Made you look! But seriously, what’s up with the flower garlands for Shavuot? How did a holiday commemorating Matan Torah, Jews receiving the commandments at Mount Sinai, come to look like a music festival in the California desert?
And why can't I ever remember that I need flowers around Shavuot, and always end up torturing my child, as above, with homemade workarounds using the likes of cupcake liners?
There are a few theories. One is a legend that teaches that the Israelites found the barren desert bloomed with flowers as the earth rejoiced at the giving of the Torah.
Another, more modern, explanation is that Shavuot is a harvest holiday commemorating bikkurim. Bukkurim translates to visits, and refers to the biblical custom of visiting the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and bringing offerings of First Fruits, specifically the Seven Species of the Land of Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. Jews living in the diaspora were unable to celebrate the agricultural aspect of the holiday, and pivoted the focus to the land and its fruits when they reestablished settlements in Israel. Secular Kibbutzim and Moshavim celebrated with ceremonies comprised of parades of wagons bearing the fruits of the fields, including children dressed in spring attire and floral garlands.
Whatever the reason, bringing the outdoors in is now a major component of the celebration of Shavuot, with decorations of plants and flowers in our homes and on ourselves. But don't prep your famous brisket, because Shavuot is the only Jewish holiday celebrated with a dairy menu, symbolizing the land of milk and honey. Some believe that when the Israelites received the Torah, they were immediately obligated to follow its (kashrut) laws. Since there was no time to prepare kosher meat before their celebratory feast, the Israelites ate a dairy meal.
Wishing all a happy, hippy, and lactose tolerant, Shavuot!
The hand is a sign of protection, blessings, power, and strength
Our maternal grandmother used to tfu, tfu, tfu us (it’s amazing what I’ll turn into a verb these days). Our mom would throw a well-timed “bli ayin hara” or “kein ayin hara” when she talked about people’s beauty or good luck. But we’re once again picking favorites, and our Sephardic side wins. While I have no recollection of my grandparents, uncles, aunts, or father having superstitions or invoking sayings or items to offset bad luck, I married into a Moroccan family, and my mother-in-law has made me fall in love with amulets to counteract the effects of the evil eye.
Aside from the mezuzah, the most popular protectors from the evil eye in modern culture are the red string, the blue eye bead, the fish, and the hamsa.
Traditionally, red was viewed as defending against the evil eye. One of the items required for building the Mishkan, the portable Tabernacle that accompanied the Jewish people in the desert, was red thread. The red dye came from a type of worm, teaching that even the lowly worm has a role in God's dwelling place. From here, the red thread worn on the wrist was meant to remind us to gain inspiration from God and keep our egos in check, and this humility serves as the ultimate weapon against the evil eye.
The blue bead/charm is meant to mirror back the blue of the evil eye and thus confuse it (did I mention that blue-eyed people are viewed as carriers of the evil eye?). According to the Talmud, the fish is immune to the evil eye, since it lives under water, so it has been adopted as an effective amulet.
I know…I ran through those last couple with a quickness, so I could get to the hamsa. The hamsa has other names, as well, such as the hand of Miriam, the hand of G-d, or the hand of Fatima. Hamsa is the number five in Arabic, and the digits on the hand. The hand is a sign of protection, blessings, power, and strength, and the hamsa is seen both in jewelry and in home décor.
When we decided to launch a shop, I knew that the hamsa would figure prominently in what we offered. Its beauty, its symbolism, and its rich ties to history (not just Jewish history, but African, Greek, and Arab) make it irresistible to me.
When we were in LA over Pesach (not that my family realized that it was Pesach), I found a Tunisian man who introduced me to one of the first items we’ll offer in the shop – a hamsa dipper. This incredible creation, handmade and hand-painted, separates into 6 small plates from the palm and fingers and reveals a large hamsa-shaped serving plate underneath. Mine is proudly displayed in my dining room, and I can’t wait for you to add one to your home.