Virtual Picnic: From Matzo to Cheesecake

The Jewish calendar is never empty.    Pesach was over two weeks ago and Shavuot isn’t until the end of May.  So does this mean there’s nothing special to do?  No, not at all.  On the first day of Pesach religious Jews started counting the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot.  This is called Counting the Omer when a blessing is said on each of the 49 days.  It’s easy to see how the 2 festivals are very closely linked. Pesach or Passover celebrates the Hebrew slaves escaping from Egypt to freedom – you all know the story!    Eventually God gave them the Torah, a blueprint for how to live a good life and that is celebrated as Shavuot. Without the escape from slavery there would have been no-one to give the Torah to.  So religious Jews count and bless the days that link the two festivals.    Like those former slaves wandering in the desert on each day of counting the Omer Jews are supposed to achieve a higher spiritual level.

This is an Omer board we found in in our museum collection. The Hebrew writing means “Today is 10 days which is one week and three days of the Omer”

I grew up in a traditional Jewish home in Manchester in the 50s 60s and 70s and my family did Passover/Pesach to the letter but hardly bothered with Shavuot (which is a shame really when I think of all the cheesecake I missed out on.)  I had never even heard of Counting the Omer.  Mancunians in those days wouldn’t have pronounced the festival as “Shavuot”.   We had our very own Manchester influenced pronunciation which sounded like “Shavoyoys”.   

Celebrating Shavuot this year under lockdown restrictions is going to be something of a challenge.  Like all festival celebration there is food involved. (More about that in next week’s blog).  Will young families take a picnic lunch and eat in their grandparents’ garden while the grandparents stay indoors and look through the windows?   Maybe some people will use Zoom to connect with families at mealtime even though this goes against orthodox Jewish law. 

This is a time of year when synagogues really look their best, but no-one will be going to the synagogue this year.  Synagogues locked their doors as soon as if not before lockdown restrictions were declared.  

Shavuot is one of the easiest festivals to celebrate and in next week’s blog I’ll explain more about why so much dairy food is eaten and tell you about the cheesecake recipes I use each year.   I’ll tell you what it’s like for a typical Manchester family to celebrate Shavuot and why flowers are an important part of the celebrations.

Until then we’d love to hear your memories of celebrating Shavuot or maybe you’ve got a cheesecake or dairy dish recipe to share.   We’d really love some dairy recipes from other cultures too. 

It can be hard to remember to count the Omer so people design ingenious Omer calendars of their own.   Remember there has to be 49 days.    We’d love to see your designs for counting the Omer.  Maybe even a textile version that could be kept and used from one year to the next.  Here is a link to some ideas   https://tinyurl.com/y9997vcj

Send your recipes or photos to laura@manchesterjewishmuseum.com or dara@manchesterjewishmuseum.com

And don’t forget to tell us how you plan to celebrate in these unusual times. Andrea  

Virtual Picnic

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