Why There Is More to Shavuot Than Just Cheesecake

By Danielle Trainis, Regional Manager: Global Communities

Ever since my taste developed, Shavuot has been one of my favourite Jewish festivals. For me, my annual memories of Shavuot include the annual competition where everyone highly encourages their friends and fellow community members to offer them the title of ‘best cheesecake at kiddush’, and I happily oblige to test each of the cheesecakes, knowing in my heart that my own new york cheesecake was the obvious winner. However, it’s not only the cheesecake that makes Shavuot such a powerful and important time of year. It’s the point in the calendar where we read The Book of Ruth, a story of bravery, love, devotion and most importantly, commitment.

A shortened version of the beautiful folktale is that Ruth, a Moabite woman, marries Naomi’s son, and is regarded as the first convert to Judaism. After Ruth’s husband passes away, she follows her Israeli mother-in-law Naomi to Bethlehem, where their relationship blossoms. Eventually, Ruth marries a relative of Naomi named Boaz, and the art of Jewish geography begins as their son Obed has a child named Jesse, who is the father of none other than King David!

I personally think that the book of Ruth is one of the most relatable stories that we read, but the thing that really stands out is Ruth making the choice to become Jewish, committing herself to Jewish practice, and reaffirming what was most important to her. When she tells Naomi ‘For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your G-d my G-d,’ she expresses so openly not only her commitment to Judaism, but to Naomi herself. Another Jewish matriarch from the slightly different location of Manhattan, Carole King, even sung: ‘Where you lead, I will follow, anywhere that you tell me to. If you need, you need me to be with you, I will follow where you lead’, clearly taking inspiration from the wise words of Ruth (which is obviously also the reason why the producers of Gilmore Girls chose the song as their theme tune!)

Reaffirming commitment and making choices is something that is a regular occurrence in probably all of our daily lives. It’s a great time of year to look at what we are currently doing, and how we can change, grow and develop. Shavuot is a great opportunity to make Jewish practice relevant again in your houses; think of new and exciting Shabbat dinners you can do to such as a ‘Shabbat Through the Senses’ exploring the taste of the wine, the light of the candle, the sounds of the brachot and the feel of the challot; maybe even make your own wine by crushing the grapes with your feet! Ruth changed her life by making bold, courageous choices, and we can too, which can lead to new exciting opportunities that we might otherwise not experience. Needed an excuse to try and program that you’ve never run in your community before? Well, Shavuot is giving you permission to take risks and try something new – be more like Ruth this year and take those risks…. And even if they don’t all pay off, you can always just eat a lot of cheesecake to make yourself feel better!