The history of cheesecake runs through Greece, Rome, 13th and 15th century Europe, all the way to the shores of New York City in the early 1900s. Cheesecake recipes varied throughout history but always included cheese-based ingredients; Ricotta, curds, and eventually cream cheese.
Is cheesecake a Jewish food?
The truth is, the cream cheese addition in cheesecake is a new(ish) invention. Cream cheese was not invented until 1873. Fifty-six years later, Arnold Reuben, a Jewish German immigrant, decided to put cream cheese in cheesecake instead of the other cheese-based alternatives and birthed what we know today as the New York cheesecake.
Picture of Arnold Reuben
I take great pride in the story of a Jewish German immigrant’s slight improvement to cheesecake. I think it is symbolic of the Jewish fighting spirit, the constant focus on challenging the status quo, looking to improve the world, and turning a history of struggle into something sweet.
Cheesecake is most certainly delicious, but what is its connection to Shavuos? The Torah does not state a start date for Shavuos as it does for Pesach (Passover) and Sukkos. The Torah only mentions that we are supposed to count 50 days (the omer period) starting on Pesach. On the day we finish counting, we then celebrate Shavuos.
It seems odd that we do not have a clear day for Shavuos. Many commentaries take a swing at the answer, but one stuck out to me. Passover is the holiday of freedom, freedom from the darkness of our lives, and freedom from the bad character traits that hold us back from becoming great. Passover is a spark of inspiration. Then G-d tells us to travel from Egypt to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. Throughout that period, we were commanded to use the spark of clarity from Passover to motivate ourselves to work on our character throughout our journey to Mount Sinai in order to be prepared spiritually, mentally, and physically to receive the Torah.
We do not have a day for the start of Shavuos because the entire counting period between Passover and Shavuos is connected. Without refining your character, you would not be able to enter Shavuos properly. Therefore, we do not have an explicit day for Shavuos. The only way to reach Shavuos is to count every day from Passover to constantly remind ourselves that we need to refine our character in order to receive the Torah properly on Shavuos.
The story of the New York cheesecake is a story of significant breakthroughs due to small changes. Character refinement is a life’s work. Small changes to our character over time can result in massive breakthroughs that enable us to manifest into who we are supposed to become.
Bite into that cheesecake, enjoy the creamy sweetness, and remember that small changes go a long way!