In California I always had a large organic garden…and fruit trees….and chickens. When we moved to Israel in 2015 (has it really been this long???) I wanted to be able to at least have a small plot for growing veggies. We were fortunate enough to rent a home with lots of room for gardening. Outside each window of this house we have large, deep, concrete planter boxes. Outside the kitchen I grow my herbs. Outside our den/family room window I have all my lettuces. In our front yard there is a very productive lemon tree. In the back we have oranges, pomelos, grapefruits and clementines. And I hope to add two avocados by early spring. Plus we are blessed with a magnificent pecan that I harvest every October. Yes. We are truly blessed.
In Israel, it is pretty much a given that every home or apartment has at least one mirpesset, which is an outdoor balcony/patio. Israelis love to have their coffee on the mirpesset in the mornings and spend sultry summer evenings hanging out of doors on the patio in hopes of catching a cool breeze. Plus so many places in Israel have these glorious views. There’s even a Hebrew song, “Bashana Haba’ah” where one of the verses speaks about peacefully sitting on the mirpesset counting the migrating birds overhead and listening to the laughter of children playing down below and eating grapes just picked off the vine (Steve Lawrence & Eddie Gormé made it famous in the 1970s). Our bedroom is upstairs in this tall, skinny house. That’s the third level, and wrapped around our bedroom is a huge mirpesset with sweeping views of the rolling mountains, the Mediterranean, Haifa, and sprawling Arab villages in the adjacent valleys surrounding our city. It’s all quite breathtaking, and our blessings overflow. To cap all this off, the mirpesset is bordered by deep concrete planters: my garden!
Last year was a year of shmitah, which happens once every seven years in Israel. It’s actually an ancient law from the Bible. Interesting aside: how many times in America did I hear people say how completely impossible it was for people to keep ALL the 613 laws in the Torah? In actuality, some laws are so specific they are just for men or just for women. Some laws are exclusively for people of the priestly tribes of Cohen and Levites, i.e. Cohen, Kahn, Katz, Cone,Kahane, Levy, Levine, Levenson. Some laws are only applicable in the Holy Land, like letting the fields lay fallow every seven years. It’s really smart actually. When the land rests, it has a chance to replenish. So here, the religious Jewish people honor that law. Driving the countryside last year, many of the fields owned by observant Jewish farmers were unplowed, unplanted, and covered in weeds. I also let my little plots go. Planted absolutely nothing. It’s amazing how way up on the roofline balcony, weeds quickly took over. How did they get there???
Lately I’ve been spending about an hour each day weeding the spaces, adding compost and new soil and gradually planting seeds. Over the past seven years for me, it’s been hit or miss in growing, but I can start some seed outside year long since it really doesn’t get cold enough for frost. I order my organic, nonGMO seeds from the States and bring them back with me. I try to grow things not available here like yellow and chioggia beets, parsnips, rutabagas, and different varieties of heirloom tomatoes, Japanese radishes, Russian pickling cucumbers, Brussels sprouts and colorful carrot and bean varieties. So far, I’ve had reasonably good luck.
They say that the best way to connect with the land is to dig in the earth and plant a garden. It was one of the first things I did when we moved here. To plant a garden is a sign of permanence and hope, an expectation of tomorrow. For me, it was also a link to the past. And yesterday, as I was clearing out the weeds, with my hands sunk into the rich dirt, I thought about all those who were here, in the Galilee, long ago. People in biblical times. What were they growing? This was a lush country abundant with dates, grapes, olives, barley, wheat, pomegranates, figs, spices, herbs, and vegetables. Did they, too battle with hungry snails at night and powdery mildew on their vines? Were they aware that in a few years they would also be battling Babylonians or Greeks, Syrians and Romans? Who planted on this land after that? Did it lay fallow during the expulsion of the Jews from the Holy Land in 70AD? I know our area was trod upon by Byzantines. In this town there are remnants of that early 300’s – 600’s civilization on every hilltop. Then came the Mamelukes, the Crusaders, the Ottomans, the wandering Bedouin. Mark Twain traveled through this country in the late 1800’s describing it as a vast and arid wasteland, full of rocks and good for nothing. Barely a tree for shade. It lay like this until the early 1900s when Jewish pioneers from Russia and other parts of Europe returned to their ancient and ancestral homeland. They cleared rocks, drained swamps, succumbed to malaria and other disease, defended themselves from marauding Bedouins and tribal chiefs and their bands of men seeking plunder. They diverted streams, planted trees, irrigated the land and sowed crops. They waited for the earth to become fruitful once again. And it has. Today, I am planting.
The other day I heard Rolling Stone put out their list of the top 200 singers of all time. Checking it out, I was shocked to see Israeli singer, Ofra Haza, of blessed memory, was there. I used to listen to her music in the 1970s. It was a time when much of the music here was about the love of this land – its natural beauty. It was about the people living in the land. Songs of thanksgiving and wonder. Working in the soil, even if it was in raised planters, I began to feel that connection with the past as I listened to those songs once again. The lyrics were about dependence on G-d, of the privilege of being alive at this time despite all history has dealt, living and planting in the ancient and ancestral homeland after 2000 years. They are songs of hope above all else.
And then BANG! It happened! I started this blogpost a week ago, and had hoped to put in a recipe or two, proof and post. But my husband took a turn for the worse with an intestinal obstruction. I rushed him back to Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv. John is currently under observation awaiting surgery as soon as his doctor returns from the States next week. The good news is that the cancer doesn’t seem to have returned. The operation isn’t an easy one and healing process will be long, so field tripping is out for a few months. In the meantime, I have a few left over from last year to share with you. Also look forward to some really interesting and culturally diverse recipes. Plus, there are a few people I’d like you to meet and a few fascinating subjects onto write about. So stay tuned. Wish me luck on cultivating those recently planted seedlings. And prayers for John for a complete and speedy recovery or as we say in Hebrew: refuah shleyMAH.
Hanukkah. Hanukka. Chanukah. Chanuka. Chanukkah. Whatever. The holidays are upon us. And for many of my readers that means Advent, Christmas, New Years and Kwanzaa, Kwanza, Kwaanza, Whatever. Let the celebrations: the telling of the story, the decorating, the cooking, the presents and the feasting begin!
We are Americans living abroad. We celebrate American style. Always did. Always will. I love decorating the house seasonally. To make the home warm, inviting, beautiful and fun no matter the occasion is always something I enjoy. And, along with our California neighbors, decorating for Chanukah was no exception. We were not competing with Christmas. It was a festive way of spreading cheer. So when we moved to Israel and put up all the Chanukah decorations (minus the 8 foot Star of David in the front yard made of shiny silver, blue and turquoise Mylar balloons lit by white up lights), our Jewish neighbors thought we were absolutely mishuggeh. Stark raving nuts!! Wow! Those Americans! I don’t care. Now, we have several Israeli friends who stop by just to see the American decorations. I am not worried about assimilation. I know we celebrate the heroism of Mattityahu, Judah, Shimon, Yochanan and the Maccabees who valiantly fought the Greeks, the Seleucids, the Syrians. They faced certain destruction of Israel, their ancestral homeland. They faced annihilation of their religion, Judaism. They saw the defilement of their sacred Temple, yet they fought on to victory. They reclaimed the Temple and saved Judaism. The commemoration of these events are recorded in the books of the Maccabees and in the writings of Josephus. We celebrate this season of Light in the darkness for eight days. Lighting the menorah/chanukiyyah; chanting the blessings; singing great songs that just get better each year; playing games and eating fried foods to remind us of the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days in the Temple.
This year is especially great. When I was back in the States a few weeks ago, all the stores had their holiday wares out. Target had really nice kitchen towels 2/$5!!! Beautiful banners and signs. Window clings. World market had ornaments for Chanukah (OK- so I bought a ton of gorgeous fruit and veggie blown glass ornaments to hang up in the sukkah… can’t we just skip ahead to fall?). Don’t even get me started on HomeGoods, Marshalls and TJMaxx!! Sofa pillows and bathroom towels. PJs for the entire family. They even had Chanukah pet offerings, which I did not get. This time we brought back six full suitcases. Oy to the world-
This year, we’ll try to have over a just a handful of guests: our dear Russian-Israeli neighbors. They are nuts over America and I brought back several goodies for them including the candy they requested. Chanukah jelly-bellies anyone? My old Ulpan teacher and her family. We’ve stayed in touch for years and they’ve become dear friends. Then on Thursday, our son comes home. His university has been on Chanukah break, but he’s been called up for army reserves for most of it. No matter. On Friday three of his school friends are also arriving. They are international students. One is Jewish from Argentina. One is German, and the other American, both Christian. So we’ll be doing a combined Shabbat/Chanukah/Christmas weekend for all to feel included. The more the merrier. (Please, G-d, let my back hold up!!)
Anyway, before we dig into these glorious recipes – I’m just super excited this year! – let me show you some of our table settings past. I use my good blue and white china, which I especially love for the holidays. Before anyone makes any comments about blue and white being dairy plates…I’ve always had this as my good dishes. They are our meat holiday dishes. So, please…. For Chanukah I have my blue tablecloth. At least one Chanukiyyah/Menorah is out as a centerpiece. I use fairy lights, shiny dreidels and gold foil wrapped gelt/coins scattered about. This Shabbat, I’ll combine my white and gold dishes with the blue for a more festive feel.
Last week I sent John to the store to get a few things. One item on the list was fresh ginger. He returned with this:
O.K. I can’t blame him. It does look like ginger. But what the heck are these knobby things? Turns out they are Jerusalem artichokes, or what we called Sunchokes back in California. Actually here they are called tapuah Yerushalmi, or Jerusalem potatoes. They are not potatoes, and I don’t think they grow in Jerusalem, at least I’ve never seen any in the ground there, but…what to do with them???? I can’t believe I actually came up with this recipe, but it was the best, silkiest, richest, most decadent soup!!!! Please, try this one sometime this winter. You must. You won’t regret it. It’s dairy, but you can use plant-based milk if you want to keep it vegan. We always have one complete dairy day during Chanukah to commemorate the heroine, Judith. She vanquished the Seleucid army by plying their general, Holofernes, with warm milk, honey, cheese and wine until he fell into a stupor. Then she cut off his head. When the army saw her come out of his tent holding the head of their top general, they all fled. (Did you know that after the Madonna paintings this is the most widely represented piece of art in both sculpture and oil painting? Botticelli, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Donatello, Artemesia Gentilleschi and Gustav Klimt to name but a few). Now for the recipe:
Jerusalem Artichoke & Chestnut Soup
1 leek, sliced thinly, white part only
3 medium white or yellow carrots, peeled, cut in chunks
4 cups sunchokes, peeled & cut into chunks
2 cups (4 100gram pre-packaged) roasted chestnuts
5 cups water or veggie broth
2 veggie boullion cubes, if not using broth
2 large sprigs fresh rosemary
1 large sprig (5-7 leaves) fresh sage, plus some for garnish
Sea salt, pepper
1 cup milk or half and half (can use Rich’s large milk or cream substitute or plant milk)
Sauté leek slices in bottom of heavy pot. When translucent, add veggie chunks and water or vegetable stock, herbs, and spices. Bring to a gentle boil, then let simmer about 30 minutes or until vegetables become tender. Blend thoroughly with an immersion blender until the consistency is silky smooth. It will be on the thick side. Add the milk or milk substitute. Serve hot with a garnish of chestnuts and a sprig or two of rosemary or sage.
Yes, I shall serve the French brisket and techineh cookies from my last blogpost on the last night of Chanukah, which is also Christmas. Hans and James, you will be well taken care of. Friday night Shabbat, we will have turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and sweet potato latkes. I’ll do regular potato latkes and applesauce on Sunday. But as an appetizer for both evenings, I shall serve these amazing Levantine meatballs with Whisky Fig Old Fashions as a cocktail. I’m calling them Levantine because they have claim not just by the Israeli, but also the Lebanese or Moroccan or Persian or Syrian. In any case, they are decidedly Middle Eastern and incredibly delicious – and easy to make. You can serve them as a main dish over rice with a green vegetable on the side. I will give each guest a small plate of four meatballs with toothpicks to enjoy before the festive meal gets underway.
Levantine Meatballs with Pomegranate Glaze
makes 30 ping-pong sized meatballs
For the meatballs-
Large red/purple onion peeled and chopped fine, reserving 1/4 cup for glaze
1 pound ground lamb (if you can’t find lamb, substitute beef, but seriously try to get lamb)
3/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp coriander, ground
1 1/2 heaping tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 cup bulgur wheat (burgil)
For the glaze-
1/4 cup red/purple onion, reserved from above
1 cup pomegranate syrup (found in MidEast stores) or pomegranate concentrate
3 Tbsp honey
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp baharat (mixture of allspice, cumin, black pepper, ground cloves, salt, ground cinnamon)
The first thing is to cook the glaze while all else is getting ready. In a small saucepan, add in all above ingredients for glaze. Heat over medium heat until just before a boil sets in. Then turn down heat to low and simmer while meatballs are prepared. The volume of the sauce will be reduced.
Place uncooked bulgur in a medium bowl. Pour about 1cup (or a little more) boiling water over top and let sit. In a large bowl, combine ground lamb, onion, chopped herbs, eggs and spices. When bulgur has puffed up and absorbed the liquid, drain well with a colander. Add grain to meat mixture and mush together all the ingredients with your hands. In a large skillet, heat up a bit of olive oil until hot and shimmery. Form meat into ping pong sized balls and add to skillet. Brown meatballs on all sides. Transfer to a baking dish. Pour reserved pomegranate glaze over top. Finish cooking by baking 20 minutes in a 350*F/170*C oven. To serve, pour a bit of the glaze over meatballs and garnish with pomegranate arils and mint leaves.
My last recipe can be served as a hearty lunch or as a side dish. It’s pareveh, which in Kosher talk means it’s neither meat or dairy: it’s a neutral food that can be served with everything. It, too, uses bulgur, which really is a staple food here. I figure, why leave you with an open bag of bulgur, which you might not use up, so here’s another healthy, hearty dish (served cold or at room temperature). And yes, I brought back 3 bottles of Brianna’s dressing with me. Go figure-
Harvest Bulgur Salad
1 cup uncooked bulgar wheat
3 cups boiling water
1 medium orange sweet potato
1 small red onion, peeled and chopped fine
1 avocado, medium ripe, diced
1/3 cup dried cherries or cranberries
2 red gala apples, diced
1/3 cup Brianna’s Blush Wine vinaigrette dressing (or recipe below)
Preheat oven to 400*F/200*C. Bake the sweet potato until just tender (20-30 minutes depending on size). Don’t overtake! In large bowl, pour boiling water over bulgur. Let stand about 30 minutes to puff up and absorb the water. Drain very well using a large colander. Transfer bulgur to large bowl. Peel and diced baked sweet potato. Add in chopped onion, avocado, apple and sweet potato cubes. Add in dried fruit. Mix gently just to combine. Toss with Brianna’s dressing or with dressing recipe given below.
Vinaigrette: mix well following ingredients-
1/3 cup sunflower or canola (or avocado or pumpkinseed oil)
1/4 cup sweet blush or white wine
1/4 cup champagne or white wine or forest fruit vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp honey
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
juice of 1/4 onion (hack: use a garlic press to squeeze out onion juice!) and reserved pulp
Combine above ingredients. Using funnel, pour into nice bottle. Cap. Shake well before using.
Almost three months of travel!! We went to England (at the time of the Queen’s funeral) which was indescribably lovely. The occasion: to meet my daughter’s fiancé – who is every bit the quintessential Victorian gentleman – and his family. We fell in love with them all!! So much fun touring the Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire areas. Then my husband and I toured the Lake District of Northwest England, home to Wordsworth, Coleridge, Beatrix Potter, Charlotte Mason, standing stones, and the natural beauty of mountains and lakes just as the leaves were beginning to turn: it was a dream! Our son met us and it was on to Scotland with its castles, whiskey distilleries and highlands. We visited friends in the Highlands, toured Pluscarden Abbey and the Highland Heritage Center (Outlander!) and learned so much about the history and culture of the Scots. Later that month, our daughter got married in St Andrews, Scotland. We were amazed at the family and friends who came from California, New Jersey, Ohio, Virginia & Maryland, Italy, France and Israel. I’m sure I left people out. The wedding itself was the most holy, meaningful, thoughtful ceremony with gorgeous music provided by Tristan’s sister, a trumpet player with the London Phil and my daughter, an opera singer. And the reception was nothing less than an outpouring of love with everyone in attendance helping put it all together the day before and during…. I’ve never experienced such a coming together of friends and families from both sides.
After the wedding, we flew to Los Angeles to welcome our oldest daughter’s newborn baby into our family. The latest little blessing was named after my father and is the easiest, best baby I’ve ever seen. My husband and I were blessed to be able to take him overnight for over a week, and it was pure joy and love. It was hard to give him back. We visited our other daughter north of LA and stayed with a couple super fun grandkids while my daughter and her husband were at work. It was warm enough for my husband to take them swimming, and we watched them, too, for a week. Super fun. We now know every Superhero in the Marvel Universe and can sing Baby Shark in our sleep. On to Seattle to visit our youngest daughter and her wonderful family. Heavy frost on the ground each morning and a brilliant display of color as G-d’s majesty was on full display made for glorious walks with our other granddaughter. The last couple weeks was spent relaxing on a small island off the coast of Northern Florida visiting my husband’s 95 year old father and the Dunbar Clan there. Family, food and football marked our American Thanksgiving in the States.
Unfortunately, my back started to give out again in Los Angeles, limiting our visit to just family in our hotel room. Next time we shall see our friends in California. It finally gave up the ghost in Florida and the 12 hour flight back to Israel was intense to say the least. It’s interesting that we usually have no problem traveling in Europe or America on our Israeli passports or telling people where we are from. There’s so much antiSemitism now and anti-Israel bias that we used our U.S. passports exclusively and told people we were form Los Angeles. Not a lie, but…. How sad is it that there is so much division, mistrust, and baseless hatred in the States currently!!! I’ve never experienced anything like it before. And that it a topic I shall cover in my next blogpost after the holidays – but for now let’s celebrate!!!
It’s holiday time in Israel again, and this year the days are concurrent on the calendar as we welcome the Season of Light in the Holy Land. During the darkest point the of the year, it’s a time of great rejoicing and light. The Jewish people are celebrating the victory of the Maccabees over the Greco-Syrians in 150 BCE and of the Rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which had been defiled. There was only one small cruze of oil found to light the giant menorah. Only enough to last one day. The first major supply chain shortage. To bring the pure olive oil from the Galilee to Jerusalem would take a week. Miraculously, that little bit of oil lasted eight full days until more oil could be had. Therefore, the celebration of Chanukah lasts eight days and nights. We light our chanukkiahs, our nine- branched menorahs, eat fried foods and jelly-filled donuts, sing songs, play dreidels, spinning tops, and have fun.
Northern Israel is where the majority of the Christians live. Most are Maronite Catholics. The Aramaeans who dwelled in the Galilee region alongside the Jews, and with many Jews in that area, followed Jesus as their Messiah two thousand years ago. They became the first Christians. There are also Greek Orthodox and Byzantine rite Catholics up here. Today, they are full Israeli citizens with all the rights and privileges that offers (except they serve in the army only voluntarily and are exempt from property taxes). The Christian towns of Fassuta and Ma’Ilya and the city of Nazareth are all lit up with Christmas trees and decorations. Christmas markets have just become a thing. And tourism to the area is growing as many of the more secular Jewish population are drawn to the celebrations.
These Christian families are celebrating the birthday of the One who proclaimed to be the Light of the World. As a Jew living in the HolyLand (home to Christians as well as Jews), Jesus was worshipping and celebrating Chanukah at the Temple Mount in the gospel of John. So, in light of unity, we celebrate a common ancestry with each of our Festivals of Light. The Christians here commemorate Christmas differently from Europe or America. Many erect huge nativity scenes in the living rooms of their homes or apartments. Sometimes, they move out much of the furniture, spending much of the Advent weeks building rocks and deserts, inns and villages in miniature with a crèche or manger scene as the focal point. From the midst, the Christmas tree (a more modern tradition) rises.
We have Lebanese Christian friends in Tiberias. Paula makes many varieties of cookies, cakes, puddings and sweets for Christmas. (Their apartment is the above middle photo. You can see the elaborate scene they made – and if you can look out the windows, you will see a magnificent view of the Sea of Galilee at night). My favorite cookies, which are actually kosher, dairy, are the techineh and rose water balls. Melt in your mouth delicious. One bowl. They can’t be easier to put together. I’m making a batch now and can’t wait until they come out of the oven. These cookies freeze well, so I’ll be sure to have them around when my son and his friends come home for Chanukah.
Techineh (tahini) Rose Cookies
(Makes about 50-60 cookies)
3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup techineh (tahini)
1 tsp baking powder
6 tsp rose water (found in large supers or MidEast stores)
1/2 tsp cardamom
1 stick butter, room temperature
optional: sesame seeds, dried rose petals (MidEast markets sell them)
Preheat oven to 150*C/3255*F. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix with you hand until the dough sticks together nicely. Form into balls a little smaller than a ping pong ball – about the size of a large walnut. You can roll some in sesame seeds at this point. Space on parchment or slip at lined cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes. C when they come out of oven, you can gently decorate with pieces of rose petals, dried, organic. Or dust with powdered sugar, sanding sugar or leave plain.
The next recipe is from Lily Cohen. Lily moved here with her husband and three children from just north of Paris about two years ago. They are fairly secular Jews living in Herzliya, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Even though the boys, ages 9 and 11, do not wear a kippah (yarmulke), they were constantly getting bullied in school because of their name. Etienne was on his way home, when he was beaten up by a throng of other boys, kicked numerous times, pelted with stones. The family decided it was time to leave. Daniel, the father, was a fairly respected university professor, and he, too, was feeling the effects of antiSemitism. Now the family is thriving. My son was invited to dinner at their house and called me absolutely RAVING about Madame Cohen’s delicious brisket. I have always made my brisket smothered in onions and a tomato sauce. Very heavy. This is a much lighter, dare I say, French version. I will definitely serve this for Chanukah this year. Can’t wait!!! It’s become my new favorite way to make a brisket.
Lily Cohen’s French Brisket Au Jus
1 4 pound (2kg) brisket
1 cup beef broth
1 cup white Zinfandel wine (or white grape juice)
1/3 cup strong Dijon mustard
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp dried tarragon
1/2 tsp rosemary
1/2 tsp thyme
1tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
7-9 shallots, thinly sliced
10-12 mushrooms, sliced medium fine
Sear brisket in skillet over high heat on all sides until browned. Sauté shallots and mushrooms in leftover brisket drippings, adding a little oil if needed. In large bowl, stir Dijon into broth incorporating well. Transfer meat to a Dutch oven or baking pot. Pour mustard broth over. Add in wine or grape juice and seasonings. Cook, covered, at 325*F/150*C and bake 25 minutes per pound (50 minutes a kilo). Add in shallots and mushrooms over top in last 15 minutes. The natural gravy is fantastic over the brisket or rice. I’ll be pouring mine over potato latkes.
No matter what feast you will be celebrating, I wish you a happy, healthy and peaceful one. Thank you for your continued readership and I shall see you in 2023.
Where did the summer go? It’s still pretty warm here in the MidEast upper 30*sC/90*sF and now the humidity from the Mediterranean has kicked in making for balmy (sounds more romantic than miserably sticky) nights. We’re headed off to the UK for cooler climes and my daughter’s wedding to the most wonderful English gentleman! Then it’s off to the States to meet our new grandbaby and visit family for a little bit… so I’ve prewritten and scheduled some posts for when I’m gone. In the meantime-
Last week I had to drive my son up to his old base in the Golan Heights because he had reserve duty. Men and women are called up twice a year for a week or two to retrain and fill in spots as needed. This happens until they are in their 40s, depending on the unit. It’s a necessary part of defense here: one needs to be ready to go at a moment’s notice in case of emergency.
Anyway, I love the drive into the Golan. It’s so wild and pristine and gorgeous up there. Free roaming Angus cattle. Fruit orchards. Horses and cowboys. Tanks and soldiers in training. Mountains. Open space. Military bases. Crusader fortresses and Biblical ruins. Druze men roadside selling carob and date honey, apples, olives, and other local delicacies. I could tell it was the end of summer and only a few weeks until the Jewish New Year and fall festivals because…. Pomegranates!! Apples!! The trees were heavy with fruit and the orchards open to pickers. So I just HAD to. Pick. Waaaay too much, but the prices were so cheap! Like $0.60/pound or 4NIS/kg.
Rosh HaShannah, the Jewish New Year is celebrated both religiously and culturally. To represent the sweetness of the year, we eat apples dipped in honey. We eat apple cakes, apple fritters, apple noodle casseroles (kugels), apple salads. You get the idea.
So I came home with my boxes and boxes and immediately set to work. I wanted to do things I could preserve or freeze for when we get back from our trip. So, here are two of my creations: Apple Butter and Apple Lukshen Kugel. Enjoy!
SPICED APPLE BUTTER
The apple butter works great with cream cheese and peanut butter on bread. Or just plain bread. Or stirred into oatmeal on a cold winter day.
5 pounds (2.5 kg) apples, unpeeled, washed and cut into chunks
4 TBSP apple cider vinegar
juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 TBSP cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup bourbon, whiskey or brandy (optional)
Place all the above ingredients into a large pot and cook uncovered over medium heat. Stir occasionally. In about an hour the apples will have become very soft. Blend thoroughly using an immersion blender. Reduce the apple butter to lowest flame. In a separate pot, boil Mason jars (I use 1/2 pint jars) and lids (not screw-top bands) for 20 minutes to sterilize. Ladle the hot apple butter into the hot empty jars. Place lid on top. Then screw on the sealing ring band. You should get 7-8 jars per batch. Submerge filled jars in a hot water bath (not boiling- just a simmer) for 20 minutes. Remove jars and let cool. Keeps up to 1 year in dark pantry. Refrigerate after opening.
SWEET NOODLE PUDDING WITH APPLES: LUKSHEN KUGEL
This is THE quintessential dairy comfort food for Ashkenazi Jews. You can eat it hot or cold, for breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks. It’s a main dish. it’s a side dish. It’s a dessert. But ask 5 Jewish mommas how they make it and what you’ll get is a headache: raisins or no raisins? Apples, pineapple, dried fruit or plain? Streusel crust, cornflake crust or plain? And then there’s the spices….oy vey! Is it a crime to use ginger and nutmeg or do we just tick to cinnamon? Full fat or low-fat. Everyone has their own opinion….and of course, mine is the best (wink wink). The best thing about it is that if you make a big batch, it freezes and defrosts incredibly well, so I do 3-4 at a time (and have a kugel to send back with the university kid).
This recipe makes 1 9X12 inch (23X30cm) baking dish which cuts to 12 generous pieces.
1 12 ounce package extra wide egg noodles
1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
4 ounces (114 grams) cream cheese
1 1/2 cups cottage cheese
1/2 cup sugar (I prefer coconut sugar)
6 TBSP butter
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup raisins
3 small apples, peeled and sliced thinly
1 cup cornflakes
Boil noodles in salted, boiling water for no longer than six minutes. They should be al dente, not mushy. Drain noodles and rinse well. Return the noodles to the pot along with 3 TBSP of the butter. keep heat on low flame just to melt the butter. Stir noodles until coated. Preheat oven to 350*F/170*C. Grease the Pyrex baking dish. In a very large mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add in eggs, sour cream or yogurt, cottage cheese, spices and vanilla. Mix thoroughly. Fold in noodles, then raisins and apple slices. Pour into prepared baking dish. In separate bowl, lightly crush the cornflakes. Add 3 TBSP melted butter, 1/4 cup (coconut) sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon. Mix well and spoon over noodle pudding. Bake for about an hour or until the kugel is firm and crispy on the top. A cake tester should come out clean- Delicious!
I’d now like to introduce you to a very special young lady. Batya Deltoff is 16 years old. We became friends with the Deltoff family because we moved to Israel around the same time and the Deltoff kids played Little League baseball on my husband’s team. That was over 7 years ago. Batya is from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This straight-A student hopes to be a anesthesiologist one day, but until then she’s happy to hang with her girlfriends. And cook. Cooking is her creative outlet. She has this intuitive sense of what goes with what and is both experimental and fearless. Ethnic foods from Asian to Middle Eastern specialties are the most exciting for Batya to prepare. And she doesn’t use a recipe! It’s all done from memory of what she’s eaten and enjoyed and from taste. She cooks regularly for her parents and 3 siblings – “but they pay the fee of cleaning up after me,” she jokes. I had the good fortune of watching her and cleaning up after her last week.
This recipe has Iraqi origins and is called Kubbe. It’s a hearty soup or stew and can be eaten by itself as an appetizer or meal or served over couscous. The kubbe makes a huge pot and it freezes well. Man, is this delicious. perfect for the holidays, especially the cooler nights of Sukkot.
To me Batya’s Kubbe tasted like a hybrid Jewish-Mexican style borscht. It has lovely vegetable chunks in a tomato-beet broth. Then there are these dumplings that look just like matzah balls. One bite into the balls gives a meaty taste explosion because they are stuffed with a magnificent ground meat mixture. It’s delish and healthy and oh-so-satisfying. I was worried that it would be too spicy for me, but the range of spices complement the soup. And you can always add sriracha or Tabasco for added heat.
BATYA DELTOFF’S AMAZING KUBBE
1 large yellow or white onion
3 large carrots, peeled
3 medium potatoes, peeled
1/2 large cabbage or 1 small cabbage
4 medium roasted, peeled beets or 1 large prepackaged cooked beets
2 TBSP olive oil, plus extra for oiling hands
200 grams canned chopped tomatoes in juice
6 cups water
4 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp ground black pepper
3-4 tsp cumin
2 squeezed lemons, pips removed
1 TBSP slat
1 TBSP sugar
1.5 lb ground beef (3/4 kg)
2 TBSP sweet paprika
2 tsp cumin
1/4 onion, minced fine
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ginger
DOUGH FOR THE KUBBE BALLS-
3 cups white semolina
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups very warm water
Instructions: Peel and cut carrot and potatoes into bite sized chunks. Slice cabbage. Peel onion. Reserve 1/4 onion, and cut the rest into bite sized pieces. In a large stock pot, heat up the olive oil and when shimmery add the above veggies. Cook over medium heat to soften. Add in the cooked beets, also cut into bite size cubes. Pour in the canned tomatoes with the juice. Add enough water to completely cover the veggies (about 6 cups). Stir in the spices. Let come to a boil, then after 3 minutes, turn the flame down to medium low. Begin the dough: in a large mixing bowl, add the semolina and salt. Mix to incorporate. Add in 1 1/2 cups of very warm water, stirring as you go. Let sit for about 10 minutes. It will set up to be a granular gooey paste. To make the meatballs: in another large bowl add the ground beef, onion, garlic and spices. Mix well.
To make the Kubbe balls, oil your hands and a ladle well with olive oil. Pinch a golf-ball sized piece of dough and flatten in the palm of your hand, making special care to flatten out the edges. Place a nice ball of the ground meat mixture in the center of the dough (in your hand). Pull the ends of the dough up to cover, and pinch off the ball at the top, completely surrounding the meat. Make sure there are no holes. Place kubbe in a greased ladle and lower it down into the hot soup. Continue for the rest of the balls. You can also put in plain meatballs without the dumpling coat. See photos-
Let the soup come back to a slow boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cover. Let cook about an hour on low. This is best eaten the next day, and makes a great Shabbat lunch.
If you are keeping Kosher, serve it with a generous dollop of Tofutti imitation sour cream. If you are not worried about Kosher status, sour cream is a great add for the top.
We visited Israel for the first time in 2011, when I was still a homeschooling mom. Because we used a modified Classical curriculum, my children and I immersed ourselves in history, literature, art, philosophy, ancient languages (Hebrew and Latin), and culture. Israel, a land steeped in Biblical, Hellenistic, Jewish, Roman, early Christian, Byzantine, Muslim and Crusader history was a place where my young son and I could actually walk out much of what we had learned in books. For us, it was truly exiting, and I knew we had to somehow be a part of this fantastic place. We first stumbled upon Tzippori in 2011, and wound up moving to a town just 20 minutes to the north. Last winter, my husband, John, and I decided to visit once again. Come with us to one of the most phenomenal archaeological discoveries in the 20th century (right in our back yard!!).
Perched like a bird on top of a high hill in the middle of the Lower Galilee is the city of Tzippori (which means bird in Hebrew). It was first built by Hellenistic (Greek) Jews around 125 BCE, and was chosen for its prime location on the main trade route between Egypt and Damascus, the Via Maris. It was also on the route from Akko on the Mediterranean to the Sea of Galilee. On several occasions, the city was attacked by marauding bands, and finally Herod Antipas, the great builder, undertook its reconstruction in 37 BCE. He employed many different tradesmen from stonemasons to carpenters and the top artisans of the day to create what the historian Josephus would call “the pearl of the Galilee.” As it is only 3.5 miles (a 45 minute walk) from Nazareth, it is more than probable that Joseph the carpenter and foster-father of Jesus was employed here, as was Jesus himself.
By 4 BCE, the Romans were fully entrenched in the Holy Land. Many times they were fought off by zealots, but Tzippori was different. The newly remodeled city was full of Roman sympathizers, often times at odds with the local Galileans. Because Sephoris (as it was called by the Romans) was a “City of Peace,” it was spared destruction from Vespasian and Titus like most of the other towns and cities that were razed by the Legion between 66 and 73 AD. In fact, at one time, Vespasian had over 7500 troops quartered here. For its time, Tzippori was a very wealthy city as evidenced by the many magnificent buildings and especially the mosaics…some of the best in the world! Craftsmen were not only locals, but employed from Egypt, Greece, Rome, experts in the latest styles of carving, fresco painting and tile work. Let’s visit, shall we?
The archeological ruins in the lower part of the city included a colonnaded cardo, the Roman term for the large main thoroughfare. On either side of the cardo, merchants’ shops stood. From the excavation, we get a wonderful picture of daily life in the first century. Glass bottles with remnants of exotic perfumes were discovered; ceramics and stoneware vessels containing grains and pulses; exquisitely crafted jewelry (a gold earring with gemstones, bracelets, an olive leaf head wreath of gold) have been uncovered in situ. Historians note that farming in the rich Jezreel Valley soil and shepherding was done outside the city walls. Fish were brought in fresh from the Mediterranean and Sea of Galilee. In the center of the city were government buildings, a synagogue, and a bank or treasury. Most citizens in this mixed Jewish and Roman city worked for the government under Herod Antipas. There were scribes, tax collectors, judges, lawyers and merchants.
A large villa was unearthed in 1987. The many rooms contained floors of magnificent mosaics. It is called “The Nile House” because the floor in the main hall has a large mosaic depicting the celebration of the Nile River, with a number of separate scenes of different events. In one corner, the river flows from the mouth of an animal on whose back sits a Nile god. In another a reclining female holds a basket of fruit. There are papyrus and lilies in the stream, and the center figure is a picture of a man on a column with a rod called a Nilometer, which measured the height of the river. Surrounding are mosaics showing wild animals in hunting mode. In the room adjacent, the mosaic floor depicts Amazons hunting. The Amazons were a mythical race of female warriors originating from the Caucasus, they settled in Cappodocia (Turkey) and mated with the neighboring Gargarensians, keeping only the girls that were born. The word Amazon comes from the Greek ‘a’ meaning without and ‘mazos “ meaning breast. Legend has it that these women cut off their right breast in order to be better archers…. Anyway, you can see the Greek (Hellenistic) as well as the Egyptian influences in this ancient metropolis (The Greeks invaded Israel in about 150 BCE influencing many Jewish people in Israel to adopt their culture. Centuries before, the Jews were scattered throughout the ancient world in the First Diaspora, hence Hellenized Jews).
One of my favorite places is the tile merchant’s/ mosaic artist’s showroom. Just as we would go to a carpet warehouse or flooring store today, people in the first century could visit the tile showroom and see samples of floor designs. It’s absolutely great!! The ‘warehouse’ had sample designs in little cubicles, offering a variety of geometric shapes, borders, floral and figurative designs. Plus a sample board to choose the colors and sizes of the tesserae!! I don’t think you can find this anywhere else in the world!
For those of you who are interested in feats of engineering, one of the first considerations when building a city is water. How does a team of engineers get water to a city without digging wells? Israel is situated in a desert/sub-Saharan zone. It only rains in the winter: the rest of the year is bone dry. Especially in ancient times, cities were built atop hills and mountains for obvious defensive reasons. So getting water uphill was quite the engineering problem. In the Nazareth mountains nearby flowed underground springs. These springs were channeled in six separate aqueducts which converged outside Tzippori into an enormous hand-hewn cistern or reservoir. This huge underground storage chamber is 260 meters long and 12 meters deep with a volume of 4300 cubic meters. It was in use from the first through the seventh centuries. From the reservoir, the water then ran into a sedimentation chamber, and filtered into another reservoir or holding tank. Enormous amounts of water then exited via a large lead pipe with a filtering sluice at one end. It is truly a marvel to see this sophisticated system! From the reservoir the fresh water was carried by aqueduct into Tzippori. The tremendous build up of water pressure from the reservoir to the small viaducts propelled the water uphill. The remarkable engineering feat actually carried running water through the town and into each house, providing fresh water for drinking, cooking, washing, sanitation, and the ritual Jewish purification baths called mikvaot as well as to the Roman bathhouse in the lower city.
There are just so many interesting things to see here. Let’s head back to the cardo: we were smitten with the actual tracks made by the heavy wagon wheels on the stone streets. A representation of an ancient cart built upon wheels and axels found there is on display. Seeing this really brings the place to life as we could envision a bustling city teaming with life and wagons laden with building materials.
Back in 2011, Max and I got most excited over our tremendous ‘discovery.’ As soon as we saw this graffiti etched into the paving stones on the wide city street, we knew exactly what they were. We had read about this in our Rome studies, so to see it up close for reals: WOW!!! Before I explain, I’ll let you look at the photos and you can try to guess what they were-
So what are all these odd markings? They are street games. During times of boredom, children, merchants, and soldiers alike used to throw knucklebones. Small bones or cubiyot, like dice would be rolled into a designated area etched into the street and points would be racked up. For the adults (and street punks?) it was a game of great skill and often involved placing bets. Sometimes, as in the photo uppermost right, the grids would be stacked in a line and the game resembled cribbage or backgammon as the player would move their pieces from grid to grid. Is this super cool or what???
Now we make our way up the mountain to the upper part of Tzippori. Again, we can see the influence of Rome. Every metropolis needs entertainment, and as one would expect, there is a nice sized amphitheater carved into the north side of the mountain. It was built in the late first or second century AD and had seating for 4000. On ground level in front was the orchestra (the place for the chorus during the Greek period, reserved for honored guests during Roman times. The elevated stage or scena was made of marble and wood. Behind would be large scaffolding for the backdrops with costuming below and balconies for soliloquies above. At this particular site, metal scaffolding has been added so one can get a general idea of the design. Rows of seating were hewn out of the bedrock and covered with marble slabs. Most have been raided and repurposed for building by other civilizations, a very common occurrence. The bottom rows remain intact.
The remains of a spectacular Roman residence built at the beginning of the third century AD were found towards the mountain’s plateau. This villa, along with most of the other structures in Tzippori, was destroyed in the great earthquake of 363 AD. The villa would have had most spectacular views, and because of its proximity to the theatre, indicates a high status of the owner. It has now been enclosed to preserve what is left including Israel’s finest mosaic, the Mona Lisa of the Middle East. The mansion was built according to a popular Roman floor plan. The main room of the sprawling villa was the triclinium, or dining room walled on three sides open to spectacular views and a colonnaded portico facing the Mount Carmel Ridge of Haifa. Cubiculum, or bedrooms, were located off the main hall. Also, just off the dining room, was an indoor bathroom (picture below) with running water below the latrine hole. The walls of the villa were once covered in beautiful frescoes as evidenced by the remains of paint on the existing walls. Many of the rooms had mosaic floors with colorful patterns, the most ornate in the dining salon contains scenes from the life of Dionysus, god of wine. The mosaic is comprised of 1.5 million stones in 23 colors.
Now for a bit of interesting history. The Romans finally decided to subjugate these living in Israel. Why after so many years? The Jews paid taxes at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The taxes exacted by the Romans were exorbitant and bleeding them dry (hence the “render unto Caesar…” speech). Many refused or just could not pay, which oftentimes led to enslavement. The Romans worked seven days a week except for State/religious festivals. The Jewish people insisted on keeping the Sabbath: every Saturday was a day of complete rest in which no work at all was done. When in the early 30s-70 AD, this new cult of Jewish believers in Yeshua (Jesus) as their promised Messiah started springing up, not only was Shabbat kept, but now Sunday was held by these nascent Christians as the Lord’s Day. The Romans were losing a day’s labor from the Jews and two days labor from the Messianics. It was going too far! Plus bands of Jewish zealots were springing up trying to shake off their hoke of bondage to Rome.
In 66-68 AD, the Roman legions led by Vespasian and his son, Titus, landed on the shores of Akko in Israel. They spent the next two years routing out all the Jewish people living in the towns and countryside of the Galilee region. It was during this time the Jewish general Mattityahu Ben Joseph was captured (later becoming Josephus Flavius, the historian to Rome). Many Jews were expelled. Many were taken as slaves. Many killed. Many traveled south towards Jerusalem. By 70 AD, the Romans captured their prize jewel, the eternal capital of the Jewish people: the city of Jerusalem. The walls were breached after a long siege and after a bloodbath, the Roman army seized the city and razed the holy Temple (see Arch of Titus in Rome). This marked the beginning of the great diaspora in which most of the Jewish people were either taken into captivity or were dispersed throughout the world.
Jerusalem, the Holy City since King David, had always been the spiritual or religious center for the Jewish people. It was where the Sanhedrin (the main body of the court of law) assembled. Home to the great priests, rabbis and Torah scholars of the day. it was a major center of learning in the ancient world. Many of these great sages of old (khazal) escaped Jerusalem and went south to Yavne (south of modern day Tel Aviv) or north toward Tzippori. For the first part of the new millennium, the Oral Law or Mishnah (companion to the Torah), which had been handed down from generation to generation, was codified, much of it in Tzippori. Great sages of Judaism, Yehuda haNasi and Rebbe Eliezer lived in this city arguing, discussing and writing the heart of the Talmud. The remains of a large synagogue from the first century are here, but the structure was mostly destroyed in the great earthquake.
Early Christianity/Catholicism also had their own Oral Traditions that had been handed down from generation to generation (Dormition and Assumption of Mary; home of the Holy Family; sites of miracles). One of these traditions states that Mary’s parents (grandparents of Jesus), Joaquin and Anna, were originally from the city of Tzippori. During the times of the Crusaders, a large church and monastery were erected at the site of their purported home. It was called Deir Anna or the Monastery of St Anna.
There is a Crusader fortress at the very top of the mountain. It was destroyed by the Mamaluks under Baybars, then rebuilt in the 18th century by Daher Al Omar, the Bedouin ruler of the Galilee. During this time period, Tzippori, called Sephoris by the Romans, was now renamed Safouriyeh thus Arabizing the Hebrew.
Last, are the ruins of a large synagogue from the second century. It was a center of activity for the sprawling city, and reflected not only its Jewish heritage and connection (commemoration of) the destroyed Second Temple, but also has Greek, Roman and Eastern influence as seen in the mosaics. There is a large central medallion of the zodiac with both Hebrew and Greek writing. Side panels depict the accoutrements of the Temple worship: shofarim (trumpets), menorah (lamp stand), incense table, showbread table, bulls for sacrifice, jars of olive oil, baskets of fruit containing the seven species of plants native to Israel. At the other end of the synagogue floor are mosaic representations of the Biblical story of Abraham: Abraham feeding the angels, Abraham and Sarah, and Father Abraham’s ascent up Mt Moriah with his son, Isaac on the donkey. A side band in Hebrew reads that the floor was “donated with generous funds by ….. in memory of their son, …. “ So it keeps the tradition of a memorial plaque. The geometric design is more Eastern than Western. Even though the synagogue is now a museum, pre-arranged weddings and Bar Mitzvahs can take place on the site. When we were there, a group was gathering for a Bar Mitzvah. A portable ark with Torah was being wheeled onto the main floor and a bima was being set up. It’s another example of living connection to the past.
When we moved from the greater Los Angeles area to Israel, we really felt we’d be giving up a lot. We were pretty spoiled, because LA/Hollywood is supported by “The [Entertainment] Industry” and so many of our friends and neighbors were connected in some way… stunt men, costume designers, editors, composers, musicians. We had so many musical genres represented from pop to hip hop and rap to Broadway, jazz and the best in classical with the Los Angeles Opera, Los Angeles Philharmonic, LA Master Chorale and smaller opera companies, choruses, and conservatories. We were never at a loss for entertainment from rock concerts to childrens’ choirs and loved our summers at the Hollywood Bowl and season tickets to the opera.
I really didn’t know what to expect culturally when we first moved, but I was told that each large city had its own first-rate music conservatory. This was important, as our son was a trumpet player, and I wanted to afford him the opportunity to continue his lessons and have performance venues as well. In addition, throughout the year different cities and kibbutzim host all types of concerts and festivals featuring both local Israeli talent as well as talent brought in from abroad.
Music speaks to the soul and as such, is so important across cultures. We’ve had the chance to experience firsthand the local flavor of the Arabic music and have visited some of their music schools. We’ve enjoyed Yemenite bazooki concerts and French café style entertainment. The Ethiopians have brought with them their own heritage in liturgy and contemporary music and the immigrants from the former Soviet bloc countries are known for their early training in the classical arts. We’ve found Arab Christian bagpipe bands in Nazareth, a hold-over from when Scottish missionaries came to the Holy Land in the 1800s. And we even have a good friend who is the promoter of heavy metal concerts coming to Israel.
Each year, our local music conservatory hosts a fundraising concert with all the proceeds going back into community programs. At first, we were reticent to go, but now look forward to this event as the range of musical talent is representative of the diverse fabric of our society. There is a beautiful women’s chorus made up of religious Jewish, Arab Christian and Druze and secular young ledies. They sing liturgical, folk and classical chorale pieces.
There are several sopranos, who sing the standard art song repertoire in Italian, French, German and even Arabic:
Our mid-sized city has so much talent, including a young woman cellist who has won several international competitions and will go on to study music after her army service; Russian siblings, ages 11 and 13, pianists who both perform solo and duets; a flutist from Canada and a Ukrainian balalaika player who has been performing professionally since he was six and now serves in the IDF, but made the time to play at this concert.
Karmi’el is one of several cities that prides itself on its Children’s Village. There are 200 children from grades 1-12 who live on the spacious and well-manicured campus. Some are orphans, but many come from broken, abusive or disfunctional families. Separated into 16 “mishpachtim” or family groups, they live in large, specially designed homes with sponsor parents and their families. All the kids attend the public schools, but return to the village for afternoon activities, clubs, music and dance lessons, therapy and sports. In this well-rounded program, the older children help with volunteer service projects within the city. Their success rate in academic excellence, reintegration into society, military service, sports and entertainment is unparalleled. One of the young men recently won Israel’s version of The Voice, Junior. Each year, they put on an amazing show for the community at our local theatre arts complex.
Just before the first wave of lockdowns due to the pandemic, John and I went to a hands-on drumming workshop in Nazareth. It was tremendous fun learning about the darbouka, made of wood or aluminum and covered with leather from donkey, goat, camel or skin, each having a different sound. Demonstrations even included a fish-skin covered tambourine, a bandir, based on the ancient models. The last clip in this series was an ancient Aramaic song from the book of the prophet Jonah: the prayer he made from the belly of the fish. The melody itself is centuries old.
During the summer, neighboring Tsfat hosts a three day Klezmer music festival. At Kfar Blum, a kibbutz in the Upper Galilee, there is a weeklong classical music festival. The kibbutz operates a first class hotel and the venues, for both indoor and outdoor concerts are said to be quite pleasant. The festival features vocal and instrumental music with world class guest artists from throughout the world. Jerusalem hosts an international oud festival (an ancient stringed instrument), and the Red Sea resort city of Eilat is famous for its international jazz festival.
In years past, in the Galilee, there was the twice annual Jacob’s Ladder Festival with the best in bluegrass, Celtic, and blues. Most festivals here are very family friendly with activities and workshops for even the youngest. In the early summer, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee at Ein GeV kibbutz, there is an choral music festival of mostly Hebrew and European choirs. It also includes a competition.
Speaking of competitions, Israel has been placing first in the Eurovision Competition, a huge international “Who’s Got Talent?” show broadcast throughout Europe. Israel hosted last year in Tel Aviv. The Abu Ghosh Music Festival (just south of Jerusalem) is home to a classical vocal competition in the Spring. Vocalists come from all over the globe. Performances are held in ancient churches and cultural arts centers in the area. Master classes are open to the public.
There’s something here for everyone. If you’re into indie, the InDNegev Festival each October is the place to be. The event has grown each year since 2007, and now includes art exhibitions, poetry readings, movies, and huge parties lasting all night. As with several of these types of festivals, camping is strongly encouraged. Every winter, there is also a Grateful Dead festival with live music cover bands as well as dance tents and hippie art shows. If raves are your thing, then there’s the Minus 424 (meters below sea level) Dead Sea Rave. Electronica, lots of DJs and laser light shows have festival goers dancing from sunset to sunrise with the red desert mountains as part of the surreal backdrop. And not to be outdone by America’s Burning Man Festival, there is the infamous Midburn Festival in the Negev Desert each October. A combination Woodstock, Coachella and Burning Man, the participants themselves are the ones who create the performances. They set up an entire weeklong installation in the desert. It has become so popular, that you need to know someone who is part of the event in order to get a ticket.
Israel is truly a crossroad of the world. Because of its proximity to Africa, and due to the influence of our Ethiopian, Eritrean, Nigerian and Ugandan immigrants and visa holders, there are several AfroBeat, AfroJazz, heritage and Reggae concerts throughout the year. Every city has multiple entertainment venues, and most events are free to the public, like the Nuite Francaise which even included a wine and cheese bar and ballroom dancers!
And of course, we have our own mega stars singing pop, hip hop, and indie folk. All during the summer, our Israeli entertainment icons perform concerts in amphitheaters all over the country, many are free, sponsored by the municipality.
(Warning: the next two video clips include bright, flashing lights-)
Saving our favorite Israeli performer for last: John & I first heard the music of Idan Raichel in Los Angeles in 2010. We saw him at different locations in California and we haven’t missed one of his concerts here (which always sell out in hours). Idan first started performing (accordion) at age 12. He’d play for the dancers at the Karmi’el Dance Festival every year. Last year he, most deservedly, received an honorary PhD in philosophy from BarIlan University and has been named Israel’s Poet Laureate. His music is not only beautiful, but the words! About the beauty of life, of love and friendship, of peace and unity. Many international recording stars have teamed up with Raichel to form the world-beat Idan Raichel Project. It truly is peace through music. So I leave you with this- Enjoy!
The days are sweltering, sizzling hot. At night a breeze picks up bringing with it the fragrance of ripe fruit and sages. John and I have been spending the middling of an Israeli summer driving around the lake (Sea of Galilee) buying fresh fish as it comes off the boats and picking fruits. Lychees, mangoes, passion fruit and figs! Of course, this means creating delicious new recipes, canning, drying and freezing to have produce on hand in the winter months. So for all you foodies out there, here goes!!!
Let’s start with an easy to assemble and totally decadent salad. I add blue cheese, but you can leave the cheese out if you are sticking to a kosher meat menu.
ROASTED FIG SALAD (Serves 4)
8 fresh figs
4 cups arugula or rocket lettuce
2 cups butter lettuce or baby spinach
1 small red onion, sliced thin and quartered
1/4 cup walnut pieces
1/4 cup candied/spiced pecans
1 small wedge blue cheese (about 1/3 cup)
2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
3 TBSP balsamic vinegar
Set oven to 200*C/400*F. Quarter figs and place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with fresh cracked black pepper. Roast for 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Let cool. Reserve juices. In a large bowl, add the arugula and lettuce. Mix in the sliced red onion and cheese crumbles. Add the nuts. Place the figs on top. Drizzle with the reserved fig juices. Serve.
The next recipe was given to me by my oldest daughter. I love it that all my children have become first rate cooks. Katie raved about this one, so I had to try it. It calls for a mild white fish. We used St. Peter’s Fish, which is tilapia. I also bought a nice mild Levrak (it’s the Hebrew name so I have no clue what it’s called in English, but it was buttery, flaky and extremely mild with no fishy taste at all). There are two keys: fresh picked fig leaves and timing…. It gets baked for 6-8 minutes only.
The ingredients are simple. A nice mild white fish, cleaned, de-scaled and sliced in half down the middle. A bunch of fresh fig leaves, olive oil, salt, pepper and some toothpicks.
Preheat oven to 200*C/400*F. Line a baking sheet with foil. Drizzle olive oil over the fish and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap in the fig leaves and secure with toothpicks (see photos), making sure the leaves also line the middle in between the two layers of fish. Bake in oven for just 6-8 minutes. Remove and unwrap the leaves. This is seriously amazing! If there are any leftovers, it makes dynamite fish tacos! (I bring 4 large packs of corn tortillas from this US each trip and freeze them).
The next two recipes are a collaboration between Katie and myself. She came up with the first, and I tweaked the second recipe to make it truly Israeli. The result is a satisfyingly rich and filling couple of breakfast shakes.
KATIE’S FIG FITNESS SHAKE (serves 1)
3 fresh figs
3 pitted dates
1 frozen banana
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 cup coconut cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 TBSP honey
1/2 cup blueberries
lots of ice
Mix all the ingredients in a blender or Vitamix. Pulse until smooth and creamy. Pour into a glass and enjoy. If there is any leftover, you can pour into popsicle molds and freeze for a cold summertime treat.
ISRAELI FIG AND DATE SHAKE
3 fresh figs
2 dates, pitted
1 frozen banana
1 cup almond milk or fresh low-fat goat yogurt
1 small individual serving packet of Turkish coffee with hel (if you live in Israel! if not, go to next 2 items) –
1 TBSP powdered espresso if no Turkish coffee powder
1 tsp powdered cardamom if no powdered hel or Turkish powder
1/4 cup techineh (‘tahini’)- if you can find Ethiopian dark techineh, all the better
1/4 cup silan (date syrup, at Trader Joe’s) or honey
lots of ice
Put all ingredients in a blender or Vitamix and pulse until smooth and creamy. Pour in a tall glass and top with crumbled halvah. Makes a great dairy dessert!
BAKED CHICKEN WITH FIGS AND ROSEMARY
This was dinner tonight. The secret is to prep it in the morning. Let it marinate in the “sauce” all day, and then pop it in the oven. Of course, I served it with the fig salad (but this time I left the figs raw and didn’t add blue cheese) and a heavenly Middle Eastern spiced rice with lentils. Oh my word!! This was just super flavorful! It smelled so good, we just dug in before I could remember to snap a picture-
1 whole skin-on chicken, cut up
1/4 cup olive oil
salt & pepper
1 small red onion, cut up
1/3 cup silan (date syrup… Trader Joe’s) or honey
6 sprigs fresh rosemary
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp powdered cloves
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Rinse and pat dry the chicken pieces and place in a large freezer baggie. Cut up the red onion into bite-sized pieces and add to bag. Add the liquid ingredients, then the dry spices and the rosemary. Seal the bag tightly and squish the ingredients around to evenly distribute. At this point, you can freeze the bag of chicken for later use or let it marinate at least 6 hours in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 170*C/350*F. Place the entire contents of the what is in the chicken baggie in a large baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake for an additional 10-12 minutes. Serves 4-6.
FIG BALSAMIC GELATO
This was our weekend dessert. Can’t believe I gave away my ice cream maker before we moved. I bought another the first summer we were here. Nothing speaks lazy summer nights than fresh fig gelato on the terrace.
1 pound/1/2 kg fresh ripe purple figs
10 ounces/284 grams mascapone cheese in Israel I use Gad Dairy)
2 cups 32% sweet cream (in Israel, there’s nothing comparable to Yotvata Dairy)
1 14 ounce can sweet condensed milk
1/2 cup honey (or coconut sugar)
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
juice 1 small lemon
3. TBSP brandy
1 tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to 200*C/400*F. Trim and halve figs & place on foil lined baking sheet. Roast for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and purée until mushy using an immersion blender. In blender or food processor, add cream, canned milk, cheese, honey. Blend thoroughly. Transfer both the container of figs and cream mixture (I use Mason jars) to fridge and let chill overnight. When all is really cold, shake the jar and put the cream mixture into the ice cream maker. Add the salt. Let churn for about 15 minutes. Scrape down sides and add fig mixture, cinnamon and squeezed lemon juice. When rich and thick, drizzle in the brandy and balsamic. Finish churning and pour into glass or plastic containers. Put a layer of plastic wrap directly on top of the gelato. Let it freeze for a couple hours to become firm. This makes about 24 small scoops. Adorn with a quarter slice of fresh raw fig and a ginger wafer to serve.
The past three weeks have marked a period of collective fasting, prayer, charity or alms-giving and mitzvot, or doing good deeds for the Jewish people of Israel. It comes at the hottest, driest time of year when all a person wants to do is sit in front of a fan and eat ice cold watermelon. The period starts on the 17th of Tammuz, the Hebrew month. On this day, thousands of years ago Moses came down from Mt Sinai to see drunken orgies and the people worshipping an idol, the golden calf, so in anger, he smashed the tablets with the Ten Commandments. A year later (1313 BCE) 12 spies were sent out into the Promised Land to scout out the lay of the land. On the 9th of Av, 10 spies came back with a bad report. Instead of proclaiming a land filled with natural goodness – super huge fruits, date honey, goats, cows, milk, rich soil, a land with which they were bequeathed, they spoke of walled cities. They spoke of appearing to be like tiny grasshoppers in the eyes of giants. They said it was untamable. Wild. Dangerous. Instead of relying on the L-rd, they fell into despair. And they took an entire nation into absolute hopelessness and despair with them. Instead of being filled with gratitude and strength and optimism, they were defeatist. So the entirety of the Children of Israel were made to wander in the desert for forty years.
From that time on, it seem those three weeks would be an infamous swamp of bad karma for the Jewish people. Biblically, the 10 Northern tribes were taken by the Assyrians during this time. Then the Babylonians swept in, breaching the walls of Jerusalem on the 17th Tammuz and taking the city. On the 9th of Av, Solomon’s Temple, the First Temple, was razed and the tribes of Judah and Benjamin were led into captivity for 70 years. The Temple was rebuilt under Cyrus and lasted until 70AD, when it was leveled by the Romans. Most of the Jews were scattered throughout the world in the Great Diaspora. Fifty two years later, the walled fortress of Beitar, held down by the last Zealots against the Roman regime was breached on 17 Tammuz. Again, after a three week siege, the Romans killed the thousands of remaining Jews and destroyed the city (just outside Jerusalem near Bethlehem) on 9 Av. It marked the end of a Jewish homeland for almost 2000 years.
The tragedies of Tisha b’Av ( Hebrew for 9 Av) and the three weeks continued throughout history. European Jews were burned alive in synagogues in Italy, Germany & France in the 1100s-1200s; the Jews of England were expelled by King Edward “Longshanks” in 1290; King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled the Jews of Spain in 1492; on Tisha b’Av in 1914, Germany declared war on Russia thus beginning World War l; in 1942 Hitler’s Final Solution was announced; on that same day, the deportations of the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to the death camps commenced. In more “modern times,” the deadly bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires by Iranian-backed terrorists killed 86, seriously wounding over 300. And in 2005, on Tisha B’Av, in the name of “land for peace” Israel forcibly and permanently removed the remaining Jewish residents of Gaza (they had until then been living relatively peaceable lives with their Arab neighbors), in essence handing the territory over to Islamic militants like Hamas (the word actually means VIOLENCE!!!) and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. There has been no peace ever since.
With that brief history, we’ve been watching events unfold over the past few weeks. Israel had been seeing a sharp uptick in Palestinian violence recently. There were car-rammings, stabbing, shootings, the throwing of projectiles onto the windshields of cars, and other incidents of violence. Hotbeds of illegal weapons, cash and drug smuggling were uncovered in the cities of Nablus, Um-Al-Fahmm and Jenin. In an IDF raid, on which I reported several weeks ago, the journalist Abu Ahkleh was shot. Despite video that showed evidence to the contrary, TikTok clips released by the Islamists in real time, her death was blamed on Israel’s attempt to assassinate an Arab reporter. Things were heating up again as the summer sun blazed on.
During this years’ Three Weeks period, several more surprise raids were made by the IDF to try to curb the violence. Entire terror cells were taken into custody. We were closely following the news, as friends of mine in Tekoa and Gush Etzion in Judaea (West Bank near Jerusalem) had their gate guarded communities breached by men wielding guns. Last Tuesday, 2 August, in Jenin ( the West Bank) the IDF arrested Bassam al-Shaadi, the head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Founded in 1982, the PIJ is an internationally recognized terrorist organization which has direct backing by the Iranian and Syrian regimes. After Hamas, it is the second largest terror group in the region, ruling over much of Gaza. Its sole purpose of existence is to destroy Israel and make it free of Jews. Al-Shaadi had been directly involved in planning and executing several deadly attacks against Israeli civilians. Bags of cash and illegal weapons were found upon his arrest and the arrest of two other wanted terrorists.
Marches of protest and cries of revenge sprang up immediately in the Arab towns and cities. The PIJ, in return, threatened to commence the bombing of Southern and Central Israel where 70% of the Israeli population lives. As a precaution, all the roads leading up to and within the Gaza envelope were closed off to any traffic. Roadblocks were set up. The citizens living within the area were all told to remain inside and lock down, staying close to the nearest bomb shelters. The following day, a senior PIJ military leader announced, “We have every right to bomb Israel with our most advanced weapons.” They threatened to attack the most populous areas including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, 80 km or 50 miles away. The rhetoric intensified on Thursday, as many residents remained hunkered down, not going to work, not going to the market, not sending their children to summer activities.
Special cabinet meetings were held. Israel was attempting to appease the PIJ, to stop their threats to now carry out attacks across the country. Later it was reported that there was actionable intelligence of an imminent attack by the PIJ using an anti-tank missile to blow up a bus. The chatter was recorded. The launcher was found along with the ten terrorists headed to the border to instigate the attack. In a well-coordinated, heavily-planned preemptive strike, Israel entered into its latest conflict, Operation Breaking Dawn, on Friday afternoon just before the Sabbath. Also struck with absolute surgical precision, was the apartment of PIJ senior commander in Gaza, Taysir al-Jabari. Al-Jabari was killed and in return, the PIJ immediately started their missile barrage against the citizens of Israel. The missiles rained down on Central Israel continuously for over 50 hours. In all, over 1,100 were fired. Just stop for a second or two and think of that. Over 1100 missiles in just over 2 days!!
Although heavily inconvenienced, many in shock from the trauma as the bombs whistled overhead and shook the ground upon impact, the Israelis stayed resolute. All were united behind the IDF efforts to take down this most recent threat. In an almost supernatural answer to the prayers and fasting of the people, and much thanks to Iron Dome, there was not one Israeli casualty. Several cars and a couple buildings were hit and a few people were treated for falling while on the way to shelters and for shock. But there were no major injuries. This was a Tisha B’Av miracle. Still, sirens wailed throughout the center of Israel nonstop. Another huge miracle, not to be underestimated, is that Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, decided to sit this one out. Perhaps it was because the knew that the IDF was only targeting PIJ. Maybe it was because they were pummeled last conflict and did not want a repeat performance. A miracle, nonetheless.
We were completely unaffected by this in the North, but still, the people were all on edge. Last year, many of the surrounding Arab villages and mixed cities experienced uprisings and violent riots which saw the destruction of Jewish property and resulted in several deaths. The government had well-prepared for this scenario, and this year made sure the police were out in advance to quell any disturbances before they could take hold. Simultaneously, the IDF was making military incursions into places like Nablus and Jenin arresting terror cells and confiscating stolen and homemade illegal weapons. It was a well-coordinated effort.
The Israeli army has a policy to go out of their way to avoid incurring civilian damages. Both PIJ and Hamas go out of their way to hide their bomb and rocket launchers behind their own people: in schools, hospitals, mosques and inside high-density housing units. Israel has every right to defend its people. What would you do if a neighboring state started attacking your city? There is a popular narrative that is being spread by many mainstream news outlets and by members of the US government: that there is an imbalance of power. That the Iron Dome affords Israel a unique advantage. This narrative is both misleading and dangerous. Iron Dome definitely saves countless lives and property. It is because of the strength and accuracy of Israel’s army that Hamas, Hezbollah, PIJ and other terror organizations that have genocidal racism as their epithet have not proliferated and taken over in the region. Their goal is not to “resist the occupation.” Their goal is to make the entire MidEast, especially Israel free of Jews, free or Christians, free of homosexuals and free of any other group they do not approve of. Their goal is to make the entire Mideast a vast wasteland of their religious intolerance and supremacy as can be seen in countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Yemen. They have no desire in making life better for their own people, who live in abhorrent conditions under a militaristic religious dictatorship.
All the violence could be stopped in a single instant if the Islamist terrorists would just put down their weapons to live in peace. We all want peace here. We do not seek conflict. We just want to live normal lives. All they have to do is accept our existence, something they all have been given the opportunity to recognize officially on many occasions, but refuse. There is no easy answer. Usually the blame falls on Israel. For example,, early on in the conflict, Gaza reported that 7 civilians including 5 children were killed in the Jabalia refugee complex when an Israeli bomb struck the tenement housing. They even released footage of the strike. Upon inspection, it can be seen that their own missile completely backfired, making a slowly arching u-turn before crashing down and hitting the Jabalia site. The news, first broadcast by AlJezeera then picked up by international mainstream media was debunked as fake news within the hour. More footage released shows that not only did this bomb fail to reach its target, but that over 20% of the launches misfired, falling back into Gaza.
Late Sunday evening, a ceasefire, brokered by Egypt, was announced. So far, it has held, but things are tenuous at best. The PIJ has called for the release of al-Saadi and other “political hostages.” As of this morning, Tuesday, 9 August, Israel special ops were in Nablus encountering extreme and wild fire power. So far 11 terrorists including the head of the AlAqsa Martyrs’ Brigade have been killed with zero IDF casualties with the exception of a counterterrorism dog. A large number of explosives and additional weapons have been located at the site. Hopefully this will deter the terrorists and help break the wave of recent violence. We pray for peace and security and for the wisdom of our government. We pray for truthful reporting. And we thank G-d that this Ninth of Av we were spared.
Adding to the rich cultural diversity in Israel, we have the Circassians. Mainly living in two communities in the North and numbering approximately 4,000, the Circassians’ history goes way back to pre-4th century. Originally from what is present-day Russia – from between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, they were the indigenous people of the Caucasus Mountains. They lived from Sochi to Baku: their capital city was Nalchik and they were known as the Adyghe (Adiga) people. In their language Ady means highlander and ghe means sea. Between the 4th and the 9th centuries, many of them converted to Christianity. When the Tartars and Ottoman Turks conquered their territory, many were forcibly converted to Islam. The Turks called them Cherkess which was Latinized to Circassian. After many years as dhimmie under the Ottomans, most adopted the Muslim religion voluntarily. 1763 marked the 100 year war between the Circassians and the Russians for access to the Black Sea. Eventually, in 1864, Russia launched a genocidal campaign. 90% of their population were exiled from their land – put on ships bound for the Balkans, Anatolia, Bulgaria and Turkey. From there they were taken to the Middle East and can be found throughout the Levant. Their population is about 1.5 million.
Because they were such good fighters, the Ottomans took them in as brother Muslims; and it was the Turks who scattered them throughout the Lebanon/Syria/Israel/Jordan region as a counterweight tothe non-Muslim Jewish, Christian and Druze populations as well as to the Bedouin. Even though they are Sunni Muslim, they are not Arabs. They were brought here in the 1870s as tax collectors for all the other Arab villages in the surrounding area (today, this practice no longer exists).Here in Israel, they maintain excellent relations with the Jewish and Arab populations. The Circassians, although very separate with their own language and educational system, all serve in the IDF. They have kept their ancient phonetic language, Adyghebza, but are fluent in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Their educational levels are very high, their communities, impeccably clean with flowers blooming in every windowbox and garden. There are only 26 family groups or clans within the Israeli Circassian community.
We visited the two Circassian towns recently. Kfar Kama (pronounce Comma) is a thriving village on the upper slope of Har Tavor (Mt. Tabor) in the lower Galilee. The mountain village is walled in, an old form of defense. All of the stone houses are interconnected, sharing a back or side wall. The only way through into the village is from a guardpost/ gate, like a fort. The mosque stands in the very center of the town. And it is the location of the Circassian Heritage Center. Every day, the center welcomes Israeli school groups as part of their educational enrichment program. We were greeted graciously by our docent, Ibek, dressed in a black costume and high fur hat.
After sharing their history with the large group, several members of the village put on a dance exhibition in their native noble costumes. Red and black are their battle colors, turquoise symbolizes the sea and green, the land from which they came.
All Circassians are taught the traditional dances from the time they are young, and all can play at least one musical instrument. The women have much power in their society, and are free to make their own decisions. When a young man comes of age, it is traditional for the Circassian man not to ask permission of the girl’s parents to marry. He asks the girl to marry him directly. This is where the story gets good. Without her parent’s knowledge, the bridegroom and his male attendants, kidnap the beloved at an agreed upon time and place. Two of the bridegroom’s attendants, then go to her family’s home to inform the parents (after she has not shown up). The family must then go out in search of their daughter, but it is the girl’s decision entirely to marry. The parents have no say in the matter. The bride is taken into the groom’s family’s home, and it is they who pay for the entire wedding feast. The families marry within their clans. Sometimes the men travel to Eastern Europe or Turkey where other clan member reside to find their betrothed.
Much of their labor today is agricultural. Olive growing has played a large role in their subsistence . They follow the Muslim dietary laws (refraining from pork, Hallal slaughter) with the exception of fish. Because so many of their people were killed in the Black Sea War, fish and seafood are off the menu in homage to their brethren. They are fairly famous for their smoked meats and hard smoked cheeses. The cheese shop in Kfar Kama boasts of the oldest cheese in Israel: this hard, smoked cheese is shaped like an enormous dagger and is 43 years old!
Today in Israel, about half of the Circassians are devout, the other half fairly secular. There is no pressure to be traditional, although all intimately know the culture and traditions. Observant women wear a white headscarf, like Druze women, but the Circassian style for every day is more like a hijab. Colorful clothes as well as pants are worn by the younger women.
The other Circassian village is Rechaniya, near the Lebanese border, established in 1878 by 66 families. It too is built in the fortified walled village style with a central mosque as in Kfar Kama. Because of their location, the village maintained active ties with their Lebanese and Syrian relations across the border. This proved problematic for the Israeli authorities during the 1967 and Lebanese Wars. Frequent home searches were conducted by the IDF for security reasons. Smuggled weapons were confiscated and some of the Rechaniya townsfolk were temporarily moved to Kfar Kana, 30 miles to the south. Mostly, they preferred to remain neutral during the wars Israel faced. Today, friendly relations have been restored. They pride themselves as being full Israeli citizens and part of the fabric of society. Many Circassians today serve in the police and border patrol units. Several are noted Israeli football stars.
Hani Madaji is the owner of the Rechaniya restaurant, Nalchik. There you can eat like a local, feating on lots of carbs, some baked, some fried, all with different fillings. One of the favorites is Haliva, a fried dough dumpling filled with Circassian cheese, potatoes and herbs. Some variations use beef and leeks.
There are Kalkata, dumplings filled with sheep milk yogurt and paprika; memjak, a savory lentil dish and an interesting type of chicken salad. The shredded, cooked chicken is dressed with a rich, garlicky tehineh and is served at room temperature. Before eating a red olive oil that has been infused with spicy Aleppo pepper and paprika, is drizzled over top. Walnuts, also are sprinkled over (Note: for those visitors keeping Kashrut, this food is definitely not Kosher! Still, interesting to see and learn). Also in Rechaniya is a specialized cheese dairy that has been in the same family for generations. It is an art that has been passed down from mother to daughter for hundreds of years.
Nadi explained to us when we asked how the Circassians fit into society in Israel today that it is a matter of tolerance. They see other people and other cultures as having tremendous dignity and worth as human beings. We are all brothers and sisters, she said. We seek to live peaceably among our own people and alongside the other Israeli citizens. However every Circassian carries deep within him the desire to go back to their original homeland that is today part of Russia. They are all a part of the Great Circassian Diaspora. For them, May 21 is their Genocide Remembrance Day. In both Kfar Kama and Rechaniya there are parades, special services and speeches made. All are welcome to attend.
Usually my blogposts are about culture, archaeological finds, interesting places to visit, and entertaining feature articles. I purposely avoid anything political or potentially inflammatory. In the past month there has been much misinformation and information that has been conveniently hidden or deleted about the events surrounding the death of Palestinian-American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh. As of this morning there are reports out by CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera and other mainstream news outlets – all completely defamatory to Israel. I have followed this story carefully from the beginning, detail by detail. I can no longer be silent about the tragic (and it was utterly tragic) death and funeral of the reporter Shireen Abu-Akleh. I will start at the beginning to set the stage.
Jenin, population 41,000 is the northernmost city in the West Bank and has become a symbol of Palestinian resistance. It has been in existence since the late 1800s when its recorded population was below 1,000, all Muslim. Because of its location at the southern end of the fertile Jezreel Valley, it became an outpost of the Turkish & German forces united against the Allied powers in WWI for their forays into northern Israel. Jenin was captured by the British in 1918 and came under the the rule of British Mandated Palestine. By the 1930s, the town was the northern spearhead for raids and ambushes of the Jewish villages in the Jezreel Valley. After the British left, and during the newly-formed State of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence (in which the nascent country was attacked from all sides by the neighboring Arab countries), the town was reinforced by Iraqi forces entering through Jordan. The strategic town fell into Israeli hands in 1967 during the Six Day War, but was then promptly transferred by Israel to the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority according to the Tabah Agreement.
Since coming under the full control of the PA in 1996, Jenin has become a hotbed of terror-organizing, smuggling, and illegal activity. The surrounding area is very agricultural and the surrounding small villages have about 256,000 population, all but 3% Muslim in this area. It is the regional center of government for the PA. It is also known as a militant stronghold exporting terror. Jenin is a heavily armed city. At least 23 of the suicide bombers during the 2002-2005 Second Intifada were from Jenin. Over 1,000 people in Israel, both citizens and international tourists, were murdered in these bombings, shootings and stabbings.
This year, from March 21 – May 5, during Ramadan, a new wave of terror broke out in Israel. In seven separate terror attacks on citizens, 19 people were murdered, 36 injured. Three of these attackers were from Jenin and two were from a town 7.2 miles to the east. Following the attacks, the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Security Forces conducted counterterrorism operations in Jenin and the immediate vicinity with the clear objective ”to uncover and prevent any future terrorist attacks based on reliable and actionable intelligence. We have already thwarted dozens of pre-planned attacks, thereby saving the lives of civilians. The IDF in no way targets non-militants in any of its activities.”
The IDF had entered the refugee camp on the outskirts of the city in prior days to raid a cache of illegal weapons. Most were home manufactured or smuggled in through Jordan. They arrested several known terrorists and suspected accomplices.
The Fateful Day: A Tale of Two Narratives
On the morning of May 11, IDF soldiers entered Jenin Camp on the outskirts of the city and apprehended eight suspected terrorists. During this planned counterterrorism operation, dozens of Palestinian gunmen ambushed the soldiers from the buildings and alleyways above, from all directions. Very shortly afterwards, videos of the ambush were posted to Facebook, Tiktok and Instagram by the Palestinians. The gunmen were recklessly firing pot-shots around corners and hurling improvised explosives at the troops. The Israeli soldiers responded with gunfire. At the time of the activity, hundreds of bullets were volleyed and the AlJazeera journalist, Shireen Abu-Akleh, was caught in the middle and killed. In the uploaded video, you can hear the Palestinian gunmen yelling in Arabic, ”We got one. We killed a soldier. An IDF soldier is down.” However, no Israeli soldier was reported killed or injured.
This is where the two different narratives begin. It is essential we get to the truth, because the truth matters and facts matter. And now 57 U.S. legislators have called on the United States FBI and the U.S. State Department to investigate the journalist’s death, to sanction Israel and to condemn Israel for acts of aggression and humanitarian violence because the reporter was a dual Palestinian and American citizen.
The IDF Chief General of Staff Aviv Kochavi stated, ”During the operation in Jenin, suspects indiscriminately fired an enormous amount of gunfire at IDF soldiers and hurled improvised explosive devices. Forces fired back with live fire. Our soldiers in Jenin acted under fire, as in many cases, demonstrating courage and determination to protect the citizens of our State. As in many other events, the Palestinians launched extensive fire at our forces and indiscriminately wild fire in every direction. Unlike the Palestinians, IDF soldiers carry out trained and selective shooting. At this point it is not possible to determine what shooting the reporter who was killed [sic] and we are very sorry for her death. In order to reach the investigation of the truth, we have set up a special team that will find out the facts and present them as fully and as soon as possible.” Initially Israeli officials stated that Abu-Akleh was likely killed by an errant Palestinian bullet. Later that evening, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said, ”It could have been Palestinians who shot her – or erratic fire from our side.” This opened up an entirely new narrative.
Shireen’s lifeless body was immediately taken to a Palestinian coroner who removed and kept the bullet. The officials conducting the autopsy said they were unable to determine the bullet’s origin. The Palestinians have refused Israeli requests for a joint investigation into her unfortunate and untimely death. Without the bullet, the Israeli government cannot accurately determine what happened. The Israeli government wants a full investigation to happen in order to find out as much information as possible.
The Palestinian narrative has been spread throughout the mainstream media and has gained considerable traction. “Not only was Abu-Akleh shot by Israeli troops, rather than hit by indiscriminate Palestinian gunfire, but she was deliberately targeted by Israel in order to silence the voice of Palestine (David Horovitz, left of center, Times of Israel).” Al Jazeera comments on that day: ”We condemn this heinous crime, intended to prevent the media from carrying out its message, and we hold the Israeli government and the occupational forces responsible for her death. We hereby call on the international community to condemn and hold Israel occupational forces accountable for the deliberate killing of our colleague Shireen Abu-Akleh.”
The head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of “execution” and said, “We vow to bring the matter before the Hague to the International Criminal Court to punish the criminals. We have rejected a joint investigation with the Israeli authorities because they are the ones who committed the crime.” This was said without full evidence. Senior PA official Jibril Rajoub, called Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett a Nazi, accusing him of giving the direct orders to hunt down and assassinate the journalist. This was a spurious comment and outright lie that has been disseminated throughout the world by the mainstream media.
The Funeral of Shireen Abu-Akleh
By now, many of you have seen the (heavily edited) video clip of the funeral procession of Abu-Akleh. It was floated first on social media then picked up by legacy news outlets. It is very misleading. The images of Israeli police shoving, pushing and hitting away the pall-bearers burns an indelible image into one’s psyche. It is a very tiny portion of a much larger story. The clipped video was disseminated throughout the world to make it seem as if the Israeli Police interfered with the procession, when in fact, it was the exact opposite. The various videos are shown and explained below:
Jerusalem is a political and religious hotbed waiting to boil over. In the days leading up to the death of Ms. Abu-Akleh, throughout the Ramadan period, gangs of roving youth from East Jerusalem were going into (the main city of) Jerusalem tearing down Israeli flags that lined the streets for Memorial Day, Independence Day and Jerusalem Day. For many Israeli Arabs, the formation of Israel as the Jewish State, their ancient and ancestral homeland, marks ”The Nakba” or The Great Catastrophe. There were riots on the Temple Mount with young men barricading themselves into the iconic gold-domed Al Aqsa Mosque, using it as a fortress from which to throw rocks and explosives.
Shireen Abu-Akleh was a Melkite Christian born in Jerusalem in 1971. Her immediate family was originally from Bethlehem. Orphaned at an early age, she went to live with her mother’s family in New Jersey receiving a Catholic education both there and on her return to Israel for high school. She graduated from Yarmouk University in Jordan with a degree in journalism. Fluent in Hebrew, Arabic, English, and Greek, she was hired by Al Jazeera in 1997. Her career, reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, women’s issues, and global dialogue made her a leading journalist and an inspiration to many young Palestinian girls. She resided in East Jerusalem at the time of her death.
After her death, Abu-Akleh’s shrouded body was carried on a stretcher draped with a Palestinian flag from Jenin through Nablus, then Ramallah for the residents of the West Bank to pay their respects before it reached Jerusalem, where the Christian funeral was scheduled to take place. Her family made arrangements for her coffin to be taken by hearse from the hospital to the church, not paraded through the streets of East Jerusalem. The following is the direct account of the notes written by the Israeli Police Force on the events of May 13:
– Plans for the funeral procession of Shireen Abu-Akleh were coordinated in advance by the Israel Police together with the family. – On Friday, about 300 rioters arrived at St. Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem and prevented the family members from loading the coffin onto the hearse to travel to the cemetery as had been planned and coordinated with the family in advance. – Instead the mob threatened the driver of the hearse and then proceeded to carry the coffin in an unplanned processional route to the cemetery by foot. – This went against the wishes of the Abu-Aklah family and the security coordinations that had been planned to safeguard the large number of mourners. – Israel Police instructed that the coffin be returned to the hearse, as did the EU ambassador, and Abu-Akleh’s own family, but the mob refused. – Molotov cocktails and fireworks were thrown by the mob at the police. Israel Police intervened to disperse the mob and prevent them from taking the coffin, so that the funeral could proceed as planned in accordance with the wishes of the family. – During the riot that was instituted by the mob, glass bottles, Molotov cocktails, fireworks, rocks and other objects were thrown, resulting in the injury of both mourners and police officers.
Incidentally, the Israel Police is made up of a vey diverse force of Arab Christians, Muslims and Druze as well as Jews, both secular and religious. Full, uncut footage of the procession shows the throwing of rocks by the mob on the sidelines. After an explosive device is hurled towards the pallbearers and rolls under the coffin, an Israel Police officer shoves the pallbearer and kicks the explosive, causing a melee to ensue and the coffin to almost be dropped. This was what was only partially shown in the edited video above.
The mob that gathered in front of the hospital tried to prevent the coffin from ever getting to the hearse. They were chanting anti-Israeli slogans, waving Palestinian flags, blocked the hearse and snatched the coffin. A Palestinian flag was attempted to be laid over the coffin in order to cover up the crucifix. When the police stepped in to try to disperse the rioters, flash bangs were hurled from the roof by the mob and objects hurled at the police. Amjad Abu Asbeh of the PA explained that the Palestinians wanted to carry the coffin on their shoulders through East Jerusalem ”so that it would not seem like a Christian funeral with a church car.” The men of the mob wrestled the coffin away so they could carry it as the tradition is for shahids, Islamic martyrs killed in battle.
Shireen’s brother told the BBC, ”We were leaving the hospital towards Church and Israel Police came and bombarded us without the family knowing why.” It must be understood that the family is in an extremely difficult position. As Christians, who have been heavily persecuted by the Muslim contingent, telling the fullness of what actually happened, they will surely face persecution, including real death threats from the PA and Hamas. A question that begs answering is who has more interest in the funeral processing peaceably as planned, the Israeli authorities and the family of Abu-Akkeh or the mob, the PA and Hamas?
In the United States, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stated, ”You know…Shireen Abu-Akleh. We need to have eyes on what happened. She was killed by Israeli forces in Palestine. Hmmmm… and you know, aahh…we can’t allow this. A lot of people will say you’re treating this differently and ….. mmmm… you’re, you’re, you’re picking them out and you’re treating them differently. Our, our, our tax dollars are a part of this. Our resources are a part of this. We can’t even get healthcare in the U.S. and like our taxes are funding thiiiiiiiissss (throws hands up). Shireen Abu-Akleh was murdered by a government that receives unconditional funding by our country with zero accountability.” AOC has over 8 million Twitter followers, over 8.5 million Instagram followers as well as a commanding Youtube presence.
U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib attended Nakba Day rallies in Dearborn, Michigan May 15. Accusing Israel of her deliberate and targeted murder, Tlaib also called for a moment of silence on the House floor in honor of Ms. Abu-Akleh, later tweeting, ” When will the world and those who stand by Apartheid Israel that continues to murder, torture and commit war crimes finally say ’Enough’? Shireen Abu Akleh was murdered by a government that receives unconditional funding by our country with zero accountability.” She called for immediate boycott, sanctioning and divestment from all Israeli products as well as co-introducing legislation to have Nakba Day declared an official American holiday.
These false narratives, the misrepresenting of the truth, the failure to cooperate in an unbiased full investigation all help to destabilize the already fragile Middle East. Just last year, Israel was normalizing relations with several of its Arab neighbors as part of the historic Abraham Accords. Last week Israeli delegates from the high-tech sector and cultural entrepreneurs flew to Morocco to visit the Parliament and participate in several pre-arranged meetings throughout the country. Many of the talks and scheduled events were canceled as the rumor spread that Israel had assassinated the journalist to ”hide the truth about her reporting on Apartheid atrocities.” In those meetings that did take place, extra security was required for the protection of the attendees.
Using this latest twisting of truth to their advantage, Palestinian youth throughout the Western world organized protests, marches and parades. In particular, American youth, recruited mostly on campuses, took to the city streets, flags in hand. Their chants include ”From the River to the Sea, Palestine must be free!” Do they understand that they are saying from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea (the entirety of Israel, not just a small part), the Land must be completely free of Jews? What happened to peace, love and tolerance. Also chanted was the Arabic ”Khybar, Khybar yo Yahud…” I’m pretty sure they do not know their chant is a reference to the complete massacre of the entire Jewish town of Khayybar and the expulsion of all the Jews of Saudi Arabia by Mohammad in 628 CE. The disseminated false narratives have ripple effects throughout the world and are not just isolated within Israel. It has the potential to lead to anti-Semitic violence and to the destabilization of power in the Middle East.