo:

Photo by Adrienne Crosier, Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute

We are so lucky to be in DC, where we’ll be able to hop on the metro for one stop and check them out when they join the others in the cheetah den in a few months!

Shabbat Shalom!

Recipe: Granola Cheesecake for Shavuot

By Jean Graubart
Director, Leo & Anna Smilow Center for Jewish Living and Learning



Not a month has gone by without a Jewish holiday celebration and it is lovely to look at the calendar and see the dates to remind us of our history and traditions.

Shavuot, the Festival of Weeks is on May 26-May 28, the culmination of the SEVEN weeks since Passover.  Mysticism makes everything a little more spiritual and since  the Kabbalists consider the number SEVEN very powerful (a reminder of the week of creation), we feel the impact of the mystics .

As a mother who gave each of her children two names, I like that Shavuot also has a second name, Festival of First Fruits, Yom Ha-Bikkurim.  This was the time that the first grain and fruit crops were harvested.

Just as Pesach brings us to spring, Shavuot ushers in the summer season. But before it gets too hot and in honor of the holiday when we celebrate the giving of the Ten Commandments, the laws given to Moses on Mount Sinai, enjoy this unusual cheesecake in commemoration of the holiday.  It is customary to eat dairy foods as the Torah is traditionally compared to milk and honey, with their ability to nourish and to sweeten our lives.


3 cups granola
1 tablespoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger (dried)
1 stick butter melted

2 pounds cream cheese
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey
4 eggs
2/3 cup whipping cream

1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
Strawberries or other berries to top off

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a 9 inch springform pan or a deep dish pie pan.
Grind granola in a processor and put in bowl.
Add sugar, cinnamon, ground ginger and melted butter
Mix and press into the bottom of pan and halfway up the side.
Beat the cream cheese, vanilla, sugar and honey until smooth and blended.
Add eggs one at a time beating lightly after each one.
Put in cream and mix briefly.
Pour batter into chilled crust and smooth top.
Bake for an hour, test with toothpick which should come out clean but a little wet.
The center will sink a little and the cake will shrink some from the sides of the pan.
Turn off oven and let cake sit in oven for 20 minutes.
Remove and cool at room temperature.
Set oven to 300 degrees.
In small bowl, mix sour cream and sugar very well.
Pour over the cake and smooth.
Bake 5 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool completely.
Sprinkle with crystallized ginger and chill until firm.
Cover with plastic wrap when firm and chill at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.
Remove and enjoy!

Serving suggestion: Top with berries or serve them on the side.

This recipe will delight your friends and family and hopefully sweeten your celebration.

Shavuot is such a special time that I remember my grandmother picked the holiday for her birthday, having no record of her birth date in Turkey.

She said she wanted to be born when the Torah was born.

Parenting Towards Shavuot

by Miriam Szubin, Washington DCJCC Parenting Center Coordinator

Shavuot begins at sundown on May 26.  How do I get my kids excited about it in advance? 

Shavuot, the next major Jewish holiday after Passover (and considered of equal importance in Jewish tradition to its more famous predecessor), often seems like an afterthought.  An informal poll of the students in the Introduction to Judaism  class that I teach at the J revealed that, while all of them had heard of Passover prior to taking the class, none of the non-Jewish students and only a very small fraction of the Jewish students had even heard of Shavuot, let along ever celebrated it in any sort of way. 

And from a parenting perspective, Shavuot can be quite a tough sell.  Passover provides all sorts of fun and meaningful ways to involve children, but Shavuot lacks the intense preparatory requirements, the striking shift in eating habits, the ritual banquet, and the dramatic narrative.  Four weeks after Passover and with just over three weeks to go before Shavuot, my kids are still obsessed with the Ten Plagues and the parting of the Red Sea.  But I have yet to engage them in the stories associated with Shavuot, either the actual receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai (they like the thunder and lightning part but don’t really connect to the rest of it yet) or the story of Ruth and Naomi traditionally read in synagogue on Shavuot.   Furthermore, the main observance associated with Shavuot, the all-night study session known as a tikkun, happens after their bedtime.  And they love blintzes and cheesecake, but no one seems to know exactly why those foods are associated with Shavuot, so it’s not as meaningful an inroad to discussion as say, horseradish or haroset. 

But since feeding my kids seems to be the most effective way to accomplish anything in my house, I decided this year to try to build excitement about Shavuot through the seven types of non-dairy foods traditionally (and more explicably) associated with the holiday.  The Torah describes the Land of Israel as “a land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey (Deut. 8:8)” and these seven species were the harvest fruits historically brought to the Temple as sacrifices on Shavuot.  With one quick post-work trip to Whole Foods, I was able to set up a little Shavuot Seven Species tasting menu on a random weeknight (added bonus: I didn’t have to cook anything for dinner that night!).  The kids loved the bread rolls, grapes, figs, olives, and honey sticks; they were iffier on the pomegranate seeds and mushroom barley salad but were good sports about trying them. 

More importantly, they loved the novelty of the evening and seemed to more or less understand the connection to Shavuot.  And they are now looking forward somewhat more eagerly to the actual holiday, when I’ve promised them a reprise of the tasting menu (plus cheesecake!).   

For more ideas about observing Shavuot with your kids, check out these resources from My Jewish Learning:

Shabbat Surfing–Good Idea, Bad Idea

JTA’s new blog on Jewish philanthropy The Fundermentalist (get it?) kicks-off with a bang by scooping Yossi Beilin’s claim that he invented the Birthright program sending kids on free trips to Israel courtesy of mega-philanthropists Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman. What impressed us what not the scoop itself, but where the Fundermentalist got it:

Beilin, speaking with the Fundermentalist within sight of both Steinhardt and Bronfman – at their own party, no less – said that he, Beilin, came up with the idea to send Diaspora Jews to Israel for free in 1993, when he, Beilin, was deputy Foreign Minister under Shimon Peres.

Elsewhere Joe Lieberman has been getting added grief from around the blogosphere for his continuing allegiance with Rev. John Hagee–he of the divinely inspired Hitler remarks. Daniel Koffler at Jewcy sums it up pretty well, asking “What village do you have to start a pogrom in to be called an antisemite these days?”

When Shavuot ends next week, the Jewish wedding season will get into full swing. Jewess looks at the topic from the perspective of an 1898 article in the magazine American Jewess written by “An Immigrant.” It is a great on-going feature of that blog that you should definitely check-out.

Finally, while we know it is a mitzvah to visit the grave of a Jewish scholar, this is just creepy–not to mention we question the hygenic conditions.

Rhythm and Ruth

The timing of Friday’s free children’s program, Rhythm and Roots: The Afro-Semitic Experience could not be more perfect. This year’s Washington Jewish Music Festival occurs immediately before the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, which begins Sunday evening, June 8.


Rhythm and Roots explores the Jewish and African diasporas through interactive music-making. On Shavuot, we read the Book of Ruth, a beautiful story about the experience of being a stranger in a strange land.


It is easy to forget that the Jewish people in America are a diaspora people and that not too long ago, we were new immigrants and faced the numerous challenges that come from starting over in a foreign land. This collective memory that we share can guide us in how we treat strangers in our midst.


In the Book of Ruth, Boaz shows great kindness to Ruth and helps her succeed without ever compromising her dignity.


So please join us on Friday morning at 10am as we explore and celebrate the diaspora experience thought music – just in time for Shavuot, when we read of Ruth’s own journey to her new home.

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