Adventures in the Desert

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A few weeks ago I mentioned to a friend that I had always wanted to see (but never had) the film, Lawrence of Arabia starring Peter O’Toole and Omar SharifObviously, things in the universe aligned, and I jumped at the opportunity to accompany friends on a spectacular field trip. 36 hours in the Negev Desert and the Arava region of southern Israel, which included a one-time screening of the movie about 20 miles from where it was filmed in Wadi Rum, Jordan.

The verdant fields of central Israel soon gave way to blowing sands, Bedouin villages, and the desert. Now I could experience, at least for a little while, the footsteps of the Patriarchs. In front of me was the eastern Negev: the Arava. To the North, the Dead Sea Valley. To the extreme south, the Red Sea. This region is part of the Syrian-African Rift, stretching from Turkey to Africa about 3000 miles. The Trans-Jordan cliffs to the East (Biblical Edom) and the mountains of the Negev that run parallel to the West make up the 110 mile Arava Valley floor. The sandy expense of the Negev makes up more than half of Israel’s land mass. It was the land of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Of Moses. And later in history, under the British Mandate of Palestine, the land of T.E. Lawrence.

Except for stopping the car every 15 minutes to get out and take pictures, I made record time to the kibbutz where we would drop off our things before heading to the Arava International Film Festival in the new little village of Zukim (Tsookim/Zuqim/Tzukim). Tzukim in Hebrew, means cliffs. This community, first established by a group of Israelis and Anglos from the Southwestern United States in 2003, reminds me of communities one would find in Arizona and New Mexico. From the landscape to the architecture, it all seems strangely familiar. This little yishuv has big plans to double its size of 300 residents within the next ten years. Its main economy comes from travel tourism. Many of the homes have adjoining tsimmerim or guest lodges offering magnificent views and spa services as well as a small selection of gourmet (chef) restaurants. A community and sport center is currently under construction. Large buildable lots for sale offer expansive views of the red rocks and sandstone cliffs of the Negev. And what a magnificent view!!! There is also a funky desert artist colony there featuring sculpture, pottery, weaving and paintings.

 

For the past eight years, Zukim has hosted the Arava International Film Festival each November. Featuring the top tier of global cinema, the movies include old classics, international award winners, animation, shorts, documentaries, and films for children and adolescents. This film festival is garnering worldwide critical acclaim. The specially constructed “theater” is situated outdoors between the desert bluffs, yet consideration has been made for maximum comfort. Moviegoers recline on super-comfortable pillows lining the stands and are provided with individual luxurious fleece blankets for snuggling under during the chilly desert evenings. Pop-up restaurants line the path to the entrance, featuring fast food, gourmet, vegan, and Kosher options. Dine in a desert tent or take the food with you into the stands.

The filmmakers (or in our case, the immediate family members) are invited to share their experiences in the making of the movie featured that evening. What a treat! Both David Lean’s and Sam Spiegel’s families were there to speak on their travels in Jordan, Morocco and Egypt to film Lawrence of Arabia. Sam Spiegel was an ardent Zionist. Who knew?  As Jordan’s Hashemite Tribe controls the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, and they were so pleased with the movie, Spiegel was the only Jew to be allowed to pray at the Western Wall between 1948-1967. For us, the once-in-a lifetime opportunity to watch this masterpiece under the stars near its actual location was, as Sam Spiegel, Jr. said, “almost as good as watching Star Wars from outer space.”

The following morning. we woke up early to explore Kibbutz Lotan, where we spent the night. It is located about twenty minutes north of the city of Eilat on the Red Sea. Founded in 1983 by the Reform Judaism Movement, Kibbutz Lotan is “a place where spirit and earth meet.” IMG_5245.jpeg

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The community thrives on eco-tourism and its date farm. At one end is the kibbutz housing for the residents and the guesthouses for visitors. Each structure is made from straw and desert earth and is powered by solar and wind energy. As with all kibbutzim, there is a central dining hall, a kindergarten, and an elementary school as well as a library, synagogue and community center. A swimming pool and tea house/cafe are available for kibbutzniks and visitors. Bicycles, the preferred method of transportation on the kibbutz, are also available for the guests. Birdwatching and frisbee golf are favorite pass-times for both residents and visitors to Lotan. Eco-tours are given daily.

Of special interest is the Center for Creative Ecology, a sustainable community consisting of a dozen cottages where participants live, farm, and cook their meals. Recycled vegetable oil is used for fueling many of the kitchen appliances. Everything is recycled and composted for use in the desert vegetable garden and fruit tree orchard. Except for potable drinking water, all of the water used for irrigation, cleaning, laundry is recycled gray water or desalinated water from the Mediterranean. Vegetarian  cooking classes are offered where participants can bake breads and pizzas in the hand-crafted clay ovens.

Before our return trip to the North, a visit to Kibbutz Yotvata, the oldest kibbutz in the Arava, was in order. The Yotvata Dairy is famous throughout Israel for sakit shoko (sa-keet’ show-koh), chocolate milk that comes in a hand-held plastic sac. Every kid here loves it! Tear off a corner of the bag with your teeth and enjoy sucking out the velvety, rich chocolate milk inside. It’s an Israeli institution. And at the tour, you get to taste that shoko. In my opinion, Yotvata is some of the best milk in the country. And their homemade ice cream (glee-dah’ which is only available at the Yotvata Factory store) is the best in all the land! Even though they live in the desert, Yotvata cows are happy cows and their milk is a testament to that fact.

It’s amazing to see how these adventurous, hard-working Israelis are cultivating the barren desert. David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, had a dream of making the desert bloom. A blooming it is. All along Highway 90 are date farms, pomegranate orchards, and rows and rows of covered agricultural tents. Using desalinated water, recycled water, and water from the Red Sea, there are tropical fish farms – yes!!! You read that correctly! We found Nemo in the desert! And herb farms – we found fresh Basil in the desert! And tropical flower farms! You can even visit the most eccentric place called Crocoloco, a crocodile farm in the desert. It is definitely a land of ingenuity!!! G-d promised He would make the desert bloom again –

Israel is a land of history, archaeology, culture, and breathtaking beauty. For a country smaller than the state of New Jersey, it never ceases to amaze me! It takes a certain kind of person to settle in the desert – and the people we met were part visionary, part stout-hearted – quirky and eclectic people. People devoted to a dream. Fiercely independent, a bit alternative, totally Israeli. I leave you with a bit of that quirkiness found in the most extreme regions….

Because It’s All About the Benjamins, Baby

Over the past several weeks, many people have written to me asking about the state of current affairs in the Israeli government, and about the past elections. I will attempt to explain the situation both here and abroad without editorializing or adding personal opinion. For a quick overview of the Israeli political system, please go to my February 18, 2019 blog on israeldreams.com Election Season:The Political Post

Last April 9, 2019, Israelis went to the polls after the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) was dissolved under a vote of no-confidence in the government of 2018. In Israel, the voters choose the party they want to represent them in the 120-seat Knesset. The system was originally designed as a true Democracy.  Because there are so many different parties, the winning party is forced to come together with as many other like-minded  parties who would be willing to work towards a semblance of common goals. After the votes are tallied, the President hands the mandate over to the winning party head, who, in turn, has 28 days to cobble together a coalition of at least 61 seats to form a working government. From the leading party, the Prime Minister is selected. None of the parties (there were over 40 registered parties in the April election) are large enough to make a coalition on their own.

Last April, the Likud Party, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, received a record number of votes. President Reuven Rivlin gave Netanyahu the mandate to form a government. The closest rival party, Blue & White, was lead by Team Benny Gantz (former Chief of Staff of the IDF under Netanyahu) and Yair Lapid (former television anchor and Finance Minister). They ran a Center-Left campaign and planned to share power, alternating the chair of Prime Minister between Gantz and Lapid, had they won enough votes. Lapid emerged as an “anyone but Bibi” player, refusing any attempts at compromise to form a unity government between Likud and Blue & White. Also, a key player, was Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Center-Right Yisrael Beitenu party, which received five seats. He was labeled “The Kingmaker, ” because by siding with either Likud or Blue & White, a majority ruling party would be formed. Instead, egos prevailed. Lieberman (former Minister of Defense under Netanyahu) refused to settle with Blue & White as they are too Left-leading for his party. He would not join with Likud because they are lined up with religious parties. Even though he espouses himself to the Right, he refused to join a Right Wing government where religious (Haredi) Jews are not forced to draft into the army or national service and stores and transportation are closed on the Sabbath. His party is strictly a nationalist secular one and he desires a “once-and for all, no-nonsense end” to the Gaza problem, yet he has not specified what that entails.

Hamas controls Gaza and regularly sends over barrages of missiles into southern Israel, in addition to their regular Friday riots along the border wall. The Hamas terrorists launch balloon bouquets with attached incendiary devices; they burn tires smoking out neighboring Israeli communities; throw grenades and molotov cocktails over the fence and at IDF soldiers; and try to scale over the fence or create terror tunnels leading to Israel in order to infiltrate and kill Jews. Israel supplies Gaza with water and electricity, but they are over a two years deficient on paying their bills. The border between Israel and Gaza has been sealed off by wall, fencing, and undersea barricades. There are set border crossings which are manned on either side by their respective armies.

Because an impasse had been reached in the last April Israeli election results, and no official government had been able to come together, new elections were called. It gave time for new alliances to be formed with several parties converging and some dropping out altogether. The second round of elections were held on September, 17,2019.

There are many people here opposed to Benjamin Netanyahu. Many native, secular, and left-leaning Israelis would like to see Bibi out at any cost. When asked why, typical answers include “He’s been in power way too long;” “He has established a dynasty. He wants to be king;” “I really don’t like his family. His wife is a shrew;” and “Bibi is completely corrupt.” Also, many citizens, especially those living in the South feel Bibi has been too soft on the Gaza terrorists. As one political hack recently wrote, “Ten rockets fired at Israel Friday night. Bibi’s response… NOTHING? Are you kidding me? This is your plan to protect Israel and our beloved residents in the South???? Nothing????”  Prime Minister Netanyahu has decided to hit back directly, strongly and regionally, destroying only known Hamas weapons factories and terror cell hideouts. Because there is a distinct possibility of a full-scale, Iranian-backed Hizbulla conflict to the North; and the strengthening of Iranian-supplied Houthi rebels in Yemen poised to attack from the South, Netanyahu fears opening up a three-pronged, full-blown war fought on all sides. So his tactic is more quid pro quo in dealing with the Gaza situation. And many people here feel it just is not enough.

For the past few years the press has been reporting of scandal and corruption – mainly in the form of bribe-taking – by Netanyahu. There has been widespread talk, especially in the weeks before the elections, that Attorney General Mandelblitt would indict the Prime Minister on corruption charges. So far, this has amounted to little more than talk and no official indictment. The mainstream Israeli media has sided with Blue and White, for the most part in their attempts to ouster Likud.

There are other foreign entities who would like to see Netanyahu toppled as well. Because he has made friends with the leaders of many countries throughout the world (especially once-hostile Arab nations); because he has helped uncover the looming threats from Iran; and because he has strengthened Israel technologically, economically and militarily, as well as encouraged settlements in Judaea and Samaria, he is seen as a threat by some.

Going back to the 2015 elections –

                   The [U.S.] State Department paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayers grants to an Israeli group [One Voice] that used the money to build a campaign to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in last year’s parliamentary elections, a congressional investigation concluded…the money was used to build a voter database, train activists, and hire a political consulting firm tied to President Obama’s campaign – all of  which set the stage for an anti-Netanyahu campaign, the Senate Permanent  Subcommittee on Investigations said in a bipartisan staff report.                                                                                                                             -Washington Times, July 12, 2016

Several tactics developed by the George Soros-funded Open Society have been exported to Israel along with activists, money transfers and Rock-the-Vote style endeavors. Open Society funds many other Progressive groups, including the New Israel Fund, J Street, and Standing Together (also supported monetarily by the Ford Foundation in the United States). Working closely with Leftist Israeli political activists, including New Israel Fund grantees, Students for Justice in Palestine and J Street, American- funded Progressive groups attempting to replace Netanyahu played an important role in this past (September 17, 2019) election cycle.  I take this directly from the nif.org website:

NIF grantee, Zazim [Let’s Move, in Hebrew] – Community Action plan to    transport Bedouin voters from unrecognized villages to polling stations.

As the “Get on the Bus” Movement in the United States’ 2008 & 2012 elections had a sizable impact on the voter turnout which helped Obama become elected, it was decided to implement the same tactic within the Arab communities in Israel in the 2019 elections. There were reports of Samsung and Motorola phones given out in return for votes for the Arab Joint List members.

Also, from the nif.org website:

The Likud party’s campaign to plant cameras in polling stations which was intended to suppress Arab voters under the guise of preventing ‘voter fraud,’ was fortunately thwarted by a coalition of NIF grantees.

(According to Gavi E., a polling station attendant I interviewed, as a protest in some of the Arab villages in the North, the voting boxes had been filled with envelopes containing multiple party slips and envelopes that had been stuffed with toilet paper containing human feces. There was talk of placing cameras in polling stations to avoid rabble-rousing, but this idea was quickly nixed as being unfair)

Civil society organizations led an inspiring campaign against racism and Jewish supremist ideas this election cycle. While there are still political candidates and parties that support racist doctrines… NIF grantees took a stand and waged a grassroots campaign called “Don’t put racism in the ballot box,” mobilizing Israelis to demand that [ultra-Orthodox religious] not be allowed to run. -nif.org

Seizing the opportunity to escalate a terrible and tragic event this past summer was the American-backed, Israeli activist movement, Standing Together, Omdim B’Yachad.  Ethiopian immigrants with great needs form part of a minority in Israel. They are often overlooked and many live way below the poverty level in the larger downtrodden areas of Tel Aviv and Haifa. This summer an Ethiopian youth, Salomon Tekeh, was killed by an off-duty police officer. Although the case was reviewed thoroughly, and it was reported that Tekeh had instigated a troubling situation and had threatened the lives of children in a play-area, many Ethiopians believed he was killed in cold blood by the off-duty policeman on the scene. They also believe their plight is largely ignored by the government, which, unfortunately, is true. But riots which took place all around Israel were organized, in part, by Standing Together and the New Israel Fund in order to highlight racial inequity and foment dissent in the public sector. The Ethiopian community usually votes in a block to the Right, but by establishing a new ‘Ethiopian” political straw party, Tzedek (Justice), which had gone mostly unnoticed, there were hopes that Netanyahu would be unseated by the loss of votes to the Right. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were funneled by these Soros-backed groups to prop up one of the leaders of  Tzedek, Avi Yalo, who is also a leading member of the Committee for Workers International, promoting Trotskyism. Other top officials in the party are not Ethiopian, but receive grant money from Soros-funded groups. They include Saliman Amoor, Yulia Zemlinsky, Ishak Saporta and Yoav Lalum.

The September 17 election round held surprising results for some. Blue and White with Benny Gantz (I’m not sure why Lapid fell through the cracks this time) squeaked by with a slight lead over Likud and Netanyahu. The shock to Israel electoral results came from the Arab sector. The Joint List is a loose political alliance made up of several different Arab parties…. Muslim, Christian, Druze, Bedouin. Most of the Israeli Arab citizenry vote for someone along these party lines or they vote Likud. However, each faction composing the multi-faceted Joint List represents a different pressing need of the community it represents; and until now, has mostly been disorganized, at best. They usually receive 3-5 seats represented in Knesset. This past September, with the help of  the Zazim bussing project, and with the help of others who tried to strengthen the Palestinian cause, the Joint List became a leading contender. If the Arab votes could further drive a wedge in the two front-runners, there would potentially be more confusion in the formation of a stable government.  U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, D. MN, on Face The Nation, September 15, and also addressing Arab-Israeli voters directly through social media and television, called for the replacement of Netanyahu.  Also, JStreet backed several members of the Arab Joint list in the polls as a way to suspend West Bank settlement development and resuscitate a flailing Two-State Solution. As a result, the Joint List pulled off a record 13 Knesset Seats. They emerged as Israel’s third largest political party, and have backed Benny Gantz and Blue and White.

In September, President Rivlin met with each of the three parties to hear their platform. The mandate was first given to Benny Gantz, who deferred to Benjamin Netanyahu, who agreed with Rivlin’s proposal to form a Unity Government. It was suggested that Likud come together with Blue & White and that the two Benjamins take alternating turns as Prime Minister. Netanyahu would serve first. In the event of an indictment, Gantz would replace him. After Netanyahu was unable to form a working coalition, he agreed to join with Benny Gantz, who, in turn, rejected the proposal. The mandate was given back to Gantz, with members of the Joint List throwing their backing to Blue & White. Upon meeting with the Joint List representatives at the President’s home, Rivlin sat silent as Representative Ahmad Tibi (who praised terrorist murderers as “martyrs”) boldly stated

….we are not present absentees, we are not guests, we are the owners of this land. Not residents of this country. We did not immigrate here, we are a native population, and this native population sent us here to make a change.

For years, the Joint List by their own choosing, was outside the coalition consensus. Theirs was a strictly nationalist ideology representing Arabs most of whom reside in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. They are opposed to a Jerusalem capital of Israel. (The capital city of Ramallah is the recognized capital of Palestine). They are opposed to the presence of Jews on the Temple Mount (the latest hotbed of “discussion” whether as tourists or worshippers. There is not one member of this party that has accepted Israel’s right to exist. They are comprised of a loose party of Islamists, Communists, Fascists, Bedouins united under Arab sovereignty of Israel. Their platform includes unlimited building in the Negev and the Galilee; extending sovereignty over national parks and lands; continued payments for martyrs’ families (their ‘martyrs’ are terrorists who have been killed by the IDF during the act of perpetrating a terror incident); complete autonomy over the education system; major prisoner releases; reverting the State of Israel to pre-1967 (completely indefensible- look at a map) lines; and denying legitimacy of the State of Israel as a Jewish homeland. With them there is no co-existence, no wavering. The Jews would be expected to pay dhimmi (taxes levied against non-Muslims) and would be relegated to second class citizens. Their charter is all in writing and can be easily verified.

At the JStreet Conference, held October 26-29 of this year in Washington, D.C. Invited speakers included Joint List Representative Ayman Odeh, Nitzan Horowitz, member of Knesset from the Leftist Meretz Party, a Socialist Democratic Zionist Party and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who also ran in the elections under a small splinter group. Besides backing both Benny Gantz and U.S. Presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, both Odeh and Horowitz call for a two state solution to Israel, as well as moving the borders of Israel to the pre-1967 lines. Jerusalem would not be the designated capital of Israel, but Tel Aviv. More money would be given to Judaean and Samarian Arab communities and much of the border wall/fencing would come down. Supporting interest groups from North America include Partners for Progressive Israel and the Progressive Jewish Alliance.

As this week, the Arab Joint List has called for a unity Blue & White/Arab party which would be Center Left/Left. Gantz refuses to sit with Netanyahu. Netanyahu refuses to lose the religious vote. Once again Lieberman will not sit with either majority party. Gantz has engaged in dialogue with the Joint List, but that has now failed.  Many Israelis are more than disturbed with the possibility of a protegé of Arafat and terrorism supporters being privy to top secret classified (military) information. Most people are tired of more of the same and underwhelmed with the possibility of a third election.

At this point – and proposals and alliances here seem to shift on a daily basis – there is an impasse. It appears highly likely that Gantz will be unable to form a coalition, so there is talk of new elections in January. This time, it has been proposed that Israeli citizens will vote just for Prime Minister…so it’s a fight between the two Benjamins. Guess Ilhan Omar was correct in saying “It’s all about the Benjamins, Baby.”

Ideologically, most Israelis are on the same page – Centrist. Some lean more to the Right and some to the Left, but for the most part all are united behind a strong defense and on stopping the threat of Iran’s long arms weaving terror tentacles throughout the MidEast. Currently, our economy is the strongest it has ever been. The shekel is strong. There is growth in employment. High tech start-ups and medical technology centers are booming. Israel has been setting tourism records year after year. We are well respected in many countries in South America, Asia, and Africa and have helped these countries in disaster relief efforts, water purification, medical aid, ecological advances and urban planning. The rate of Aliyah is up.

I have tried to encapsulate a very, very complex, continually shifting, political scene. There are so many more complexities to our system of government. We have no written Constitution as in the United States. We are a complete Democracy in which anyone can take part in voting in the election as long as a National ID card is shown. Any person can try to form a political party (see past blog). A party must receive at least three seats (3.25% of the vote) to be represented in the Knesset.  Yes, there are differences and discord. Yes, we have a lot of problems – especially internal affairs, wages, high cost of living, continual strikes by union members, and myriad other issues like effective immigration absorption. And yes, it seems that we are at a political impasse.

We as a nation are in immediate need of a fully functional government. We cannot be perceived as being weak in light of the Iran threat. All I know is that governments are on His shoulders (Isaiah 9:6). We pray that somehow G-d breaks the deadlocks and dissolves egos so that His will be done and we can go forth stronger than ever. Ultimately, this is all in His hands.

Feasts, Fasts & Fragility

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                                  And they found written in the Torah which the L-rd had commanded by Moses, that the Children of Israel should dwell in sukkot in the feast of the seventh month. And that they should publish and proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mountain and fetch olive branches, and willow and myrtle and palm branches, and branches of thick trees to make sukkot, as it is written. So the people went forth and brought them, and made themselves sukkot, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the Temple, and in the street of the Water Gate, and in the street of the Gate of Ephraim. And all of the congregation of the people that had come out of captivity made sukkot, and sat under their sukkot: for since the days of Joshua son of Nun, unto that day had not the Children of Israel done so. And there was very great         gladness.                                                                                                                           -Nehemiah 8:14-17

 

As I write this, we are at the end of the great fall feasts of Rosh HaShonnah (the Hebrew New Year), Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), Sukkot (the seven day autumn ingathering of crops – and peoples), Shemeni Atzeret (the time of rejoicing and praise) and Simkhat Torah (when the scrolls of the first five books of the Bible are completed and rolled back to The Beginning). It’s an emotional rollercoaster of personal introspection on how we lived our lives the past year. It’s a time of repentance and forgiveness – both spiritual and personal. It’s a time of great beauty as we bring in the fall harvest and decorate our little huts, sukkot, and live in them for a week. It’s a time of great rejoicing in the miracles of the past and present and the hope of the future. A time where we place our lives in the hands of the Almighty. A time when we realize (between all the feasting and all the fasting) the absolute fragility of our lives here on Earth.

Rosh HaShonnah was filled with joy for us. As usual, we spent the days prior receiving calls and well-wishes from and making calls to friends to extend greetings for the New Year. My synagogue attendance this year was way different than any other I’d experienced before. I didn’t want to leave my husband for too long, as he had just come home from the hospital the day before, so I attended services at the Mizrachi (those Jews from the Middle Eastern countries)/Moroccan shule down the street. Their liturgy was completely unfamiliar to me. Way different than the Ahskenaz/European style I was used to. Yes, I could follow along in Hebrew in the prayerbook, but all the chants were with different tunes. Many of the prayers were different, more upbeat, some prayers completely absent, many new (for me) additions. The worship (still segregated by sexes) was much more out in the open, with arms raised hands extended upwards; bowing and prostration; general exuberance. Obviously, I was out of my element, something I’ve grown used to since moving here – but all the women were more than glad to help me find my place and understand the rubrics – even without having to ask. Perhaps they spotted the confused looks on my face? The closest comparison I can make is this: a traditional Roman Catholic walks into a Greek Orthodox basilica…

The Day of Atonement is the one day in Israel where absolutely EVERYTHING comes to an abrupt and screeching standstill. The morning before, all the radio stations begin to play soft, introspective music. Songs of healing from past mistakes and songs of love and forgiveness (not necessarily Hebrew or religious) play quietly. By 3 pm the radio stations stop their programming  for the next 30 hours. Same for the television stations – unless there is a national emergency. All transportation stops and major roads and highways are blocked off and shut down. Even the airports close for Yom Kippur!

In the morning, it is just the sound of birds. Absolutely no noise. It seemed that even the neighbors’ voices and footsteps of people walking to synagogue are muffled on this holy day. So much peace!!!! No loud jackhammers or low, rumbling busses and trucks. No jet planes racing through the skies. Just silence. Glorious silence.

Yom Kippur was more of the same for me: paddling rather happily through unfamiliar waters with lots of help and encouragement from the ladies at the Mizrachi/Moroccan synagogue. It gave me time for introspection and comparison: these services represented my past year. My own personal health problems had been put temporarily on the back burner as we dealt with the triage mess of my son’s Crohn’s Disease and my husband’s cancer journey. We have navigated the murky waters of a healthcare system that is new to us. Paperwork. Bureaucracy. Doctors. Appointments. Social Services. Hospitals. Treatments. Surgery. Home care.  Old friends and family members have fallen away rather unexpectedly. New friends have been at our side to help us understand and cope with our situation every step of the way. There were those people who did not know what to say or do; even we had no words at times. It was always awkward. Yet we put our hope and trust and faith – all our anxieties and questions – into the hands of G-d. These were some of the things I meditated on during Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur here literally ends with a bang. Loud banging, to be exact. People come home from a long day of fasting, grab a bite to eat at home or at a community break-fast, and then grab their hammers and the banging starts. Until wee hours of the night, families are busy constructing their little huts, sukkot, in which they will eat, sleep and play for the next seven days. They appear in backyards, on balconies, in alleyways and streets. Restaurants build sukkot outside their establishments. Hotels have giant ones, big enough to hold tables for all their guests. It really is a sight to behold! My favorite this year, was the one erected at a bus stop.

During Sukkot, we remember the time immediately after the Exodus from slavery in Egypt; the miraculous eradication of Pharoah’s pursuing forces as they were swallowed by the Sea of Reeds; and the tremendous defeat of the Amelekites – after all these miraculous victories – we found ourselves in the middle of the desert, dependent upon G-d for absolutely everything. For water (the Almighty provided water flowing from dry rocks and Miriam’s miraculous wells). For food (He gave us quail and manna in the wilderness). For protection (He saved us from the hands of all our enemies). For a way to live (He gave us His Law). For direction (the Pillar of Smoke and Cloud of Fire to lead us).

We celebrate this festival not during springtime, when the horrible, unpredictable winter weather is over and the days are sunny, but at the beginning of fall. It is a time of complete unpredictability of climate. In Southern California, we used to joke that the only thing that was predictable was the Santa Ana Winds and subsequent brushfires blowing and choking us out of our little booths. Here in Israel, it marks the beginning of the fall winds and rains. Just as we finish putting up our sukkah decorations and have one or two glorious meals in our tabernacles, the world turns upside down almost literally.

This year, Max erected our sukkah solo. It was a rite of passage. He had helped his dad every year, but this year, he built it on his own. We were all quite proud of the accomplishment. I, once again, decorated in grand style, hanging my Leat Silvera Sukkah Walls (visit her awesome website!!!) and silk curtains… hand blown glass fruit and veggie ornaments  dropping down from the rattan roof/skakh. The table was set, fresh pumpkins and pomegranates adorning the table. The twinkle lights were up with additional hanging lights… my hand-tied vine wreaths adorned with willow and olive branches with added votive candles and silk ribbons. A couple good friends brought food and wine and we feasted the first night away- despite the oppressive heat wave we were having.

Early morning of Day Two, we packed John into the back seat and headed down to Sheba for our follow-up appointments with the doctors and nurses. Great news: the surgeon thinks he got most/all of the cancer and there was no apparent metastasis. Yay!!!! Way to go, Dr. Haikin!!! Way to go, G-d!!!! However, he will have to undergo another round of chemo and further testing. Just to be safe. Our bodies are so fragile. How much more can they withstand???? After a very long day, we packed John back into the backseat for the drive home. Stopping along the way, the hot, sunny day suddenly changed and it seemed the gates of heaven had re-opened. Lightning ripped through the sky and the winds began to blow. There was a huge drop in temperature and big raindrops started hitting our windshield. The sidewalks were awash in puddles and a small amount of flooding ran down the streets.

By the time we got home, dusk was upon us. The storm had passed, for the most part, but the closer we got to our neighborhood, the more downed branches and parts of disassembled sukkot we dodged that were lying in the streets. The main entrance to our neighborhood was blocked by police cars and a downed tree. Neighbors were milling about in the street. The power to our street and the one below ours was completely out. According to the policeman who lives next door, the winds rushed through the wadi (huge gorge/ravine) below us – we live on the side of a mountain – that it created a vortex. A small cyclone (he actually used the word tornado) had skirted long the side of our mountain. A tree had fallen across a power line. Neighbors’ roofs were torn off or badly damaged. People lost satellite dishes and rooftop water heaters. We did a cursory check of our house. Our patio furniture on the balcony was strewn all over the place and jettisoned below. There were lots of tree limbs scattered everywhere, and, of course our sukkah was ashambles. Thank goodness Max had the foresight to fasten it down and to the sides of the house or it would have been a total loss! We were blessed. Without power for 3-4 hours until well after dark, but all was intact.

The next morning, I went downstairs to inspect…. and spent the entire day cleaning up a few broken items, and mopping up the dust that had settled deeply into even crevice. But we were blessed. Neighbors told us they felt their whole houses shaking and the noise was so strong several people thought it was an IDF jet in severe distress. It had all sprung up and happened so quickly. And there was substantial damage – but not unfixable – on our street.

All I know is this yearly reminder of the frailty of life (see my past blogpost last year, Frailty) continues to be made present wherever we go. Our sukkot blow away. Our bodies, our lives are temporary, sometimes they fail mid-use. But just as the Shekinah, the glory and promise of G-d physically dwelled with the Children of Israel in the midst of the wilderness, the Shekinah can dwell within us in our fragile sukkot. That Spirit can be still and small or manifest in the strongest ways. It’s up to us to seek it out, to allow it to shine in all its glory as a light to a hurting world.

I want to take this opportunity to express our gratitude and love to those who have showed us tremendous support: my husband’s friends from work have been (amazingly) with us to bolster him with encouragement when we most needed and least expected it. To all the folks back home who sent letters and cards. It’s nice to know there are praying people out there lifting us up as we pray for them. Thank you to Gino, Della, Angelique, Roland, Tsippy, Josh, my old rabbis, Bill, Mike, Lee… for the emails and calls. To Marc and Carolyn for all their help, especially with Haggis. To Sinead and Giacomo for their daily calls and offers of help. To Carola, my peerless prayer partner and Torah Talk sister. And Yolanda, who’s been there like me – for her prayers and advice and my midnight phone calls. For Judy, a continual source of inspiration and strength in impossible times when it looks bleakest – your smile and words – what can I say? For Paula, always ready to put down her busy schedule to help us. For Gabi, who helped us with translations….endless translations. To Efrat and Hanan, our protectzia in more ways than one. And to my dear friend, Galit, always there to provide information on navigating the system, for the latest on medical research, for translation, for constant prayer, and for lending an ear to my whining. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And to anyone else I missed. Our special angels. We appreciate all your care and concern.

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Craziness

Some say it’s the European model. Most explain it as an effect of socialized medicine. Add to that cultural and religious idiosyncrasies and I call it craziness.

If you read my last blogpost, you’ll know where I’m coming from (read it now to catch up). John was hospitalized a couple weeks ago, undergoing major abdominal surgery. Even though we were at the highest rated medical center in the MidEast, medical care was still very different from the US in many ways.

Because we have socialized medicine, the doctors and nurses make nowhere near what they make in the States. So, the care is very basic. No frills. No extras. The patient is monitored and given medications, IVs are given, drains and bags changed. That’s about it for nursing care. Most people have a designated caregiver who stays with the patient throughout their hospital stay. It’s a bit on the crazy side.

I was the caregiver for my husband. I fed him and helped him out of bed. I supported him on his walks around the hall; showered him; changed his bed linens (I brought pillows and blankets, towels and washcloths from home… through experience). When he needed something from the nurse, I went and got it… all typical for the caregiver. Things nurses or attendees would do elsewhere. As there was no TV, I would read to him (Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad) and raise or lower the bed.

Following last weeks’ debacle on Shabbat when I was caught in a world where everything was closed, I started panicking Sunday night. Perhaps it was exhaustion from sitting/sleeping bedside in a plastic chair, but my imagination was running fast and free. The High Holy Days we’re fast approaching. Friday and Saturday Shabbat followed by Sunday through Tuesday Rosh HaShannah. Yikes. What would that look like at the hospital? I’d be trapped in all respects!

All transportation would be down. All shops, stores, restaurants would be closed for five days. They would be on a skeletal nursing staff… I found out later there would be four nurses and one intern on the floor per shift. The only food for the caregivers would be that which was brought in by friends and relatives beforehand. What would I do?

There was talk on Tuesday about placing stable patients on “khofesh” or vacation/break/holiday from the hospital. So, if John was stable enough, he would be allowed to go home on “vacay” so to speak. Thursday evening until Wednesday morning. He’d still be admitted. Same room. Same everything. He’d just get to go home. I’m completely serious. It sounded like pure craziness.

I learned how to put the medicine in the little cup on the mask and give breathing treatments by nebulizer …. every four hours. No biggie. I used to do this with my son when he was little. Next came learning to give subcutaneous injections of blood thinner… once a night in the thigh to prevent embolisms. I can do this. Also intramuscular injections of another medication. Emptying a drain, a little plastic hollow donut attached to a tube inside the abdomen that sticks out of Johns side like a pocket watch on a chain and fob. Sheer craziness.

There were a couple more unpleasantries, but I learned everything I needed. A bit of IV morphine was given before he was “disconnected” and we were off. Backseat. Pillows to tuck in. Two hour car ride. Into the house. Up two flights of stairs. Into the bed. We made it. John was wiped out but home.

I had picked up catered meals for two weeks. I had an emergency nurse on speed dial on my phone. I had all the meds and all my instructions. I could do this! At least we were home and I could get some sleep in my own bed, take a shower, and enjoy a proper meal. And Max was home most of the time to help as well.

My parents always wanted me to be a doctor. For once, I felt like one. As of today, all is well. The patient is resting comfortably. I even snuck out of the house to go to synagogue yesterday for the New Year service.

The synagogue a block from my house is Sephardic/Moroccan. I had never been to such a place. Most of the old prayers and liturgy I remembered were there, but the melodies chanted and sung were completely unfamiliar. There were many additions to the services…. I really loved it. Even though there were separate men’s and women’s worship sections, all the ladies participated wholeheartedly. When I lost my place in the prayerbook, several different women were more than glad to help me out. It was a totally memorable experience and I cannot wait to return.

Tomorrow morning, first thing, we pack John back into the backseat with all the tubes and lines attached. The drive back down to Sheba should be uneventful… I can do it in my sleep by now. I have no idea how long he’ll be there. I’m thinking not more than a day or two since he’s already been home and all went well. Still, this entire process has been sheer craziness for me.

Real Life in Israel: Reality Bites

No matter who you are, or where you live, your life is filled with tremendous highs and lows that seem like you will never climb out of.

Whether you live in Indiana or Israel, India or Italy there will be easy times and life-challenging situations. For us, this past week was filled with all of the above: the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

Last Tuesday we took a huge American style dinner up to my son’s IDF base to celebrate his last week there. My husband and I brought crockpots of vegetarian Texas chili with all the fixings; bowls of potato salad and cole slaw; corn bread; fresh Southwestern-style corn on the cob; broccoli salad…. and six apple pies. Enough to feed an army. Well, at least a platoon.

We met in their clubhouse and it was a blast. We heard stories; they presented him with cards and pictures and parting gifts. Max presented them with new kitchen utensils, a wok, stockpot and a coffee service for when the UN coalition comes for meetings there. They shared laughter, hugs and tears…. and we packed up all his duffel bags of gear and laundry for the ride home. It felt a lot like picking kids up from summer camp, actually. And… we have seven soldiers coming to our house for Thanksgiving. Two from last year. Nice!!

Max doesn’t officially end his army service until early October- it was just his last full day on the base he’s been stationed for the past 2 1/2 years. Definitely finished on a high note.

Wednesday, we drove down to Sheba Medical Center where my dear husband would have extensive surgery for cancer the next day. I will spare you all the unpleasant details. Suffice it to say, he was in the operating theater for nearly seven hours, and recovery for four more- waaay longer than we expected. The doctor said it went well “Not to worry.” Getting information from doctors here is, most of the time, less than minimal, but Dr. Chaikin is the world’s number one surgeon for this type of operation.

So, we’ve gone from tremendous highs to steep troughs in 24 hours. I’ve been bedside since Wednesday night. Things here are completely different than in the States as far as hospitals go. I’ve been told “It’s the European system” and “Don’t compare. Just accept the new reality.” In any event, there are lots of cultural differences and at the least, by the end of this ordeal, I’ll either have enough material to write a book on what new immigrants can expect; have a bang-up film script; or a full stand-up comedy routine.

So, first of all: we’re not in the travel tourism part of the hospital. I suspect things are a wee bit different over there. From experience, I brought towels, washcloths, all the bathroom amenities; pillows; blankets. The patient gets a bed. A fitted and a flat sheet. That’s it. There are no TVs in the room. No menus with gourmet spa food. No private rooms. Nothing that is not absolutely necessary.

It is more than strongly advised in the best-of-circumstances that you have a person to sit with you 24/7 at bedside… relatives taking turns or a hired metapellet, caretaker. The nurses are here to administer medicines, clear catheters and drains and take care of medical problems that arise. The metapellet takes care of the patient’s personal needs- feeding, washing, raising or lowering bed, walking and all else. It’s very different. In my case, my personal service also includes being a translator.

The Shabbat experience: a story unto itself. Here in Israel, the Sabbath, Shabbat, is a complete day of rest. Culturally – Saturday is really the only full day of the week off work. Religiously- it’s not taken lightly. By noon Friday, things start slowing down; a few hours before sunset, stores close up shop. An hour before, public transportation comes to a halt. I know this. I really do. I spend all day Friday cleaning and cooking for dinner Friday through breakfast Sunday, as we don’t do any work. I just don’t cook. I know this. I really do.

Friday snuck up on me this week and bit me in the butt. I’m at the hospital and the steady parade of people shlepping coolers and bags and boxes and containers of food for their loved-ones started around noon. I realized I was in trouble. So I started asking. Fortunately there are a few special “angel” agencies that come around and deliver food bags for the weekend to the caregivers that need it. Most are ordered the days before Friday.

So late Friday afternoon around four, the two gentlemen arrived. Have you seen “Shtisel” on Netflix? If so, you’ll know what I mean. The black fur hatted, black silk bathrobed, white stockinged, bearded dwarfs showed up in the lobby a little later than the agreed-upon meet-up with various satchels on a cart. They were in a great hurry. Running late. No time to waste. They spoke an Eastern-European heavy dialect of Hebrew I found hard to understand. Did I perchance speak Yiddish? Not to worry. They hand me a heavy plastic trash bag filled with Shabbos wonderfulness. My mind raced back to the mouth watering Shabbos meals my Gramma Weissman used to prepare.

I got back toJohn’s ward and opened the sack. A liter of Shabbat wine. Nice start. I can drink myself into a Shabbat stupor. Two challah breads, obviously handmade. Great. Twenty Shabbat candles. A little excessive, but if there’s a power outage, I’ll be set. Four trays of cakes. Uh…. 5 packages of napkins. Somehow I think Shlomie and Homie gave me the wrong bag. No way to change now… looks like a sugar and carb stupor is in the works for me this weekend. Honestly I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Cafeterias closed. Restaurants on site closed. Vending machines stopped… not only do you not turn on or off electricity or push buttons, or use phones, or drive or cook or anything… you don’t use money. It’s a day off from worldliness. A foretaste of heaven. Don’t get me started. I promise to write a serious Shabbat blog soon explaining the why’s and wherefore’s.

In the meantime, by 3 pm Saturday I was near meltdown when I bumped into Him! Mr./Dr. Dreamboatberg, the handsome, young intern making the rounds. You know. Tanned. Beautiful hair and smile. Wearing shorts, flip-flops and a lab coat. Progressive as all get out. With an ego the size of New York. A social activist as well. He’s spotted walking the halls of UCLA Medical Center; Sloane-Kettering; Mount Sinai Coral Gables. There’s one on every staff. He’s in control, Baby. He’s got all the answers.

So I asked the obvious question. Obviously. Duh. Dumb me. “So, is there ANYTHING open around here for food?” Simple question. Then I got it: “Madam. Tell me. Where are you?” I answered, “Sheba.” “Madam. Did you vote?” “Wha…..” I stammered perplexed. “Madam. I see who you are.” “Wha????? Me????” I am beginning to think he has x-ray vision. Perhaps a Rasputin in disguise. “Madam. Remember this the next time you vote. If you want the religious to run the country, you can expect not to eat on Saturday. And this is only the beginning. That is all, Madam.” And with a flip of his clipboard he was gone. Poof. I kid you not. Perhaps I should think about slugging the wine after all. It couldn’t hurt. Nu?

In all seriousness, for us, it will be an uphill climb. Slow, but hopefully steady. I expect we’ll be in the hospital another couple of weeks, minimum. Max will stay over one day and night so I can do laundry and shower and catch up on some zzzz’s. Already I’m trying to plan for the “weekend” ahead… the looooonnnggg weekend. Not only is it Shabbat starting Friday at sundown, but Sunday evening is the beginning of the High Holy Days, Rosh HaShonnah, the New Year (think as far away from Times Square as possible. think Jerusalem. No raucous parties; lots of rowdy prayer) which lasts through Tuesday night, translated Wednesday in reality. Lord only knows what will happen then at the country ‘s medical centers.

One things for sure: I’ll be ready for any and every possible situation. Watch out, Sheba. I’m moving in big time. You asked for it!!!

May we have only good news and peace in the new year, 5780. May we have only health. May my husband heal fully. May I be able to deal with any and every situation better than I did this morning. May we always look for the humor. May we fully rely on G-d (F.R.O.G.). May we see great and mighty miracles in our day (housetraining my dog is a good start). May we all enjoy the richness of family, friends and a roof over our heads.

Here’s to a happy, healthy, holy and peaceful new year!

The Two Hour War

For many of you in khool ( Hebrew slang for khootz l’aretz, or outside of the country) who are not keeping up with or don’t get accurate news reports, let me share our weekend with you.

To catch you up on the past few weeks, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have been quite busy. Iran has been supplying our immediate neighbors to the North, Syria and Lebanon, with rather sophisticated guided long range missiles. They have been building munitions factories in both countries – outside of Damascus and Beirut. And Iran has been sending Al Quds and Iranian Revolutionary Guard generals to both countries to train Hizbullah terror cell leaders how to best wipe Israel off the map. In the past two weeks, the Israeli Air Force has bombed several of the ammunition production and storage facilities in Syria outside of Damascus. Israeli intelligence has exposed photos and information on key Iranian and Hizbollah leaders setting up terror cells, delivering money and arms and training groups of terrorists.

Last week the final Israeli insult came. Israeli intelligence drones released footage of a group of Iranian backed Hizbollah operatives in Lebanon transporting explosives-laden attack drones for a deadly incursion into Israel. The terrorists were spotted, filmed and eliminated before they could launch their drones. The next day, Israel bombed a Hizbollah headquarters in Beirut. Nasrallah, Secretary General of Hizbollah in Lebanon released a video from his underground hiding place vowing revenge. Imminent action to be taken. Over 150,000 rockets aimed at Israel. Watch out…..

Our son came home on regular IDF leave last Wednesday. He has only 18 days of IDF service left, and we were thanking G-d they had been peaceful years and we could plan his cutting up his khoger party. By Friday we were hearing that all reserve duty soldiers were being called to the borders. Soldiers not already on Shabbat leave were confined to their bases. Max would be on-call operational. Nasrallah’s threats were to be taken seriously.

By Saturday night, the messages on Max’s phone were coming in fast and furious. Some he could share. Others not. Iron dome batteries employed. Public bomb shelters being opened in border communities. Navy on emergency watch. Bases on lockdown and high alert. Heavy artillery movements… we could hear the low rumble of jets overhead and helicopters patrolling the area.

I spent Saturday night taking down all my paintings, photos and decorative plates from the walls. Moving dishes and breakables off shelves for safe storage…. and praying… a lot. I wasn’t scared: I was merely determined to be prepared. For whatever came hurtling from the sky our way. I inventoried our mamad (bomb shelter – it’s really cool!!!). Water – check. Food -check. Medical supplies – check. Sanitary supplies and portable potty -check. Cook stove and camping lights -check. Clothes -check. Bug out backpacks with copies of papers and two days worth of supplies for each person- check. The menfolk were laughing, thinking I was nuts, but it kept me busy. And I could at least heroically save those closest to me. Mental notes made of extra water and toilet paper to get the next morning. I tried to fall asleep to the sounds of the IDF jets overhead.

Sunday morning was the first day of school here in Israel. The neighborhood kindergarten is across the street from our house, and by 7:30 proud young parents were escorting their little children to Gan. The first-timers were easy to spot as lovely floral wreaths encircled their angelic heads – both girls and boys. Moms pushing younger siblings in strollers and dads with babies in sacs on their chest… all without a care in the world.

People were going about their business as usual for an already hot, late-summer morning. I got to the grocery store expecting to find long lines and bare shelves. Neither. Didn’t these people know what was going on 16 miles to the north???? Were they all delusional????

The sound of jets and drones and copters thundered and whirred all morning. Max’s phone buzzed continually. I pried for news and prayed even more. For protection. For cool heads to prevail. For peace. I connected with my support group of moms of soldiers. We were all trying to calm and console one another and we’re praying for our kids on front lines. Several were moms of Lone Soldiers who had left comfortable lives in the States, in England, South Africa and South America were desperate for any news.

We watched live-feed of the Stromboli volcanic eruption off Sicily. And we worried about my 92 year old father-in-law who lives on the coast of Florida as Hurricane Dorian intensified. It seemed the whole world was exploding. I stayed glued to the internet.

By late afternoon Sunday, I began to hear the muffled booms of artillery in the distance. It had begun. Would we be forced, imminently, into the mamad when the warning siren sounded? School was out, and children were playing in the street. Neighbors were walking their dogs. This was just surreal.

The sun set, painting the sky a brilliant red and Jupiter shone brightly in the dusky sky. Portents of Armageddon (by the way, we live just 20 miles north of Megiddo)? The new moon hung on the Western horizon – the moon of the Hebrew month of Elul. “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” “The King is in the field.” Popular epithets said here throughout this month. During the month of Elul, the month preceding the High Holy Days, G-d is incredibly close and the heavens are open. Please, G-d. Please.

And the night sky grew eerily quiet. No jets. No booms. No sirens. No drones. Just the occasional barking of a dog and the gentle symphony of crickets. A peaceful Galilee evening.

The news started surfacing. Hizbullah anti-tank rockets had been fired at an IDF base adjacent the Lebanese border. A Jeep and an ambulance had been hit. There were casualties. Two dead. Two critically injured. The IDF had responded with an artillery barrage. Two more Lebanese rockets were fired, hitting targets.

Netanyahu made a nationally televised speech stating there was an exchange of fire. There were no injuries. “Not a scratch.” In the meantime, we were beginning to get footage from Lebanon. Flag waving. Honking horns. Candy passed out. Fireworks in celebration of the 2 high-ranking IDF soldiers killed and scores wounded. What was going on????

By 9pm, the news was forthcoming. Israeli intelligence knew there was going to be an attack. They saw the buildup and had the wherewithal to surmise the place from/of the attack. They set up several vehicles… jeeps, humvees, an ambulance along key roads and on the military bases. Inside we’re mannequins in full IDF uniforms, some even looking through binoculars.

The Hizbullah artillery fire indeed struck their targets. Bandages and bloodied actors were filmed being airlifted on stretchers onto helicopters and brought to ambulances in true “Pallywood” style (The Palestinians are notorious for fake filming bloodied casualties who then get up off their stretchers and walk away). The images flooded the Muslim countries and they began to celebrate their victory. An eye for an eye. They thought they had gotten their revenge. The whole “war” lasted two hours.

As of today, we are still on high alert, but I drove Max up to his base this afternoon. Life never really stopped being normal for most Israelis. Our Israeli neighbor friends laughed at this new olah (immigrant) when John told them of my preparations. They were more than used to life on the brink and took everything in stride. The IDF and G-d will protect us and when the real time comes we’ll know in advance what to do and where to go. Explicit instructions will be given to everyone.

We’re still watching Hurricane Dorian and praying the East Coast of the United States will also miss the bullet. And I’m standing firm in my preparations. It was a practice drill for me in real time. Coming from Southern California where earthquakes, fast-moving brush fires, and mud slides are imminent, this is one olah who will be ready for whatever threat comes our way. In the meantime, the khoger cutting party is back on!!! Woohoo!!!!!!

Do you have your disaster plan in place???

Humus Wars

Humus, correctly pronounced khoo’ moos, is serious business here in Israel. So much so that it’s even sparked minor wars. The Arabs accuse the Jews of culturally misappropriation of the thick, creamy chickpea paste served at every meal. Men heatedly discuss the absolute best, hands-down humusia (restaurant specializing in only humus pronounced khoo moo see’ yah)) to the point of loud, irrational arguments. I’ve actually seen this numerous times. And in January a local Galilee village incurred mass riots with fireworks and stones being lobbed (one fatality) in a Hatfield-McCoy style fight between rivaling factions. The cause of the dispute that got way out of hand? Which local tribe made the best humus. Go figure. Never say your uncle makes better humus that someone else in an Arab village –

Some say humus originated in the Holy Land in Biblical Times. Others, that it came from Egypt. Arabs claim it is a true “Palestinian food,” while many claim it was brought along with the dried chickpeas from Jewish refugees fleeing the hostile Arab lands in 1948. Either way, it’s one of our beloved national foods.

Depending on your personal preference, humus is made and served many different ways, but always made with the basic ingredients of rehydrated chickpeas, lemon juice, tehine (sesame paste) and water. Some swear by chunky humus – I like mine smooth. Some enjoy it hot – I like mine cold or at room temperature, with a splash of olive oil and a spattering of the spice zata’ar.

Depending upon the humusia, you can order humus with chickpea balls, ful mudammes (favs beans), hard boiled egg, or shakshuka style – hot with eggs cracked on top which gently cook in the paste. It is not uncommon to have your hummus served with chopped picklim (pickles) or served with a raw onion – I love this!!!!

Arab restaurants, not of the Kosher variety, serve chopped lamb and other meats on top. Jewish humusias are typically pareve, neither serving meat nor dairy. There, expect to find falafel (fried chick pea balls) served on the side. It always comes with fluffy pita bread- think biting into a cloud.

Traditionally, humus can be served before the main meal in small dishes as part of a larger mezze platter with a bazillion different salads and a basket of pita. It always shocks first-timers. The endless salads (eggplant a million ways; chopped veggies; pickled everything; tabbouleh; tehine; humus; and more) keep coming until the little dishes fill the entire table. Don’t be fooled! Don’t fill up! You haven’t even ordered your entrees yet!!!! Or humus can be served by itself in a huge bowl, cratered in the center and filled with olive oil and your above-stated accompaniment, sprinkled with zata’ar or fresh chopped parsley, chopped garlic or paprika. With your pita, veg and raw onion to scoop it up, it makes for a protein-packed, very filling, cheap and satisfying meal. Add a glass of tea or limonanna (minted lemonade) and your day is made.

In the summer, my go-to breakfast every morning is a finely chopped cucumber, chopped hard boiled egg and a serving spoon of humus all mixed together. Very rarely do I go through the effort to make my own, as humus is one of the few pre-made foods (some ‘salads, i.e. eggplant and mayo; cabbage and mayo) that can be found in every store… and it’s delicious.

However, there are a couple really good recipes I’ve tried and my own riff on the tradition. So, here goes:

YOTAM OTTOLENGHI BASIC HUMUS (serves 6, pareve)

  • 1 1/4 cups dried chickpeas
  • 1tsp baking soda
  • 6 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup & 2 Tbsp tehine paste
  • 4 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 6 1/2 Tbsp ice cold water
  • Salt

Soak dried peas in a large bowl of boiling hot water to cover. Let sit overnight until size doubles.

The next day, drain the chickpeas. Place medium large pot on high heat with drained chickpeas and baking soda. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the water and bring to a full boil. Cook, skimming off any foam and skins that float to surface. The peas should cook between 20-40 minutes, maybe longer, depending on type. They should be very soft and tender, breaking up easily when pressed between your thumb and finger, but not be mushy.

Drain the chickpeas. You should have about 3-4 cups. Place in a food processor or blender until you get a thick paste. Then, with the machine still running, add the tehine, lemon juice, garlic & 1 1/2 tsp salt. Finally, slowly drizzle in the ice water and allow it to mix for about 5 minutes, until you get a very smooth paste.

Transfer the humus to a bowl, cover the surface with plastic wrap and let rest 30 minutes before serving.

Tamar’s Quick and Easy Humus (pareve)

  • 2 cans garbanzo beans
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1/2 cup tehine
  • 2-4 cloves garlic
  • Salt, pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Drain 1 can and 1/2 can chickpeas. Pour peas and 1/2 can liquid into large bowl. Add lemon juice and blend with immersion blender until smooth. Add tehine and garlic. Blend until creamy. Can add up to 2 Tbsp oil to create a creamier, smoother texture. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Turn out into serving bowl and top with extra olive oil and any of the toppings in blogpost above.

TAMAR’S WHITE BEAN HUMUS (pareve)

  • 1 can white/capellini beans
  • Handful (1/3 cup) fresh basil leaves
  • 2-3 cloves fresh garlic
  • Olive oil (about 1/4 cup)
  • Salt & pepper

Drain beans. Blend with remaining ingredients until creamy and smooth. Turn into serving bowl and garnish with roasted sesame seeds or roasted crushed garlic pieces. That simple. Quite easy and delicious with crusty rustic bread. Enjoy!