From the Hebrew word for “weeks,” Shavuot is a reference to the seven weeks it took for the Jews to travel from Egypt to the foot of Mount Sinai and the declaration of the 50th day as a holy convocation (Leviticus 23:21). It is customary on Shavuot to read the section of the Torah that defines the Ten Commandments (which Moses received at Mount Sinai), as well as the Book of Ruth (which is a testament to loyalty, devotion and the act of conversion to Judaism) and passages from Psalms (which are credited to David, King of Israel and the great-grandson of Ruth.) Shavuot also is one of the four times during the year when we mourn together (Yizkor) and recite the memorial prayers in remembrance of those whom we have loved and lost. Interestingly, it is said that David was born on Shavuot and died on Shavuot.
Several culinary traditions are associated with Shavuot: having two challot (one for each tablet of the Ten Commandments) and the eating of dairy treats, specifically cheesecake and blintzes (references to the sweetness of Torah and a “land of milk and honey”). In addition, many Reform congregations celebrate with a ceremony of confirmation on Shavuot — a tradition started in Germany in 1810 and introduced in North America in 1847 by Temple Emanu-El.