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Shavuot Celebrates Receiving The Torah

Shavuot is a major Jewish festival commemorating the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Without Shavuot, the Jews still would be wandering the dessert. So this biblical holiday—one of the three pilgrimage festivals from the Torah (the other two are Passover and Sukkot)—represents the most significant event in Jewish history. Although the average American Jew pays more attention to Hanukkah because of the widely recognized symbol of the menorah, the “Festival of Lights” doesn’t hold a candle to Shavuot.

Shavuot, which means “weeks,” is so important that we count down its arrival for seven weeks during the Omer period, which begins on the second night of Passover. For the Mintz family in University City the anticipation of Shavuot is the best part of all.

“Every year we get all excited again like we are receiving the Torah for the first time,” says Mindi Mintz, a 28-year-old mom who finds time to bake onion rolls from scratch and teach aerobics and dance classes while raising five children, ages 8 years to six months. “The excitement builds as the kids count down the days to Shavuot. We prepare for the holiday by doing the best we can with mitzvot, or good deeds, because that’s what receiving Torah is all about,” adds Mintz, who also teaches religious school at Torah Prep and Bais Yakov in University City. “During this time, we reaffirm our commitment to Torah and to our relationship with God.”

In fact, children, even the youngest of infants, play a pivotal role in Shavout. When God gave the Torah to the Jewish people, he demanded the “guarantors” be the children. God knew that the Jewish boys and girls would make sure that the Jewish people would love the Torah, ask questions, learn from the teachings, and do holy mitzvahs. That’s why every year, on the same date of the giving of the Torah, we celebrate Shavuot in many unique ways. For example, some area synagogues offer late night study sessions and social activities that allow participants, young and old, to feel like Torah scholars as they deepen their understanding of the Ten Commandments.

Another way to celebrate Shavuot, which also is known as Hag Hakatzir, “Festival of the (wheat) Harvest,” and Yom HaBikurim, “Day of First Fruits,” is to reap the bounties of the early summer season in Israel. In recognition of the agricultural side of the holiday, we decorate our temples and homes with greenery, flowers, branches, and even small trees. And since all Jewish holidays have special foods, we rejoice in the land of milk and honey by sharing fruit baskets and indulging in dairy delicacies.

“We learn from the scripture that the Torah is a source of nourishment, like milk is to a child. Like milk, the Torah nourishes our spirit and body,” says Mintz, who is married to Rabbi Shaya Mintz, the director of programming at St. Louis Kollel in University City.

Also, eating dairy foods reinforces the message of Shavuot. Since the Jewish people had just received the laws of keeping kosher, they didn’t have time to cook food, and so they ate milk and cheese and other easy to prepare uncooked foods. Also, some say that the dairy tradition comes from the sentence in the Bible, “And God gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Still, another meaning behind the dairy meal is that the Hebrew word for milk, halav, equals 40 in Hebrew numerology, which is the exact number of days that Moses spent on Mount Sinai.

“The number 40 is very connected to the main celebration of Shavuot because Moses spent 40 days studying the Torah before he transmitted (the Torah) to the Jewish people,” adds Mintz, who’s famous for her cheese blintzes, broccoli and cheese quiche, vegetable lasagna, cheese pies, and cheesecakes that decorate her beautiful Shavuot table.

For three teenage buddies and Young Israel congregants—David Iken, Aitan Groener, and Noah Oberlander—cheesecake and Shavuot go together like, well, best friends. As an extension of an ongoing bar mitzvah project, the philanthropic trio formed their own nonprofit fundraising organization called “From Kids to Kids,” which helps repair the world, tikkun olam, one child at a time.

“We all know that not enough is done for many people across the world, and we wanted to help. In the past, we’ve sold challas, cheesecakes, had garage sales, and ran a Memorial Day race and got sponsors for Yokneam (our sister city in Israel). Then last year we organized a concert to raise money for kids in Darfur,” says 14-year-old Iken, who lives in Clayton and is a student at Solomon Schechter.

“This year we are sending money to an organization that is funding programs for kids in Sderot to help build an indoor playground which also serves as a bomb shelter so that children can play without the fear of daily rockets.”

To order your cheesecake in time for Shavuot, contact fromkidstokids@aol.com.

Yummy Shavuot Recipes

Noodle Kugle

¼ pound cream cheese
3 eggs
½ cup sugar
½ pint sour cream
1 cup milk
½ stick margarine or butter
½ pound cottage cheese
½ cup raisins
1 tsp. Vanilla
½ lb. wide noodles (cooked and drained)

Soften cream cheese. Cream all ingredients (except noodles) together in order. Add noodles. Place in a well-greased 9 x 14 pan. Bake for about 1 hour at 350. When cool, cut in squares.

Fruit Shakes

2 cups mixed fresh fruit, such as strawberries, blueberries, bananas, pitted cherries, kiwis, raspberries, mangoes, grapes, and blackberries
1 Tbs. vanilla
1 cup plain yogurt
1 cup milk
2 Tbs. sugar

Place the ingredients in a blender. Liquefy and blend for 2 minutes. For a wonderful fresh fruit or cake topping, leave out the milk and increase the sugar to 4 Tbs.