It was a sacred tradition. We would load up our minivans with lots and lots of food and our kids and head to the desert to celebrate Z’man Matan Tora’teinu (the Time of the Giving of the Torah).
We all looked forward to our annual Shavuot Palm Springs pilgrimage, a reunion of friends who had met as young adults through the Sephardic Educational Center (SEC). We started as a small group, when our kids were young and as they got older, the crowd grew to include more than 100 Ashkenazi, Sephardic and Ashkephardic families.
Families would arrive at the hotel and compare notes on the drive out and their haul at the outlet malls and how close their villa was to the pool.
Every family received a welcome bag with a schedule of events and pool toys and candy and some fresh-baked biscochos.
As the sun set, the desert air would cool and a calm would descend, with only the occasional child whizzing by on a scooter. You could feel the anticipation in the air.
Did we mention there was food? Lots and lots of food. Rachel and our dear friend Esther Avrahamy would organize candlelit dinners under the stars. The first-night potluck would feature vast array of dairy dishes — enchiladas, quiches, blintzes, bourekas, lasagnas, macaroni and cheese and baked ziti. There was grilled salmon and fried fish. There were Israeli salads, Greek salads, green salads and even sushi salad. Other nights, the menu would feature traditional Moroccan fare and sometimes just good ol’ mouthwatering barbecue.
After all that eating, there would be a dessert potluck with a cheesecake competition. Well, it wasn’t much of a competition because our friend Shira Navon always won with her highly addictive Bourbon Butterscotch Cheesecake.
There was food, but more importantly, there was camaraderie and laughter, spirituality and purpose. There were incredibly fun watermelon-eating contests and hula hoop contests by the pool and there were competitive pool volleyball games with more than 20 players on each team.
There was spirited learning with Rabbi Daniel Bouskila and fun speeches by SEC President Neil Sheff. There were dvar Torahs delivered by our sons and daughters. There was the reading of the Book of Ruth. And there was the heartwarming scene of parents and children crowded in the synagogue, standing to hear the Ten Commandments. A link in the chain from Mount Sinai.
This Shavuot there will be a little less food (better for our waistlines). We hope you are inspired by our healthy recipes for grilled fish, spanakopita and lemony Greek potatoes. And we hope you indulge in our delicious, decidedly dairy and very creamy cheesecake.
This year the Sephardic Educational Center celebrates its 40th anniversary. A center for all Jews, the SEC looks forward to seeing you at live events very soon and hopes to welcome you at our next Shavuot Retreat in the desert.
GRILLED WHOLE SNAPPER
2-3 pounds whole snapper, gutted and scaled with head and tail intact
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
Fresh parsley and oregano, minced, for garnish
Place fish with all the ingredients into a large Ziploc bag.
Marinate for one hour or in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours, coating the fish in olive oil and lemon, allowing the flavors to be absorbed into the flesh.
Grill on clean, very hot barbecue or charcoal grill, or in a baking dish 450 F.
Grill fish 10-20 minutes on each side, depending on size and thickness. It’s easy to turn after it has cooked long enough.
Place on platter, drizzle with sauce from Lemony Greek Potatoes (recipe follows) and serve more lemon sauce on the side.
Garnish with parsley and oregano.
Makes 2-4 servings.