Even though there is no shortage of reasons why we have the tradition of eating dairy foods on Shavuot, I should like to offer one more reason. I do so because milk, from which all dairy foods derive, is the epitome of paradoxes. Originating in the udder of a cow (or goat or sheep or any other kosher mammal), milk is encased in a pouch of flesh (udder is a meat available for human consumption in other cultures). Yet, the moment milk is extracted from that pouch of flesh, “dairy distancing” comes into effect, both as far as time and space.
Yet, paradox defines Judaism. As a world population, we Jews are in the decimal digits. As far as land, (the State of Israel), the vast majority of states in this country are larger than the State of Israel. Yet, if American culture and society are any indications, one could easily be duped into thinking that Jews are a significant portion of the population. Jews are overrepresented in the fields of law and medicine. Jews play a major role in entertainment – so much so, that many believed that Ed Solomon (sic) of the Ed Sullivan show was Jewish (he was married to Sylvia Weinstein). The Irish comprise 10% of the population of this country. Yet, in my lifetime, I have never been aware of politicians in this country running for national office being concerned about the Irish vote. Nor does Ireland or its population and politics garner front-page news the way Israel does. So entrenched is the paradox of Jews and Israel in this country, that few if any, even regard it as a paradox.
It is not in any way unheard of for non-Jews, to see Judaism as an extremely logical religion. Perhaps so. But Jews, as well as the Jewish State, defy logic. I am no statistician, but I am told that if the number of Jews killed throughout history by the outside world “in the name of heaven” were fed into a computer, then according to logic, there should be no Jews left on the face of this earth. No different than the one-day supply of oil, discovered in the ransacked Temple in Jerusalem over two thousand years ago, Jews defy the odds. Even Look Magazine ran a front-page story in 1964 on “The Vanishing American Jew”. Look Magazine has long been consigned to history; Jews continue to make history. Jews are a paradox when it comes to lasting power. No other people could endure what we Jews have endured and continue to exist, much less thrive. So too the Jewish State. According to military analysts in the Pentagon in the Spring of 1948, the newly established State of Israel did not have a “snowball’s chance in hell” of survival. Then again, paradoxes pay no heed to logic, analysts, or predictions.
Perhaps the greatest paradox concerning our people is our resistance. Judaism is and has always been resistant to outside forces. While the Hellenists, the Romans, the Church (the Crusades) the Communists, and the Nazis were successful in destroying Jews, not one of these enemies could claim victory in destroying Judaism. If anything, the exact opposite turned out to be the case. Known for our obstinance, we Jews defiantly sounded the shofar, lit Chanukah candles, baked Matzahs, and conducted seders even under the most hellish conditions. At the same time, Judaism is extremely vulnerable to forces from within. Unlike the impotence of our enemies, we Jews can cause Judaism to vanish and disappear. All we have to do is to ignore our religion with its traditions and practices. Within a short time, Judaism will cease to be. Perhaps, this is the greatest paradox of all. We Jews have within our ability to undo what the enemy has tried to do over the ages. All that is required of us, is to do nothing.
Comfort food has been defined as food that provides a nostalgic or sentimental value. Perhaps so. With the festival of Shavuot soon upon us, I propose that cheese blintzes, calzones, lasagna, and pizza be considered comfort food. By eating dairy, let us find comfort, that like milk, we Jews, despite our numbers, are a paradox as far as our importance in this country. Let us find comfort in realizing that typically, milk has a short shelf life. We Jews, however, have been around for ages. As far as Jewish lasting power, expiration dates are academic. Most important of all, let us find comfort in knowing that when it comes to milk, we cannot afford to ignore, without risking placing the cow in jeopardy. Similarly, when we ignore Judaism, we risk placing ourselves in jeopardy. Regarding milk, it has been said that it is good for all ages.
So too Judaism.
A meaningful Dairy Festival of Shavuot to all