This article is reprinted with permission of JTA.
There are at least six ways to celebrate Shavuot, according to Rabbi Gil Marks.
Decking out: At Shavuot (which begins the evening of May 30), people traditionally adorn their synagogues and homes with greens and flowers. “Bring greenery into your house,” Marks says. “We don’t need to be cut off from nature any more.” Plant sod in oblong containers for table centerpieces. Flood living spaces with flowers and with flowering plants in attractive pots. Select colorful varieties that grow all summer. To prolong the holiday’s joy in nature, move them to window sills or transplant them in the yard.
Passing on tradition: Introduce children to Shavuot with fun projects. Fill small terra cotta pots with flowering plants and place them on the dining table in front of each guest’s plate. Draw fruit on white place cards using felt-tipped pens in several colors. Leave space to write each guest’s name. Display the Seven Species in bowls with bread cubes, dried barley, bunches of grapes, pomegranate seeds, a variety of olives and honey.
Playing up bread: Because wheat is such an important Shavuot crop, serve an abundance of challah, Bukharan flat bread, pita and other Jewish breads. Recipes are found in many Jewish cookbooks. Bake easy breads with children.
Finding relevance in the Bible: Invite a rabbi, a student rabbi, someone with a degree in Jewish studies or a Torah maven to lead a Bible study. Select a Shavuot theme, such as freedom or unity. Topics for discussion could include how freedom is achieved, the state of freedom in America today, the potential for freedom in Iraq, how to foster unity among Jews from different backgrounds or what it means to be the chosen people in 2005.
Picking a psalm: Honoring King David–who, like Marks, was born on Shavuot–type favorite psalms on separate pieces of paper. Fold the papers in half and place them in a bowl. Ask people to pick one at random and take turns reading them aloud.
Revisiting the Torah: Recall the Bible stories you learned as a child, or the ones that have resonated for you throughout your life. At your dinner table, repeat these tales in your own words. Ask others to share their favorite biblical episodes.
No-fuss celebration: If you don’t have the time to entertain people or organize activities, simply serve a dairy dinner and remind the loved ones at your table that today is Shavuot, the day God gave us the Torah. Without his gift, there’d be no Jewish people at all.
Recipes from Olive Trees and Honey by Gil Marks:
HUNGARIAN GREEN BEAN SOUP
4 cups water
1 small onion, chopped
1 teaspoon table salt
1 pound slender young green beans, trimmed and chopped into pea-sized pieces
3 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 to 3 teaspoons tarragon vinegar or fresh lemon juice
Drop of honey (optional)
For garnish, chopped fresh chives or dill, or sweet paprika
In a large pot, combine the water, onion, and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the beans and simmer, uncovered, until very tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat.
In a medium bowl, stir the flour into the sour cream. Gradually stir 1 cup of the hot bean mixture into the sour cream. Add the sour cream mixture to the soup, beating constantly. Simmer, stirring constantly, over low heat without boiling, until heated through and slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the vinegar (or lemon) to taste. If too tart, add a little honey. The soup should be tart and sour, not sweet. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until chilled, at least 3 hours. Ladle into chilled bowls and garnish.
Yield: 5-6 servings
SEPHARDI STUFFED ARTICHOKES
1 lemon, halved
4 large globe artichokes
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon table salt
Ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 cups water
3 tablespoons olive oil for drizzling
Squeeze the lemon halves into a large bowl of cold water and add the lemon shells. Cut off the stems at the base of the artichokes so they stand upright. Remove the loose, tough outer leaves. Cut about 1 inch off the top of each artichoke, then, using scissors, snip off the thorny tips of each leaf individually. Scoop out the fuzzy chokes with a grapefruit spoon or melon baller. Store artichokes in the lemon water. Drain well before stuffing.
Stuffing: In a medium bowl, combine all the stuffing ingredients and stir to blend. If the artichokes are tightly closed, bang to top of each one on a flat surface. Beginning at the top of each artichoke, spread the leaves open with your fingers as much as possible, then gently pack the stuffing between the leaves, then into the center of the artichokes. Do this inside the stuffing bowl so the excess falls inside.
Pour the 2 cups of water into a nonreactive saucepan (non-aluminum or iron) large enough to hold the artichokes in a single layer. Place the artichokes upright in the saucepan and drizzle with the oil. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, adding more water as needed, until the artichokes are tender and the outer leaves pull off easily, about 50 minutes.
Yield: 4 servings
IRAQI NOODLE OMELETS (Edjah Shiriyya)
1 pound broken angel hair pasta
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 to 1 1/2 cups grated or shredded muenster, cheddar or gouda
About teaspoon table salt
Ground white pepper to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons caraway seeds (optional)
2 to 3 tablespoons oil or butter for frying, or more if necessary
In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until tender but firm, 3 to 5 minutes. Do not overcook.
Drain, rinse under cold water, and drain again.
In a large bowl, toss the noodles with the eggs, cheese, salt, pepper, and caraway seeds.
In a large, heavy skillet, heat a thin layer of oil or butter over medium-low heat. In batches, drop the noodle batter by ½ cupfuls to form 4-inch pancakes. Fry, turning once, until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. The omelets can be kept warm on an ovenproof platter in a low oven for up to 30 minutes.
Yield: about 8, four-inch omelets
VARIATION: Middle Eastern Baked Noodles (Macarona al Horno). Spoon the pasta mixture into a greased 9-by-13 inch baking dish and bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until firm and golden brown, 20-30 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before cutting into squares.
Yield: 6-9 squares
ASHKENAZI BAKED RICE PUDDING (A Creamy Dessert)
4 cups water
2 teaspoons table salt
2 cups medium or long-grain rice
1 stick unsalted butter
8 large eggs
1 cup sugar
3 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
About 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
In a large saucepan, combine the water and 11/2 teaspoons of the salt. Bring to a boil and add the rice.
Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the water is absorbed, about 18 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Add the butter to the hot rice and let melt.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl beat the eggs, sugar and milk together until creamy, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, the vanilla, and the zest. Stir in the rice.
Pour into the prepared pan and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon. Bake until golden brown, 50 to 60 minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
Yield: 6-9 squares