May 28, 2020

Shavuot? It’s all about cheesecake and Torah

This evening is the start of the Jewish Holiday of Shavuot. As my cousin Marilyn said in a text to me this morning when I told her I wasn’t sure what I would write, “Shavuot? It’s all about cheesecake and Torah.” In many ways, Marilyn is right. Unlike Passover, Hanukah, and Sukkot, there aren’t home rituals attached. But we can eat dairy, including cheesecake! We eat cheesecake because it is sweet, resembling the milk and honey of the Promised Land. We thank Chris Shanahan, JSS’ Associate Director who baked twelve mini-cheesecakes to give to seniors in our community who may not have many connections right now due to COVID-19. It is JSS’ way of bringing sweetness and togetherness to the world.

The celebration of Shavuot commemorates when G-d gave the Torah to the Israelites so now, we often study all night to “prepare” for receiving the wisdom of the Torah. I wondered how the intensive studying tied to the dairy food. One school of thought is that we eat dairy food on Shavuot because it corresponds to our receiving the sweet nourishing words of Torah in a manner that fulfills the verse, “Honey and milk are under your tongue”. (Songs 4:11) And that the food helps to give us the stamina to stay up all night.

To be completely honest, I’ve never been to a Shavuot service or study session. I go to bed incredibly early, often before programming begins. One of the advantages of the quarantine is that I will be able to participate this year. You can find information about the different events happening in Madison at Just don’t tell anyone that I might already be in my pajamas. Chag Sameach.

Dawn Berney
Executive Director