The varied hues of Shavuot’s white night
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The varied hues of Shavuot’s white night

Countrywide, Jews find both traditional and innovative ways to celebrate the festival of the giving of the Torah

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

There's more than one way to celebrate Shavuot; a cartful of celebrants at Moshav Kfar Hess, Shavuot 2015 (Courtesy Flash 90)
There's more than one way to celebrate Shavuot; a cartful of celebrants at Moshav Kfar Hess, Shavuot 2015 (Courtesy Flash 90)

The holiday of Shavuot is on the way, bringing with it the customary consumption of cheesecake and donning of white clothing, along with all-night-long Torah study.

This year, the arrival of the festival provides a three-day weekend for Israelis, starting on Friday, June 10, and leading right into Shavuot, which begins Saturday evening and ends on Sunday night.

That gives Sabbath observers an entire 25 hours to rest up for the traditional overnight learning on Saturday night, along with plenty of other options for revelry and relaxation.

And some of these activities work for both secular and religious, offering the best of both worlds.

1) The Jewish National Fund is hosting several hikes and related activities throughout the country led by their team of 18-year-old volunteers, who have been working with the organization for the better part of the last year. There’s a three-hour hike at Ayalon-Canada Park on Friday, June 10, at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., looking for the seven species, new fruits and the Jewish National Fund connection to what’s been planted and growing in local forests. NIS 10 per person, call 1-800-350-350 to make a reservation.

Dangling feet in the water at Park HaMaayanot, a JNF national park where the organization is hosting a Shavuot water hike on Sunday, June 12, 2016 (Courtesy Park HaMaayanot)
Dangling feet in the water at Park HaMaayanot, a JNF national park where the organization is hosting a Shavuot water hike on Sunday, June 12, 2016 (Courtesy Park HaMaayanot)

Another option is Kids Cook Dairy, at Park HaAmakim, Saturday, June 11, 10 a.m. Kids — and their families — will hike and then cook themselves some brunch, with the guidance of the KKL volunteers. NIS 25 per person, up to NIS 100 for an entire family, reservations necessary. And in honor of the customary Shavuot water fights — water represents life, and by extension the giving of the Torah, which is celebrated on this holiday — a wet hike in the water of Park HaMaayanot on Shavuot, Sunday, June 12, 10 a.m. Be sure to reserve spots by calling 1-800-350-350.

2) Looking to learn? There are many options out there for fulfilling the Shavuot tradition of learning all night, here are a few ideas: Secular Yeshiva Bina, with outlets in Tel Aviv and Beersheba, has a host of all-night learning sessions and activities. Starting at 10 p.m. and lasting until daybreak, Bina Tel Aviv is calling their program “Art in the Night,” with a long list of events, including theater, standup, open mic sessions, song, classes and tours at their center, Ganei HaTeva, 3 Levon Street corner Kibbutz Galuyot, reserve ahead by filling out the form on the website.

In Beersheba, Bina’s Shavuot tikkun is billed as an adult playground, with fringe theater performances, a talk with Knesset member Yair Lapid and a concert with singer Shimon Buskila, all for one NIS 20 ticket.

Learning together at the secular Bina Yeshiva in Tel Aviv, Shavuot 2015 (Courtesy Bina Yeshiva)
Learning together at the secular Bina Yeshiva in Tel Aviv, Shavuot 2015 (Courtesy Bina Yeshiva)

A selection of Jerusalem’s pluralistic synagogues, schools and community centers joined together again this year to form a cohesive list and downloadable Dov Abramson-designed map of Shavuot learning options and events. (The maps are also available at some local hotels and institutions, including the Elul Yeshiva, Congregation Kol Haneshama, Beit Avi Chai and Mevakshei Derech.)

The Jerusalem Tikkun fest includes everything from living room sing-alongs (hosted by Hitorerut Yerushalayim) to wine-tastings, and, of course, many, many lectures, classes and discussions. English options are available at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and Mayanot Synagogue.

Waldorf Astoria pastry chef Claude Ben Simon shows off his Red Velvet cheesecake (Courtesy Waldorf Astoria)
Waldorf Astoria pastry chef Claude Ben Simon shows off his Red Velvet cheesecake (Courtesy Waldorf Astoria)

3) Focused on what to serve? Claude Bensimon, the French-born and -trained confectioner and baker who is the pastry chef at the Waldorf Astoria Jerusalem, offered a Shavuot cheesecake version of an American standard, the Red Velvet cake, which became associated with the historic hotel as the Waldorf Astoria red cake.

According to the late food historian Gil Marks (who lived in Israel toward the end of his life), the addition of red food coloring to a cake was first verified in 1962, although no one knows exactly who did it first, why, and how it became associated with the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Bensimon admitted that it’s a cake that requires patience and skill, but calls it “well worth the effort” for its visual presentation and taste.

Cake ingredients
5 eggs
375 grams raspberry syrup
500 grams sugar
400 grams flour
15 grams baking powder
300 grams oil
rosewater
red food coloring

Whip together the sugar and the eggs. Using a spatula, fold in the raspberry syrup, and add in the flour, baking powder and oil before adding several drops of rosewater and red food coloring. Transfer to a 30-centimeter baking tray (or cupcake molds), greased with parchment paper and bake at 170 degrees Celsius for 30-40 minutes.

Cream cheese frosting
500 grams pastry cream
425 grams Napoleon 30% cream cheese
150 grams powdered sugar
140 grams gelatin
2 vanilla beans
525 grams whipped cream

Put two-thirds of the pastry cream in a mixer with the cream cheese and powdered sugar. Heat one-third of the pastry cream and add the gelatin while hot. Slowly add the mixture to the mixer with the other ingredients. Mix. Fold in the whipped cream.

Design
After the cake has cooled, slice in half (on the width) and frost with 1/3 of the frosting over half of the cake. On top of the frosting, put the sliced cake and then put in the refrigerator for one half hour. After it has cooled again, frost the cake and put back in the refrigerator. Decorate with wild berries and strawberries.

A light rose to accompany all the cheese-filled dishes on Shavuot, from Bat Shlomo Winery (Courtesy Bat Shlomo)
A light rose to accompany all the cheese-filled dishes on Shavuot, from Bat Shlomo Winery (Courtesy Bat Shlomo)

4) Need to cut the sweetness with something cold and sharp? Try some locally made white wines. Bat Shlomo, a winery based in the northern village named for Baron Rothschild’s mother, Betty Solomon, has a Sauvignon Blanc with a bouquet of lemon, pink grapefruit and kiwi that’s perfect with delicate and creamy foods. Its northern neighbor, Jezreel Valley Winery, has a Levanim 2014, a fusion of Chardonnay, Colombard and Gewürtraminer, creating a fresh, floral blend that’s just right for a hot holiday.

A light, white eyelet dress from Tel Aviv designers Rotem and Hadas for Shavuot (Courtesy Rotem and Hadas)
A light, white eyelet dress from Tel Aviv designers Rotem and Hadas for Shavuot (Courtesy Rotem and Hadas)

5) How about a new white dress for the holiday? Because this is the holiday where everyone, from kibbutz members bringing sheaves of wheat to their celebrations to urbanites making their way among all-night lectures, will be wearing white. Designers Rotem and Hadas have several white eyelet fabric dresses and blouses in their 2016 spring/summer collection and this peplum-bottomed dress (or tunic) could work well for a Shavuot white night. Rotem and Hadas, 23 Aboulafia Street, Florentin, Tel Aviv, 03-510-1289. Also available in Jerusalem at Osfa, 53 Derech Beit Lechem, Baka, Jerusalem.

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