We have just concluded the last of the three pilgrimage festivals. Shavu’ot, like Sukkot and Passover, is a commanded observance found in the sixteenth chapter of the book of Deuteronomy. There are a variety of beautiful customs for this early summer holy day, and it has long been one of my favourite holidays.
One of the traditions our family has is to eat Entenmann’s donuts (This is Entenmann’s official corporate spelling of “doughnut.”). Though dairy foods are traditionally eaten on this chag, doughnuts (of any type or spelling) are not typically associated with Shavu’ot.
It all started West of Hester Street…
In 1985, our synagogue held its first Tikkun Leil Shavu’ot. I can’t remember why it was decided to introduce this practice as it was a relatively unknown custom in the Reform Movement at the time. (It has since gained some serious traction in the liberal Jewish community.) I don’t know what else was on the program for that evening, but the part which has stayed with me all of these years was a documentary called “West of Hester Street.” It tells of the decision of some of the leaders of the American Jewish community to redirect new immigrants away from New York out of concern that the US Government would suddenly realize that they had let in enough Jews and would close the doors to immigration. Their idea? Send them to a little island off the coast of Texas.
In many ways, it was a galvanizing moment for me. Prior to watching this documentary, I was completely unaware of the presence of a Jewish community on Galveston Island or the Galveston Movement.that resettled nearly 10,000 Jewish immigrants there instead of the Lower East Side. And it was my first understanding that the United States I had romanticized was not quite as hospitable as I had understood it to be. And that our community, understandably, felt our position here to be a bit precarious.
So why Entenmann’s. Clearly they were not eaten at Sinai.
They were, however, served at that Tikkun. It was the first time that I had ever eaten them. Entenmann’s is an east coast company. The only packaged goods available in California were Hostess and they weren’t kosher. Do you have any idea what it’s like to be the only kid at lunch who didn’t have Twinkies, Ding Dongs, or powdered doughnuts in your Charlie’s Angels lunchbox?
Which is why the arrival of these kosher delicacies was greeted with much anticipation. Forever cementing a connection between them and the giving of Torah.
My kids love these donuts (it pains me to spell it this way) and since we eat them on Shavu’ot (the celebration of the giving of the Torah) and at Simchat Torah (the celebration of the completion of the annual Torah reading cycle and start of the next annual cycle), they associate this sweet, round food with the ongoing sweetness that the Torah brings to our lives.
It’s not the only way we observe Shavu’ot. But I’m betting it will stand out when our kids look back on their childhood and be a reminder of Shavu’ot mornings from long ago.