What is Shavuot?
Shavuot, the Festival of Harvest, not only is a celebration of the first harvest of fruits and vegetables, but also a celebration of the gift of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Shavuot is a time we are encouraged reflect on the gift of Torah and the gifts that the earth provides.
Shavuot is also an exciting opportunity to think about the impact our dietary choices have on our environment. Jewish tradition encourages dairy meals during Shavuot celebrations and an abstinence from meat consumption. As we think about the impact that meat consumption has on the global climate crisis, we are encouraged to take up the task of tikkun, or repair. This makes Shavuot an excellent opportunity to educate about the benefits of limiting meat consumption and consuming sustainable and ethical fruits and dairy.
Shavuot is celebrated in 2023 from sundown on Thursday, May 25, through sundown on Saturday, May 27.
Shavuot in the time of Covid-19
Experience the spirit of Shavuot at Isabella Freedman through these 2020 videos:
Pre-Tikkun Reflections – Rabbi Art Green
Shavuot Visioning Session – Rebbetzin Eve Ilsen
Go Go Goats! – Arielle Aronoff
Dairy on Shavuot: Farmer’s Cheese Demo & Learning – Eli Weinbach
Adamah Farm Tour – Janna Siller
Shavuot Meditation – Christine Bloom
Finding Your Identity – Angela Himsel
Shavuot Nigun – Itai Gal
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Complete the Counting of the Omer – From Passover to Shavuot we count the Omer every day to mark both the passage of time between celebrations and the time between the barley and wheat harvest and offering at the Temple. This is a time for spiritual preparation as we prepare to receive the Torah and celebrate the first fruits of the season.
During this moment of introspection and preparation, consider counting the Omer with The Omer Workbook from Gold Herring. The workbook is a powerful guide for engaging in Jewish self-care, connection, and action.
We’re Up All Night to Learn Torah – Tikkun Leil Shavuot, studying and learning Torah until the wee hours of the morning, is a Shavuot tradition, stemming from our ancestors’ mistake of sleeping in the morning we were to receive the Torah. This year, make sustainability a part of the conversation during your learning session.
Look through Food for Thought, Hazon’s Sourcebook on Jews, Food, and Contemporary Life, for sources to use at your Tikkun or Shavuot table.Dive into Jewish Initiative for Animal’s “Dairy on Shavuot” source sheet. One of the better known Jewish holiday customs is eating dairy on Shavuot, though, strangely, many people struggle to produce a reason for this custom!
Reconnect with the Land – How do we celebrate Shavuot in modern times? As one of four harvest holidays mentioned in the Torah, Shavuot presents a wonderful opportunity to connect with the world around you. Take a look in your neighborhood at what is blooming; think about what fruits and veggies are showing up in your produce aisle or farmers’ market; feel the turning of the seasons and embrace the colors, textures, and flavors of a bountiful growing season.
At your holiday table, embrace seasonality and the harvest near you – shop local, choose vegetarian, and consider the source of the food you consume. When we think carefully about where our food comes from we practice another element of Kashrut and provide points of connection for the blessings and traditions associated with our holidays.
What can Shavuot teach us about the connections between Jewish tradition and agriculture? This text presents one farmer’s take on seeing Jewish rituals as they connect to the cycles of planting, harvest, and eating, which is useful to think about when considering the connection between Shavuot and farming.
[myhider]Also, check out the Religious Action Center’s Shavuot program for Reconnecting to the Land and Produce. The entire family will enjoy these interactive programs.[/myhider]
Consider Fruit Over Dairy – Shavuot is replete with dairy foods, from cheesecake to blintzes to burekas, but it originated as a celebration of first fruits. Use this Shavuot as an opportunity to educate yourself and others about making better food choices for your health, animal welfare, and the environment.
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[toggle title_open=”Strawberry Salad with Goat Cheese Croutons” title_closed=”Strawberry Salad with Goat Cheese Croutons”]
- 2 cups of strawberries cut in half, stemmed
- 4 ounces of goat cheese
- 1/3 cup of bread crumbs (use Panko, if available)
- 2 T. fresh flat leaf parsley-chopped finely
- 1 T. fresh thyme-chopped finely
- Flour for dipping the cheese
- 1 egg – beaten
- 4 cups baby greens such as Mesclun variety
- 1 red onion, sliced very thinly
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds (optional)
- Salt and pepper
Cut the goat cheese into coin shapes (about 1 ounce each coin). Place the coins in the freezer for about 30 minutes until firm and easy to handle.
Mix the herbs and the breadcrumbs together on a small plate. Salt and pepper as needed. Place the flour on a small plate.
Place a medium saute pan over medium heat. Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil.
Dredge a cheese coin in the flour. Then dip it into the beaten egg. And finally, dip the cheese into the bread crumbs. Place the cheese in the saute pan and brown it on each side (about 3 minutes per side). Remove the cheese to a paper towel-lined plate. Continue with remaining cheese.
Place the strawberries on a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush the strawberries with honey and sprinkle with freshly ground pepper. Roast the strawberries for about 10 minutes until they are lightly caramelized and very fragrant.
Toss the greens with Extra Virgin olive oil and salt and pepper as needed.
Mound the greens on four plates or a serving platter. Place the strawberries and red onion on the greens. Place the cheese croutons on top of the salad and drizzle with honey lavender vinaigrette.
[toggle title_open=”Mango Ginger Tofu” title_closed=”Mango Ginger Tofu”]
For the Marinade
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 jalepeno, seeded and chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh ginger, roughly chopped
- 2 teaspoons peanut oil or veg oil
- 2 large mangoes, roughly chopped (note: you will need one more mango when cooking the tofu, see below)
- 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
- 1 cup white cooking wine (or vegetable broth)
- fresh black pepper to taste
- dash of salt
- 1/4 teaspoon allspice
- 2 tablespoon rice vinegar (use apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar if you don’t have rice)
- juice of two limes
- 1 cup orange juice
For the Tofu
- 2 blocks tofu extra firm tofu, drained and pressed
- 1 mango, sliced in long thin slices
- 1 red pepper, seeded and cut in long thin slices
Make the marinade: In a medium saucepan, heat the oil, add garlic, ginger, and jalepeno, saute on medium heat 7 minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add 2 chopped mangoes and saute 5 minutes
Add pure maple syrup and wine, cover and simmer 35 minutes; Uncover and simmer 5 more minutes.
Add orange juice, vinegar, lime, black pepper, allspice, and salt; Add mixture to blender, puree until smooth.
Prepare the tofu. Cut tofu blocks into 8 slabs each. Place tofu in marinade in a sealable plastic bag or Tupperware. Marinate in the fridge for an hour and up to overnight.
Preheat oven to 375°F – Reserve about half of the marinade. Lay marinated tofu in a single layer in baking pan. Cook for 20 minutes. Flip tofu over and add more marinade. Dredge peppers and sliced mangos in marinade and add them to pan. Cook another 15 minutes.
Heat up remaining marinade in a saucepan and put in a bowl on the table so guests can pour it over the tofu. Serve over jasmine rice, with a steamed vegetable, such as asparagus or broccoli.[/toggle]
[toggle title_open=”English Pea Risotto” title_closed=”English Pea Risotto”]
- 2 cups shelled English peas
- ½ cup heavy cream
- Olive oil
- 2 cups vegetable stock or water
- 1 Shallot, peeled and chopped finely
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- ½ cup white wine
- ½ cup heavy cream for the risotto
- ¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
- 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
- 1 teaspoon chopped mint
Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Cook the English peas until they are cooked through (about 8 minutes). Place the cooked peas in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process and keep the peas green.
Drain the peas and place in a medium mixing bowl. Puree the peas in an immersion blender with the heavy cream. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Place a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and bring the vegetable stock to a simmer.
Place a medium saute pan over medium heat. Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil. Add the shallot and sweat for several minutes until the shallot is very soft but not browned. Add the Arborio rice and stir until each grain of rice is coated with the olive oil. Add the white wine.
Increase the heat and allow the wine to simmer for several minutes. Add the hot stock or water into the rice by ladle-fuls. Stir with each addition of stock before adding another. Continue until the liquid is completely added to the rice and the rice is soft and creamy but remains al dente.
Stir in the remaining heavy cream. Remove from the heat and stir in the pea puree. Adjust seasoning and sprinkle with herbs and Parmesan cheese, if desired.[/toggle]
[toggle title_open=”Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake” title_closed=”Lemon Ricotta Cheesecake”]
- Nonstick vegetable oil spray
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 4 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
- 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
- 2 extra-large eggs
- 2/3 cup purchased lemon curd
Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray eight 3/4-cup ramekins or custard cups with nonstick spray. Using electric mixer, beat sugar, lemon juice, and lemon peel in large bowl until sugar dissolves, about 1 minute.
Add cream cheese and ricotta cheese; beat until smooth, about 1 minute (some small curds from ricotta may remain). Add eggs; beat until well blended.
Divide batter among prepared ramekins. Place ramekins on rimmed baking sheet. Bake until puffed, just set in center, and pale golden on top, about 18 minutes. Chill until cold, about 2 hours.
DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and keep chilled.
Spread lemon curd over chilled cheesecakes and serve.[/toggle]
Buy Fair Trade Coffee – Check out the Religious Action Center’s Shavuot program on Fair Trade Coffee, complete with a text study and suggested actions – perfect for keeping you and your late-night study companions caffeinated!
Buy Fair Trade Judaica – Look around Fair Trade Judaica for ways to make smart purchases this Shavuot.
Initiate sustainable eating at your synagogue – Download the complete Hazon Food Guide & Food Audit Toolkit. This guide will help you navigate food choices in your synagogue or JCC. It offers practical suggestions for combining our ancient tradition of keeping kosher and our modern environmental and sustainable eating habits.
Go Vegan – Although dairy is traditionally a part of Shavuot meals, there are many reasons to go dairy-free. Many people have a dairy intolerance, and environmentalists and animal welfare activists are opting out of both meat and dairy products because of animal cruelty and the contribution to global climate change by the meat and dairy industry. Learn more about Jewish perspectives on animal welfare by checking out the Jewish Initiative for Animals.
Check out this website full of dairy-free dessert recipes for more inspiration. Try making vegan whipped cream to put on any dessert, or adding dairy-free peach pudding or dairy-free sorbet to your dessert menu. Fruit is also an authentic Shavuot food, so adding fruit to your meals is a healthy and delicious way to work tradition into your holiday festivities.
Got Ethical Milk? – If you choose to use dairy, use the most ethical and sustainable dairy products possible. Check out Hazon’s list of Kosher Sustainable Cheeses, and read up on the sustainability and the dairy industry. [/myhider]
Learn About Shavuot
Shavuot 101 (My Jewish Learning) – Shavuot, the “Feast of Weeks,” is celebrated seven weeks after Pesach (Passover). Since the counting of this period (sefirat ha-omer) begins on the second evening of Pesach, Shavuot takes place exactly 50 days after the (first) seder. Although its origins are to be found in an ancient grain harvest festival, Shavuot has been identified since biblical times with the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
First Fruit Challah for Shavuot –In ancient times, the challah eaten on Shavuot was the first taste of the new year’s wheat. During the counting of the Omer, first barley, and then wheat, were counted in anticipation of the Shavuot festival. When the other first fruits were offered in Jerusalem, two large challot were made of the first fruits of the wheat plant. Like the first wheat plants, the challot were also big, fluffy and delicious.
Shavuot on the Farm – “On our farm, the house is bedecked with fragrant lilacs and green branches we’ve cleared from the woods. Tonight, we’re making chevre blintzes drizzled with rhubarb sauce for a sweet supper…”
A Fruitful Lesson – On Shavuot, when we celebrate receiving the Torah, we also celebrate the offering of the first fruits in the Temple, the bikurim. The offering was a supremely humble gesture: the fruits which form first on a tree are often smaller, less perfect, only hinting at the abundance to follow. In ancient Israel, these offerings were gussied up, surrounded by the more beautiful fruit which grew later, brought sometimes in gold baskets, accompanied by flutes, processions. All the trappings of art and wealth were used to beautify the offering. Yet without the small, perhaps wrinkled fruit of the bikurim, there could be no offering.
What the Dessert Teaches –Mostly, on Shavuot, we study Torah and giving of the laws. But aren’t all those dairy desserts also worthy of our analysis? Food, after all, is where all laws, values, and psychological dispositions are enacted. There are reasons that the giving of law is linked to eating a dairy meal, not the least of which being that milk sustains the body the way Torah maintains the soul.
- Shavuot: Cheesecake, Temptation, and Conservation from COEJL
- Sleepless for Shavuot from The Forward
- Ruth and Lovingkindness from My Jewish Learning
Also, check out these articles and podcasts on their amazing work and see what sustainable dairy operations look like: