Shavout — celebrating the gift of the Ten Commandments


Among the many interfaith experiences I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy over the years, celebrating Shavout in the home of Rabbi Richard and Sharon Hammerman remains a treasured memory.

 When I noticed Shavout – a forerunner of Pentecost – on the religious calendar Deacon Frank Webber was kind enough to bring to me from St. Robert Bellarmine Parish, Freehold, this  year, it brought back memories of that night with the Hammerman’s and I wanted to share them.

Rabbi Hammerman was the spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Israel, the Conservative synagogue  in Toms River at the time and a key member of the interfaith community that took such an active interest in the life and health of the greater Toms River area. He and his wife Sharon were an inspiration as they worked along side so many religious leaders (including Msgr. Casimir Ladzinski and later Msgr. Sean Flynn) to get affordable housing and organizations like Caregivers going in Ocean County.

They were real mentors in my own life as I followed a path that led from writing about religion for the secular press to joining the staff of The Monitor in order to write full time about Catholic matters.

On Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah – including the Ten Commandments – to Moses at Sinai, they always held a long Torah study followed by a food fest of the most delicious treats for, Shavuot is a sweet, sweet holiday. Until that night though, I knew almost nothing about it. With their help, I discovered that Shavuot is a joyous festival, rich with flowers, greenery, alive with the word of scripture and flowing, so to speak, with milk and honey.

That night I learned that it is customary to eat dairy foods such as blintzes and cheesecake, an explanation being that when the Jewish people received the Torah on Shavuot, they were not ready for the kosher laws God had just imposed for meat preparation. They had to eat dairy foods which are much easier to prepare. Blintzes and cheesecake are typical Shavuot fare.

However, Sharon Hammerman’s cheesecake was so memorable that I wouldn’t even try to replicate it. But blintzes, now, that’s another story. These are an old favorite of mine and not hard at all to prepare.

They are a perfect Shavuot treat because they are filled with cream cheese and, if you like, you can top them with honey!

Easy Blintzes for Shavuot or any other time 

Ingredients For the Filling — 2 packages of cream cheese — light or regular according to your taste; 2 egg yolks mixed well; 3 teaspoons melted butter; 6 teaspoons of vanilla flavored sugar; 1 pinch salt.

Ingredients For the Crepes — 4 eggs, 1/1/2 cups of flour; 1 1/2 cups of milk; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 2 tablespoons sugar. Mix all the filling ingredients together in a bowl and set aside. Butter substitute — I like Smart Balance — to fry them in.

Directions: Mix all the filling ingredients together in a bowl and set aside. Make the shells by beating the eggs and milk together, then gradually sifting in the flour, salt and sugar. The mixture must be thin so gradually add more milk if it starts to thicken up.  Melt the butter substitute in a large frying pan and when hot, put about 3 tablespoons of the batter into the pan, tilting the frying pan to make the blintz thin. Cook each crepe-pancake until it just begins to brown and slide out of the pan onto a waiting  plate. Put the cooked side up to receive filling. Place a heaping tablespoon of the filling in the center of the crepe, fold over from the four sides to keep the filling secure. Roll over to seal. It should look like a flat cigar. Fry the blintzes again until the shell is golden brown.

The blintzes can be topped with everything from whipped cream & fresh fruit to jam or honey. I like them sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.

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