The Hebrew Benedict Arnold

As many of you know by now, I am a retired homeschool teacher, having taught my five children from kindergarten through high school. I must say, I miss those days dearly: we were all learning incredibly interesting subjects together. Using a modified Classical curriculum, we studied civilizations chronologically – exploring the lands, the peoples, their cultures, their conflicts and their contributions to society. Whenever possible, I tried to use primary sources, and the ancient historian, Josephus Flavius, was a favorite for learning about both Israel and the Roman occupation during the first century, CE.

The move to Israel has been wonderful for this homeschool geek mom, as so much of the history we studied happened here and there are so many archaeological sites and ruins, fantastically preserved, enabling me to actually see where and how events of the past unfolded.

Josephus was an aristocratic Jewish man, born Yosef ben Mattityahu, in 37 CE in Jerusalem to a wealthy family with priestly lines and connections to both the Sanhedrin and Pharisees. He was well educated in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, and he eventually became governor of the Galilee region, with its seat in Tarichae (Migdal Nunia), better know as Magdala. As he recorded his manuscript, The Jewish Wars, the Roman forces under Nero were set on wiping out the Palestinians (the Romans re-named Israel “Palestine’ as an act of subjugation and humiliation, as the Philistines had been the arch enemy of the Hebrews in centuries past… the name stuck even today). Yosef ben Mattityahu became the general of the Jewish forces, uniting bands zealots bent on overthrowing their oppressors.

Some of my favorite times here in Israel have been spent reading his chronicles and accounts of the battles in the exact spot in which they happened – and being able to imagine what it was like. Many people think that Josephus exaggerated wildly in his writings, but archaeology is proving that what he recounted was indeed factual.

Magdala, a large port city on the Western shore of the Sea of Galilee, was built at the base of the majestic Mount Arbel. It is famous today, because Mary of Magdala, a follower of Jesus, lived there. A bustling place of commerce at the time, important in the fish industry, it was quite the showplace, with villas, a large marketplace, fish processing areas, and an impressive first century synagogue with tiles floors, frescoed walls, and stone columns. The synagogue was not only a place of worship, but had a large yeshiva, or study center. It was a focal point of the town.

Josephus recorded the events that happened at Magdala: it was the year 67, and Roman general, Vespasian and his son, Titus, had already moved through the upper Galilee from the Northwest, taking captives, razing towns, and cutting a wide swath of destruction in their wake. General Vespasian had tens of thousands of troops with him. Magdala was a prime target. The Roman garrisons stationed themselves above the city atop Mount Arbel. For two weeks they laid siege to the place, raining down volley after volley of flaming arrows onto the homes. People from neighboring villages had taken refuge inside the walled city, but it was just a matter of time. What would they do? Josephus writes that they disassembled their beloved synagogue, using the columns, the lintels, and parts of the walls to barricade themselves in. And guess what was unearthed just seven years ago, giving credence to the story? Yup. All the evidence. See picture below:

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The parts are all there, blocking up the main entrance to the marketplace. There are three other areas  (two not yet uncovered) where the synagogue capitals and lintels were used as blockades. But this did not stop the Romans. There was a brutal battle at sea, in which, Josephus states, the entire Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) turned red because of the blood. Yosef ben Mattityahu escaped with a small band of zealots. The rest of the town was wiped out. Able bodied men (quite possibly including a group of Jewish believers in Jesus who walked according to The Way, a peaceful path – more research is underway to flesh out that theory) were taken to the slave trading capital of Tiveria (Tiberius), 3 miles south, before being sent to Caesaria Maritima and then to Rome for the gladiator arena. Tens of thousands of women and children were also trafficked. The town was gutted.

The story takes up again at a very small, but well-defended town built on the slopes of another tall mountain, about 10 miles to the west, Jodpata (present-day Yodfat). This Jewish town was a stronghold of the Jewish rebels. It was to this place Yosef escaped, and Vespasian was all-to-eager to see it fall. Titus, commanding the Fifteenth Legion, united with Vespasian’s famous Fifth and Tenth Legions, 120 calvary from Caesaria and 23 cohorts of Roman troops numbering from 600-1,000 infantrymen each. All totaled, there were over 75,000 Romans. The Jews from the surrounding countryside piled into Jodpata, swelling it to almost 50,000 men, women and children.

Last week, we decided to hike the mountain and re-imagine the siege. Actually, we can see the mountain from our bedroom balcony, as it is only four peaks away from our mountaintop home. It was all as Yosef recorded.

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Yosef ben Mattityahu and his forces, although falling in heaps under the barrage of Roman spears, clung defiantly to the battlements on the northern side of the hill. They were hurling stones and fire over the walls to stave off the enemy. But the Romans had a secret weapon, the Ram, a battering ram in the shape of a ram’s head (the iron ram has been found and although the wood has been replaced, now stands outside the walls of the city) with which they breached the walls.

Josephus later wrote about the events, and how the Jews were throwing the dead bodies of their slain over the double walls to try to stop the Roman forces. Horrifying shrieks from the women and children and groans from the wounded pierced the air. The entire strip of ground that encircled the battlefield adjacent to the ramparts was soaked with blood. The battle raged throughout the night with the Ram continuing to breach the walls. By dawn, the Hebrews inside had tried to fill the breach with the bodies of the fallen hoping to block the route. But the Romans scaled the gangways and entered the town. The legions were using catapults and other seige engines proving too much for the Jews. During the fray, one valiant Jew, Elezar ben Samias, mustered all his strength to hurl a huge stone down fro the ramparts, breaking off the head of the Ram. Then he leapt down, seized the head, and ran with it, back up the mountain, towards the wall of Jodpata. Wearing no armor to protect his body from the Roman spears and arrows, he was pierced at least five times. Pumped with adrenaline, still clutching the Ram’s head, he scaled the wall, taunting the Romans before he finally collapsed. Two other brave Jews, the brothers, Phillip and Neiras from neighboring Rama, charged down the hill, breaking the ranks of the Tenth Legion.

Still, the well-fortified town held out for another 47 days. There was plenty of food stored up, and even though the cisterns were running low, the Romans did not know that. In a move that would later be repeated during the siege of Masada, south of Jerusalem, General Yosef ben Mattityahu ordered the people to soak their garments in water from the cistern and throw them over the walls. If they had water to spare, then the Romans would think they were well fortified. However, Vespasian ordered a final, all-out attack against the Galileans.

In the long run, it was a noble, yet losing battle. The Romans were furious that the routing of these Jews took so long, so they showed no mercy once they entered the town. 1,200 prisoners were sent, in cages, to Rome to face the lions in the arena. Over 40,000 had been massacred. A mass grave was found. Over 40,000 men. women and children were slaughtered. Yosef remained alive, but was found hiding in a cave. After turning himself over to Vespasian, he became the general’s personal slave. Proving himself quite useful – he was literate in at least four languages, well-educated, and agreed to serve as mediator between the Jews and the Romans. Yosef prophesied to his new master that Vespasian would soon become Emperor of Rome after Nero. When, this actually happened in 69 CE, Vespasian granted ben Mattityhu his freedom. He changed his name to Flavius Josephus, taking on the family name of the new dynasty of Emperors. Josephus remained loyal to the Romans, in effect, defecting, serving as advisor and friend to Vespasian’s son, Titus, who would be the emperor after Vespasian.

It was under Titus, that the city of Jerusalem was destroyed and the Jews of Israel were forced into Diaspora in the year 70.  The Arch of Titus in Rome commemorates the Roman victory, showing the legions carrying the menorah and spoils of war back to Rome. Josephus was there to record all of the history. In Israel today, the name Josephus is met with great disdain, for he was a traitor. Synonymous with the name Benedict Arnold in the United States, he is considered by many a treasonous wretch, a coward who hid in a cave and gave himself up rather than fall by the sword. For me, he will forever be a primary source of history. His first-account retelling of battles; his descriptions of the Second Temple in the book Antiquities; his exciting details bought history to life for our little schoolroom and for me today in the Galilee.

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                             (the cave where Josephus hid from the Romans)

The Beauty of the North

I’m currently riding an intense sine wave valiantly battling a miserable flu. However, Sunday morning I was at the crest of the wave, feeling much better, and ready for another adventure. For two weeks it was bitterly cold and rainy with thunder and lightning, hail, near hurricane strength winds and major flooding in many areas. But Sunday was warm and bright and beautiful.

Every other Sunday morning we take our son back to base. I just love the fact that the IDF gives the kids every other Shabbat off to visit family. So bright and early, after taking him to his bus stop, we started our random drive.

People who knew of our former lives in a suburb of Los Angeles ask us why we would choose to live in a more remote part of Israel. Why not near Jerusalem at Tel Aviv – close to culture, action, nightlife, shopping, hospitals, and jobs? Take a good look at the next pictures and you’ll understand part of the reason why here.

The land has transformed into a beautiful emerald green paradise after all the rains. And the view of the snow-capped Mt Hermon beckoned us up into the Golan region once again. After another hard drought-ridden summer, there is now water in abundance. Waterfalls, streams, and springs bubbling out of the ground are everywhere to be found. So…. let’s go!

The photo of the larger waterfall was taken at the lower part of Banias Falls, my absolute favorite place in Israel. This has now become my screenshot on my phone, I love it so much. The rakefet (cyclamen) and kalanit (anemones) are just starting to push through the earth and bloom. It was a pretty chilly day, quite windy all things considered….. yet there are always a few brave youth who venture to shed their outer layer of clothing to take a dip in the icy waters. Just a couple miles North, at the Neve Ativ ski resort (the only one in the MidEast), hundreds of people were taking advantage of the new snow.

There were a couple other mapalim (waterfalls) we had heard about. The rain collects in the aquifers and then spills out into the springs (see above picture of a new spring), running of into the wadis, deep deep gorges cut between the rifts in the mountains. They form new rivers in what were dry beds, which will become dry again by July/August.

So, we drove further south near Katzrin to find the next set of falls.

So, the above sign ended that little hike! The Golan is chock full of military bases, guys training, on bivouac, tank exercises…. you’ll never know what you’ll come across. So we thought nothing of it when we heard the “crack” and saw two white contrails parallel racing Northward in the sky above. John and I would read the news later that night: Iron Dome anti-missile defense shield had just intercepted a surface to surface Iranian missile launched from Syria into the Golan Heights. Whew! Nice going, IDF! Thanks for keeping us safe! Just wish I could have gotten a picture, but I’m sure you can find it online.

Caddy Shack

We used to live in a lovely older neighborhood in Southern California. People worked hard for their homes. Pride of ownership was normal and upkeep and renovations were standard. It was a family-friendly neighborhood, the kind of place where most residents knew and looked out for one another.

A few years ago, there was an unwarranted invasion. The first sign was when all of Justin’s grandma’s tulips and daffodils went missing. There one spring day: gone the next. They moved up to Julie’s house. Left tunnels all over the front yard. The boys had the best time blasting a garden hose full bore into the cavernous holes, only causing them to cave in, creating swampy mess of the lawn. The pests had moved on.

MaryJo was next on the attack list. She went out to garden one fine morning, got her foot caught in the recently dug tunnel and badly wrenched her ankle. The neighborhood was abuzz with stories and consternation. Moles. Definitely moles. No gophers. Definitely gophers. No one had actually seen them, but the devastation stories grew each day.

Front yards. Backyards. Bulbs. Flowers. Gardens full of vegetables. Then they crossed over to our side of the street hell-bent on destruction. Our lovely street became a patchwork of torn up turf. More people were caught unawares and more ankles suffered. Some of our neighbors set traps. Some put out poison. Others fences. A few called exterminators. Nothing seemed to help. My garden (even though our back yard was bounded by walls) was utterly decimated in one night. All gone from celery to peppers. From cucumbers and tomatoes to zucchini. Top to bottom. Gone!!!

Today we’re living in a lovely little neighborhood in Northern Israel. In these Northern communities- moshavim, yishuvim and tiny villages- many could pass for Southern California communities with white stucco walls and red ceramic tile roofs. The neighbors all know one another, and their homes speak pride of ownership. The residents work hard for what they have. They are family friendly. Many of these hamlets are surrounded by olive, cherry, and apple orchards; agricultural lands with neatly growing vegetable rows; nestled in the Upper Galilee Mountains, butting up against the Lebanese Border.

This is not a particularly friendly border. No. On the contrary. It’s the territory of Iran-backed Hizbolla militants. Hizbolla is not a group you’d want to move into your neighborhood. They have terrorized the local Southern Lebanese Christian and Muslim residents and forced them to use their schools and homes to store missiles. (Israel now faces over 150,000 missiles pointed at us from Lebanon). These uninvited Hizbolla terrorists had begun tunneling underground in numerous locations….terror tunnels reinforced with concrete….some wide enough to drive jeeps through… for one purpose only. The tunnels went deep under the earth crossing from Lebanon, underneath the border walls and coming up into Israel… for one purpose only. To kill Jews. Erase Israelis. To kidnap. To start a war.

The IDF at the beginning of last month announced Operation Northern Shield, a full scale operation of finding each and every tunnel, methodically, one by one. As they are discovered, they are blown up from the inside and flooded with concrete.

Since the above meme two weeks ago, three more attack tunnels have been located and are being dealt with. Last week, my husband had to drive up to Metulla, the northernmost town right on the border. He had to pick up some hockey sticks from the Olympic Ice Rink built there by the Canadians (that’s for another story but we do have ice hockey as well as figure skating and curling… go figure. This place never ceases to amaze me!).

I was reticent to have John go up there. A few days prior we received (as US citizens) an official raised-seal note from the US Department of State advising all US citizens of the danger of traveling north of Highway 89 towards the Lebanese border. John assured me he and his friend would be fine. So…. I said at least get some good pictures for the blog!

The first was taken in Metulla (the community in the forefront). In the mid ground you can see fields of vegetables. Beyond that the border wall and the Lebanese town in the background.

The above picture needs some explanation. It’s as close as John could get. Just beyond the newly planted olive orchard is wire fencing put up by the IDF to keep people out of the area being worked on.To the right is the 12 foot border wall separating Israel from Lebanon.There is a cleared out area adjacent with a black rectangular box against the wall. That is a piece of equipment used to find and dig out the tunnel. This area has been cordoned off by the white fencing. To the left, more fencing where the tunnel came out. It has been filled with cement and a pile of boulders placed on top of the egress.

I don’t know how much coverage this has gotten outside of Israel. So far, six such tunnels have been destroyed (including this one). The stakes here are a bit higher than mere tulip bulbs and veggies. We are dealing with innocent families and the potential killing of innocent human beings whose only “crime” is the desire to live quiet, humble lives in their homeland. Not just Jewish Israelis, but Druze, Christian Arameans and other Muslims. It does not matter to Hizbolla, to Iran and the tunneling terrorists.

You can read more about it by doing an internet search. I believe there are several videos on YouTube showing the discovery and decommissioning of the terror tunnels. In the meantime, we are safe and remain grateful to the IDF for the stellar job they do day and night to insure the safety of Israel.

Soup’s On!!!!

The winter holidays are over. All of our guests have departed (it was fun!). The weather is cold, windy and stormy (we badly need the rain, so I’m not complaining!). And I’m now valiantly battling a nasty flu. What better time for hearty, healthy, warming soups???

Here in Israel, “Orange Soup” is all the rage. I first had it on my pilot trip at Miri’s house and then with Racheli. My Israeli friend in LA gave me her recipe. It seems to be a national dish, but each person has their own take on it, depending on their cultural tastes and diet. So, here are three different versions, including my own personal recipe that I’ve developed. Any and all orange vegetables are on the table for this soup – and a wide range of spices is typical.

Shoshanna’s Squash Soup

This is a lovely soup, but if you are keeping a Kosher kitchen, notice it’s a meat dish as it uses chicken stock.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • 1 medium acorn squash, halved
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/3 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/8 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1/4 cup sherry

Roast sweet potatoes and squash in a 200*C/400* F oven until softened. Cover the veggies with foil so they don’t dry out. When cool, scoop out flesh and mash in large bowl.

In stockpot, sauté the onion in canola until translucent. Add the breadcrumbs and stir a few minutes on medium heat to lightly toast. Add the water and chicken stock. Add the mashed veggies. Simmer soup for 20 minutes while adding spices. Purée with immersion blender and cook another half hour. Add sherry before serving. Can top with crushed pistachios and parsley.

Tamar’s Vegan Thai Orange Soup

I decided to do a parve, vegan take on it so I can serve this with a meat or dairy meal. The flavors are warming and bold. We love it the next day….. and I make enough to freeze a couple batches in freezer bags after it’s cooled. Add some toasted fresh croutons to the top, and you have a hearty meal.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large brown onions, chopped
  • 2 large green apples (or pears), peeled and sliced
  • 2Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 large butternut squash, halved
  • 3 cups carrots, peeled and cut in chunks
  • 1 can pumpkin or 2 large pieces of pumpkin
  • 2 heaping tsp yellow curry powder
  • 1 tsp Garam Masala powder
  • 1 can coconut milk(liquid)
  • 2 cups water
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Roast the veggies with a little coconut oil in a foil covered sheet pan at 200*C/400*F oven for about 40 minutes or until soft.

In large stockpot, melt coconut oil over medium heat. Add apples and onions, stirring until translucent. Mix in the curry and garam masala powders and cook another 2 minutes until fragrance is released. Add in water and coconut milk and stir.

Remove flesh from squash, and pumpkin. Add all the veggies to soup and purée with immersion blender. Salt and pepper to taste.

Tzippy’s Ashkenazi Orange Soup

This one is a tasty, dairy version. It comes from Eastern Europe and reflects the tastes of that region. It is traditional to use potatoes as a thickener, great the next day, and can even be served cold like a vichyssoise.

Ingredients:

  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/2 inch circles
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1 large leek, washed and sliced (white part only)
  • 1 medium onion, peeled & sliced
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 Tbsp butter (25 g)
  • 4 Tbsp light cream (15%)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 Tbsp minced chives

Slice all veggies finely, except carrots, which should be grated. Melt the butter in a heavy pot. Add veggies and toss to coat in butter. Cover and ‘sweat’ for 10 minutes over medium high heat. Uncover and add water, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until tender-about 45 minutes. Remove bay leaf and blend until creamy. Add milk, stirring thoroughly. Taste for more salt and pepper. Just before serving, add the cream and chopped chives. Better if allowed to stand/simmer up to 6 hours.

Osnat’s Egyptian Orange Soup

I love this spicy, sweet take on the standard soup. It has layers and layers of depth and is amazing served with pomegranate arils and of course, spiced chickpeas on top!! Yum!!! This can be made with chicken stock for a meat meal or veggie stock to go pareve.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 large carrots, peeled & sliced
  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled & sliced
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed. Reserve 1/4 cup
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne or chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 5 medjool dates, pitted
  • 1/3 cup dried apricots
  • 6 cups chicken or veggie stock
  • 1/2 lemon, zested and squeezed of juice

In large pot on medium high heat, cook veggies in olive oil until tender. Add garlic, spices and dates and stir as they release fragrance, about 2 minutes. Pour in liquid broth. Heat to a gentle boil for about 5 minutes. Lower heat to simmer and add chickpeas minus reserved 1/3 cup. Blend until smooth with immersion blender. Add the lemon juice and zest. Before serving, heat 1 tsp olive oil and 1/4 tsp each salt and cayenne or chili powder in small pan. Add chickpeas to coat. Stir as they toast, about 2-3 minutes. Serve on top of soup with a drop or two of the oil and pomegranate arils.

The last soup is our favorite right now. Great the next day, and freezes well. It’s earthy and filling. We love it with grilled smoked Gouda sandwiches made with artisan whole grain bread and apple slices tucked inside. The soup is vegan and pareve. As they say in Israel, “B’tayavon!!!”

Tamar’s Zucchini Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 brown onion, peeled & chopped
  • 1 basket brown mushrooms, sliced
  • 2-3 large zucchini, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 5 sage leaves or 1 tsp dried sage
  • 2 tsp thyme
  • Garlic salt to taste
  • 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 6 cups water or veggie broth

In large pot, sauté the onion, shrooms and zucchini slices on medium high heat until soft. Add the sage and thyme. Continue to heat, stirring an additional 2-3 minutes. Pour in the liquid and bring to slight boil about 5 minutes. Purée with immersion blender and add garlic salt and pepper. Serve hot with toasted garlic croutons.

The Long & Winding Road

I’m sure you’ve had one of those weeks: busy, stressful, and full of bad news. What’s new, right? It’s times like these that I especially need an escape hatch. Yesterday, the badly needed weeklong rains had cleared and the day was crisp and cool, the air clean and fresh. It started out with a list of errands I had to run, but then I saw them!!!!

The Galilee is filled with olive groves. They are EVERYWHERE!!! In the valleys; up mountain slopes; in parks; on the sides of the highways. They stretch for endless miles as far as the eye can see. Some are centuries old, ancient twisted trunks that stand almost human-like as sentient beings, wizened and twisted from their long lives. They are survivors. Then, there are groves of newly planted baby trees, not yet old enough to be fruitful, not remembering past wars fought in their fields or missiles from the past conflicts.

On this particular excursion, the sun was shining on the still-wet leaves. A prism of rainbow diamonds sparkling by the roadside. Add to that the newly green grass growing from the recent rain, and I just had to pull over. I had to walk through the olive groves, breathing deeply the fresh, clean, mountain air…. and taking lots of photos.

In a bit of a better mood, I stopped by a little store at the side of the road and they had freshly pressed olive oils to sample. Just made the week before (I said fresh!). So many different varieties from strong and acidic to rich, sweet and buttery. I’ve never tasted anything so amazingly wonderful, so I bought a large (gallon?) tin as a splurge… the price was amazingly reasonable too, so….

I decided to take another route home… I had some free time, and it was a road I had never before traveled. A road not taken… a road of adventure! No other cars in sight!!! It was definitely not a main, heavily used route… just a simple single lane that beckoned to me from my right…

The mountains were glorious! I turned up the music of Idan Raichel and rolled down the windows to smell the sages, rosemaries, mint, and wild mountain thyme and oreganos. Stopping the car several times to get out and view those beautiful rolling mountains dotted with villages; to take in the sheer gorgeousness of it all…. and to see if I could spot our house off in the distance (note to self: ALWAYS bring the binoculars!!).

Spectacular! Cloud shadows racing along the rolling hills. The Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) way off in the distance to the East. I passed Bedouin shepherds tending their flocks of goats. Cows grazing in pastureland. Beautiful birds I’d never seen. This was what my spirit needed badly!

More olive orchards! More ribbon of single lane country road flossing back and forth between mountains. And then, there it was! Stretched out before me, the azure blue Mediterranean! Yes. That’s it off in the distance! Can you see it? Isn’t it beautiful????

It was just what I needed to clear my head and remind me of the blessing it is to live here. To stop by the side of the road (yet again!!!) sit on a rock and say a prayer of thanks and praise…. and for G-d’s protection upon us and this land.

I did finally make it to my destinations, but with more of a spring in my step – an attitude adjustment. I promised myself to take more time to take more time… and savor the moments. I promised myself to take a small picnic basket, my husband… and the binos…. the next available free day.

Here is another shot I took from the mountain ridge looking down on our lovely city:

Sometimes the road is long and winding. Sometimes we take unknown paths. There are times we unexpectedly have to stop (sheep herder crossing the road) for obstacles in the path. Other times there are detours. But it’s all part of the trip. Our challenge is to get out and make the most of those sudden bursts of beauty. To let the Creator into our souls so that our spirits are transfigured for the next leg of journey.

I’m glad you were able to “come with me” for this one! Hopefully we can hit the road again soon. Until then-

Stone Circles and Asherah Poles

So, I need to make a confession to you. For the past 22 years, I’ve been a huge Outlander (Diana Gabaldon) fan. When we visited Scotland two summers ago, we even traveled to Orkney to see the stone circles there.That said, I had no idea we have them here in Israel!!!!

Every two weeks we travel up to Hazor to take our son to his bus back to base. And for the past couple years we’ve passed this supposedly phenomenal archaeological site off the main road through the Hula Valley. Every time, I tell my husband, “You know, we should check this place out.” or “It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.” or “One day we should stop off at Tel Hazor.”

Last week, it was a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning, and we needed a bit of a break, so- we did it. And were not disappointed. In the least.

In Hebrew, a Tel is a hill, and this tall mesa just north of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) offered sweeping vistas of the Kinneret, the entire Hula Valley and the rising mountain ridge of the Golan to the east. Easy to see why this was a prime location defensively to build a city.

Hazor has a long history. In the 1750s BCE, it was first settled by (occupying) Egyptians as a vassal state among the Canaanites. It is mentioned several times in the Bible: in Joshua 11:10, Hazor is referred to as ” the head of all the kingdoms.” In the book of Judges, it was the stronghold of King Jabin. The king who sent his army under the command of Sisera to march a day to the South towards Mt Tabor. As the story goes, under Deborah (mother and judge in Israel), the lovely Yael goes into Siseras tent, serves him honeyed milk to lull him to sleep, then drives a tent peg into his temples. Yikes! So much for the invading Canaanite army.

Taken over by the Israelites, the city, built atop the old Canaanite ruins, grew to become the largest fortified city in the land of Israel. Situated between Damascus and Jerusalem, it was right off a main travel route. Hazor was greatly expanded under King Solomon, who added the city gates and place in the 10th century.

You have to really use your imagination at some of these archaeological sites to recreate the actual structures, but the throne room was quite amazing. The walls are made from an earthen straw mixture (aids in dating) and to see the ancient straw pieces still embedded in the bricks is incredible.

And if that’s not enough, there’s an actual footprint left behind in the earthen floor from millennia past!

Under the rule of the Biblical King Ahab (yup, that’s Jezebel’s husband! They lived here!!), an incredibly monstrous water cistern, a temple (pagan?) and citadel were added in the upper city. We hiked to the edge of the cistern. John decided to take the winding (modern/added) stairs down to the bottom of the well and visit the tunnels below while I took photos from above. I have no idea how they accomplished this tremendous feat, but it was a spectacular accomplishment!

That’s a wow!!! Right?? So, the upper city also included a citadel or watch tower, and basic housing.

OK. See the stone standing in the lower right quadrant? Mostly they were made of wood, but this one was stone. In the temple. It’s an Asherah pole. So, these Israelites, especially Ahab and Jezebel, at times worshipped pagan gods. Asherah was a cultic goddess, the partener of Baal. It was a kind of orgiastic fertility cult. To whom sacrifices were offered. Child sacrifices. Pretty creepy.

As if that wasn’t surprising enough, the lower city had the archaeological ruins of a Bronze Age Canaanite civilization. And it was there I discovered the stone circle! Yeah. The one with the pit in front… where bones had been found. So totally creepy! And no, I did not go near this one. Who knew there were stone circles outside of Europe? But supposedly at certain times of the year, astronomical and solar line-ups would occur. Around those stones. And I have no doubt these early superstitious people made sacrifices. And not just animal immolations. Double yikes and totally creepiness felt here…

Besides the palace, temple and city ruins, is a large colunnaded storehouse and great examples of old dwellings. There’s also a small museum with artifacts taken from the site.

In around 732 BCE, Hazor was invaded by the Assyrians. The tribe of Naftali living in the area were taken into captivity along with all the other tribes of Israel living north of Judea and Samaria. It was completely razed and burnt to the ground.

Despite the fact that this year Israel has been having a record-breaking amount of tourists visiting, we had the entire place to ourselves. Not one other person was there, which also added to the ambiance of the place. I’m glad this time we took the opportunity and made the stop.

Garden to Table-Israel Style

Eat only what is in season.” Rambam

Shopping here is always a fun adventure, especially in the local produce markets and spice shops. Everything is written in Hebrew, so I’ve had to learn new words for familiar fruits and vegetables. Plus there’s an endless amount of produce I’ve never seen before. Luckily, there’s always an old woman, Jewish, Arab or Druze, to ask.

“What is this????” New word bonus points for me! “What do I do with it?” And then the magic happens as I get a knowing multiplicity of recipes, many sounding tantalizingly delicious. Food has a way of cutting through boundaries and preconceived prejudices. These women NEVER disappoint, and often an overhearing man or two will chime in with “even better” suggestions. It’s quite the amazing thing.

Everything is offered seasonally. You will never find berries or stone fruit in November, and don’t expect to find pomegranates or persimmons in April, because they are fall fruits. Produce here is all grown locally. What I can’t find, because it’s not grown (yet) in Israel, I try to supplement in my garden- rutabagas, parsnips, mache, golden and choggia beets, broccolini, rainbow colored carrots and chard….

And there are amazing fresh olive bars. Not just black and green olives, but vats and vats of kalamata, blue, brown, red and gray types. They come brined in salt or oil with a myriad of spices or lemon or chilies. Some are stuffed with nuts, dried fruits and peels or garlic cloves. And they are so so so cheap as this is the olive growing capital of the world! Another different thing is the mushroom bar. Because we have so many Russians here, the marinated mushrooms are a specialty.

And the spices!!! There’s nothing like using fresh nutmeg, turmeric, zataar, and the like. I have my own “spice guy” I frequent in Akko. He makes me fresh curries and baharat, a blend of powdered cloves, allspice, pepper, cardamom, cinnamon and other ingredients secret to him. Each spice shop owner makes ras al hanoot, a secret spice blend special for that shop owner. Sometimes spicy, salty, nutty or exotic.

So, now I will leave you with a couple of my latest seasonal recipes. They are to die for delish!!! The first was a creation of my friend, Hadassah. She calls it her November Salad, because it has produce available here this month. I eat it at breakfast and lunch. For a light snack or a sweet, healthy dessert. It’s really healthy and colorful, crunchy, fresh and full of antioxidants. It uses a root veggie called kohlrabi, but if you can’t find that, just substitute jicama.

November Salad

  • 2 large, firm persimmons
  • 1 large green kohlrabi
  • 1/2 large or 1 small pomegranate
  • 1 bunch (6-8 large) radishes
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1 handful of mint, finely chopped

The secret here is the cut, to make it beautiful. Chop the persimmons, kohlrabi and radishes into matchstick julienned pieces. Add to this finely chopped mint. Squeeze the lemon juice on top. Add pomegranate arils. Toss and serve cold. It’s that easy and won’t disappoint!

At this time of year in the Hebrew calendar, we read the Biblical portion in Genesis of the story of Jacob and Esau. The part where Esau comes home from a long hunt and is so ravenous that he sells his birthright for a bowl of his brother Jacob’s red lentil stew. (Because this is a typical dish served in Jewish homes during a mourning period, rabbis say it was being made for mourning Abraham’s death). Anyway, that must have been some stew!!! Every year, I make a version of the red stuff, and this year I tried to cobble together one that would be typical to Israel. So- here goes-

  • 1 cup little orange lentils
  • 1 cup little black/brown lentils
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper, ground
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cans crushed tomatoes
  • 6-8 pitted dates
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded & cubed
  • Handful of parsley or cuzbara(cilantro) leaves

The first step is to soak the lentils in a bowl of very hot/boiling water to soften. While the lentils are soaking, chop the onion and garlic. In very large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and garlic. Cook on medium heat for 5-7 minutes to soften. Add the spices and continue to cook for 3-5 minutes to release their fragrance. Add the vegetable broth. Drain lentils and add to pot. Let the mixture come to a boil, stirring well. Add the pitted dates. Add the tomatoes, juice and all. Let simmer on low heat for a couple hours. You may want to add water as it cooks down, but should be a thick stew. The longer it cooks, the better the flavor. While the stew is cooking, peel, seed and cube a small butternut squash. Place the cubes on a silpat lined baking sheet. Toss with olive oil, salt & pepper to coat. Roast in 400*F/200*C oven for 12-15 minutes until the pieces are just tender. When ready to serve, spoon the lentil stew into bowls and add a small handful of squash cubes. Top with parsley or cilantro/cuzbara.

This recipe cans/jars or freezes well so you can enjoy it on cold winter days. Serve it over rice. Garnish with crispy fried onions. It’s absolutely worthy of a birthright…almost…