Dairy Days: With Recipes!!!

It amazes me how schizophrenic this place can be. Just last week, people were living in bomb shelters, glued to the news, and praying that the shelling would cease. The next week, everyone is back to business, schools are open, the stores and cafes are full, and it seems life is mostly back to normal, whatever that is anymore. Israelis are a resilient bunch. I can attest to this by the video clip a friend sent me of young Israelis on a Tel Aviv Beach last Sunday morning. The beach was packed. When the sirens went off, they grabbed their towels and ran for the shelters. Ten minutes later, they’re back on the beach until the next siren. Un-be-leeeeeve-able!

I had planned to write this article a few weeks ago before war got in the way. We were just about to celebrate the extremely joyous holiday of Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks for the Jews and Pentecost for the Christians. Along with Pesach(Passover/the Feast of Unleavened Bread) and Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) it is one of three pilgrimage festivals. This holiday has its roots in the Bible and can be found in the first five books, the Torah. Starting after Pesach, a counting of the days is made… fifty days (hence the Greek word Pentecost) of the wheat and barley harvest. It marks the time when the Jewish people were obligated to go up to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer thanks for their harvest. In Christian tradition, it commemorates the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples of Jesus (who were also in Jerusalem for Shavuot) and marked the birth of the Church.

Today in Israel the fields are harvested much as they were millennia ago, except with modern farm equipment. Everywhere we travel, we see the fields being reaped and the bundles laying in the fields ready to go to the granaries and mills.

Shavuot goes by several names. Besides being the official beginning of the summer season, it is the Biblical Feast of Firstfruits. At the time of the Temple, besides the grain offerings being brought, the firstborn of the animals were brought, and the firstborn children of that year were brought for a special blessing by the priests. Today, in Israel, the Temple Mount has been replaced by the Al Aqsa Mosque, but the mostly agricultural holiday is still celebrated in grand fashion. People stay up all night reading and studying the Torah, as it also marks the giving of the Law to Moses by G-d on Mount Sinai. It is also a tradition to read the book of Ruth, as that story takes place during the barley harvest.

On the farms and kibbutzim, people dress in white and wear floral wreaths on their heads, men and women alike. There is much singing and dancing, and dads dance around holding their little babies high above their heads. There are parades throughout the towns with tractors and floats piled high with fruits and veggies and fresh flowers and with children holding the baby farm animals they helped raise. It has the feeling of a rural American county fair.

This year, however, things were a bit different. I’d like to share with you a wonderful video clip from Hananya Naftali:

Because the mother sheep, cows and goats have an abundance of milk at this time, Shavuot is also a huge celebration of the dairy industry here. Also, from a Biblical viewpoint, the Torah is compared to mother’s milk, and Israel is the Land of Milk and Honey, so it is a custom to visit local dairies and to eat plenty of dairy products. Cheesecake is ubiquitous here during the Shavuot holiday. Everyone seems to have an opinion on how it should taste, mostly based on where you are from. The heavier, creamier, cold American style topped with fruit; a light and sweet French version; a savory crustless cheesecake served by the Mizrachi Jews of the Middle East; some people even serve it warm! Usually. cheesecake is eaten with breakfast here, as that’s the main dairy meal of the day in Israel. Most Jewish people (those who keep the Kosher dietary laws) do not consume dairy products at the same meal with meat.

This year we ventured up to Kibbutz Rosh haNikra, an idyllic village/kibbutz tucked into the foot of the mountain that literally butts up against the Lebanese border. It’s an interesting juxtaposition. In the picture below, you’ll see the kibbutz. At the top of the mountain, you can see the border fence. To live here knowing that just a few yards away is the Hizbullah army with estimates of upwards of 150,000 missiles pointed towards you… it’s just about as interesting as us living a mere 12 miles from the border. Still, life goes on – you can also see the banana plants they grow here (foreground):

We visited the kibbutz on a lazy, early Friday morning. The kibbutz has beautiful vistas of the Mediterranean Sea to the West, and as is typical of kibbutz living, has a central community area with shops, post office, clinic, schools, cafe and community center in the middle with homes radiating outward from the main hub. People were having picnics on the main lawn, there was music streaming out of the coffee house, and Galili Dairy had a cheese tasting, which is why we were here. Standing as a stark reminder were the bomb shelters every few hundred yards. It’s only a 14 second warning to drop everything you are doing and run for cover in the event of an emergency here.

We were here to visit Galili Dairy, owned and operated by the Regev Family. They live in the neighboring farming village of Abirim, raising about 200 goats there. The goats are not allowed to graze in Rosh HaNikra Kibbutz because they are too messy, so the fresh goat milk is trucked into the kibbutz daily. The Regev’s have turned the old community kitchen that was no longer in use into their dairy. Even though, the place is still called a kibbutz, the residents no longer share meals as a community together. Today, there are individual family housing and living units. So the facilities are rented out, a win-win situation for both parties.

TAbout seven years ago, the matriarch, Sarit Regev, took a course in artisanal cheese-making in Provence, France. She came back to Israel, applying what she learned and adding her own regional twists to make some of the best Israeli cheeses on the market.

Galili Dairy offers a wide range of products from yogurt; flavored kefir (liquid yogurt) drinks – think passionfruit, date, blueberry and strawberry; labaneh,the creamy white cheese staple here that’s served at every breakfast; feta, and specialty cheeses. Their bouche with its creamy center is a best seller. My favorites were the Tomme rubbed with the dregs from cabernet barrels and their Tomme with truffles. They offer several Camamberts and Bries, including one with nuts that was just heavenly. The Camembert rubbed with Herbes de Provence was another favorite. There were also two types of Morbier, a hard cheese covered in volcanic ash, which was quite delicious and a cream cheese with mushroom bits – great for spreading on crackers. All cheeses are certified Kosher with a completely organic line as well. They can be found in health food stores as well as TivTams throughout Israel. There is also home delivery available. Again, this is one of the best independent smalls dairies I’ve visited here. Needless to say, we left laden with several varieties of cheese and kefir. Their website (only in Hebrew) is galilee-cheese.com, so for those of you in Israel, you can place your order for delivery directly from the website. They also offer gift baskets and picnic baskets to-go. Take it with you on your mountain hike or to the beach, both of which are a ten minute drive from the kibbutz.

So now for the moments some of you dear readers have been waiting so patiently for: the recipes!!! I’ve been on a quinoa kick here for the past month. This powerhouse of a seed/grain is just loaded with vitamins, minerals, protein, and antioxidants, and is so versatile. The following dairy recipes use quinoa. The first is a cheese puff, that is great as a breakfast or a snack. Take it on a picnic or store it in a freezer bag in your freezer. I made several huge batches, and packed up a box for my son to take back to school. Everyone absolutely loves them – and they are so easy to throw together. The quinoa cooks up in ten minutes, so it’s a quick recipe as well as nutritious.

QUINOA CHEESE PUFFS (makes 6 large muffin-sized or 18 small bite-sized)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup quinoa cooked in 1 1/2 cup water according to package directions
  • 1 large zucchini, shredded (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 cup Gouda or Tomme cheese, shredded
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves OR 1 TBSP julienned fresh basil leaves

Preheat oven to 350* F/170* C. Grease your muffin tin. Cook the quinoa according to directions on package. In a large mixing bowl, add the zucchini, eggs, baking powder, shredded cheese, spices and quinoa and stir until well combined. Drop by spoonfuls into the wells of the muffin tin. You can top with a bit of shredded cheese. Bake in oven about 18 minutes or until the bites are puffy and golden brown. Remove from oven. Let cool – and try not to eat them all in one sitting!

The next recipe is for quinoa patties, Israeli style. You can either fry them in a few tablespoons of oil or bake them as a healthier alternative. These make a nice side dish or a vegetarian entree paired with a salad and some fresh fruit. They are very tasty, make great leftovers and freeze well, too. I serve them with a dollop of tsatsiki – recipes below:

QUINOA PATTIES AND TSATSIKI ISRAELI-STYLE (makes 6 large patties)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups quinoa, cooked according to package directions
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 lemon, grated rind, juice squeezed, pips removed
  • 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
  • 1 cup cooked greens (spinach, chard, mangold, beet greens or orach)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground (it does make a difference)
  • 1/2 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, rough chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, julienned
  • IF NEEDED to firm up a bit, 1/4 cup bread crumbs (Italian seasoned are good)

Combine the above items in a large bowl. the mixture should be think and gloppy and hold together well. If it seems too loose, add some bread crumbs until it comes together. Form patties. Place on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet sprayed with oil. Refrigerate for about an hour before cooking. You can place directly into a preheated to 350* F/170*C oven for about 30 minutes or until nicely browned and releasing a mouth-watering smell. Or you can fry the individual patties in 2-4 TBSP olive oil for a crispier outside. Serve plain, hot or cold or with a dollop of tsatsiki

ISRAELI TSATSIKI DIP

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup goat yogurt or goat labaneh
  • 1 cucumber, chopped, peel and all
  • 2 TBSP fresh dill, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 TBSP fresh chives, chopped
  • Extra virgin olive oil, good quality

In a medium bowl, add the yogurt or labaneh, and the chopped cucumber – no need to peel. Mix together. Add the chopped herbs, garlic, salt and pepper. Mix well. Drizzle over the top with the olive oil. Serve chilled.

The next recipe served my husband and myself as an entire meal. We were so stuffed, there was no need for anything else, and we still had half a squash leftover. We ate the leftovers as a side dish with the next couple dairy meals. I had bought what I thought was a spaghetti squash at the market, but it didn’t act like one when I roasted it. It was some sort of very rich, flavorful and nutty squash – there are just so many different heirloom varieties of gourds here! The end result was still amazing, but I’m calling for a spaghetti squash in this recipe. Butternut would probably work well, too. Also, the word KHOO-moos (spelled humus, is the whole garbanzo bean, not just the spread).

STUFFED SQUASH, MIDDLE EASTERN STYLE

Ingredients:

  • 1 large spaghetti (or butternut squash)
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 4 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup greens (spinach, chard, beet greens, mangold or orach)
  • 1 medium lemon, rind grated and set aside; squeezed, pips removed
  • 1 can (1 cup) humus (chickpeas), drained
  • 1 tsp dried chili flakes
  • 1 cup crumbled feta or bulgarit cheese

Preheat oven to 400*F/200*C. Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Drizzle some olive oil and sprinkle a little salt and pepper over the top. Place on a foil lined baking sheet, and cover lightly with foil. roast in oven for about a half an hour or until the squash is fork tender. Remove from oven.

Take out the seeds and discard. Remove the pulp, placing it in a large bowl. Keep the squash shells to the side. Fluff up the pulp or break into small pieces using a fork. Meanwhile peel and slice the shallots. Heat a TBSP olive oil in a pan and when oil is shimmery, add the shallot and garlic. When they become translucent, add in the greens and cook over medium heat until just wilted. Stir in the chili flakes. Pour mixture into the bowl with the squash. Add the drained chickpeas and the crumbled cheese bits, Salt and pepper. Mix gently. Spoon the mixture back into the shells of the squash. Reheat in a 350* F/170* C oven for 15 minutes to melt the cheese slightly. You can add a bit of chopped Italian parsley or celery leaf as a garnish-

The last recipe is for a breakfast or dessert cake. We all love coffee cake, but this is a bit different. I wanted something healthier, something that paid homage to the diversity of the people of Israel. The Ashkenaz coffee cake with a streusel topping takes on a new life with some surprising additions. I decided to use the sweet Middle Eastern sesame candy, Halva, and some surprising spice combinations. Because Turkish coffee is a staple here, I added in some of that too. Give it a try and let me know how it turns out. Seriously. I’m really interested in how you like it!

Tamar’s Israeli Coffee Cake (dairy, serves 12)

Ingredients: (Cake)

  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 gluten free mix and loved it!!!!)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 heaping tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 230 grams (1 cup) room temperature butter (it should be very, very soft)
  • 1 cup coconut sugar (you can use white cane sugar, but the coconut sugar is low-glycemic and adds a more “Israeli” taste)
  • 1 cup silan (date syrup) or 1 cup light brown sugar if you can’t find silan
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 cups (goat) yogurt
  • 1 cup milk (I used fresh goat milk, but you can use regular cow milk)

Ingredients: Streusel for swirl and topping

  • 1 cup chopped walnut pieces
  • 1 cup chopped pecan pieces
  • 2 cups crumbled halva candy
  • 2/3 cup coconut sugar (or light brown sugar)
  • 2 TBSP espresso powder (or Turkish coffee powder with cardamom)
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Baharat Spice Blend…. I use this a lot in many dishes. Here it’s used to flavor ground meat (kabobim) and in veggies and soups; but I use it in baking and also mixed in with my coffee grounds to make a flavorful brew. You’ll need 2 heaping TBSP for this recipe, but save some for other dishes. Baharat is a very common spice here found in Syrian, Lebanese and Turkish dishes. It’s versatile and adds a depth of flavor that is unparalleled.

  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika

First make the streusel by chopping the nuts in a food processor until you have small bits (it should NOT be powdery). In a medium bowl, mix together the nuts, the crumbled halva, coffee powder, sugar, salt and 2 TBSP of the Baharat spice blend. Mix together well. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350*F/170*C. Grease a large pyrex baking pan. Place baking parchment to cover so that the edges overhang the sides of the pan. Grease the parchment with a cooking oil spray. Set aside. Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually add eggs, one at a time, beating the mixture. Add in the yogurt and the silan, mixing well and scraping down sides of bowl as you go. (I use a hand mixer). Alternately add about a third of the flour mixture, continually beating the batter, and the milk. Then more flour, and more milk. Keep beating until the batter is smooth and thick. Drop the batter by spoonfuls into the parchment lined baking dish. spoon about half the streusel mixture onto the top. Then with a fork or a butter knife, swirl the streusel into the batter. Spoon the rest of the streusel over the batter and spread out to cover. Bake the cake about 40 minutes or until your cake tester comes out clean. Remove and let cool 15 minutes before slicing into squares. My husband puts a small slab of butter on the top, and microwaves his cake for 12 seconds so the butter melts into the streusel. He then sprinkles a little cinnamon sugar on the top. I dollop a spoonful of yogurt over the top of mine for a creamy contrast. It’s so so yummy!

In the Aftermath

I really wanted to write the post I’ve had in reserve for over two weeks now. It’s on the dairies of Northern Israel, with lots of delicious recipes I’ve developed. It’s definitely more fun than writing about the current state of affairs here. But I feel compelled to get the news out: the facts which I am sure you don’t hear outside this country. For some reason they are just not being reported correctly. Or at all, for that matter. And there’s way too much misinformation which is leading to acts of violence against Jewish people. It’s happening at an alarming rate worldwide.

Ten days before Hamas’ opening of the latest war by firing a barrage of rockets at Israel, Yaya Sinwar, the head of the terror organization contacted the Biden Administration with a list of demands to pass on to Netanyahu. They demanded that Israel remove all Jews and security forces from the Temple Mount Complex in Jerusalem. As tensions were heating up during Ramadan, Sinwar demanded that evictions of Arabs from the four homes in question in the Sheikh Jarrah/Shimon haTzaddik neighborhood be cancelled. Also that the annual celebratory flag parade on Jerusalem Day be cancelled as it would be inciting violence. A spokesperson for Hamas stated in Newsweek Magazine that their goal was “to have the Israeli occupation authorities accept our demands or they would face the bombing of Jerusalem.”

To quote the Axios News Agency: “With tensions escalating fast, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan had called his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat, while Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spoke to the director general of the Israeli foreign ministry, Alan Ushpiz. The Biden administration had three immediate demands of Israel: stop the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, lower tensions on the Temple Mount and cancel the Flag Day parade.

To appease all sides and deescalate, Netanyahu asked Israel’s Supreme Court to postpone its verdict on the evictions. Jews had already been barred from going on the Temple Mount during the month of Ramadan, but even the Jewish security forces were replaced by Arab Christian, Bedouin, and Druze members. And the parade was re-routed so that it would not pass through the Old City or any part of East Jerusalem.

Did any of this matter one bit? Which side kept up their side of the bargain? And I must say I, as an American Israeli, am so so disappointed in both of the current administrations for bowing to the demands of terrorists.

There have been several falsehoods promulgated by Hamas that have since circulated in the global media. They served their purpose to capture the hearts and emotions of the viewer. We all know pictures speak volumes. It’s just that these were completely false. For the first one: a photo taken in 2013 of Palestinian children staging a funeral was repurposed to seem as if the small child they carried was a casualty of the IDF bombing.

The next photo of a gorgeous young child purportedly killed by the IDF was actually the picture of a 4-year old Russian girl, Sophia. When her mother saw her daughter’s picture splashed across the news, she came forward to say that her daughter was alive and well and living in Moscow. She even submitted a recent picture of Sophia, but most news outlets failed to make the correction. Even the Ayatollah in Iran posted the lie on his official webpage. And outrage was spewed forth against Israel for killing innocent children. Geraldo Rivera???? These libels were another factor fanning the flames of today’s anti-Semitism.

Once again, to debunk the myth of the Israelis launching a genocide of the Palestinian peoples. The Jewish population in majority Arab countries has steadily declined to almost zero since the 1940s. In the past decade, the Arab population in Israel has more than tripled… also in Gaza. Just by looking at official census bureau statistics, you can see there is no genocide of Muslims taking place.

So, where do we stand as of today? Anthony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State, is here in Israel currently on behalf of the Biden-Harris administration. He is holding talks with the leaders of Israel and with Mahmoud Abbas, head of the PA/Fatah. He will again proposed a (failed) two-state solution, which comes during a surge in Hamas’ popularity in the West Bank and an extreme decrease in support of the PA. However, Abbas has told Blinken that if he thinks that they would accept any “so-called peaceful solution or renounce any part of Palestine or recognize the Yahoods” then he is sorely mistaken. A recent poll showed 57% of Palestinians are opposed to a two-state solution, and that they would rather support an armed struggle against Israel.

Blinken today pledged to “rally international support to aid Gaza while keeping assistance out of the hands of its militant Hamas rulers. That begins with tackling the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza and starting to rebuild…We’re going to be working in partnership with the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority to channel aid there in a manner that does its best to go to the people of Gaza. As we all know in life, there are no guarantees, but we’re going to do everything we can to ensure that this assistance reaches the people who need it most.”

Since 2007, the PA has subsidized terrorism with their “Pay for Slay Program.” From a report released in 2019, when the PA publicized its monthly financial expenditures for the first 5 months of that year: the PA paid out an average of over $65million USD per MONTH despite its self-imposed financial crisis .This amounts to an average income for a person convicted of man act of terrorism in prison in Israel of $580/month if he has a 3-5 year sentence. If that person is serving a sentence of over 20 years for killing an Israeli, he receives $3200/month for life. If the terrorist is an Israeli citizen, he gets a $145 bonus (the average Israeli citizen makes an average of $2700/month). I am not making this up…

During the Trump Administration, the US Taylor Force Act was signed in honor of the slain American victim of that name. It halted all aid to the PA if they continued with their Pay For Slay initiative, so they stopped the heinous program. Unfortunately, this policy was reversed in the first hundred days of the Biden-Harris Admin, and has since been reinstitute. As of today, there has been an uptick in Islamic terrorist activity: car ramming, drive-by shootings of 3 Israeli boys at a bus stop; attempted stabbings and just yesterday, a 17 year old Muslim boy from East Jerusalem armed with a knife stabbed two 20 year old soldiers before he was eliminated. This was yesterday’s headline. Welcome to an Israel that your admin has helped promulgate, Mr. Blinken-

In addition, Islamic Jihad and Hamas have vowed not to help its civilian population or rebuild apartments and infrastructure, but to carry on the fight and build up its military capabilities. The photo of the day was that of Yaya Sinwar (great name, I must say) holding up a small child with a rocket launcher. These are the people calling for genocide and much of the world seems to be caught up in following them.

Now is the time to speak up. If you’ve ever said “I’m an honorary Jew” or “I’m with the Jewish people,” now is the time to speak up for Jewish people across the world. If you are Christian, walk with your Jewish friends to synagogue on Friday evening or Saturday morning for protection. If you hear an antiSemitic remark, debunk it. Fight fables with facts. If you are Jewish, attend rallies, politely educate others, join groups supporting Jews and Israel, make Aliyah. If we don’t stand together now, it will soon be too late.

Hopefully, next time, I can go back to writing about happier things-

Mostly Quiet

Two days ago, when I last wrote, we were at war. So much has happened and there are endless café-side opinions and posturing today. For the last two nights – all night long- and into today, late Friday afternoon, IDF jets have been strafing the sky. We’ve had at least 4 info-getting drones up over just our immediate area. And for the person that asked on Wednesday if I was worried or afraid – I had my two big meltdowns since this started. After I realized we had 4 rockets launched over our heads (in my last post, I was able to video one being intercepted about 9 miles from our upstairs balcony), I got a little nervous. It’s late at night, lying in bed, unable to sleep as the red alert app is going off signaling rocket barrages down South, jets racing through the sky to let our neighbors know we are alert and ready for anything, and the flashing white light of a buzzing drone shining through my window that I lost it. For about 20 minutes. I was really apprehensive. OK. I admit. I was scared. And tearful.

This morning we awoke to the news that a ceasefire had been called. A unilateral ceasefire. And Joe Biden was taking the credit. Promising unlimited aid to the Palestinians to rebuild and to help them in any way possible. That the US had denied an arms package to Israel in Congress. And Hamas was celebrating. And the Palestinians were calling it their victory. Candy was being handed out in the Palestinian towns in celebration of their victory. Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan said that he had received guarantees from the US mediators that, “the occupation will remove its hand from al Aqsa and Sheik Jarrah.” We still have not gotten back the bodies of Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Oren Shaul or captive, Avera Mengistu, who have been held in Gaza since 2014.

At the announcement of the truce, there were immediate clashes – in the middle of the night, mind you – at the Damascus Gate outside the holy Old City of Jerusalem. Video was circulated by Palestinian media this morning showing the Islamic militant mobs armed with fireworks, rocks, wood, and sound grenades. The police responded with tear gas. “We have prepared a serious missile attack that will hit Israel from Haifa in North to Ramon Airport in South, ” Khalil al-Hayya, a Hamas senior operative threatened. For some reason thousands of Arab men were already assembled last night at the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. They were waving flags and chanting “Death to all Jews. The soldiers of Allah are victorious. Praise to Allah.” Video showed them throwing bottles at Israeli police who seemed to be standing aside.

All Israel remains on high alert. The reservists are still called up. The Jerusalem District Police have increased their forces and patrol of all neighborhoods. A number of police vehicles have been damaged. There have been reports of unrest in several towns and cities in the West Bank including Nablus, Tayibe, and Jenin. Hizbullah sent their congratulations to Hamas today for what it called a “heroic round, establishing a new set of rules that will pave the way for the next and greatest victory” and for their “heroic and sacrificial effort to restore life to the holy cause of total Jihad.” They are gloating that now “we have showed Israel is as weak as a spider’s web.” Today there was widespread rioting on the Temple Mount again today after Friday prayers, although nothing was done to stop the perpetrators.

As of this morning, another large caravan of trucks with aid from both Israel and Jordan was headed into Gaza. Two days ago, the aid had to be halted because of rocket fire. Yesterday two Jordanian aid workers trying to bring relief were killed by Hamas rocket fire at the checkpoint. Things are relatively quiet, but very shaky. There’s a lot of rebuilding to be done both in Gaza and here in Israel. Buildings destroyed. Roads and field that have incurred direct hits. Lots of injured. And of course, the psychological trauma. Bur these Israelis are a determined and tough lot.

So what is new? This was the first time over 4500 rockets have been fired into Israel. We’ve seen the accuracy and effectiveness of the Iron Dome and the resilience of the Israeli people. For the first time, Israel has had to deal with insurgents within our own cities, waging a progrom against the Jewish people of Israel, burning synagogues and houses, lynching civilians, torching cars. We’ve seen over 1000 Palestinian sympathizers at the Jordanian and the Syrian borders trying to gain entrance into Israel… and not with good intentions, I’m afraid. We’ve had Iranian drones filled with explosives launched into Israel from Syria and Iraq. We’ve had roque Palestinian missile barrages into the North of Israel from Lebanon. We’ve had Islamic attacks on Christians in towns in the North.

But the most upsetting and egregious war, I believe, is the one being fought on social media. From the celebs and super-models to sports figures, talk-show hosts and even politicians, we’ve heard the call for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people. We’ve heard that the fight was disproportional. We’ve heard that Israel was, is, and remains the aggressor. That Israel is a White Supremist, Colonial, Apartheid State. even though the majority of the Israelis are brown people – Sephardic and Mizrachi Jewish refugees, Arabs and Druze, Ethiopian and Ugandan. The most distressing take-away is the complicity of the media to uphold and disseminate such hatred against Jewish people. We’ve been incredulous at the feeds coming in from CNN, NPR, Sky News, and various newspapers. In London, Spain, Paris, Los Angeles and New York City there have been attacks upon Jewish people; parades of Muslim Brotherhood, Black Lives Matter and Palestinian sympathizers marching in the streets and driving in caravans throwing rocks and firecrackers and chanting “Death to Israel. Death to the Jews.” I’ve never seen anything like this uptick in anti-Semitism. It’s terrifying.

For the most part, it seems to be advancing unchecked and without too much opposition. When will it all end? I pray the people of Gaza can somehow get free of the yoke of their Hamas/Islamic Jihad oppressors. I pray that citizens of the world will wake up to the rise in anti-Semitism; that people will stop this inflammatory rhetoric of hatred, especially when they are lacking in facts; that there will be some sort of dialogue leading to a better understanding of each side; and that we will all be able to pick up our lives and start the long, hard process of healing.

I hope we all can enjoy a peaceful Shabbat and quiet weekend…

Closer to Home

We are fine. We are safe. No worries. Really. But things just got a little more real up here in Northern Israel a couple hours ago. Hundreds of rockets continue to rain down on central Israel every day. We’re now close to 4000 total rockets sent across from Gaza. And there have been “ticklers” elsewhere. What is a “tickler?” It’s when another country or group decides to test the area to see if the targeted country is watching and will engage. In the past 5 days, we’ve had 4 instances of lone rockets (or small clusters) and a drone fired into Northern Israel from Lebanon; 1 incursion from Syria into the Golan Heights and a drone and lone wolf Palestinian from Jordan armed with knives try to cross the border. It was determined that these were rogue Palestinian operatives based in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. It was determined that the drones were of Iranian origin. Both Hizbullah and the Lebanese army were quick to state that it didn’t come from them. The question remains are they trying to escalate the conflict and bring it to other fronts? One Israeli/American news outlet that is infamous for pumping out fake news came out with this headline two days ago:

So, once again, you cannot believe everything you read. For now, it appears that Lebanon/Hizbullah is turning a willful, blind eye. They are supporting Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and their backers Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood without getting directly involved. It seems to be their way of sympathizing – or so we hope. After tracking, the IDF has shot down the drones once they crossed into Israeli territory. They have responded with their own warning shots, sending volleys across to Lebanon and Syria. Supposedly, the Lebanese army arrested the perpetrators on their side. They know that tensions are running high. The other neighboring countries have a clear understanding of who Hamas is, what is at stake, and the risk of destabilizing the entire region. Noone, thankfully, wants that. At least not yet. But they are carefully watching us. Our response to Hamas. Our response time with the Iron Dome Defensive Shield. Whether we can be overwhelmed with rocket barrages. What Israel will do.

So, just this afternoon, I was up on our rooftop terrace watering my garden when the red alert siren went off again – as it does every few minutes round the clock. No Exaggertion. Read my other blogposts. I’ve learned to ignore every single buzz, but this time I felt the need to see where the rockets were headed. Shefaram and Ibillin, two Arab villages, which I can see off in the horizon to my left. I know them well. They are only about 7 miles as the crow flies. We buy our gas in Ibillin because it’s a few shekel cheaper per liter. Yikes! Then the next buzz goes off. Kiryat Bialik/Kiryat Motzkin/Haifa/Acco just about 7-18 miles to my right on the Mediterranean coast. I hear no warning siren in our immediate area. So I decided to try to film it. I thought they were strays from Gaza. It happens occasionally. The video of the actual moment of impact was obscured in the first video by the palm tree on the right, so it’s quite difficult to see unless you do a freeze frame. But here’s the second video clip I took where you can see the puff of cloud from where Iron Dome intercepted the rocket.

We quickly learned that at 4:13 pm, 4 rockets were fired at Israel from Lebanon. One landed back in Lebanon. Two fell into the Mediterranean. One was intercepted over Kiryat Bialik by the Iron Dome. And one landed in a field just outside Shefaram. The IDF fired back, and that was that. For now there is no escalation or involvement of another front.

As a side-note, I’m getting quite the education. My Hebrew vocabulary expanded quite a bit during the COVID lockdowns. Now I’m learning the words for ‘missile’ and ‘rocket’ and ‘barrage’ and ‘cease-fire’ and ‘siren’ and the like. Not only that, I’m learning the difference between rockets, which are just pipe-type bombs with exploding tips and shrapnel fill. Once they are launched, there is no control over where they go. A missile can be guided and is much more precise in its trajectory and focused target. Last weekend we were guests at the home of a native Israeli who had much knowledge militarily and in history. Sunday, we were guests at another home of native Israelis, and a couple of the men there not only had military experience, but were retired officers or reserve officers. It’s been fascinating.

I will now try to answer some of the questions I’ve received: just last night I was speaking on the phone with a close friend in the States. No. We are not afraid. Really and truly. I tried to explain that, as of now, we are far from the “action.” I’ve taken the pictures off the walls and the breakables off the shelves as a (now regular) precaution. Our underground shelter is fully stocked for us to last a good two weeks. I pray we never have to use it, but we are not afraid. We just watch the latest developments as they come in and pray a lot.

As I wrote in my last blogpost – No. Israel does NOT control Gaza. It was a lush and fertile farmland with some of the most beautiful beaches in the country and inhabited by both Israelis and Arabs. In 2005, the land was given to the Palestinian Authority in return for peace. The Israelis were forced out of their towns and homes by the IDF. In 2006, Hamas won legislative elections and took over rule in 2007 by defeating the PA in a violent coup. They now rule the strip with a violent fist. The PA and later, Hamas, have been receiving humanitarian aid since 1948. According to the World Bank data, between 1993 and 2013, they have received $27.1 billion worth of aid. They are also funded by Iran. Hamas has chosen to use much of this money to fund their terror campaign rather than on their own infrastructure. It’s more than tragic. (read that past blogpost)

Still, just yesterday, Israel packed up 38 large flat-bed semis with relief food, water, diapers and medical supplies bound for Gaza. They were met with rocket fire at the Keren Shalom crossing – Hamas obviously does not care about its own civilian population. Only three trucks made it in. 21 trucks were met with the same type of fire at the Erez checkpoint. Again, it’s heartbreaking.

To note, the Gaza Strip also shares a border with Egypt. This border is also closed with a large wall, electric fencing and razor wire. It is needed for the defense of Egypt. They do not want terror exported into their country. Still weapons are smuggled by underground tunnels from Egypt into Gaza, which the Egyptians repeatedly find and collapse. It is unfortunately necessary for both Israel and Egypt to maintain tightly secured borders. And to answer your question, Andrea, the people from Gaza are not “trapped” inside their small compound. They can and do make request for visas into Israel. The Gaza’s are regularly allowed in and out for jobs and medical care in Israel. If they are not deemed to be a terrorist, they can travel out of the country through Ben Gurion Airport. They can go to other neighboring Arab countries with their permission. However, due to Gaza’s tendency to import weapons parts, which are in turn used on Israel’s citizens, Israel carefully inspects all imports at the border. Hanan was telling us Sunday of the time remote control devices were attempted to be smuggled by way of a truckload of watermelons. He was inspecting the truck when he and another border patrol soldier noticed a few of the melons leaking. Holes had been bored into the melons which were filled with contraband and then shoddily plugged back up. Now, as Israeli citizens, John and I are absolutely not allowed into Gaza or much of the West Bank territories. When we have visitors from abroad, they are allowed to go into Bethlehem or Nablus. They can travel to other Muslim countries that we cannot. We stay behind. If I were to try to walk into Gaza, I wouldn’t come back out alive.

In response to Julie’s statement that the war is unfair and lopsided against the Gazans – I’d like to quote IDF Major in the the Reserves unit, Dan Pfefferman. “There are many armchair commentators outside of Israel right now. they speak with an ignorance about how militaries work and how wars are waged. Many people are protesting what they perceive to be disproportionate levels of force and unfair advantages and disadvantages. This is not some sort of football match where the score stays fairly even until the end. We need to be talking about disproportionality of intentions, not capabilities. Then it should become very clear who is the oppressor and who is the defender in this case. We need to ask, “O.K. So what would YOU do differently? What would you do if another country was bombarding your civilian population centers?” You can’t talk disproportionality in war. You can’t tell one side to ‘use no more force than you need to achieve your goals.’ It’s completely unrealistic. It’s a complete disconnect and a misunderstanding of how militaries operate.”

Retired Tel Nof Air Force Base commander, Brigadier General (Ret.) Israel “Relik” Shafir states, ” Most people are completely unaware of how the IDF operates. It’s a whole complex process before we make a strike. First we need to see clear, hard intelligence to be assured of the exact terror target to strike. It’s definitely not indiscriminate. We have a group of military commanders, strategists, international law experts and our intel meeting together to discuss the operational worth of a strike. There are legal and moral aspects to consider as well as ‘strike windows’ of when we can and cannot strike. Everything is discussed, vetted and validated before a decision is made. We must consider the efficacy of the strike versus the risk before proceeding. We do not want to hit civilian or non-terror related targets. I know of no other army that goes through such a process. And you have seen film of where at the last second, a strike has been called off because we see children or innocents in the area. “

I’m constantly listening to the news for further updates. As I was writing this post, a senior United Arab Emirates official said, “If Hamas does not commit to complete calm, it is dooming the residents of the Strip to a life of suffering. Its leaders must understand that their policies are first and foremost hurting the people of Gaza.” Powerful words from someone how truly understands. Just a short while ago US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and President Joe Biden called Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu to order a “significant deescalation today on the path of ceasefire.” I do not believe any Hamas operatives were also called. It seems one sided to me. Bibi Netanyahu just released his response. ( I will translate from the Hebrew) “…I greatly appreciate the support of these governments and I especially appreciate the support of the President of the United States our friend Joe Biden for the Israel state self-defense. I am determined to continue this operation until its goal is achieved – to bring complete peace and security back to the citizens of Israel.”

In the meantime, what are some things you can do to help? Thank all of you who offered to send us care packages. Firstly, we have everything we need at present. Also, shipping from the States or Europe is prohibitively expensive. Lastly, our airport is still closed, so shipments will probably be held up until who knows when. Still, many many thanks!!!! I can’t tell you how much your support is appreciated. So what can you do?

Do your own research. Ask questions. If something seems exaggerated, exclamatory, propagandized, or fake, it probably is. Do not take the word of celebrities, sports figures, supermodels, late night talk show hosts, musicians or other self-defined experts.

If you wish to make a donation, but don’t know who to support, there are a few non-profit organizations that we, ourselves, donate too. They are reputable and have offices both in Israel and in the US. The first is United Hatzalah. These are paramedics on motorbikes, volunteer medics from both Jewish, Christian and Muslim sectors. They are risking their lives to help provide first-responder care to those who have been injured. They are often the first to arrive on the scene, but with the conditions today, they are desperately in need of bulletproof/shrapnelproof vests and kevlar helmets. I can’t speak of these fine men and women highly enough. Go to @israelrescue.org

The next organization was a tremendous blessing helping out those affected by the COVID lockdowns. They provide groceries and boxed, Kosher meal to anyone in need no questions asked. They have been taxed to the limit the past week, delivering food boxes to the fallout shelters. They deliver children’s care packages, staff counseling centers to help with the PTSD that everyone down South seem to be experiencing. The good folks, all volunteers, at Meir Panim are true heroes. They can be reached @give.meirpanim.org

Israel is the only standing army I know that has volunteer soldiers join from foreign countries. Fine young men and women from 81 different countries are currently serving in the IDF – and no. Not all of them are Jewish either. Most come in from the US, but we have soldiers from the UK, Switzerland, South Africa, India, the Philippines, Mexico, Brazil … from all over the world. It’s pretty amazing. They must learn the Hebrew language, then go through boot camp and advanced training. We’ve been privileged to meet many of them. Some of them have to find their own apartments for the times they are off duty. Many later go on to become full citizens. And “TheBase: The Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin” is right there to help. They offer housing to the soldiers; provide meals; counseling; social activities; support in everything from finding the right medical care to helping read bills, fill ourt paperwork and understand important mail. They are the lone soldiers’ life line and are truly a home away from home. You can contact them at lonesoldiercenter.com

Again, we know that we live in a lovely country filled with beautiful, caring people. It’s just that the real estate is in a really crappy neighborhood for the most part. So again, it’s wonderful hearing from all of you! Please keep the questions coming. I’ll do maybes to find out the answers. Thank you for all your outpourings of support. Keep the prayers rising up. If you like what you read and find it helpful/informative/entertaining, then please hit the subscribe button and also SHARE THESE ARTICLES with as many other as might be interested. You can follow my Instagram feed @eemahleh. I will try to do another update in a couple days. Hopefully there will be good news to report.

In the meantime, here’s a map for you of response times. It’s the time we have to run to a shelter from anywhere in the country when we hear a siren go off. It’s kind of interesting. If a missile were to be fired towards our home and a siren were to sound, we would have between 45 seconds and one minute to stop what we’re doing and take cover. Wow-

More on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

It’s been a most difficult week both for my Israeli brothers and sisters and also for the innocent civilians in Gaza. And it’s been an overwhelming week for anyone who has been bombarded with insane disinformation by the mainstream media, social media, and well-intentioned but misinformed celebrities who are not living this nightmare. First of all, I want to thank all those who have written, called, and reached out to check on us, find out our situation and express concern about our well-being and the well-being of those around us. For all those who are praying for an end to the violence. For all those who have requested information. For those who have asked questions (based on what they have been hearing) and for those who have sent us articles and videos. I can’t begin to tell you how much it means to John, Max and me.

I will try to answer as many of the questions as I can with history and facts so you will have a better understanding of what is going on here. First of all – it’s more than extremely complicated. Secondly – I posted an article on Monday, 10 May, when this whole mess exploded (literally). In it, I gave a timeline of events leading up to this “Perfect Storm,” which was the title of my article. Please read that first, if you haven’t already.

So, what’s going on with the Gaza Strip? It’s one of the most frequently asked questions I’ve gotten. Let’s go back to 1993, the time of the Oslow Accords. In a nutshell, after years of violence and territorial disputes between Israel’s Jewish and Arab population, talks were held between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, US President Bill Clinton and Yassar Arafat, head of the Palestinian Authority. In 1994, a document was signed to create “a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.” The Palestinian Authority was officially recognized as the leading political party of Judea and Samaria, a huge swath of Israel better known as the West Bank (it actually is a third the size of Israel – please look at a map). The PA was given “wide legislative, executive and judicial powers and responsibility over their own internal security, health, education and social welfare.” Free elections were to be held and a Parliament established.

On 13 May, 1994, Israel formally pulled out of much of the area, ceding Jericho to the PA. By the end of the summer, the cities of Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus, and Jenin were completely under the PA control. It also marked the establishment of the terror organization, Hamas, and the beginning of the First Intifada against the Jewish citizens of Israel. It was a bloody summer, and by the end of 1994, 120 Israeli citizens had been murdered by suicide bombers and random attacks at cafes in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem bus stations, on city buses and in malls and grocery stores. Prime Minister Rabin continually called for calm and peace. Israel was completely divided as to whether to continue negotiations, peace talks and withdrawal from its own territory. Each time there was a greater escalation of terror, but negotiations continued.

4 November, 1995 Rabin was assassinated by an angry Israeli man, Yigal Amir, plunging the nation into even greater despair and division. Shimon Peres of the Labor Party stepped in as the next Prime Minister and the peace talks continued with Arafat. Each time, the Palestinian suicide bombers continued to try to derail the peace process. Arafat refused to control the terrorists. So Peres stopped the negotiations.

Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the Likud Party, was elected by a very narrow margin as the next PM in 1996. Like Peres, he pressed Arafat to act against the suicide bombers, but still Arafat did not do so. Despite all this, Netanyahu continued with the peace process, transferring 80% of the city of Hebron to the PA. The Jews retained control of the small neighborhood surrounding the Cave of the Patriarchs, the burial place of Abraham, Sara, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. Jewish settlements were established in the West Bank, leading to further conflict.

Skipping ahead to 1999, Ehud Barak succeeds Netanyahu as the next leader of Israel. His first act as Prime minister was to withdraw IDF forces from a small 2-mile-wide strip along Northern Israel that formed a safety barrier against Lebanon. More acts of terror, this time from the North. Then, in 2000, Barak and Arafat met at Camp David with President Clinton. Prime Minister Barak was ready to give up 90% of the West Bank to Palestinian control. Arafat had to agree to recognize Israel as a sovereign Jewish state, but he refused and the Second Intifada began. Over 1000 Israelis were killed in acts of terrorism within four years.

In 2001, Ariel Sharon was elected Prime Minister of Israel. By now, Arafat had become old and infirm. He was powerless to stop the Islamic terror. In 2004, Sharon ordered construction on a high wall to be built on much of the border between the West Bank and Israel to try to hedge in the terrorists. Checkpoints and IDF guard stations were installed as a deterrent to constant threat of attack. Arafat dies, and Abu Mazen, better known as Mahmoud Abbas, is elected to a four year term as Prime Minister of the PA. He is currently in year 16 of this “four-year term.”

In August of 2005, there is a unilateral evacuation of all Jews living in the Gaza Strip, a 141 square mile strip of land that is bordered by Egypt to the South, the Mediterranean to the West, and Israel to the East and North. 10,000 Jewish residents left, many forcibly evicted from their homes by the Israeli Defense Forces. They left behind their beautiful homes, schools, synagogues, hospitals, parks and irrigated agricultural lands. Newly formed Islamic terrorist group, Hamas, quickly stepped in to vie for control with the PA. Israel gave this land up voluntarily because they thought it would finally bring about peace. The Palestinians immediately set to work destroying all the existing infrastructure. They razed the synagogues, schools and hospitals.

This area, the Gaza Strip, could have been a living paradise with its beautiful beaches, arable lands and existing infrastructure. Instead, it’s been turned into a nightmare of Jihadi terrorism. Hamas, and now the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a militant arm of Iran, hold the innocent civilians of Gaza hostage to their dictatorial regime. They feed the people a diet of fear of the Jews. It’s so sad, that they have educated their young children to hate and to become soldiers of the Jihad. 63% of their population live in abject poverty. The terrorist organizations have siphoned off the billions of dollars in humanitarian aid to fund building of terror tunnels, procuring of weapons, and lining their own pockets. It is truly tragic. Abbas and the PA, who had official control of the Strip until recently, instituted a program called ‘Pay to Slay’ where families of their ‘martyrs’ (those that have been killed while trying to commit acts of violence against Jews) are given a lifelong pension. Trump cut off funding. Biden re-instituted it. What can I say???? It gave them the green light to continue the terrorism, which picked up in March of this year with car ramming and stabbings.

So, to the woman in CA who expressed concern for the suffering Gazans: YES!!! The poor Gazans ARE suffering. But it is not because of Israel. As I write this now, I’m listening to the morning report online from NPR. I know you mentioned that’s where you get much of your information. Their narrative is very interesting, but not necessarily complete. I’ve been taking notes from their broadcast- and this is a direct quote:

“Israeli attacks on Gaza are become more intense every night, greater than the night before. These strikes are keeping Palestinians up all night terrified. They are not getting any sleep at all. Their water supply is short and they only have about five hours of electricity per day. There is no place for them to go. They have no escape.”

There was absolutely no mention of what is happening here in Israel. Since exactly this time last week, with a joint effort between Hamas and PIJ, over 3,150 rockets/missiles have been fired at Israel. The barrages have been incessant, 24 hours a day for seven days now. Over 2 million people have been forced into bomb shelters. In those sorties, 463 Hamas rockets have misfired, falling back into Gaza. 21 of these have taken down electrical power lines in the Strip, causing widespread outages to their already limited power. Hamas is so unfortunately creating its own humanitarian disaster. As of Saturday, they shut down the water purification plant in order to siphon off power to their command centers. Densely packed Gazan residential areas are being used as military strongholds, sites for mobile rocket launches (see my Instagram video post @eemahleh), weapons storage facilities and entrance into their underground tunnel network. In the meantime, Israeli civilians have been forced into their bomb shelters. all hours of the day and night.

Why are there more casualties in Gaza than in Israel? There are several reasons. Israel is committed to the protection of its citizens. We have the Iron Dome System, which sends guided missiles up to intercept the Hamas rockets before they reach Israel’s population centers. We have sirens everywhere, blaring as soon as a rocket’s trajectory is known. This warning system alerts Israelis so they have time (sometimes as little as 15-18 seconds) to get into a bomb shelter before impact. Most individual homes and newer apartments have a safe room, with 10-inch thick rebar enforced concrete walls and metal door. All apartments and public buildings are equipped with underground bomb shelters, however, sometimes there’s only enough time to crowd into an internal stairwell. There are public concrete bunkers on many blocks and in parks. In edition, each person with a smart phone has the Red Alert App. Every time a rocket is launched into Israel, an alarm goes off with a buzz, a vibration, and an expected impact range. My phone has been buzzing incessantly 24/7 for the past week. All day. All night. There is not more than a half hour when a new barrage is announced. It’s a hell of a way to live, but thank goodness we have it. It saves lives.

Tragically, as stated previously, Hamas and PIJ are using their civilian population as human shields. Since last Monday, the IDF has struck over 820 terror targets. As of today, there are an unknown number of Palestinian civilian casualties among the estimated 140 deaths. Before the IDF strikes a target, they follow a set protocol: first leaflets are dropped and SMS messages are sent to residents of a building 40 minutes before the strike. It warns people to evacuate the premises due to an imminent attack. Phone calls are made to those inside. See the video where the security guard is called by the IDF 10 minutes before the AP/Al Jazeera building was taken down. There were no casualties. 5 minutes before an IDF bombing of a building, a “knock bomb” is dropped. This blunt metal pipe knocks on the roof to let those inside the attack is forthcoming. Evacuate now.

In the meantime, both countries have been extremely hard hit. This past weekend, despite a 90% success rate, there have been many direct hits on apartments, homes, synagogues and cars. Thankfully, this war has claimed only 11 Israeli lives. I leave you with a post from Israeli soldier:

IDF Cpl. Zoharya, Liaison to Platoon Commander in the Search and Rescue Brigade shares:

“Last night there were sirens and rockets falling everywhere. We were told to put on our gear and be ready in five minutes. We left our bomb shelters and went as fast as we could to a building that was hit in Petach Tikvah.

The cars were exploded and melting. we entered a half-collapsed building and saw tons of broken and shattered glass. Our mission on the ground is to help as many civilians as possible. We went to every single door, to see that everyone managed to get out, and that if they needed help or medical assistance they got it.

I drafted five months ago. I’m 19 years old; I’m actually still training. These past few days we’ve been on call 24/7. You go to eat, and you eat in 10 minutes because you have no idea what’s going to happen.

I think people just don’t understand the situation we’re living in here. However, we are helping people and giving them a sense of safety, and that makes everything worth it. In three hours on the ground we helped them so much.”

One last thing: in answer to the three people who have sent video clips from their pastors and rabbis in America:

No. This is not G-d’s judgement on Israel because Bibi Netanyahu entreated into a contract with Pfizer to have the population vaccinated. No. I do no believe G-d is judging Israel for baseless hatred. You are not living here. Israel now is more unified than ever. Everyone is helping everyone else out. We will hopefully be hosting two families that are caught in the bombings of Ashdod for as long as they need it (where we are, it is quiet). Everyone is praying for everyone else. Parents are making relief boxes and treat packs for the soldiers. Restaurant owners are sending boxes of pizza and sodas to the front. It doesn’t matter whether a person is secular are religious – or what religion, for that matter. The mixed community of Abu Ghosh in the Jerusalem suburbs has been having a Jewish-Arab solidarity and friendship rally. Up here, groups of grandmas are making hand-made dolls to give the children of the south. There is no baseless hatred. No. Netanyahu did not fabricate this mess to hold onto power. That is absolutely ridiculous.

Again, thank you for your readership, support and prayer. In my next post, I will outline ways to help. In the meantime, you have my permission to share this post.

Friday Afternoon War Update

It’s been 5 days now. Everyone, I’m sure, is exhausted. The bombing salvos from Hamas in the Gaza Strip into central Israel have been incessant. Many homes, apartments, cars, busss, schools, hospitals have incurred direct hits. thank goodness, more people haven’t been killed. Our government, army, first-responders, and Iron Dome have been working overtime. We went to bed around 2am last night. There had been 3 missiles fired into the Galilee here from Lebanon around 10pm. We braced ourselves for more, possibly an all-out push by Hizbullah. We are about 12 lies from the border. Thankfully, Lebanon was quick to report that their government “had nothing to do with the missile fire. It was a lone wolf Palestinian.” Whaaaaaat? This made no sense, but we waited. Was this for real? Were they afraid of facing the Israeli army? Was it a ruse to make us think they were keeping out of the situation, only to surprise attack later? When we woke up this morning, we were still alive, but it had been another night of non-stop bombing down south:

When we were going to bed, we were already hearing of an IDF troop build-up on the front, ready to engage on the ground for an incursion into Gaza. BRILLIANT TACTIC! Last night the IDF advertised this on the news and through social media, a rare pre-show teaser. This, in turn made Hamas send many of their terrorists into their elaborate underground tunnel system called “The Metro of Gaza.” There they would lay in wait for a surprise attack on Israeli soldiers. Only there never was a ground attack. Instead, once Israel had intel that many Hamas terrorists were in the tunnel system, they started to carpet bomb the area of the tunnels. Wise move.

Still, overnight, many people in the Beersheva, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Tel Aviv area took refuge in stairwells and in shelters. There was a horrible rumor going around that some Tel Aviv public shelters were turning away people that did not have proof of vaccination. It didn’t sound like something Israelis would do, so I started doing some sleuthing yesterday, calling scores of people I knew in the area including a reporter and a member of Knesset. It was unequivocably fake news. Announcements were made that if this was even attempted, the violators would be arrested. Many babies have been born, some in bomb shelters. There were two weddings that were moved underground because they were interrupted by sirens.

In the meantime, there’s been lots of humor, some dark. And of course, people have come up with drinking games, songs, memes, and videos. Because humor goes a long way to dispel fear. Because sometimes, when all you want to do is cry or scream, it’s good to laugh. Why not? Things could be a lot worse….

I got a little teary when I read my son’s Instagram post…

As of today… the funeral for 5 year old Ido Avigal was held in the Petach Tikvah area. It was interrupted several times by red alert sirens, making the mourners run for cover. I went shopping today. It is a holiday weekend (Shavuot starts Sunday evening). the stores were more crowded than usual. Every one was lined up (patiently – no hoarding) to buy essentials ‘just in case.’ There were signs everywhere with arrows pointing to the nearest shelter. It’s a surreal world. Our mammad (safe room is ready to go-

It’s a couple hours before Shabbat starts. I have to make dinner for tonight and finish up tomorrow’s meals. (I was unable to upload other photos of our shelter. You’ll have to wait for those-) How will the people down south be able to have Shabbat? I’m pretty sure every single Israeli Jew will be lighting candles and saying the blessings over the bread and wine and praying for peace. I’m praying that by Saturday night/Sunday I’ll have good news to post. Please join me in sending up pleas for peace to reign and cool heads to rule on both sides.

Update on the War

Over three days now. Over 1700s missiles fired into densely packed civilian areas. I’m pretty sure that’s a war crime. Think about it: absolutely no military bases, storehouses, command centers have been targeted. I’m not quite sure what all that means.

I cannot begin to imagine the frazzled nerves. I spoke with a friend down in the Tel Aviv outskirts. She and her husband and three small children (the oldest is six)live on the fourth floor of an older apartment building. Every time there is a siren, which is all the time, she must get the little ones out the door, down the steps, and into the shelter. In the middle of the night. Kicking and screaming. they finally decided to lay down mats on the floor in the hallway of the first floor. At least there are no windows there. Then, there are the elderly. Those in wheelchairs or who are physically challenged. What do they do?

Imagine being under constant and continual rocket fire. I cannot. Where we are, there has been only one “stray?” or long range missile that came through at 1:18am last night. No warning siren picked it up. Thank the L-rd it landed in a field. My son texted us to ask if we had heard it. No, instead of missiles it has been rioting. Iran and the imams have incited the local Muslim population. Mostly young men. In Akko, Haifa, Tiberius, Kana, Nazareth, Kfar Manda, Madj al Krum, Sakhnin and other Arab villages (the North is dotted with Arab towns and villages)there has been widespread tire burning, rock and firecracker throwing, window smashing, and looting. Synagogues have been torched. Jewish people attacked. The police and IDF troops have been called in to secure the peace. Many of these towns have been blocked off and a curfew at dark has been imposed on al people throughout our area. Last night was the last night of Ramadan, and we could hear the firecrackers and shots far into the night. It really seems like total anarchy and lawlessness, reminding me more of Seattle or Portland than here in Israel. Some people are saying it looks like Kristalnacht in 1939 Germany.The anarchy is not just limited to the North. The city of Lod, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem has seen the worst of it.

I’ve seen no signs of disturbance locally, but when I went out to run errands today, it was like a ghost town. We live in a fairly large city which is usually bustling during the day. There were very few cars. No people out and about. The atmosphere was very surreal:it was almost like a Saturday (Shabbat/Sabbath) or holiday. All the schools, local businesses and clinics are open. There were just no people. It felt like a Twilight Zone episode. We had planned to go visit a dairy up the coast, but to get there, we’d have to travel right through four Arab villages. So my husband nixed that idea for a while. Better safe than sorry.

Still. I’m glad we are up here and out of the threat of imminent destruction. So far there has been absolutely no lull in the shelling. I pray it is over soon. I pray it doesn’t escalate in any way. I pray multiple fronts don’t open up. I pray for peace to reign-

A PERFECT STORM

Today I had great plans to write a summertime food blogpost about the joys of the upcoming festival of Shavuout, the Feast of Weeks. All week long I’d been developing and testing lots of amazing dairy recipes. But life here in Israel got in the way. I can pretty much say that in the past 36 hours, life has changed drastically for my fellow Israeli citizens. I can pretty much state that we are now at war.

It was bound to happen. It was a perfect storm. We saw it coming on the horizon several weeks ago.

First, a huge thank you to all those who have reached out to check on us from the US, France and the the UK. It really means a ton to us that the world knows our situation. Many of you have been asking some really great questions, and several have sent newspaper accounts and TV news clips from abroad. I’m really not surprised (OK. still part of me IS surprised) at how much mis-information and downright inaccuracies are being disseminated. So I’ve been working on a chronological and factual (and as non-biased as I can be) account to share with you.

Things have been heating up here since the beginning of Ramadan, about four weeks ago. There have been calls from Iran, from Fatah (PA/Palestinian Authority)head, Abbas and from local imams to kill and attack Jews and to level Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Abbas, who is in year 16 of his 4 year term, just cancelled the upcoming election because he said Israel will not let the Arab population of East Jerusalem vote. This is unequivocally not true. Any Israeli citizen can vote. Those in the Judaea and Samaria areas (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) who are Palestinian citizens are all eligible to vote in their own elections.

There is a power struggle going on. Two groups, Islamic Jihad and Hamas are vying for dominance over the PA. They see Fatah (the PA) as an old man who is quite feeble. They realize that the youth of the Arab areas are looking for heroes. Hamas – the word ‘hamas’ in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic actually means ‘violence!!’ – is trying to take over as legitimate leaders of the Palestinian resistance in order to show they are the ones who are willing to put themselves on the line to “stand up to Israel.” Theirs is both a symbolic game and a strategic political move.

Israel, at this time, has a transitional government at best. After four elections in less than two years, a new government made up of rival coalitions coming together is failing to be cobbled together for either unity or new leadership. Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party did not muster up enough seats to form a working government, so the mandate has been passed on to Yair Lapid. It’s been dysfunctional up to this point. We will probably be heading towards a fifth election this summer. It is a perceived sign of weakness.

Former US President Donald Trump, love him or hate him, was extremely favorable towards Israel. One of the things he did was to cut funding to Hamas, who used humanitarian aid to fund terrorism. Under the new US Biden-Harris administration, millions of dollars have already begun to flow back into the PA. This will help fund their “pay to slay” program which gives a nice stipend to the families of terrorists who have perpetrated attacks against the Jews. It’s working. Drive-by shootings, stabbings, and rock-hurling at cars and pedestrians has been on an uptick in the past two months. There have been several casualties over just the past week alone.

The phenomenon of social media: in the past month a new phenomenon has developed. Palestinian youths, mostly in East Jerusalem have been filming themselves slapping Orthodox Jewish youth on the Jerusalem light rail; slashing Israeli flags; throwing rocks at people; pushing down elderly Jewish men; taunting groups of Orthodox schoolgirls and posting it onto the TikTok platform. The video clips have not been taken down, and violence begets violence. Over-zealous Orthodox Jewish teens can be seen trying to engage and incite the Palestinian Youth between the Jaffa and Damascus Gates outside the Old City. It’s a mess.

The back story behind one flashpoint:the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem:

The legal case of the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood goes back forty years. It is not an example of ethnic cleansing as is being reported by the AP and Reuters. It is a protracted legal case. From the second century until 1948, it had been a Jewish part part of East Jerusalem and was known as the Shimon haTsaddik neighborhood. The great Talmudic scholar Simon the Righteous is buried there and the homes in the neighborhood surrounding his tomb was a Jewish enclave. In 1875, the land was officially sold to Jewish families by the Ottoman Turks who controlled the area. The Ottomans were great records- keepers and the deeds to the homes and properties are well documented both by the Jewish families that lived there and by old record books. In 1948, when Israel declared independence, she was attacked on all fronts by her Arab neighbors. The Arabs living in East Jerusalem (alongside their Jewish neighbors) were instructed to leave the area – and Israel – and flee to Jordan until after the war. When the area was Judenrein, they would be allowed back into Israel, and the Jewish property would be given to them. In 1948, Transjordan gained control of East Jerusalem, taking the Jews prisoner, killing most, and displacing many. The Jewish property was given to the returning Arabs.They renamed the neighborhood a mile from the Old City, Sheik Jarrah, physician to Saladin, who was buried there during the Crusades. Subsequently, the Old City of Jerusalem was closed off to all Jews and Christians who wanted to worship at their respective holy sites. Only Muslims were allowed into the area.

After the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel regained control of the Holy City and beyond into East Jerusalem, a law was passed allowing Jews whose families had been evicted to reclaim their property, providing they were able to demonstrate visible documentation of ownership. The legal case was first opened in the early 1970s in Israel. The Sephardic Jewish owners sued the Palestinian families living there and demanded their eviction. The Magistrate Court in 1982 ruled that the Palestinian families would enjoy Protected Tenant Status. They would be allowed to remain in the eight homes in question provided they pay a fair monthly rent to the Jewish ‘landlords.’ They never paid rent and since the 1980s have been carrying out what has been deemed as illegal construction to and adjacent to the properties in dispute. The case has come up in court on numerous occasions over the past forty years. This past February the Jerusalem District Court decided that in the absence of payment of rent, the residents must vacate four of the properties. The tenants appealed to the Supreme Court of Israel. Several of the Arab families wanted to reach a compromise, but were threatened by the PA with physical violence if they gave in to the Jews in any way. The final verdict (which has once more been postponed) was supposed to be delivered next week. It’s a flashpoint. Just this morning a friend from Los Angeles sent me the Reuters article with the headline “East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah becomes an emblem of the Palestinian struggle.” Needless to say, the article does not provide real historical details (of which I just detailed a few) and was filled with misinformation at best. It’s unfortunate.

We here in Israel are at an intersection of holy times for the various faiths.For the Jewish people, we are at the end of the spring festivals. We recently celebrated the Passover, and Independence Day. This past Sunday night/Monday was Jerusalem Day (celebrating the retaking of the Jerusalem in 1967 the and reopening of the Holy City to all faiths). The Muslims call it Naqba, or the disgrace. They call Jerusalem Al Quds. The Roman Catholic Christians recently celebrated Easter and were looking forward to their Pentecost (the Jewish Shavuot) feast this upcoming Sunday. Eastern Orthodox celebrated their Easter this week. The summer pilgrimage festival of Shavuot begins this Sunday. It marks the date Moses received the Torah and Ten Commandments on Mt Sinai. It’s also the late spring barley and wheat harvest festival and official start of summer. And for the Arabs, it’s the end of Ramadan. The sacrificial festival of Eid was yesterday. So, in a land of extreme religious and national fervor, one can see all these coinciding events as a powder keg waiting to explode.

The next series of stories were sent to me by friends in the UK and the US where it is being reported (the Guardian, NBC, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post) that Israeli police started the conflict by attacking innocent women and children worshippers at the Al Aqsa Mosque/Temple Mount complex. That “the assault on Al Aqsa is a Jewish effort to suppress religious freedom.” Reading many of these articles, I’ve come to realize the narrative is about the story you wish to tell, not necessarily all the facts. So – here goes:

First, Israel is just coming out of a year-long lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of the adult population have been vaccinated, but there are many that have not. Early on during Ramadan, the police forces on the Temple Mount tried to impose a limit on the number of people that could visit the Temple Mount at any given time. Masks were to be worn, social distancing observed and barricades to control entry and flow to be honored. This was deemed oppressive by the Muslims, so the restrictions were eased. Jews were not allowed onto the Temple Mount during Ramadan.

After the tragedy (45 deaths) at Mount Meron during the Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer two weeks ago, barricades were set up in East Jerusalem at the Lion’s Gate, the New Gate and the Damascus Gate. This was for crowd control and safety reasons as well as for COVID social distancing. There were also crowd control measures put in place (extra police and barricades) at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for their Eastern Orthodox Holy Flame Miracle. These were tolerated by the Christians, but barely. There had been unrests and riots in the past two weeks in Jaffa (in Southern Tel Aviv) and Jerusalem by the Arabs there over perceived injustices; and also by the Jewish population who were protesting political events. When the riots in East Jerusalem -involving firecrackers, molotov cocktails and large rocks – threatened to grow out of control, the police backed down and removed all barricades. The damage (perceived oppression) had already been done.

Flashpoint Jerusalem:

This past Sunday evening marked the beginning of Jerusalem Day. Traditionally Jewish people from all across the country come to Jerusalem dressed in white and blue waving Israeli flags. There is a flag parade through the Old City and into West Jerusalem. There is much singing and dancing and entertainment. It’s a family celebration. It is also seen as a provocation to the Arab population. This year the end of Ramadan fell during this time. In the days leading up to the riots on the Temple Mount complex, Palestinians had begun stockpiling a large cache of rocks, slabs, fireworks and Molotov cocktails at the site, turning it from a holy place to a well-fortified citadel. This past Friday, a few hundred troublemakers from the thousands of Muslim worshippers leaving their morning prayers at the mosque, began pelting the Israeli police officers with rocks. Many of their targets were Arab Christian and Druze officers who choose to serve Israel in the military and police forces (this is seen as the ultimate betrayal). The Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the Dome of the Rock and their holy mosque with cameras ready to catch the moment the police entered, breaking down the barricades to arrest the perpetrators. Videos from inside the mosque show tear gas and stun grenades landing inside their prayer rooms. The video clips were leaked to news outlets and social media, going viral throughout the world.

The violence spilled over to Sunday evening, when the Palestinians started hurling large rocks onto the Western Wall Plaza down below, hitting and scattering Jewish worshippers there. The rioters launched a molotov that was supposed to go over the Wall onto those gathered below. Instead, it was launched into a tall cypress tree, setting it and two other neighboring trees ablaze above the Western Wall. The image of the Temple Mount ablaze was a portent of what was to come.

Two rockets were fired at 9:36 by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. One was intercepted by Iron Dome Aerial Defense. The other landed in an open field. At 11:34 two more rockets were fired from the strip which fell short and exploded inside Gaza. On Monday, thousands of Jewish people of all ages started to gather around the HolyCity for the celebrations to take place. Balloons with incendiary devices attached were sent over to Israel, setting many acres ablaze in the areas surrounding the Strip. The sirens started blaring by 06:24 Monday morning warning the residents of the areas surrounding Sderot, Ashkelon, and Beersheva to take cover in their bomb shelters. The barrage from Isalmic Jihad had started. By 6:30 pm, sirens had been sounded in Jerusalem, the first time since 2014. Seven missiles landed in the Judaean Forest to the south of Jerusalem as well as in fields in Beit Shemesh.

Iran issued their Al Quds Day message calling for the bombing of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and the murder of “Jewish Dogs and Polytheists” (Christians). The New York Times posted pictures of what they called “far-right Israelis marching on Monday outside the Old City.” It was, in fact, white-shirted, jeans-wearing B’nei Akiva youth group teens with backpacks walking to the Western Wall. It’s a very typical site in Jerusalem any day of the week. On Memri TV news, a public service announcement was made by a local imam instructing Palestinians to murder Jews. “A knife costs 5 shekels. Just 5 shekels. Sharpen the knife and use it to cut the artery at the back of the neck. (He displays how it should be done) Then cut the head off every Jew in Jerusalem.” The flames are fanned.

On my mobile phone, I have an app called red alert. It buzzes and vibrates every time a missile is fired into Israel pinpointing the trajectory. If the alert is for your area, you have anywhere from 18-40 seconds to run for shelter before it lands. Not much time. Think about it. Also, a loud warning siren goes off in the vicinity of the incoming rocket. Since Sunday night, my app has been buzzing nonstop all hours of the day and night. We live in the North, about two hours from the action. It’s idyllically quiet here. We had to drive down to Sheba Medical Center for my husband’s appointment yesterday. On the way to the hospital, just northeast of Tel Aviv, we saw where one missile had recently landed. From the upper story window of the medical building, I was able to see what looked like multiple contrails and then little white puffs of cloud coming from the Ashdod area to the south. These were missiles being intercepted by Iron Dome. It was surreal and horrifically mesmerizing at the same time. One after another in long lines. Contrails. Cloud puffs. Contrails. Cloud puffs.

The shelling has not let up. There have been over 1200 missiles fired at us. For the most part, many have landed in vacant lots or have been intercepted. Many have misfired and landed back in Gaza. So far, several homes and apartments have been hit, some destroyed completely. A school and a hospital have both received major damages. I can’t imagine all the civilians living in the area. How they are running to bomb shelters; hearing the sirens continually; hearing the loud booms and feeling the vibrations. All night long into the next days.

By the time we drove home, Hamas had expanded their target area North to Tel Aviv and beyond. I’m sure there are lots of videos circulating on the internet. It’s been hard to keep up. My son, at university in Herzliya, spent most of the night in the dorm’s underground bomb shelter. Children’s birthday parties and weddings were interrupted by the sirens. The barrages are going all the time, even as I write this. So far over 1250 rockets have been launched at us. A city bus was hit last night in Holon. Thankfully most people managed to get out before the blast, but seven were injured in that bombing. Babies are being born as women are going into labor prematurely from the stress. Yesterday a missile hit and exploded inside a home in Ashkelon. An Indian caretaker, Soumya Santhosh was killed because she would not leave the bedridden elderly woman she cared for. Both perished. I don’t have the name of the old woman, but Soumya had a husband and nine year old child back in India. A woman (name not released) was killed in Rishon LeTzion while running to a shelter last night. Ben Gurion airport has been temporarily closed to all incoming and outgoing flights due to shelling. 52 year old Halil Awad and his 16 year old daughter, Nadine were killed overnight in the Central Israeli city of Old by a rocket attack from Gaza. Most schools and businesses from Herzliya to Beersheva are closed today. Highways have been closed. Public transporation halted in those areas most likely to incur attack.

The IDF is currently operating in response to these attacks by striking terror targets and operatives in Gaza. It has been named “Operation Guardian of the Walls.” Two senior terrorists, Ayad Fathi Faik Sharish, the commander of the Hamas Militants and Samah Abdel Mamlouch, Islamic Jihad head of the rocket unit have been taken down. Unfortunately Hamas has been known to store their weapons, have their bomb factories and launch their weapons from the most heavily populated areas in Gaza: schools, mosques, hospitals and high density apartment buildings. Although many IDF Air Force sorties have been carried out, the unfortunate fact is there will most likely be a high occurrence of civilian casualties despite “Roof Knocking.” In roof knocking, one minute before an aerial strike, a dummy pipe targets the proposed structure to be bombed to allow any civilians to escape. I don’t know of any other army that does this. Still, the EU, UN Security Council, UN Human Rights Council, Canada, China, Iran, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and the US administrations have already condemned or expressed deep concern over Israeli show of force.

In the meantime, we are praying a lot. A pray for an end to all violence. For immediate de-escalation. For no other fronts to open up. For peace and cooler heads to prevail. Over 5000 IDF reservists have been called up. The entire country is in a state of high alert. The barrages are continual, coming in spurts of 10-30 rockets. Sometimes there’s a 15-20 minute lull, then my red alert begins to sound again.Even in the North, we are under a curfew at dark. Last night there were demonstrations/riots in Acco, Sakhnin, Madj al Krum, Nazareth, Kana, and other neighboring Arab villages. Tensions are running high. John went out to run errands this morning and all seemed normal here. We’ve been sent instructions by the Home Front Command.

The Home Front Command is an army unit tasked with assuring the best level of local preparedness possible. They disseminate safety procedures, and instructions in all languages. They open up the public bomb shelters and stock them with water. We have been instructed to stay calm ad continue with our daily activities, yet be constantly vigilant and aware of our surroundings at all times. We have a well-stocked miklat (bomb shelter) in our basement. On my bedroom door I have a post it. On it is written in red Sharpie: Tamar- shoes, phone & charger, purse. John – shoes, keys, wallet, phone, dog. Not to forget to grab these items if we have to make a run to the miklat. It’s an interesting life. I shall keep you posted.

On a more humorous note: one friend who was texting us from CA last night wrote, “Do you have an escape plan? Can’t you just drive across the border to Lebanon or Syria and catch a plane from the airports there???? What is your plan B?” We were in hysterics. Thanks for the laugh, S…

Refreshing Israeli Salads!!

Now that spring is here with warmer weather and the wonderful Israeli holidays – tomorrow we will celebrate Yom HaAtzmaut, Independence Day, and our Muslim neighbors just started Ramadan, so fireworks and festivities and lots and lots of terrific food will abound. Just last week, we went on a field trip to the south with a great friend. On the way home, we stopped at a lovely Israeli restaurant in Beit Shean, and were treated to a glorious feast, which is completely typical of these little home-style eateries. Before we even received our menu, 18 small bowls of salads were brought out with the fluffiest, cloud-like pita. The dishes included smoked eggplant dip like a babaganoush; humus with olive oil and zata’ar; a spicy sliced carrot salad with hot peppers; corn salad with chives and dill and bell peppers in a simple vinegar; a cabbage salad with corn, dill, chopped pickle and a spiced mayo; bulgur salad; tuna salad; chopped tomatoes and cucumbers lightly dressed with lemon juice and olive oil; and tons of other savory salads. It’s absolutely amazing!

When we received our menus, the staff brought out four large green salads: a fattoush that was out of this world with fresh picked field greens (and I do mean seasonal wild greens from the field like arugula and dandelion and cress and mustards!); a parsley salad that I could eat all day long; a spinach salad; and a slightly grilled Arabic lettuce (Romaine) salad that was sprinkled with lemon and oil. Oh my goodness…. what else could one possibly eat after all that? We ordered a big plate of veggies on the grill drizzled with Ethiopian tehineh and a huge bowl of mejaddara, which is rice with lentils and fried onions and Middle Eastern spices. Plus they brought out fresh olives, a dish of hot mushrooms in a sweet sauce, and about five other things I couldn’t even taste. We were all so stuffed!!! Just roll us out. Please!!!!

So I’ve been busy in the past few weeks fixing a perfecting some “typical” Middle Eastern/Israeli salads to share with you. I do hope you’ll enjoy! we picked up the first fresh figs of the season, so my first is a fig salad with bulgur. I do hope you can find bulgur where you live, if you are reading this outside Israel. It should be available in the rice or grain section in larger groceries and specialty stores. Basically, it’s a parboiled cracked wheat that can be used straight from the bag or soaked in hot water to soften.

BULGUR SALAD WITH FRESH FIGS

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup uncooked bulgur
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 2 TBSP apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 8-10 fresh figs, washed, halved
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese or feta

Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add 1 1/2 tsp oil to coat bottom and add bulgur. Cook about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally until slightly nutty and golden. Add 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer until liquid is absorbed. Place shallots in a small bowl and cover with water. Let stand 10 minutes. Drain. Combine remaining 1 1/2 TBSP oil, chopped shallots, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. In a large salad bowl place bulgur, half of oil mixture, parsley, and walnuts. stir to combine. Top with figs, cheese and a few parsley sprigs. Drizzle with remaining oil mixture. Serve warm or cold.

FRESH PARSLEY SALAD WITH A CRUNCH

So easy to prepare!!!! Just chop fine 2 large washed bunches of fresh parsley. Add 1/4 cup green onions, chopped fine. In a medium bowl, combine

  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/3 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/3 cup sultanas or golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup peanuts, crushed or chopped very fine

Scatter this on the top of the salad and drizzle the smallest amount of canola or extra version olive oil on top. That’s it. Simple. Delish! Healthy! Vegan.

VERY ISRAELI FRUITED CAULIFLOWER BULGAR SALAD

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 medium large head of cauliflower
  • 1 cup bulgur
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped fine
  • 1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 fresh lemon, squeezed, pits removed
  • drizzle extra virgin olive oil
  • tehineh (if a paste, mix with a little warm water to form thick sauce)

Pulse the cauliflower in a food processor until it resembles rice. Soak the bulgur in very hot water for about 15 -25 minutes to soften. Drain. Chop the parsley into a very fine dice, stems and all. In a large bowl, mix cauliflower, parsley, bulgur, dried fruit and nuts. Pour the lemon juice and drizzle the olive oil over the top. Season with a little sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste. Place a large serving spoon full of the salad onto a plate. Adjacent to the salad, you a little tehineh. Mix together to eat. This is absolutely fresh and fabulous. High in fiber. Vegan.

FATTOUSH SALAD

This salad is light and easy, healthy and satisfying. a great spring or summer lunch or side salad. I add shredded feta (I buy a block of feta and hand grate it over the salad) to serve as a dairy lunch. You can keep it vegan or serve it as an appetizer or side salad and omit the cheese.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 large cucumbers
  • 4 medium tomatoes
  • 1 small red/purple onion
  • 1 small yellow or orange bell pepper
  • 1 cup toasted pita chips
  • sea salt, pepper
  • juice of 1 lemon, squeezed
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 TBSP zata’ar
  • 2 TBSP toasted sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup shredded feta (or mozzarella)

In a large bowl, cut the veggies into bite-sized chunks. toss with lemon juice, oil and seasonings. The zata’ar is a spice that can be found in larger groceries, specialty or MidEast markets. It’s tasted wild thyme/oregano that is ground with sumac, salt and toasted sesame seeds. Toss the pita chips on top along with the grated cheese. sprinkle a little more zata’ar on the top.

Also, this is fresh garlic season here in Israel. I love this time of year. This year, I bought 100 bulbs of garlic. I braided 60 and have them hanging up and drying downstairs in the laundry/utility room. and I’ve experimented with the others. Peeling the fresh bulbs, I submerged a bunch in fresh olive oil. Those are in my fridge, soaking up the flavors for a month to be used in salads. With 5 peeled bulbs, I submerged them in a jar of olive oil with fresh cilantro and lemon slices. I took 8 bulbs, cut off the tops and roasted them in a low-oven for a couple hours. Those I will spread on breads. And then I pickled a bunch of the freshly-peeled cloves, by placing them in a Mason jar of red wine vinegar with pickling spices and sea salt. After these cure, I will use them as a side to cheese platters and to chop into salads (tuna, salmon salad) and stuff into olives.

Honey and Wine

Israel is a country that never ceases to surprise us. Last week was khol ha mo’ed, the intermediate days of the Passover holiday. It’s a time for hikes, picnics, barbecues, visits to friends, and tiyuulim, which is basically day-tripping. On the recommendation of a couple friends, John and I decided to visit a fairly local winery. Our friends had been raving about their rosé and white wines, so we set out for Jezreel Winery on the small moshav at Hannaton. Oh my goodness, it was packed!! Every picnic table was taken and all outdoor cafe and bistro seating was occupied. The sommelier told us there would be table service for the tasting of all their wines which included a cheese platter, but the wait could be up to three hours. We decided to return another less crowded week, and instead go somewhere else.

It was a beautiful day, the winter storms over, and every hill and roadside field was awash in a rainbow of floral colors. A great day for a ride. We were minutes away from another favorite haunt: the tiny moshav of Alonei haGalil (Galilee Oaks). On the road to my favorite antiques shop, I remember seeing a small, hand-painted sign for another local winery. And this is where the story gets good. We pulled off the single lane ‘main road’ onto a little dirt path and there it was! It had a very familiar fell to it: homey and reminiscent of my childhood in the southern United States. Under a large spreading oak tree was a log cabin! More like an old tobacco curing shack, the the of which used to dot the fields of rural Virginia/North Carolina. Not something one would expect to find in the lower Galilee of Israel. It was the tasting room of Meshek Ofir Wines.

As soon as we entered, I knew right then and there I’d found my new Happy Place. The tasting room was warm, cozy and inviting, and the young sommeliers spoke both English and Hebrew fluently. Besides a nice selection of wine, it was also the tasting room for all their local honey. Tamar, our hostess for the morning, ushered to a porch table under the oak canopy and brought us a flight of six wines to try – all generous amounts – and a gorgeous cheese platter featuring a selection of local goat cheeses, labaneh, pestos, tapenade, fresh veggies, nuts, dates, and because it was Passover, matzah.

There were only two other couples there. Meshek Ofir is a tiny, family-run business that is not well known yet. Their wines are not sold in stores, and they do not market widely. Anyway, as we were enjoying this delightful picnic, a beautiful young woman joined us ( I had mentioned I wanted to find out more about the history of this place for a possible article). Adva is the daughter of the owners. And she began the only-in-Israel story of her family, their history, and the log cabin.

Tzvika Ofir came from a family of beekeepers at Hogla, a small farming kibbutz between Hadera and Netanya. After his IDF service, he met Hadas, a lovely woman from another agricultural moshav. They fell in love and got married. After traveling the world for a year, they returned to Israel and made a home at a newly-started moshav, Alonei haGalil. The newlyweds started beekeeping in 1984 with a few hives from his father, Yishai, getting their own license to be honey farmers (which is now a closed profession here0. It’s one of Tzvika’s passions, and is a win-win endeavor for the farmer as well as the beekeeper. He gets up at 4 a.m. to care for the hives: he now has over 800, collecting the honey and moving the bee boxes to different locations throughout Israel. He smokes out the bees to keep them drowsy and transports the hives in his truck to different fields and orchards. His bees are the pollinators for the different plants, and depending on the flower, the honeybees produce different flavors of the liquid gold.

It’s now the end of citrus season, and soon the mango and avocado trees will be in full bloom. Tzvika’s honeybees produce the most amazing honeys I’ve ever heard of – besides clover and meadow flower, there is sunflower, pumpkin, watermelon, forest fruits, carob, squash blossom, and cotton blossom honey. All are organic and unique to the area, different in color, viscosity and taste – and all are absolutely delicious! And that jujube (Christ’s Thorns Bush) honey is hands down the most different and the best honey I’ve tasted. So I bought a couple jars. They are all so reasonably priced. But I’m skipping ahead….

Having apiaries was Tzvika Ofir’s main love and means of financial stability, but he wanted something new. In 1986 he began to deepen his roots, planting his first vineyard the day Adva was born. Shortly thereafter, two sons and another daughter arrived on the scene. As the family grew, so did the vineyards. Tzvika’s grapes were sold to larger wineries like Recanati, Kassel and other more famous Israeli wineries. The vintners absolutely loved the high quality of his grapes. after ten years, what started as a hobby, took on a new life as he decided to try his hand at making his own wines.

In 1999, Yiftachel Winery was established, bring the story full circle. You see, in this exact area in Israel, archaeologists have uncovered ancient Jewish settlements and villages, each with winepresses, dating from the first century, BCE. Taking on a professional vintner, Kobi Toch, and studying viticulture himself, Tzvika now produces 10,000 bottles a year under his own label (at first Yiftachel Wines, now Meshek Ofir). It is truly a boutique family winery. All four children, now grown, work in the fields with the vines and the bees, and also in the production and marketing end.

All of the wines we tasted were surprisingly good. Adva explained to us that the Sangiovese grape was native to the Jezreel Valley here in Israel. The Romans loved it so much (going back 2000 years), that they took vines back to the Chianti region of Italy, but it was originally an ancient Israeli plant, that grows well here. It’s a big, jammy wine, with a full body and fruity nose. Redolent of chocolate, cherry, and oak, we bought several bottles. Their unique “Marselan” wine is a red blend of Cabernet and Grenache. Aged in American oak barrels, it has a nose of berries, plum, and hints of sage. This is a lighter wine with a nice finish. It pairs perfectly with cheeses and lighter fare like pasta, and makes an excellent sitting-on-the-porch sipping wine. We bought several more of these. John and I sampled the Rosanne ’20, a grassy, citrusy, medium dry white. Also as part of the flight were their Shiraz ’16 and Merlot ’14. But for us, the star of the show was “Deep.” a dark, deep, full-bodied red. the nose has hints of violets!!!! With a rich mouth of berry and cherry and no unpleasant tannic aftertaste. This smooth wine pairs with meats and heartier foods, and it was, by far, our favorite. An amazing wine at a great price. So we bought a case-

Now, about that cabin: Adva was happy to tell us the wild story. It was, in fact, a transplant here. It’s named “Biktat Alan” or Alan’s Cabin. Alan Radley, a nice Jewish boy from the Shenandoah mountains of Virginia, came over to Israel as a Lone Soldier in 1973. He fought during the Yom Kippur War, and afterwards lived on a kibbutz where he made friends with Tzvika Ofir. Besides his love of Israel, he loved building log cabins. Upon his return to the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, he bought an old circa 1840 tobacco shack from a Scottish woman. It was in terrible disrepair, but had potential. Radley had it disassembled and the wood shipped to Israel in 1992. The logs were stored at Tzvika’s meshek (farm). After sitting there idle for a decade, Tzvika offered to buy it from Alan and build the visitor center. He contacted Radley, and for the price of a plane ticket and room and board at the moshav, Alan flew out. With the help of Tzvika and two other friends, had the main frame put together in one day. The logs are all locked together without nails just like Lincoln Logs. By 2004, the panels had been mudded in, windows added, roof put up and an oak plank floor installed. And almost as if it was planned – in Hebrew, alon translates to oak tree. So this oak cabin now sits in Galilee Oaks – thanks to Alan.

Tzvika Ofir, left, sitting with two friends & Alan Radley, right

Everything about this place is a labor of love. Aside from the great atmosphere, excellent service, and top-quality products, their prices are more than reasonable. It’s truly a small family business without pretension. Unlike many of the chi-chi boutique wineries here, Meshek Ofir is a gem and a real bargain. Plus, they offer club membership with a 10% discount on each case. Every Thursday evening Alonei haGalil hosts a local farmer’s market/shuk. The farmers bring their produce fresh-picked from the fields, all organic. There are also artisan cheeses from dairies in the North and artisanal breads as well. Before all the pandemic craziness, Ofir Family Farms hosted regular festivals throughout the year celebrating both the honey and the wine with live music on their sprawling grounds under the oak trees. Hopefully, these fun events will resume later in the summer. Until then, we just can’t wait to return.