Many traditional Shavuot foods, like cheesecake, are hard for lactose-intolerant Jews to digest. (Pixabay)

Shavuot 2023: Where to learn, eat cheesecake and more around the Bay Area

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Although Shavuot began as a grain harvest festival in ancient times, the holiday also has been associated with the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai since Biblical times.

According to midrash Shir HaShirim Rabbah, the Israelites slept so deeply the night before the Torah was revealed at Mount Sinai that they had to be awakened with thunder and lightning.

So nowadays, in contrast to our groggy ancestors, we demonstrate our eagerness to receive Torah by pulling all-nighters.

This year, the two-day holiday begins at sundown on Thursday, May 25, but in keeping with its nickname in English, the “Feast of Weeks” is often observed before and sometimes even after its actual dates. In the Bay Area, for example, the lineup of events will kick off as early as May 18.

It’s also traditional to commemorate Shavuot by feasting on dairy desserts like cheesecake and blintzes — for myriad reasons, such as symbolizing “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). Thus, many gatherings include creamy treats.

Here are some of the public Shavuot events around the Bay Area this year. All are free unless noted.

San Francisco

Saturday, May 20

“Ice Cream Social” — Jewish Baby Network and Or Shalom Jewish Community present an event with various ice cream treats, popsicles, music, puppets, crafts and more. For families with kids 5 and under, and siblings. At Holly Park, 625 Holly Park Circle, S.F. 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m. Free, with registration.

Thursday, May 25

“Summer Night Dream” — Evening of Torah exploration, music, shmoozing and cheesecake. Kicks off at 7 p.m. with a program for kids. Presented by The Kitchen, Beth Sholom and JCCSF. At Congregation Beth Sholom, 301–14th Ave., S.F. 7-10:45 p.m. Free, with registration.

“Shavuot: Sitting at the Foot of the Mountain” — Family-friendly night of learning and Torah exploration. With sweet treats including pavlova, siete cielos challah and phyllo custard cake. Livestream and hybrid options. At Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, 290 Dolores St., S.F. 6-10 p.m. Free, registration required.

East Bay

Thursday, May 18

“Flan-tastico!” — Richmond-based Jewtina y Co. presents a virtual flan bake-off for Shavuot so people can celebrate Latin-Jewish culture plus learn about the history of the sweet Latin treat in Jewish tradition. 7-9 p.m. $18.

Saturday, May 20

PJ Library fruit picking — Decorate buckets, walk through orchards and pick cherries with PJ Library. Bring water, sunscreen and snacks. At Dwelley Family Farms, 515 Delta Road, Oakley. 9-11 a.m. Free, pay for what you pick; register by May 17.

Sunday, May 21

Jewish Baby Network — JBN East Bay and Jewish Gateways present an event with music, puppets, dancing, stories, crafts and holiday-themed snacks. For families with kids 3 and under, and siblings. At Virginia-McGee Totland, 1644 Virginia St., Berkeley. 10:30 a.m.-12 p.m. Free, with registration.

Singalong and more — Tkiya, Contra Costa ShaJam and PJ Playdates present an event with singing, movement, stories, puppets, bubbles, snacks and more. For families with kids 5 and under, and siblings. At Charlie Dorr Mini Park in Cedar Rose Park, 2208 Acton St., Berkeley. 3-4:30 p.m. Free, with registration.

Friday, May 26

“East Bay Tikkun: A Day of Learning on Shavuot” — JCC East Bay in partnership with more than 25 partner organizations offers dozens of classes on myriad topics, plus programs for preschool through fifth grade. Schedule provided with registration. 35th annual. At JCC East Bay, 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley. 2-8 p.m. Free, advance registration required.

North Bay

Saturday, May 20

“Hike and Learn on Mount Tam” — 3-mile hike led by GTU professor Sam Shonkoff, who will teach about revelation on the top of Mount Tamalpais, the “Mount Sinai of Marin.” Bring water. Presented by Taube Center for Jewish Peoplehood. Meet at a Mount Tam trailhead, location provided with registration. 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Free.

Sunday, May 21

“Domaine Eden Pre-Shavuot Experience” — Gathering and winery tour centered on Shavuot, Jewish wisdom, modern psychology and creative expression. For young Jewish professionals. With tasting and mixologist-crafted non-alcoholic cocktails. Presented by Career Up Now. At Domaine Eden Vineyards, 23000 Congress Springs Road, Saratoga. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. $50, registration required.

Thursday, May 25

“Tikkun Leil Shavuot: Torah from Coast to Coast” — Livestreamed Shavuot event for Jews of the Conservative/Masorti movements featuring presentations from rabbis, teachers, students and community leaders. With refreshments, dairy desserts and discussion with Rabbi Mordecai Miller. Come for all or part of the session. At Congregation Beth Ami, 4676 Mayette Ave., Santa Rosa. 5-10 p.m. Free.

“Tikkun Leyl Shavuot: The Slow Reveal” — Online night-of-learning event features 10 workshops centered on the theme of revelation. Titles include “Believing in God from a Buddhist and Jewish Perspective,” “Poetry as Revelation” and “The Mikveh of Psychedelics.” Presented by Sonoma County congregations Ner Shalom and Shomrei Torah. 5:30 p.m.-12 a.m. Free.

Friday, May 26

Chabad of Sonoma County — A family-friendly celebration with dairy buffet, ice cream party and reading of the Ten Commandments. At Joseph Weingarten Chabad Jewish Center, 2461 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa. 5 p.m. Free, with registration.

South Bay & Peninsula

Sunday, May 21

“Family Cooking: Shavuot” — Hands-on class for preschool and elementary-age kids to make berry cheesecake muffins and rainbow fruit parfaits with their parents. Led by Michelle Greenebaum of Together in the Kitchen. At Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. 4-5 p.m. $40 per family.

Thursday, May 25

“Tikkun Leil Shavuot” — Congregations Etz Chayim, Beth Am, Kol Emeth and Keddem, plus Gideon Hausner day school, Kehillah High School and the Oshman Family JCC present an all-night event with services, learning sessions centered on stories of conversion and Jewish identity, a short film, snacks, seven species tasting and blintzes. At Kol Emeth, 4175 Manuela Ave., Palo Alto. 7:15 p.m.-6:30 a.m. Free.

Saturday, May 27

“Home Sweet Shavuot” — A night of learning up and down Highway 101 features eight sessions, some in English and some in Hebrew, hosted in the homes of families in Hillsborough, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Saratoga and San Jose. Followed by Havdalah. Presented by Oshman Family JCC, Peninsula JCC and Jewish Silicon Valley. Locations provided with registration. 7:30-9:30 p.m. $10.

Lea Loeb
(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Lea Loeb

Lea Loeb is engagement reporter at J. She previously served as editorial assistant.