Both a Personal and a Collective Gift and Obligation

We celebrate Shavuot this week; it's always been one of my favorite holidays. I love all of the dairy food associated with it — my grandmother made her own crepes for the blintzes! I got the recipe from her but I've never had the nerve to try and make them. She had the patience to pour out the batter and then coax each crepe out of the pan without tearing them, each one thin, golden, and pliable. I'm sticking with her sweet and sour meatballs and the rugelach. My family loves noodle kugel and I only make it twice a year, for break the fast and for Shavuot — it's not exactly a heart-healthy dish, after all. It's kind of a family recipe — it's from Janice Epstein, z"l, who I wrote about a few months ago. In addition to being a mainstay of the Bayonne Jewish community, Janice was a terrific hostess and cook, and I make many of her recipes. Hers is a solid kugel, no raisins, nothing fancy, but I like it better than my own mother's. (Mom uses raisins — I'm not a big fan of fruit in cooked food. Sorry, Mom — but it's one of the very few things you make that I don't like!)

I've also always loved the images associated with Shavuot. The midrash which posits that every Jewish soul that ever was or will be (including Jews by choice) stood at Sinai to receive the Torah resonates with me. We should each feel that the Torah was given to us, that it is both a personal and a collective gift and obligation. The idea of studying all night also appeals to me, probably evidence of a misspent college career, but really because it is the rich heritage of our texts, which is at the heart of all we do in building a Jewish life and community.

And I've always loved the story of Ruth and Naomi. It is a Jewish mother-in-law story of love and devotion, with a happy ending. My own mother-in-law, another stalwart of the Bayonne Jewish community, celebrates her birthday this week. I make many of her recipes and try to follow her precepts of devotion to family and community as best I can, but hers are big footsteps to try and follow.

So, happy birthday to the best mother-in-law a girl could ask for and Chag Shavuot Sameach!



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