Jewish Tradition,By The Slice


In traditional Jewish circles, Shavuot is zman matan Torateinu, the time of the giving of our Torah.

In many Jewish circles, Shavuot is “the cheesecake holiday.”

The holiday, which starts Tuesday night, marks God’s giving the Torah to the freed nation of Hebrew slaves on Mount Sinai, 49 days after the Exodus from Egypt. Dairy products are often eaten on Shavuot to commemorate the inclusion in the Torah of instructions for slaughtering kosher animals and preparing kosher meat.

Until then, some scholars say, the Jews usually ate only milchig, or dairy.

Which means cheesecake at Shavuot.

Which means long hours at S&S Cheesecake in Riverdale.

The 66-year-old kosher bakery, under the supervision of the Vaad of Riverdale, steps up its cheesecake production in the weeks before the holiday, freezing and shipping thousands of cakes, staying open late on the day before the holiday begins. “I want to make the freshest possible,” says owner Yair Ben-Zaken.

Co-owner Fred Schuster, above and inset, puts some of the cakes into the oven. Juan Delegado with Schuster, left, place some cakes on a cooling tray.

Most popular is pineapple cheesecake, Ben-Zaken says. “Some like strawberry; some, cherry.”

No exotic flavors, he says. “We stick to the most popular.” Customers drive in before the holiday from as far as Boston. And they place orders from China, Singapore and Mexico. “All over the world.”

Many non-Jews, who know the Shavuot customs, stop in this time of year to buy baked gifts for their Jewish friends.

Ben-Zaken says his sweetest memories are of cakes for the infirm. Relatives of terminally ill people come by often — a cheesecake, they tell him, is someone’s “last request.”

That happened as recently as last week, he says.

“That,” Ben-Zaken says, “is what keeps me going.”

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