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  • Writer's pictureMiriam Green

Cheesecake and Yahrzeits

Every time I tell Mom I can’t visit this week because of Shavuot, the Jewish holiday that commemorates the giving of the Torah, Mom starts talking about Sukkot, the holiday of booths that is celebrated in the fall. I don’t know what the connection is, other than the sound of the holidays’ names.

“We used to build a sukkah on our balcony,” Mom tells me. I wonder where she is in time. Certainly not since their move to Israel almost 20 years ago have they constructed a sukkah. And growing up in Maryland, we built one on our back deck. A balcony? She must be referring to the sukkah her grandfather used to build in London with just enough sitting room for one.

What she hasn’t mentioned is her father’s yahrzeit two days before Shavuot.

I remember vividly the anguish I felt when my Zaida passed away more than 16 years ago. I was two weeks pregnant and it was as if God was giving me my child’s name in advance. In a rare reflective moment, the day we buried him, my grandmother asked me if she looked older. Mom and her sister Barbara were inconsolable. Two days before Shavuot and the traditional shiva, the seven days of mourning, were truncated to one and a half because of the holiday. Not enough to time to grieve with the comfort of friends and neighbors before they were right back to routine.

Now, we mention the anniversary of my Zaida’s passing with trepidation. How will Mom react? Will she remember Zaida’s been dead for years? Will she be shocked anew by the news of his death? We’ve lived so long without him that, for me, his absence is the norm. If Mom is remembering her childhood sukkah with such clarity, she might also remember her father as if he is still present.

Zaida lived to see the birth of three great-grand children. He adored my kids, and even towards the end, insisted on playing and interacting with them. The last picture we have of him shows him in his wheel chair sitting companionably next to my daughter in her carriage.

Zaida was one of the pickiest eaters I’ve ever met. In order to tempt him to eat vegetables, my grandmother would blend soups so he couldn’t see what was in them. And the only fruit he ate were apples. But give him herring or fried fish, and he was happy.

It is traditional on Shavuot to eat dairy meals. Some of our favorite dairy dishes are lasagna, quiche, scalloped potatoes, spanakopita, and mushroom-broccoli cheese casserole. Zaida would not have been happy. The first time he ate pizza with us at our local pizza parlor he told us it tasted like floor glue. Neither would Daddy with his lactose intolerance. It doesn’t really matter what we have as our main course, because it’s not Shavuot without cheesecake. Here’s my favorite cheesecake recipe. In the absence of other comfort, this keeps me happy.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecake

I only make this cheesecake once a year, not because it’s too complicated (or as my grandmother would say, patchkied), but because it is SO good that I can’t stop eating it. Don’t have a food processor? Crush cookies by placing them in a sealed bag and rolling with a rolling pin. Melt butter and chocolate together in the microwave and add to crushed cookies to form a chocolaty “dough.” Whipping cream by hand is tiresome but you can achieve a good thickness if you try.


1 ¾ cup petite beurre or other cookies crushed

6 Tbsp butter melted

½ (or more) 3.5 oz bar of chocolate crushed


1 cup plain cream cheese

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla

½ cup whipping cream


½ cup whipping cream

6 oz semi-sweet chocolate


In a food processor, crush cookies and chocolate. Melt butter in microwave for 40 seconds. Mix to form a “dough,” and pat into pie pan. In separate bowl, mix together the filling of cream cheese, peanut butter, sugar and vanilla. Whip cream with hand-held blender and fold into filling. Pour into pie pan and place in freezer. In microwave-safe bowl, pour in remaining non-whipped whipping cream and add chocolate. Microwave for 40 seconds, stir. Return to microwave for an additional 40 seconds if chocolate is not melted. Remove pie from freezer and pour microwaved chocolate cream on top. Return to freezer. Defrost before serving.

Thanks to Lianne Fram for sharing this recipe.

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