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Despite being part of a Jewish family for the past decade, I have never celebrated Shavuot. After the excitement of Passover, itâ€™s never been a holiday that Iâ€™ve experienced. I am, admittedly, embarrassed to say this. However, in the spirit of blogging about my interfaith family, I announced to the family that this year, we should do something differently! I promptly looked at Ben for suggestions. He said, â€śWell, letâ€™s see,â€ť and walked over to the bookshelves, coming back with a big stack of Jewish cookbooks. Laurel grinned in excitement and fascination, and I could see her thinking, â€śYay, another holiday! More good food to eat! This is so exciting!â€ť
For any holiday, my husband (a self-confessed foodie) usually thinks first of the foods one eats for the holiday. Iâ€™ve lost track of the number of times heâ€™s explained that, for him at least, â€śJewish holidays are all about food!â€ť This fact is, I expect, a major link to tradition for him as a modern Jewish person. I have learned not to start with â€śwhat do we do at the holiday?â€ť but with â€śwhat do we eat?â€ť
To my delight, though, one of our favorite cookbooks (Olive Trees and Honey, a vegetarian cookbook with recipes from around the Jewish world) described not just the foods of Shavuot, but the other practices and traditions as well. As we prepare to celebrate our first Shavuot, I expect weâ€™ll be thinking about the three things this book mentioned: first, sweet dairy foods, second, the Torah, and third, the Book of Ruth. I donâ€™t know if we will go to a synagogue or celebrate at home, but I know weâ€™ll be focusing on these three things.
First, sweet cheesy foods, which in my husbandâ€™s culinary lexicon apparently means blintzes. For a second embarrassing admission, I have to admit Iâ€™ve never eaten a blintz. My friend Scott in college loved them, and piled them onto his plate whenever the dining hall served them. To me, those dining hall blintzes looked like they were swimming in water, or grease, or something else even less desirable, and they therefore lost much of their appetizing appeal. Ben, however, swears that all I need to do is make a crepe and put a sweet cheese filling in it, and weâ€™ll be set. After all, I can make a crepe-like pancake, and since I can make a mac â€™nâ€™ cheese sauce, I can probably make a cheese filling. Shavuot part 1, check!
For Shavuot part 2, staying up all night reading Torah and studying, I doubt weâ€™ll stay up all night. There are bedtimes to observe, after all, with cranky-child consequences. But I do think weâ€™ll take the opportunity to tell our childrenâ€”likely while eating our blintzes!â€”the story of Moses receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, seven weeks after leaving Egypt at Passover. Weâ€™ll show them our various paperback and hardback translations of the Torah. I wonder what questions Laurel will ask, in her entertaining 5-year-old way. Will she ask what a sacred text is? (Will that even be the language we use?) How will we answer? Will we talk about sacred texts beyond the Torah or the Hebrew Bible? About writing and literature as hallowed activities for the transmission of human knowledge, emotion and experience? Or will those questions come later? Iâ€™m looking forward to finding out.
Finally, thereâ€™s the book of Ruth. If ever there were a story to celebrate in an interfaith family, this would be it. The story has a personal connection for me because my grandmotherâ€™s name is Ruth, and itâ€™s my middle name as well. I love that the Hebrew Bible includes a story of a woman choosing to live a Jewish life with a Jewish family. I love that even in a religious tradition thatâ€™s passed down from generation to generation, the tradition itself preserves a tale of an outsider choosing to become an insider. Ben and I already mentioned the story to Laurel when we first described Shavuot with the stack of cookbooks. Weâ€™ll tell it to her again on Shavuot (probably over blintzes). As the years go by, I expect that both of our children will find many layers of meaning in this story of extended families, the relationships we choose for reasons of love, and the traditions around which we consciously choose to shape our lives.