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.

Six Years In

It’s a bit hard to believe it’s been six years since we sold our home, packed up our lift, said our tearful goodbyes, and moved across the world to Israel. Six years. In some ways, it seems like no time at all has passed. In other respects, it was a lifetime ago.

In those six years, we’ve learned so much about our new country and about ourselves. We’ve had incredible experiences and have met some pretty amazing people. We’ve traveled the land of Israel from North to South, walking the pathways of our Biblical ancestors. In a land this old, history is all around us. Layer upon layer from Neolithic cave dwellers to Biblical patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). Greeks, Assyrians, Romans, Jews, early Christians, Byzantines, Muslims, Crusaders, Napoleon, Pioneers from Europe, they’ve all left their marks on this tiny country. We’ve toured so many different places and archeology digs, and there is so more still to see and do.

We’ve made new friends from all over the world as well as native Israelis. Until COVID hit, we hosted many visitors from the United States. We’ve seen far too many friends who have moved here return to the familiar lives of their native countries. Leaving behind family, friends, livelihood, and all that you once knew is more than difficult.

In order to fully integrate into a new culture learning the language is becomes a priority. I’m much better than I was six years ago. I can hold my own in a social setting, but am far from fluent. Next month, I am starting another Hebrew intensive course three days a week. Hopefully, I can lose my phone anxiety. Imagine making a phone call and getting plugged into a service loop in a completely different language. It can be terrifying. Reading and understanding bills is another interesting endeavor. Hebrew has absolutely no vowels given, so besides actually reading the words, recall and context are absolute necessities to deciphering the “code.” One can live and function here on just English, but it’s a peripheral life in society without Hebrew language skills.

Still, attaining some sense of competency is doable. You just have to be extremely dedicated – or young. Our son achieved a working fluency within two years. It’s been beautiful to watch him grow up and adapt to this new life. He served for over two years in the IDF in the Foreign Relations unit working on the Syrian border. For a parent to see their child take on entirely new skill sets and adapt, holding a job with responsibility, making friends, navigating the system – it’s a tremendous blessing. He’s now in university studying foreign policy and government and doing amazingly well, far above our expectations. We wish him only continued success.

I’ve learned a lot and have made many mistakes since our landing. Being too eager to get to work and start a successful business in the first months was a tactical error. Yes, I enrolled in a business class for new immigrants at the local community college, but still did not know enough about how a start-up works in a new country. Accounting, tax laws, business certifications, marketing to a different culture and the ability to communicate effectively are all things to fully know before venturing out on your own. It didn’t help that the Israeli culinary palette is completely different than the Anglo food tastes.

In the six years since we’ve landed, we’ve been able to taste many of the different foods here, learning all about dining in the Middle East; the different spices, food combinations and ways of preparation. Because breaking bread together also breaks down cultural barriers, it’s been fun to meet other immigrants (and locals) of various ethnicities and swap recipes. A great ice-breaker I’ve learned to use is at the grocery store or produce market. I don’t hesitate to ask what an item is and how it’s prepared and eaten. I’ll inquire where the person is from (telling them I’m a fairly new immigrant from the US) and ask how long they’ve been here. Many times I’ve gotten the invitation to the person’s place for a meal. I don’t ever remember that happening anywhere else.

I’m still not sure if it’s a Middle Eastern thing or not, but hospitality here is a way of life. We’ve had countless invitations to share meals with relative strangers. Even during business meetings (with our printer, our insurance salesperson, our auto mechanic), it’s typical for us to be ushered into the office and before any business is discussed coffee is made. Not typical American drip coffee, but a type of Turkish espresso with cardamom – or “botz” which is a little tiny demitasse of strong blackness leaving a muddy residue at the bottom. It is in very poor taste to decline for whatever reason. Along with this, coffee, pastries or cookies are usually served – or some type of sweet, and of course, the offer of a cigarette. It was strange a first, and of course, to decline the cigarette is perfectly acceptable (this is only done between the males. I’ve never been offered a smoke). It seems many of the males smoke. It’s ubiquitous here. Something that can be more than a bit off-putting for the Anglo.

A lot of unforeseen circumstances have happened since we first came to Israel. Who would have thought that both my husband and myself would be diagnosed with cancer within five short years of living here? We’ve learned to navigate the medical system. With socialized medicine, the prices are incredibly low, but bureaucracy and wait times for scheduling tests and appointments can be interminable. We have a whole new medical vocabulary down in Hebrew. And despite the difficulties, we’ve had access to some of the best doctors and cutting edge treatments in the world. In America, even with insurance, we would have had to sell our house and hock our kids to afford the care we’ve had here.

Before the ‘pandemic,’ we were able to travel a few times to Europe. The continent is only a 3-5 hour flight, and much more affordable. John and I have visited the Czech Republic numerous times, Hungary, Northern Italy, Switzerland, the French Alps, and Amsterdam. We spent two and a half glorious weeks in Scotland, traveling with American friends who now live near us in Karmiel. Hopefully, we can resume our travel adventures. We’d love to go to Greece, Southern Italy, and now that the UAE is open to us, Abu Dhabi sounds magnificent. Still, first on our list is a trip back to the United States.

It’s been over three years now since we’ve been back. And that’s probably the hardest part. We miss our kids something terrible! We have two grandchildren that we’ve only seen when they were first born – and a brand new granddaughter. We are missing one of our daughter’s wedding, which is something that is breaking our hearts. I’m so hoping our airport will be completely open and that we’ll be able to find a flight out later this summer. At this point, it’s impossible to tell what will be even in the next few weeks. Thank heaven for FaceTime and Zoom or we wouldn’t have been able to survive. We get to “see” the girls and their families just about every week through these virtual communications platforms.

Since being here, I’ve run out of many of my favorite American products: from dryer sheets to antiperspirant to cinnamon gum, Shout, and certain medications. Thankfully, every month, we find more of our familiar standby’s like zip-lock baggies, craft supplies, food items (like albacore tuna!!! and salsa and taco mix and shells!!!). For some things, I ask my daughters to make up a care package (cello sponges, flavored coffees, extra-strength Advil). I’ve learned to make my own salad dressings, barbecue spice rubs, pickle relish, garlic croutons, kombucha and focaccia. And just in the nick of time, last month we received the most thoughtful and wonderful gift box from a dear friend back in California: a box of Airborne, Zinc tablets, echinacea drops, thieves oil, Emergen-C packets!!! Oh my goodness!!! It cost an absolute fortune for her to mail this, but man oh man!!! Was this welcomed!!! And last year I found iHerb, which ships many food, beauty, household and vitamin products to us for free.

All things considered, I think we’re doing a pretty great job of acclimating to our new land. Although it’s been more than difficult at times, it’s been well worth it. Life is casual here. We have had many amazing adventures. We now have favorite places to visit, favorite music groups, new pastimes. We’ve made friends and attended a fare share of funerals and weddings and baby showers (that’s for another blog), which are nothing like their American counterparts. We’ve learned from our many cultural faux-pas. Through all of our ups and downs, and with our strong faith in G-d, our marriage has been tremendously strengthened. This has been one of the biggest surprises and blessings of all.

We look forward to see what the next six years will have in store for us. Hopefully, the skies will reopen and the tourists will be back. We will be able to go places again, both domestic and foreign. We will be able to entertain guests. We look forward to exploring new cities and ancient ruins. we pray that we will be able to enjoy the relative peace and safety of the past six years. In the meantime, we celebrate locally by raising a felafel in our honor –

Time for a Bit of Fun!!

Oh my goodness! Between elections, lockdowns, Green Passports, ankle bracelets for quarantines, and the news cycle in general – it’s time for a bit of fun. Actually, as a semi-new immigrant in a foreign land, there’s lots that can make you completely crazy – or absolutely uproarious. We choose to take the “let’s just laugh at it all and make fun of everything” route. So – let’s go!!

Let’s start with driving. Israeli style. Hold on to your seatbelts, because the lines on the roads (Israeli’s say “lane” for line and “line” for lane, so THAT’s always confusing!) – those lanes/lines painted in the middle and on the sides – well, they are put there as a subtle suggestion. We live way up North, in the perifery, where many of the highways are still one-lane in each direction. So imagine driving on this two-lane road, winding your way up a mountain. And you get behind a very large truck hauling a tank. Yes. A ginormous army tank. No biggie. Common occurrence. It’s very slow, but it gives you a chance to take in the scenery.

The cars behind you start honking like mad. This too, is a very common occurrence. Israelis talk with their horns: whether it’s to tell you that the light is about to turn green; to speed up because ‘I’m in my line/lane getting ktsat impatient’; or just to say shalom – the horn is there for communication. All the time. So the car behind that’s honking decides he’s had enough and creates a third line/lane right down the middle. The tank pulls waaaaay over to the side. You’re plotzing as you watch the oncoming car get waaaaaaay over without slowing down, and the new middle line/lane takes shape. Yikes!!!

So last week, for some weird reason (I think John did a California Roll instead of coming to a full stop), a cop pulled us over. Of course, at this point we are very nice and speak only English. Despite the policeman’s attempt at communicating in Hebrew, we understand NOTHING (wink, wink). So he switches to very broken English. And it happened again: “You need for me lessons,” he says. “Why do we need lessons? What’s wrong?” John asks. “You give for me lessons.” I’m trying really hard not to crack up. John responds, “I took lessons already.” “No. Your lessons. I not took your lessons.Take from me your lessons.” At this point, I interject -“OH!!! You must mean license!!!! Honey, the policeman wants your LICENSE.” He says, “Yes. Yes. Your lie-sense.” After minutes of back and forth, it’s pretty obvious he’s getting nowhere and lets us off the hook. Still – you had to be there. The whole thing was a complete comedy routine.

Parking: if you thought the rest of the Western world was bad in their parking abilities, then you’ve never been to the MidEast. Welcome. There are never enough parking spaces. This country was designed for only a few cars. Small cars. Miniature cars. So parking over the lanes/lines is just a thing. You’ll see cars half-on/half-off the sidewalks. You’ll see cars parked in places one would never dream of parking anywhere else. A few weeks ago, I went to the supermarket. And when I came out, this was my predicament. I had no idea who the wiseguy was (notice he pulled his side mirror in, a sign he does this shtick regularly). All I could do was shout “Un-be LEEEVE-able!!” five times – and take a picture. (I just notice: I am on the lane/line. Oops)

So I climbed around the other side. Speaking of climbing on/out, I’ve never before been to a country where the following happens: I’m driving on the highway…..the big one, Kveesh Shesh…. the one with three lines/lanes in each direction. And there’s a bus right in front of me that decides it’s time to slow down and then stop right in the middle of line/lane one. And a bunch of Ultra-Orthodox Jews hop off the bus. A whole bunch. Why? Because it’s time for afternoon prayers. And when it’s time, it’s time. So they hop off the bus and line/leyn (sorry, if you’re Jewish – pun intended) up on the side of the road, and in back of the bus, and whip out their prayerbooks and start to sway back and forth in prayer. With cars speeding by in lines/lanes two and three. Then they get back on the bus, as the cars behind me create a fourth line/lane, and drive around the bus blocking up traffic. It’s actually kinda fun to watch. Then there’s the Muslim contingents who stop, whip out their prayer rugs and pray on the side of the road. And it’s not at all uncommon to see the Arab contingent parked on the side of the road, taking a break under a tree. Because when it’s time for coffee and hookah…. they whip out their plastic lawn chairs, bring out the porto-hookah and mini camp stove to make Turkish coffee and take a break. Would I lie to you???

There’s one picture I just refuse to take. Something that totally drives me mishuggah. The men. Yup. The Middle Eastern men. They have this thing about stopping the car to jump out and walk over to the side of the road. They then proceed to whip out… well, you can only guess. ALL THE TIME!!!!! Watch the Seinfeld ‘Uromysetisis’ episode. It’s absolutely ubiquitous here. Un-be-leeeeeeve-able! And while we’re on driving, the road signs can be quite amusing. For one thing: Hebrew uses completely different letters than English, so all the English words are merely transliterations which can be spelled many different ways – like Tsfat/Zefat/Tzfat/Safed or Akko/Aco/Acre. Can be a bit confusing for the uninformed. And the Hebrew signs! This one, for the city of Bnei Brak, an extremely ultra-Orthodox place, announces that the entire freeway ramp leading into the city is blocked off from Friday afternoon- Saturday night because you ain’t gonna drive in this town on Shabbat – or holidays. So we’re just gonna shut it all down. So there!

This is a cool one: the place on the road sign reads “Ma’aynei HaYeshua” which means Springs of Salvation.

Religion here is a pretty thing. Taken quite seriously. So to see semis on the freeway with “Ayn ode milvado” in Hebrew, which means “There’s no other but Him” on the mudflaps is actually nicer than the naked girl on the flaps of American trucks. Yes, I’ve seen Scripture verses on the windows, verses that remind me to refrain from gossip “Lo lishon harah” which is a good thing for me to keep in mind. The city buses will even have Scripture and Shabbat or holiday greetings. Speaking of Shabbat, check out this guy. He reminds us “Keeping the Sabbath is a source of blessings.” Also nice.

This one is seriously funny. We see it in the Golan and it cracks us up every single time. It tells us not to enter the military training ground. Live fire. Feathers???? Obviously, someone needs spellcheck! Oh, and the deer – it’s not a hunting area. It’s the symbol of the Northern Command. No animals harmed here.

We don’t live too far away from the Jordan River. For the Christian tourists, it’s a holy place reserved for baptisms. For the Jewish contingent, it’s a great place to go river rafting and canoeing. There’s this great place for canoeing called Rob Roy. But their logo is a bit of a mixed metaphor. It’s the Jordan. Right? The JORDAN!!! And their logo features a Native American, because we all know Native Americans travel exclusively by canoe. And Rob Roy??? A Scottish highwayman who lived in the 1600s? I just don’t know about that one…

Back to driving with another example of terrible Israeli drivers. We had to follow this guy and snap a photo. What makes it so uproarious is that it’s the test car for someone who is trying to get their driver’s lessons. He was backing into a parking spot and totally hit a pole and tore off the back bumper, crumpling up the trunk. We think he needs more license!

O.K.This next one’s pretty funny. They built a new home here in Karmi’el. A beautiful, expensive, multi-million shekel home. But the builder made a very big mistake. He didn’t measure the owner’s car before he built the garage, which is just a few centimeters too short for the intended vehicle. Gotta get a photo of this one!

The next one is cute: in the neighborhood near ours, the women obviously take pride in their bus stop. For Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, they decorate it with a bamboo stalk roof, and palm branches and decorations. They have a light-up menorah and hanging decorations at Chanukah. Here it is in the summertime with framed prints of artwork. Community beautification. I love it!

I think the same group of ladies who decorate the bus stop are the ones who take care of the cats. Let me back up. In Israel, we don’t have squirrels roaming all over the place. We have cats. Feral cats. Lots of them. They are absolutely everywhere. Maybe that’s why we don’t have huge rodent problems…or squirrels? So these ladies (I’ve never actually caught them in the act, and I think all the old ladies in Israel do this…) leave out food for the cats. On paper plates. In foil pans. In empty plastic ice cream containers. Cans of cat food. Handfulls of kibble. Huge pieces of schnitzel, potatoes, green beans, couscous. Fish tails. Fish heads. Meatballs. Seriously. Go for a walk after dinner on a Friday night, and see what the kitties are feasting on. Not only that, but in the more upscale neighborhood, there are special kitty feeding stations for cats of privilege.

Heaven forbid, anyone should ever go hungry here! With all the Jewish mothers around…. and the cathouses. Yup you read that one correctly. Cat Houses. They are set up in the winter. Everywhere. In the parks. Under bushes. Behind rocks. With blankets. And pillows. And. of course, food. So they stay dry and warm. Everywhere. Because heaven forbid, a kitty should not be cold and wet. I kid you not. This is the WEIRDEST place!!!! We love it!!!!

Grocery shopping is always an adventure here, too. For one thing, to get the agahLAH, grocery cart, you have to put a coin in the slot to unchain it. It took a very long time, and a continually upset husband, for me to realize that the “nickel,” the five shekel coin that’s the same size as a US nickel…. (well it’s actually worth about $1.50) needs to be retrieved from the slot at the end of the shopping trip. And you never know what you’ll find at the store here. We’re always on the lookout for hard-to-come-by American imports, and like the typical freiers that we are, have been known to pay $12 for a box of Poptarts (I never ate them in the States, but hey…. nostalgia kicks in) or $9 for a teeny can of albacore tuna. And when you see that product (Brillo, mandarin oranges in a can, Brianna’s salad dressing, molasses, Crisco), you buy it all, because you’ve learned it’s a fluke and you’ll never see it again. Then there’s the fake news of American products which are usually made in Lithuania or Botswana or Upper Korindia. Beware!!

Some things are really fun. Like the Bazooka flavored milk. Israelis love Bazooka. Gum. Milk. Ice cream. Bazooka cakes. We have hot dog buns imprinted with fun slogans like “Summer’s here” and “Time for some Fun.” And the ever-interesting Russian cans of ???? The CIF jug is always my favorite. I have absolutely no idea what it is: laundry or dishwasher detergent? Floor cleaner? Windows? Toilets? Radiator fluid? Your guess is as good as mine. It’s the yellow jug below. But what makes this ultra hysterical (and I mean HYSTERICAL) for us is that Hebrew name. Hebrew is a language with no vowels. Your guess is as good as mine. Plus the letter “P” is also an “F” except when it’s at the beginning of the word, in which case it’s a “P” except for weird exceptions. So when we see that bright yellow jug, we ALWAYS shake our heads and say “Pants steak?????” But if you look closely, it actually reads “Fantastic!” as is fahn-TAH-steeeek. Every. Single. Time. Pants steak. Gotta love it!

Another fun thing you won’t see too often outside of Israel is this: An every day sight here:

It actually makes us feel really safe knowing there are always soldiers around (he’s probably an American lone soldier. He has a jar of Skippy. Maybe I should invite him over for Shabbat dinner?) I also took a picture of the t-shirt another gentleman in the next line/lane was wearing. He wasn’t American. I have this sneaking suspicion…

OR this one: 2021- the year spelling turned deadly –

We really haven’t gone to restaurants for over a year now, but here are a couple mis-spells to make you scratch your head:

If anyone knows what pettrejane is, please let us know. In the meantime, al snarkiness intent ended. The small salad is exactly as it sounds. Just that. A small salad. And don’t you dare ask for dressing!

History Comes Alive at Tel Dan

Come with us on another tiyuul (Hebrew word for field trip) to a most magical place in Northern Israel. It was another perfect day in Paradise, and everyone seemed to be out enjoying a respite from the strict lockdowns over the past two months and from the cold, rainy days of winter. I had always wanted to visit this site – between the natural beauty and Biblical history, Tel Dan more than lived up to our expectations. So, let’s go!!!

Situated at the foot of snow-capped Mt. Hermon and of Mt. Dov adjacent to the Lebanese, Syrian borders, is Tel Dan. In Hebrew a tel is a large hill (or small rounded mountain). First, an introduction to this nature reserve, which will set the scene for the history associated with it. The entire region is lush and verdant, fed by hundreds of underground springs which bubble up to the surface forming little brooks. The brooks run together to form streams, joining up to eventually form the mighty, rushing Dan River. These are the headwaters of the Jordan River which flows into the Sea of Galilee and down into the Dead Sea.

These springs and rivers create are teaming with fresh fish. It is a most fertile area for growing crops. The isolated tel forms a great strategic advantage, as it gives great views in all directions: one can easily see an approaching enemy. It is no wonder that early civilizations settled here. The earliest archaeological findings are of a city first built here in the early-Canaanite period, between 2700 and 2400 BCE. In Genesis chapter 14, we read of the first war in history: the battle of the four kings against the five kings, in which Lot (yup, the nephew of Abraham who later escaped the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah!) is kidnapped. “And when Abram heard that Lot was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them all the way to Dan.” Abram liberated Lot from the hands of his captors here. And it is here, that the ancient city was uncovered!!! Another hurrah for the historical archaeological excavations which confirm Bible history. It is the most remarkable discovery!!! The entrance to the city os formed by a 7 meter tall gate to the city, completely intact – with the earliest complete arch (one of three consecutive arches leading into the city) found in the world and still standing. Incredible to think that the walls and bricks are made of a hard, baked clay. The arches (all three) have been shored up and the entrance to the gate sealed for stability and dare I say, permanent, preservation of the structure. Once it was unearthed, it was subject to rapid deterioration. An impressive arched covering has been erected over the complex to prevent any further damage from weathering. Beautiful basalt steps lead up to the entrance of this ancient fortress/palace/walled city. And here it is, live and in person, thousands of years old. Living history!

This 3700 year old city was known as La’ish. It was also important as it was situated at the junction of trade routes. In the Bible, in the book of Judges, when the spies from the tribe of Dan were sent to La’ish to scout out the region, they saw “the people that were therein, how they dwelt careless.” The tribe of Dan conquered the city, renaming the place Dan, after their ancestor (Judges 18:27-29). Several meters beyond the immense gate (above) lies the ruins of the ‘more modern’ 2500 year old city of Dan. It was expanded during the First Temple period after King Solomon. Israel had become divided into two kingdoms: the Kingdom of Judah in the South (Jerusalem area) and the Kingdom of Israel in the North. During this era, Jeroboam, king of the Northern tribes, led a people’s revolt against the heavy taxes levied by King Rehoboam, the son of King Solomon. By setting up a large administrative center here, Jeroboam tried to draw the population’s attention away from Jerusalem, the capital of Judah. He established his own form of cultic worship here at Dan, going so far as to erect an altar upon which he placed a golden calf for the people to worship instead of G-d. Outside the main entrance to the city are the ruins of the alternate temple with its priestly chambers – and the altar itself!!! Bones of animals were found in front of the altar, and remains of incense and cannabis which were burned were also found on the stone altar itself. So sacrifices to the golden calf and pagan rituals were conducted at this site just outside the city walls. The whole story can be found in 1 Kings:12-13.

Thirty-six years after the reign of Jeroboam, the infamous King Ahab and his evil queen, Jezebel, ruled the area from this place. Ahab further expanded the city to over 50 acres, adding outer walls, storehouses and courtyards. The high walls are made of unhewn basalt rock and carved travertine blocks. The walled city is built right into the slope of the mountain, which also helped to preserve it as the soil and erosion from the top of the mountain downward covered the city over the millennia. The sloping open space that leads up to the entrance of the city, called a glacis, is still there, and it is all quite impressive. It is a huge ‘cobblestoned’ area, a bit like a large courtyard.

It is all quite magnificent. I can only imagine Queen Jezebel in all her make-up and finery, ordering her court necromancers and pretend priests, scheming against the prophet, Elijah. Looking out over the Hula Valley to the south, with all the vineyards, fields and orchards, I see King Ahab, who swindled the poor Naboth out of his vineyard there. I see the altar where the pagan sacrifices actually took place. And sitting high atop the walls of the city, I can only imagine this is the place where the ultimate karma happened and Jezebel fell to her death from a high window (1 Kings:16-21). Shortly after these events, the Assyrian army would sweep down from the North destroying the Kingdom of Israel and scattering the ten tribes into the far corners of the earth.

Another great example of realizing the tiny details of history that I had only read about is the perfectly preserved spot where the elders of the city and the king sat. Just a walk up the sloping cobblestone glacis and through the main gates of the city is an area lined with stone benches. Here sat the elders, ready to settle disputes and greet visitors and deal with the important municipal duties of the town. A little further up the promenade is a large stone dais. There are four ornately carved stones into which poles supporting a canopy would be placed. Under the canopy, the king would sit in a position of importance. The hole in the dais where the stone throne would have been can still be seen in situ. Incredible stuff!!!

Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit the museum at the neighboring Kibbutz Dan. It is here that many of the artifacts found at Tel Dan can be found. There are many tools dating back to Neolithic pre-Canaanite times, as well as incense shovels from the time of the First Temple. Pottery shards, coins, and many other artifacts were discovered during the many digs. Impressive sculptures and a fairly intact painted terra-cotta amphora from Hellenistic times are included in the exhibits there. The most fascinating piece found at the site, now in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, is the Dan Stele. It is a large shard of fossilized tablet dating back to the second half of the ninth century, BCE. In Aramaic is an inscription from King Hazael of Damascus boasting of his victory over the king of Israel and the house of David. It was the first time an actual piece of history with the words “house of David” was discovered from an extra-Biblical source, which testifies to the veracity of the Biblical stories.

All-in-all it was a lovely way to spend Valentines Day. Just being out in nature, hearing the birds (O.K. and the constant whir of drones as they surveyed the border to keep us safe) and the rushing of the waters and laughter of children was enough to feed our weary souls. In one area, the fresh water streams had converged into a little oasis that served as a wading pool. It was in full use by several families. In the heat of summer, the place is always packed with families seeking relief. In typical Israeli fashion, we passed several groups of hikers and of picnickers: Israelis are famous for their love of picnics! Throughout the nature reserve are trails ranging from stroller and wheelchair accessible to the most grueling of steep mountain trails. Everything is well marked and well mapped out. Well-kept restroom facilities are available at all ends of the park, and of course, there is a well-stocked gift shop and snack shop. It has everything needed for a perfect day trip.

Tu b’ Shvat: Fruits and Nuts Galore!

We’re smack-dab in the middle of the rainy season here in Israel. Our summers are hot and dry and much like Southern California, things go from golden brown to crispy rather quickly. We start praying for the early and late rains at the holiday of Sukkot, usually in late October. And we are rarely disappointed! We always get at least a sprinkle. The real rains come in November/December, and if we are fortunate, last until the Passover holiday in April. The hills and mountains and fields come alive again, and Israel begins to look more like Ireland, clothed in her beautiful bright green suit.

Tu b’Shvat is a non-Biblical, minor festival celebrated in January/February (the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat) – the beginning of the agricultural cycle. In Biblical times, worshippers would bring their offerings of fruit to the Temple. Because the ground is now soft and pliant after soaking up all the rain, it is an optimal time for planting trees, hence the New Year for Trees (we were the first to commemorate an Arbor day or Earth Day). According to the ancient Jewish sages, from this day the fruits begin to flourish revealing their true potential, so these mystics and writers of the Talmud created a new tradition. These sages (in the mountain city of Tsfat, right up the road from us) created a Tu b’Shvat seder, a meal with a set order, much like a Passover seder. Fruits and grains associated with the Land of Israel are consumed along with special prayers and readings – and, of course, four cups of wine from white to rosé to red.

The Mizrachi (Middle Eastern) and Sephardic (Spanish) Jews celebrated this feast heartily from the Renaissance until modern day. For Ashkenazi (European) like me – well, not so much. In the depths of winter, when the ground is hard and frozen, who can plant? And who is eating fresh fruit? Tu b’Shvat was always a minor, minor, rather forgettable day, marked by sending money to the JNF to plant trees in the Holy Land in remembrance of a loved one. Living here in Israel has changed my mindset.

For one thing, it’s a time when all the citrus fruits are exploding off the trees. We are blessed to be renting a home with amazingly productive lemon, pomelo, grapefruit, mandarin and clementine trees, and I’ve been picking and preserving for weeks now! (Recipes to follow!!!) Between rainstorms, we go walking in the neighborhood park (that’s about as far as we’re allowed under lockdown) where I’ve been foraging for wild asparagus. Asparagus in the store is super expensive, with a small bunch running upwards of $12.00 for a tiny bunch. So this is the one time of year when we can totally enjoy roasted asparagus with a little olive oil and some grated lemon rind. I harvested enough to make a cream of asparagus soup last week.

We also have the most wonderful, huge concrete planters outside each window. I have each planter filled with different edible delights: kitchen herbs; edible flowers like rose geranium and lavender; and two garden boxes filled with different types of lettuces, which are going gangbusters right now. My husband’s favorite winter green is mâche (pronounced mosh) which I used to grow in my California garden. I brought the seeds with me when we moved. It has a light, sweet, slightly nutty flavor and is great in the salad below. I picked a pomelo off our tree, and assembled the ingredients for the whole thing in less than ten minutes. So here are a few recipes using our local produce to enjoy for Tu b”Shvat:

Mache Salad with Pomelo (serves 4)

Ingredients:

~ 2 cups washed macho leaves ~ 1 large pomelo, peeled, seeded and segmented with pith removed ~ 1/3 cup bleu cheese crumbles ~ 1/4 cup roasted, salted pecan halves ~ 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (the best you can get) ~ 1 Tbsp dijon mustard ~ sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Wash and dry the mache leaves (you might have to separate the little root) and place in a serving bowl. Sprinkle the crumbled bleu cheese on top. Arrange half of the pomelo segments on top of the salad. Sprinkle with pecans. Just before serving, our the dressing over. This is so fresh and delicious, I could eat it all day!

Dressing: Squeeze the juice from the remaining half of the pomelo. Place in a small mixing bowl. Add the dijon mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper. Whisk until a creamy emulsion is reached and pour over the salad.

My grandmother and aunts (from the Polish/Ukrainian shtetl) had the tradition of making the most luxurious eingemacht. They used to serve it during the winter months through the Passover holidays. Eingemacht is a Yiddish word for which there is no real translation. It’s kind of a cross between a chutney and a a preserve or conserve often made with dried fruits (available in the winter) and root veggies like carrots and beets and onions, simmered in honey and spices. Sometimes it would have nuts added in as well. Bubbe used to serve it on warm challah bread, and would use it to fill rugelach, the hamentaschen pastry for the Purim holiday, or spread over matzoh brie (a matzoh and egg frittata). I remember she always had a large crystal jar filled with eingemacht on the table. This is my version-

Eingemacht (makes about 4 pint jars) pareve

Ingredients: ~ 1 pound apples, peeled. cored and chopped ~ 2 cups dried apricots, chopped ~ 2 large brown onions, chopped ~ 1/2 cup brown raisins ~ 1/2 cup large yellow raisins ~ 1 large red bell pepper, chopped ~ 1 cup apple cider vinegar ~ 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar ~ 2 cups honey ~ 2 cinnamon sticks ~ 3-4 garlic cloves, minced ~ 1 tsp each, ground cloves, allspice, coriander, ginger ~ (optional) 1 small red chile or 1/2 tsp dried hot, red pepper flakes ~ 1 orange, rind grated, juice squeezed

Put all the above ingredients in a large heavy-bottomed pot or stainless steel saucepan. (I love my LaCreuset dutch oven for this). Slowly, over medium-high stove, bring to a boil, stirring to mix thoroughly. Let boil for about five minutes, then reduce heat to a low flame. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, on low for about 2 hours, or until a wooden spoon drawn across the base of the pot leaves a thick trail. Make sure to stir so that the mixture doesn’t burn on the bottom. It should begin to thicken and look glossy. Ladle into hot, sterilized jars and seal. You can then process in a hot water bath for 20 minutes. Keeps 1 year in pantry. Refrigerate after opening.

Lemon Curd (makes 3 half-pint jars with some left over) dairy

I’ve played around with this recipe until I’ve come up with a smooth, creamy, lemony sweet spread that we love on warm scones or with challah. I mix it into my goat milk yogurt in the morning and top it all off with a teaspoon of halvah granola for crunch. I’ve also whipped up a fancy and easy dessert that looks like you’ve been slaving in the kitchen, but is simple to make, light and elegant – all I do is buy pre-made tart shells, spoon a tablespoon of the lemon curd in, and top with whipped cream and a mint leaf. It’s also wonderful on the Passover or Easter brunch table.

Ingredients: ~ 4 large lemons, scrubbed and dried ~ 6 eggs, beaten ~ 8 Tbsp unsalted butter, diced ~ 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar

Finely grate the lemon rind and squeeze out all the juice, straining to remove pips. Place the rind (about 4 TBSP) and juice (about 1 1/3 cups) in a heatproof bowl (I use a pyrex bowl) which fits over a saucepan. Stir in the eggs, and add in the butter pieces and the sugar. Place the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water. Make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture becomes thick and glossy and coats the back of a spoon. Spoon into hat, sterilized jars. Seal and store in a cool, dark place. Use within three months. Refrigerate after opening.