Chanukah Adventure 2021


For this former homeschooling mom, moving to Israel has been a history geek’s dream-come-true. The place is jam-packed with historical sites from ancient to modern times. I’ve always been interested in the origins of some of the Bible stories I grew up hearing(especially around the festival of Chanukah). I was familiar with the exploits of Judah Maccabee and his band of ragtag fighters; of the valiant heroine Judith; of the high-drama tragedy of Channah and her seven martyred sons, but couldn’t locate any of them in the Scriptures. Aha!!! I discovered them in the Catholic Bible and in the writings of Josephus (Matityahu Josephus Flavius).

John and I have been spending the last couple months pouring over the First and Second Books of the Maccabees and subsequent historical accounts by Josephus. It’s not that the Jews and the Protestants erased these books, per se: it’s just that they don’t rely on them as Canon. Maccabees and Judith are books in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible written by the Hellenistic Jews in exile. They are classified as Apochryphal books by some theologians. Yet these stories have been passed on as an important part of the Jewish oral tradition, and Josephus, a Jewish Israeli historian who wrote for the Romans in the first century, corroborates these accounts. Archeological finds substantiate the rest.

Anyway, that said, it was time for a road trip, our first in months. It would have to be very special – just for Chanukah. Last year we went to Tsfat to find the burial tombs of Channah and her sons, as well as the high cliff dwellings and fortress on Mt. Arbel where the Hashmonean resistance fought off the Greco-Syrian army (see 5 December, 2020 post). This year, it would be Modi’in, site of the battlefields and of the burial place of the Maccabees. Modi’in is now a large, modern city halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Let me take you back in time a couple thousand years.

It began around 167 BCE, when the Greek army under Antiochus arrived in Israel to quell the Jewish forces and colonize the land. Conquering their way to Jerusalem, the Greeks commanded Matityahu, the High Priest, to sacrifice a pig (forbidden meat) upon the Temple altar to their Greek gods. He refused. Antiochus Epiphanes mandated that the Jews would not be allowed to keep their religion. No Sabbath. No Torah study. No circumcision. No weddings or Bar Mitzvahs. Gymnasia would be built. Academia. Pagan temples. Statues of Greek gods erected in the town squares and now-desecrated holy Temple. The elderly priest fled with his sons and the Resistance to the hills and fields of Modi’in to begin their guerilla campaign. After the death of Matityahu, his son, Judah took over as the Jewish leader. They marched into battle against the world’s largest army of the time, carrying flags emblazoned with the words, ”Who is Like Our G-d?” In Hebrew, the phrase is ”Mee camokha ba’alim Adoshem,” and the first letters spell out the nickname ”MaCaBee,” the rulers of the Hashmonean Dynasty. There were many, many battles between the Greco-Syrian army and the Jewish Hashmoneans. The entire war lasted decades after the Temple Mount was reclaimed, cleaned and rededicated. The Books of Maccabees are exciting reading and recount the entire history. Highly recommended!

We decided to make our own personal connection to the narrative and visit the sites. Several surprises awaited us. Following the roadsigns off Highway 433 near Modi’in, we followed a dirt road. Lots of cars were parked on either side, so we knew we’d arrived. John and I were perplexed by what sounded like rave music coming from the woods. Tents. Pop-up campers. Old sofas. Intensely religious Haredi Jews. Hippie families. And in the middle, a large stone structure with a domed top. It was a wild scene. A happening.

We were all here for a special Chanukah experience. The hub of it seemed to be this building, the tomb of the High Priest Matityahu the Macabee. It was a hive of activity, with people going in and out and milling about. A fitting place to start. I lit a candle and said some prayers, prayers of thanksgiving and prayers for protection of this land and her people. Prayers for the wisdom of today’s leaders. It was so moving.

All around were small groups of campers, much like the Macabee band, I thought. Some were praying, a few were studying Scripture. Families were cooking over campfires. Kids were playing in the woods. People were playing instruments. It was all quite loosely organized. Next, John and I made the short drive down the mountain. There were hikers everywhere and even caravans of dune buggies out for fun. We met up with an interesting and friendly group. The men were old army buddies, and each year when school is out for Chanukah, the families all make a camping trip together somewhere in Israel. This is so typical of Israeli life.


I spoke for awhile in Hebrew with the young families.They had come from as far away as the Golan, Judea and Beersheva. And they really wanted a group picture, so i gladly obliged. They pointed us in the direction of the tombs from the Maccabean era, but first a little stop to visit the battlefields along the way. No huge monuments of historical markers as in the United States. Just open spaces with tiny deer leaping across the plains.

No crutches! I’m walking again!! on the battlefields of Modi’in

There was some small Hebrew lettering spray-painted on a rock alongside the road. We almost missed it, but it marked the way to something spectacular: Macabee tombs!!!

The bones had long since disappeared, but the tombs remained. Carved into the stone with huge boulders shaped to cover each opening, the rocky landscape was dotted with the ancient tombs! I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Every so often, between the hewn tombs, were little bone pits. As was the custom, a body would be lowered into the hole then placed into the carved-out slot. The boulder was then rolled over the tomb and left there for a year, after which the bones would be removed and placed into the nearby bone pit. Then the burial site could be recycled for another body.

Did i mention how rockin’ awesome this was? John had so much fun hopping from hole to hole then going exploring. It was hard to keep up. Deep in the underbrush, he found ancient walls, stacked blocks. An old fortress? A synagogue? This is where a guide or an archaeologist would have come in handy. Upon further examination, John found what appeared to be an underground shaft or tunnel. It was blocked by several large round rocks, which of course, he had to try to roll away. Whatever this structure was, had once been quite extensive, judging by the size of the foundation.

Not far from the National Forest is the Hashmonean Village/Museum, a re-creation of an ancient village. There is a fee to enter, but it includes guided tours, static displays, cases of oil lamps, ancient pottery, tools and coins found in the area from that time period.

Not only is this a historical Biblical site, but it was instrumental in the 1948 War for Independence. The Ben Shemen Youth Kibbutz was located here and surrounded by Arab villages. Several important battles were fought here in ’48. Control of the surrounding hills was essential in order to ensure freedom of action at the Lod Airport (now Ben Gurion), and to keep safe passageway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. During the operation, for the first time in history five brigades came under one central command, the nascent Israel Defense Forces.

There is a monument to the young soldiers who fell in this area. Fittingly, it ties the valiant Macabees of old to those who died to secure the land in 1948. Eight concrete flames, like the flames of the Chanukah menorah, rise to the sky. According to First Maccabees 13:28 Shimon, brother of Judah, set up seven pyramid-shaped stone markers for the graves of his family: for his parents, for his four brothers killed in battles- Elazar, Yehudah, Yochanan and Yonatan as well as his own. This modern monument is also an homage to the former.

It’s All About the ”Red Stuff!”

Middle Eastern Red Lentil Stew (vegan!)

Yaakov (Jacob) simmered a stew, and Esav (Esau) came in from the field, and he was exhausted. Esav said to Yaakov, ‘Pour into me now some of that very red stuff for I am exhausted.’(From then on they called him Edom) Yaakov said, ’Sell me today your birthright.’ And Esav said, ’ ’Look, I am going to die, so of what use to me is a birthright?’ Yaakov said, ’ Swear to me this day;’ he swore to him and sold his entire inheritance to Yaakov. Yaakov gave Esav bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and got up and left; thus, Esav spurned the birthright.

Each year we read through the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. I have always loved the story of the two brothers, Jacob and Esau, on so many levels. It’s so descriptive. And I’m a real foodie, so I appreciate that it centers around food – but to sell off my entire inheritance (Esav, the oldest brother was a son of Yitzhak (Isaac), and grandson of Father Abraham, the Patriarch: two incredibly wealthy men). He had to be mighty hangry!!! And that must have been some mighty delish stew!! Each year I try to test a new recipe for that ’red stuff,’ so now I’m going to share three of my favorites. So glad I had this blogpost in reserve to pull out for you all. This year’s trio is decidedly MiddleEastern, as I’m trying to be more authentic and historical. Next year, I’ll actually be up and able to make them… in the meantime, somebody bring some of that mejaddra!!

– Genesis 25:29-33

The first recipe is true Middle Eastern comfort food. I think my tastes are changing a bit from strictly Western to other things. I first had this on my pilot trip to Israel in 2014. I hadn’t really eaten much in a couple of days because I was so on the go, and I was starving. Like Esau. In the ancient city of Tsfat in the Upper Galilee, I met a native Israeli family who invited me in to their home for lunch. They served the most delicious dish: simple home cooking. The perfect, satisfying, filling, comfort food, and so easy to make. It’s not red stew, but a combination of rice, lentils and fried onions. We feasted on freshly-made cheeses, mejaddra, and yogurt. And afterwards the father brought out a carafe of strong Turkish coffee infused with cardamom, which we sipped from tiny demitasse cups while eating a little piece of halvah. It was the best, just an unforgettable moment of Israeli hospitality. So glad I snapped photos of it back then. What I wouldn’t give for this plate of mejaddra now…. I hope you enjoy!

Mejaddra

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 3 large brown onions (the onions are the star of the show here)
  • 1 cup dried brown lentils (or 1 can lentils, liquid reserved)
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 cup Basmati rice
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp powdered cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 3 cups of water or vegetable stock, or if you are using dried lentils, the boiled lentil water)

In separate bowls, soak the rice and the lentils for a couple hours, straining out and changing the water twice. Next, drain off the lentil water and place the lentils in a medium sized pot. Cover the lentils completely with water with a good inch more over the top of the lentils. Add about a tsp salt and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to simmer and cook about 20-30 minutes until the lentils are tender. NOT MUSHY! Drain off the lentils SAVING THE LENTIL WATER! (If you are opting for the quicker, canned lentils, drain, reserving the liquid.)

Thinly slice the onion. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with salt and flour. Toss to coat the onion in the flour. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or medium sized pot. When glistening, add the onion slices and fry up for 10-12 minutes until the onions are a crispy brown. DO NOT BURN!! Transfer out the crispy onions to a paper-towel lined plate. In the same heavy saucepan in which the onions were cooked, add the cumin and coriander seeds. It should become quite fragrant after heating for about a minute. Now add in the drained rice and the remaining powdered spices. Stir to coat the rice in the oil and spice. Add in the lentils and reserved lentil water. The liquid should measure 3 cups. If necessary, add in more water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to low and cover. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Uncover and fluff rice. season with salt to taste.

Spoon the rice-lentil mixture onto a large plate or bowl and top with the crispy fried onions. If you’d like, you can top it off with a small handful of chopped parsley or cilantro.

This next soup is more of an accurately Biblical lentil dish. the spices and the red lentils really bring out that glorious color:

Red Lentil Soup vegan

Now this red lentil soup is the real deal. The Red Stuff. Esav’s Bane. True flavors of the Levant. Israeli cooking, whatever that is. It’s fragrant, filling, flavorsome, fantastic. I think once Esav got a whiff of this soup, he was justified in saying, “Just pour it right down my throat, Bro!” Not only a lovely soup, but the lentils are just full of protein, so it is quite life-sustaining.

Jacob’s Big Boilin’ Pot of Red Stuff, aka Red Lentil Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 5 cups vegetable broth (or water or a combo of both)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne or chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt
  • 1 lemon, cut up
  • optional garnishes: chopped parsley or cilantro; yogurt; crumbled feta cheese bits (we’re keeping it Israeli)

In a large bowl, soak the lentils for about two hours, straining out and replacing the water at least once. Heat olive oil in a medium/large pot. When glistening, add in the garlic, onion, and bay leaf until the onion is soft and fragrant. Add in carrot slices and cook, stirring about 2-3 minutes. Mix in all the spices with about 1/4 cup of the veggie broth or water. It will be very rich in color and very fragrant. Add in drained lentils and 5 cups of veggie broth or water. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to a simmer and let gently cook on low heat for 20 minutes. The lentils should be tender/ slightly chewy, but not mushy.

I keep the soup chunky. It’s more rustic and has more of a Biblical feel to it that way, but feel free to puree it with an immersion blender. Add salt to taste, and garnish with the chopped herbs. Serve with a wedge of lemon on the side, which can be squeezed into the soup at table. You can also add crumbled (goat) on top. This is great served with light, fluffy Israeli pita and humus (NOT the American cardboard that passes as pita!!) or pieces of crusty, wholegrain bread.

But I like the idea of a red stew. A stick to your ribs kind of meal. Hearty and healthy.

Hearty Red Lentil Stew with Chickpeas and Pumpkin vegan

This is the one! The lentil stew to sell a birthright for …. almost … not quite. But still, this is the one I was making all last winter that is, quite frankly, one of my favorites. It can be made in a crockpot for a Shabbat lunch (perfect for this weekend!). Great lefovers. Freezes well.

We have lots of pumpkin here. Big, huge, light brown monsters that are cut into wedges and sold fresh at the market. Our dlaat is a staple food here. As is the lentil. As is the humus. Not the paste, but the bean. The Hebrew and Arabic word for chickpea is actually humus, pronounced KHOO- moose. I’ve tried to keep this stew as authentically Biblical, using foods indigenous to this region. If you are a geeky homeschool mom (ME!!), then this is a perfect food to cook with the kids as a historical re-creation. Enjoy!!

HEARTY RED LENTIL STEW WITH CHICKPEAS AND PUMPKIN


Ingredients:

  • 1 1/5 cups red lentils
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained (15 ounce/ 425 g)
  • 1 kg/ 2 pounds of peeled, chopped pumpkin cubes or butternut squash cubes
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 28 ounce/794 g can chopped tomatoes, with the liquid
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne or chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp paprrika
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • salt, to taste
  • garnishes: lemon wedges; chopped herbs (parsley, cilantro, zaatar), grated nutmeg, (goat) yogurt

In a medium bowl, soak lentils in water for about two hours, changing the water at least once in the process. Heat olive oil on medium high heat until shimmering, then add the garlic and onion, sautéing until soft. Add in the spices and 1/2 cup of the broth to form a red, fragrant paste with the onions. Cook about 2 minutes. Now add the rest of the broth. Mix in uncooked squash or pumpkin cubes, the undrained canned tomatoes, and the drained lentils. Pour the chickpeas into a strainer, drain, and rinse under cold water. Let drain and add to pot. Stir until well mixed. Bring to a slight boil, then turn down heat to low and let simmer at least an hour. Add salt to taste. Cook low and slow, the longer the better, stirring the bottom and sides every half hour to prevent sticking.

Garnish with lemon wedges, chopped herbs, yogurt, or sour cream. Serve with soft, fluffy pita, or a hearty whole grain sourdough. Makes great leftovers. Freezes well. This is also a fantastic crockpot meal for Shabbat.

A Diversity of Cultures

When last I wrote, I think I was still in the hospital – I can’t even remember any more. So much has been happening both globally and domestically in just the past couple months that it makes my head spin! I’m home, post a very extensive back surgery. After putting out a call for meals, I got a few real winners – one, a whole Indian dinner from a Mumbai immigrant that was so surprising and so phenomenal that I promise to devote an entire blog just to her story and her food. She’s in Austria now, but as soon as she returns I hope to be up to spending a day in the kitchen with her, learning her secrets.

This was the BEST Indian food ever!!!! The red at 7 o’clock on the plate is a roasted Tandoori cabbage slice!!!

The diversity of cultures here always astounds me. Israel is truly a melting pot in every sense of the word. Claudia’s family came from from Damascus in 1949. The dishes she brought us are very typical of the cuisine of the region. I found her Makhloubeh , a very simple chicken and rice dish to be entirely flavorsome and entirely satisfying. It’s economical and nicely spiced. She also brought us kishou (KEY-shoo) squash, cored, stuffed with a spiced meat, rice and tomato, swimming in a tomato sauce.

Before I start with recipes, I’d like to share our conversaton. She came up to my bedroom to find out how I was doing. I find Israelis to be much more forward than we Americans. “What did the doctor do? Who was the doctor? Which hospital?”Then, “How was I doing now? Was I swelling? Did I run a fever? (Do you have heat? was how she put it-) Was I going to the bathroom regularly? What was I drinking and eating? Was I getting up and walking?” She’s not a nurse. She’s a tour guide, a beautiful woman in her forties. When she found out I was eating lots of salads and raw fruits, she was horrified (I was trying to keep food prep as simple as possible for my husband, who was lacking in culinary skills). “After surgery, you must only eat hot foods! Cooked foods. Soups. Never anything raw. Certainly never raw vegetables!” I had never heard this before, and she thought I was completely off my rocker for not knowing this fact, although I never did find out why this was. And never, ever, ever, under any circumstances drink cold drinks!!

Anyway, it was so nice of her. And the Makhloubeh was lovely. John was quite impressed and took a picture of it before serving.

MAKHLOUBEH (meat/basari)

The dish is an all-in-one meat, veggie and rice “cake.” The word makhloob means upside down in Arabic. It’s a Middle Eastern comfort food. Many of these recipes are found throughout the Levant, from Iraq to Egypt, with lots of family or ethnic variations: differences in vegetables, meats or spices used. The following recipes were not tested by me, but Claudia assured me they are very easy to assemble. Some of the instructions are from her memory and taste and not measured. Both serve about 6 generous portions.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large potato, peeled and sliced in 1/2 inch/ 1 cm rounds
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced in 1/2 in/ 1cm coins
  • 1 medium brown onion, peeled and sliced
  • 1 small purple eggplant, sliced
  • 1 small head of cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 small can or package tomato paste
  • 1kg/ 2 pounds chicken, cut up: 2 legs, 4 thighs, cut up, skin on.
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 cups rice
  • 2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1TBSP salt
  • 1 TBSP black pepper
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cumin

Slice the veggies. Sprinkle salt on the eggplant and potato; let stand for 5 minutes and then rinse. Soak the rice in a bowl of very warm salted water. In a large pot, add extra virgin olive oil to generously coat the bottom. Heat the oil, then add the onion, potato, carrot and cauliflower. Cook, stirring until slightly soft. Now add the spices. Continue to cook, stirring to coat the veggies. The vegetables will be soft. Add the tomato paste, a heaping serving spoon and stir in. Next add in the eggplant. When all is nice and soft, remove the veggies to a paper-lined platter, leaving the sauce behind. Place the cut up chicken pieces over into the pot. Stir to brown. Add 6 cups of water. Place the lid on the pot and cook on medium heat about 30 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate. Reserve the stock/soup to a bowl.

To assemble the makhloubeh, in the same large pot, add a little more olive oil, layer the vegetables in your desired circular pattern covering the bottom. Then add the layer of chicken pieces (bones and all!) and finally the strained, uncooked rice on top.

To the reserved stock, add another 1/2 tsp salt and some additional cumin, about a teaspoon. Pour it slowly over the vegetable, chicken, rice pot. The stock should cover the rice. If it does not, add a little extra water. Place pot on medium high heat on the stove until just before boiling, about five minutes. Cover pot and let simmer another 40 minutes to let the rice fully absorb the liquid. Remove from heat and let cool about 10 minutes.

Very carefully place a plate over the pot of makhloubeh and turn upside down. It can be sprinkled with pistachio or almond and and freshly- chopped parsley.

RICE-STUFFED SQUASH (meat/basari)

This reminded me so much of the stuffed vegetables my mother used to make. I haven’t had this in years. I guess it’s Jewish comfort food. But this had a decidedly Mizrachi (Middle Eastern) flavor. The secret here is hollowing out the palm-Sized squash. There is a special coring tool Claudia uses. It cores out the center of the squash, but could also be used on apples, pears, potatoes…In Hebrew the word for squash is kishu, in Arabic, kusa.

Ingredients:

  • 8-10 palm-sized green squash
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 large serving spoon of tomato paste
  • 1/2 kg or 1 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 cup white rice, rinsed welland drained
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons mint, chopped
  • 2 Tbspparsley, chopped
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • lemon juice

Wash and cut ends off the squash. Use the coring tool to remove the inside, hollowing out the meat of the squash so it looks like a tube. Set squashes aside.

In a bowl, mix the rice and onion in with the ground beef. Both will be raw. Add half of the mint, half of the parsley and the salt and pepper. Mix gently with hands to combine. In a large pot, pour in the water and stir in the tomato paste until it resembles tomato juice. Heat until it comes to a boil. While tomato liquid heats up, stuff each squash leaving a little at the ends (an inch/2cm to allow for expansion. Add parsley, mint, a pinch of salt to the liquid. Squeeze the lemon into the tomato broth. You can also add a pinch of sugar. place the stuffed squash into the pot. Cover and reduce heat. Let simmer for 35minutes.

My good friend, Ronnie, is an American, but is married to an Israeli man. She brought over one of his favorite salads -and our too. This one is really quick and easy to make. Perfect for any meal, breakfast, lunch or dinner, and is so healthy! It’s a powerhouse in a bowl. The quinoa and humus ( that’s the actual Hebrew word for garbanzo beans!!) add protein and are filling. The veggies are tomato, red onion and cucumber. Top it off with tiny cubes of bulgarit cheese or its saltier cousin, feta crumbles. And add a simple dressing. It’s absolutely wonderful! I had John do some photos of this one, too.

RONNIE’S QUINOA SALAD (dairy)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 cup small Persian cucumbers, sliced OR 1 English cucumber, chopped
  • 16-20 small cherry tomatoes, halved
  • lemon juice
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh mint or parsley, optional
  • 1/2 cup feta crumbles or bulgarit cubes

Put the water and quinoa with a dash of salt into a pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer. While quinoa is cooking 12-15 minutes, uncovered, chop the veggies and add to a bowl. Fluff the quinoa. Let cool. Add to bowl and mix with the vegetables and drained chickpeas. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Drizzle with olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the cheese bits. Combine gently. Top off with the mint and/ or parsley, if desired.

Over the past few weeks, my progress has been very slow, but very much forward. I tire very easily, and realize I’m not as young as I used to be. My husband, John, has been an absolute tsaddik, righteous person, in his care for me and the house. He’s trying so hard, G-d bless him, caring for me, shopping, cleaning, fixing meals and snacks. He has salads and snack down, and has mastered marinated, grilled salmon fillets (one day he will ‘get’ rice, but that’s a tricky one). I gave him instructions for a simple zucchini soup. It was delicious!

So, I’m pretty exhausted now. John is following my instructions for a potato leek soup. At the rate he’s going, Master Chef is soon to come. I’m getting totally spoiled…. he will soon need a break. Can’t wait to get back to fun day-tripping and cooking! Until next time-

That Old Rollercoaster Called Life

Yes. Its been awhile since my last post. If you recall, in my last blog post a few weeks ago, I gave some delicious new recipes. Most of the recipes I post are ethnically Israeli for themost part and hopefully, not too complicated to prepare. Israel is unlike the States in many ways. In some areas like high tech, we are quite advanced and leading the world. In other areas, we lag behind – as in the area of healthy available convenience food options. Since we’ve lived here, there have been more products like (very expensive) pre-washed and cut salads, chopped carrots and cabbages, and pre-made dough, but that’s about it. While the center of the country caters more to the American immigrant, we live in the periphery where items like prepared salad dressings, soups, pre-cooked, sliced chicken, rotisserie chickens – are all hard to find items, and when I do find them, sky high in price. I did find liter/quart sized organic chicken broth in aseptic boxes a few years ago, and bought three at $9.00 a pop just to have as an emergency backup. So I make and freeze my own soups and stocks and make my own dressings, salsas and well – EVERYTHING. I have tried to keep my recipes as simple and tested as possible. I usually try out a recipe 3 times before doing a photo shoot or post. I try NOT to include extremely exotic ingredients, although most US grocery stores offer a wide variety of international products. So it is my wish the recipes will work for you.

The last time I’d written was right after we’d returned from our five week US state-hopping adventure. I had known something was physically wrong with me and had been trying to get an accurate diagnosis for seven years. Things were headed South, and I was just praying they would not worsen during our travels. And thank goodness they did not. I’d written that I thought I’d herniated a disc and, that after that last photo shoot and blog, I’d head for bed. I’ll try to spare the gory details, but I pretty much missed the Jewish holidays…. besides we were in our 14-day quarantine after an international flight. So either way we were grounded and I was relegated to teledoctor phone appointments. I took my NSAIDS, but the pain was excruciating; besides losing the feeling completely on my left side from the waist down, I could neither move my leg or foot. It was dead except for that constant lightening bolt jolting.

During that time, we had a friend from the US move back to Israel from Virginia. He is now staying in our guest bedroom. I wish I could have done more to help make his move more pleasant, but he was on his own. He did tell me I’d need to mask up before going to the ER and handed me a new N95 mask, coated with an anti-viral to make it super safe. Trying to find the humor or at least irony in everything, this is where the roller coaster begins to plummet. By the time I got to the emergency room in Haifa, 40 minutes away, not only my bottom portion, but my top was on absolute FIRE!!! As it turns out, whatever chemical in that mask made me highly allergic, and I started to develop a blistery red rash. It would last four days.

The rash from hell begins!

OK. We went to the right ER. Not the crowded one, but still a very good smaller one. I was seen immediately. Given X-rays, a CT. The top (and I mean #1!) spinal neurosurgeon in all Israel, the amazing Dr. Neta Raz, was called in from his vacation. And the roller coaster evens out. I have drop foot, at least two completely compressed/compacted vertebrae and no discs and a possible rupture of another disc. As I had suspected- MRI would be taken the next morning. And I’d need emergency surgery, but since it was the holiday of Simchat Torah and everything in Israel comes to a grinding halt… hospital staff is greatly reduced, the surgery would be rescheduled for two days hence. In the meantime, I’m taken up to the orthopoedic ward.

A typical Israeli hospital is nothing like the hospital rooms in the posh Tel Aviv area and it is absolutely nothing like the hospitals in California (at least before the pandemic). For one thing, you have a family member or really good (at least before your hospital stay) friend or even a paid helper stay with you. He/she gets a small, uncomfortable chair at your bedside. Your designated aide is there at bedside 24/7 to help you with whatever you need- calling for a nurse; asking for pain meds; helping you go to the bathroom (however that may be). That’s why it’s important to pick your friends wisely here. It’s all part of the bonding/friends for life/members of the same tribe/lack of adequate nursing staff culture. It’s part of the adventure.

In the hospital, you are given one of those too-small-no-matter-what-size-you-are, hospital gowns; you get a bed with a rubber mattress covered by a thin sheet and a very small blanket/cover and pillow. Reminder to new Olim: it’s not just BYO toothbrush, its BYO water pitcher and cup or disposable water bottle. It’s BYO towels, washcloth, soap, etc. Its BYO PJs, socks, slippers (hey! They don’t charge you $180 for a pair of those really nifty slipper socks with the non-skid soles). No television, no radio. Its a no-frills ride. BYO emesis basin or trash can – yup this can be a bit gross, especially with the food your neighbor’s visitors bring! So be forewarned.

Did I say visitors? Did I say food? Did I say noise? We’re not in America. We’re in the Mid East and it gets pretty darned loud. No, not from the howls of patients whose pain levels have soared to a nine on the Richter scale. It’s the MiddleEast! What would an ER be without a knock-down, drag-out fight, trays and IV poles flying before the ”gentleman” was escorted out. It’s a shame I didn’t understand more than ”I’ve already told you twice.” And ”What’s the problem? What happened here?” Hey! Free entertainment!

Yikes! It only gets better from here, Folks! The next day I was wheeled downstairs and outside to a portable MRI trailer unit. My husband, John, at my side. Trying to understand the questions in Hebrew as three people were trying to fill out forms, question me, translate, etc. was total chaos. I was told to remove all my jewelry. I took off my necklace, given to me by a dear friend, and my wedding ring of 37 years. I gave them to John, who pocketed them. So much was happening so fast, that he totally didn’t realize he was holding them for me. The MRI tech was Russian… the stereotypical large, rough woman with no patience, barking commands in Russian-accented Hebrew. She was extremely irritated that I didn’t fully understand. In English she commands, ”Surround yourself! Surround yourself! Surround belly!” I just wasn’t getting it. Finally she makes rolling motion with arms and shouts, ”Like salami! Like salami! You know! Do! Do NOW!” Aaaahhh, yes. Roll over on your tummy. I know, but find the whole process so hysterical. Salami!! I can’t stop laughing/crying. It took a while to do it and to stay still for long enough to complete the test.

I’m wheeled back to my room. Surgery was scheduled for the following evening. John went back home and would return with my bag of necessities the next day. Happening to notice my ring and necklace were gone, I called John to check his pockets. Nope. Not there. Double check. I search my bags. Nada. The roller coaster lurches forward and takes a deep, nauseating nosedive. It’s almost 5pm. I hobble down on crutches to the MRI trailer. Nothing. The one lady still there has nothing. I fine-tooth comb the ground, retrace our steps, and fill out a report at the security station. In tears. Hyperventilating. I call John. Nothing. He thinks it might have fallen out of his pocket in the paid parking lot down the street as he got out his wallet. More tears. He drives back to Haifa with a flashlight and tools. Finds the necklace in a gutter, but no wedding ring. So, if you’re ever in Haifa across and down the street from Bnei Tsion and find a gold ring with a one-carat diamond, let me know. It looks like this:

I spent much of the next day in tests and trying to find a mittapellet for hire, a sitter. I checked everywhere and came up empty-handed. John did not know enough Hebrew and physically was not up to spending the night at my side in a cramped, uncomfortable, little chair. Finally, right before I was wheeled into surgery, a friend steered me in the direction of a very nice, but incredibly expensive little Phillipino lady. She was available for hire. So I had the operation: a diskectomy with a bunch of other work, freeing the nerves, decompressing and creating room in my spine.

I guess I was pretty loaded up on drugs, feeling no pain, that night. All I remember is Virgie spooning a few teaspoons of warm water into my mouth explaining why ice, col water, or more than four drops was life-threatening. She was soon sleeping soundly in the chair next to my bed. Later in the week, I found out that night, all night long, I had FaceTimed all my children, crying and ranting about my lost wedding ring. 37 years! I called up a couple friends in the States – if you are reading this and I called you speaking out of my mind craziness, I sincerely apologize. Please gently let me know. I wrote and submitted two magazine articles. I wrote one of my editors. I wrote a lovely children’s story about a little girl and her pet black bear. And I answered some emails. Again, if I wrote you spouting craziness, forgive me. Where was Virgie???? For $200.00!?!??

So I was 10 days total, I think, in the hospital. You lose all track of time in a place like that. We had no TV, but there was always entertainment. With four people to a room, a sitter or two and several visitors for each person, there was no lack of entertainment. We had an Israeli woman to my left, a Muslim Arab lady to my right, and a Druze lady next to her. Each day, people would come bearing coolers and containing exotic smelling foods for the mittapellet, the patient and themselves. It’s a real social event and a cultural thing to go visit people in the hospital, I think. Nothing is private. Well, for them it was, because I don’t speak Arabic, and my Hebrew is still lacking. Pardon my complaining, please, but the noise and activity and lack of privacy were not very conducive to recovery.

I survived the noise, and the food. My foot is beginning to move more and I’m using my leg a bit as it regains feeling. I’ve been visited by the hospital physical therapist, who we fired after ten minutes for commanding me to stand up and walk without explaining how…. I was at a 9.5 pain level with still no feeling from the thigh down. As I write this, the recovery process is slow but sure. My old PT on the other hand, Saher, is wonderful. He’s made hospital and home visits. He reminds me of an Israeli version of Ben Stiller. Every morning in the hospital, we had the same breakfast: undressed salad, watery porridge; a hard-boiled egg and sour cream. This was the evening gourmet fare, which shows why people opt for home-brought food:


My last night/day was the great adventure. At 4:50 am, I was awakened by orderlies taking two of my roommates from the room. I was being swabbed down… from all angles and in crevices I didn’t even know existed! The nursing staff was being hustled out. I was alone in an empty room, and called my husband (cell phone, as there are no landlines) to come immediately. Something was not right! Shortly thereafter the men with ladders appeared as the curtains started being ripped down. ALL OF THEM! OK. Now this was definitely more than beyond usual. John appeared, but was hustled out of the room. OK. I was a bit freaked out.

Bathrooms were being disinfected with floods of green liquid. Floors and windows washed. No one would tell me what was happening. Corona? Ebola? Mersa? Worse??? I knew I had to document this for a blog, so I hobbled out to snap a few more photos.

After a complete shift change, a staff of industrial cleaners, and lots of drama, I found out what was going on. There had been a case of klebsiella (ah ha! I remembered that bacteria from my days of microbiology!) and all precautions were being taken to prevent a full outbreak across the entire wing. I was swabbed again from top to bottom and it felt like a scene from Monsters, Inc.. I was in a rush to just leave. My time was definitely up. My husband had asked for my discharge papers.

A nurse came in to inform me (I was finally alone in a very clean room) that they were going to make a nice reception for me before I leave. That’s why they were really cleaning! A surprise party just for me!! Well, that’s different. A grand, farewell shebang send-off! ”You’re throwing me a party??” I asked incredulously. ”What? What? I throw what? I am not throw anything!” I respond, ”No. No. A party. I’m getting a party?” She stared at me and said, ”No. You make party at home. I make you reception and you go home.” Obviously, there was some communication blockage. ”Reception??” I ask. ”You wait here. I give you reception from doctor to take to pharmacy. Then you go.”

I began to get it. No balloons for my going away. No cake and ice cream to make up for the swill. No champagne. No fizzy drinks. No compensation. After all, it’s socialized medicine and my stay was “free.” I did get exemplary medical care in my surgeon and surgery. The tests, surgery, and stay, would have cost cool tens to hundreds of thousands in Los Angeles. Sure, I would have had a nice room, TV and would have made-to-order food from a menu, but hey, I probably wouldn’t have had a rambling blog for your perusal.

I’m finally home, and had a home nurse come to do wound care and my physiotherapist visit to give me encouragement and exercises. I’m re-learning to walk and it’s slow, but I’m making progress. John has been a saint, stepping up to the bat taking over all the housework, shopping and cooking. Bless his big heart!!! Just so thankful this whole ordeal didn’t happen on our vacation! Hopefully, soon, I’ll be on more field trips, meeting more people, visiting new and exciting places and collecting new recipes. I need a long, straight stretch of rollercoaster at this point. And if there’s anyone up here in the North who finds a diamond ring or can provide a meal, please let me know….

New Year, New Recipes

Upon our return to Israel, we entered into a mandatory 14-day quarantine (with 3 molecular PCR tests done!!!). Our son had come home two days before our arrival to open up and air out the house. I had given Max a long list of groceries to get so that we wouldn’t co home to an empty fridge. Entering the front door, the house was clean and Max had even left a a bouquet of flowers. Previous to our arrival I had also ordered a ton of organic, freshly-picked-from-the-fields produce. Three huge crates were left at my front doorstep the next morning. It was absolutely glorious! Squash, white and purple cabbages, pears, the last nectarines of the season, avocados, pumpkin, greens, carrots, beans, onions, sweet and regular potatoes, mangos, limes, fresh dill, parsley, cilantro, basil and so much more. Gad even put in exras like cherry tomatoes, eggplant, pomegranates, and oranges.

It had been so long since I’d written a blogpost that I had to spend the whole day developing and perfecting the recipes for you. Which was great, because by the end of the second day, I’d fully realized that I herniated or ruptured a disc and had to take to bed (which will also give me time to write and to design the embroidery for my daughter’s wedding dress). But with my husband’s help, I’d put up several jars of spiced pears, zucchini pickle relish and some pickled corn. Lots was frozen and there’s food to last for weeks which will also be served for the Jewish holidays(Rosh haShannah the New Year; Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement & Sukkot the weeklong Festival of Booths). Interesting fact: in Israel, almost all stores and businesses completely shut down for each of the holidays – sometimes that can last up to three days in a row!!! So we’ve learned from past mistakes to have everything we need for the days before, during and after.

So here goes. This first recipe is an old family favorite, made by my dad of blessed memory. A few years ago I was going through an old box of letters and photos and I found his hand-written list of ingredients. His recipe called for whole Seckel pears. I had four kilos (8.8lbs) of regular hard green pears, so I used many and put up 12 pint jars of spiced pears. I substituted honey for the sugar to make it a little healthier.

Spiced Autumn Pears

  • Ingredients:
  • 5 pounds pears
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cup dark honey
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 cinnamon sticks, broken up
  • 1/4 cup cloves
  • about 1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

Sterilize canning jars and lids in boiling water 20 minutes,making sure all are completely submerged.
While the jars are going, make the syrup. in medium pot, bring water, vinegar and honey to a boil, then reduce to low. Add spices. Halve pears. remove the core with a melon baller and cut each half into 3 slices. On a clean kitchen towel, using tongs (there are special, inexpensive canning tools that are a mainstay in my kitchen) remove the sterilized jars. Divide pears between the jars. Using a funnel, pour hot syrup into each jar up to 1/4 inch from top. Put lids and sealing rings on jar. Process back in hot water bath for another 20 minutes.

The next recipe is great for Rosh haShannah because it incorporates many of the symbolic foods we use at the festive meal. Plus, many of the ingredients are used in the other recipes. I roast a pound piece of fresh pumpkin (our pumpkins are different than the US/UK varieties) or a nice sized butternut squash, halved, seeds reserved and roasted with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. The salad below keeps well for up to a week, and is absolutely gorgeous with all those jewel-like autumn colors! Plus it’s packed with proteins, vitamins and antioxidants.

Vegan,pareve,serves 6-8

Autumn Harvest Quinoa Salad

  • Ingredients:
  • 1 cup multicolored quinoa
  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups (or more) roasted pumpkin or buttternut squash, cubed
  • 1/2 cup red/ purple onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup candied or regular roasted pecan pieces
  • 1/3 cup large yellow raisins
  • 1/4 cup raisins or currants
  • 1/4 cup dates, chopped (I used 5 large, soft dates, pitted)
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 pomegranate’s arils

Dressing ingredients:

  • 1 large orange
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • juice and ”mash” of 1/2 red/purple onion (I will explain)
  • 1 heaping teaspoon baharat spice (I will explain)*

Cook quinoa in water according to package directions. Fluff and let cool. While quinoa is cooking dice the onion and cube the roasted gourd into small, bite-sized pieces. In large bowl, add fluffed quinoa, onion, squash/gourd, pecan pieces and dried fruits. Fold together gently. Pour 1/2 cup dressing over top. Directions below. Reserve remaining dressing for fruit salads or green salads. Fold gently to incorporate. Mix in most of the pomegranate arils, reserving some for the top.
This is so tasty. The flavors are popping bright, and the dressing really adds an exotic complexity.

To make the dressing:
Grate the orange rind into a large tumbler or drink shaker. Squeeze orange into bowl, removing any pits. I keep the orange bits. Transfer to the shaker. Add oil and honey. Using a garlic press, squeeze the onion juice from the cut-up red onion into the shaker. Add the left-over mashed onion. Add the baharat.* Add water. Shake vigorously.

  • *If you don’t have the Middle Eastern spice blend, baharat, you can make some easily. It is quite versatile – used in salads, soups, casseroles, stews, and baking:
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Assessing what I had in the produce boxes, I decided to make a vegetable quiche using ingredients on-hand. Hmmm… what do I have a ton of that might go well together? I had the veggies, 18 eggs, cream and four cheeses Max had bought (but no parmesan). It turned out to be the best quiche I have ever made!!! This is best eaten hot or warm and served with a side salad or a fruit salad – or the Autumn Harvest Quinoa Salad above.

Vegetable Quiche

  • Ingredients:
  • 1 frozen and defrosted deep dish pie shell OR frozen, defrosted pastry to line a large, greased quiche dish
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, roasted and peel removed
  • 1 red/purple onion, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 medium-sized zucchini, quartered lengthways and sliced
  • 1 large carrot or 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thin 1/8”)
  • 5 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup shredded sharp cheddar
  • 1/3 cup shredded smoked gouda (this really adds the complexity!)
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp sweet paprika
  • salt and freshly cracked pepper

Roast the pepper 15 minutes at 400*F/200*C then let cool. Peel the skin off and remove the seeds. Place your pastry-lined quiche dish on a foil-lined jelly roll pan (baking sheet with sides). In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until shimmery, then add the cut-up onion, carrot and squash. Sauté until the vegetables are tender. Set aside. In a medium sized bowl, lightly beat eggs and stir in cream. Spoon the cooked veggies into the bottom of your prepared pastry-lined dish. Layer the shredded smoked gouda, distributing evenly. Cut pepper into thin strips and lay them over the cheese. Sprinkle with the thyme, salt and pepper. Gently pour in the egg mixture. Let settle. Sprinkle shredded cheddar over top and sprinkle paprika over cheddar. Place in oven pre-heated to 375*F/188*C for 45-50 minutes or until top is bubbly and golden brown.

I can’t even begin to believe I forgot to photograph this one! We devoured the ”test soufflé”for lunch and froze the second one. The third, my husband brought me on a plate for Rosh haShonnah dinner, and hadn’t taken any pictures beforehand. But I wouldn’t share this recipe unless it was absolutely mouth-watering. Baking it just makes the entire house smell like the fall holidays!! The soufflé is a bit like the filling for a pumpkin pie, only lighter and fluffier- and more tasty. It’s a great side dish, but I think it would be super with cream on top for breakfast or as part of a cheesecake (I’ll save that project for another day).

“Orange” Soufflé
(6-8 servings, pareve)

  • Ingredients:
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 2 large carrots, peeled
  • 1 cup roasted pumpkin, butternut squash or canned pumpkin purée
  • 6 pitted dates OR 1/2 cup silan (date syrup) OR 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 orange, peel grated, and juiced – seeds removed
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 tsp flour ( can be a GF substitute)
  • 1 TBSP baharat spice powder ( see above recipe)

Preheat oven to 400*F/200*C. Wrap the sweet potato, and carrots in aluminum foil and roast for about 45minutes or until tender. Oil a soufflé dish or tall casserole dish. After the veggies have roasted and cooled, peel the sweet potato and cut the carrots into chunks. Transfer the veg along with the pumpkin/squash into a large mixing bowl. Add the dates, silan or honey, the grated orange rind and juice. Purée thoroughly with an immersion blender. When well-blended, gently fold in the beaten eggs, sprinkled flour and baharat. Very gentlytransfer the mixtue to a greased soufflé dish and bake for 25-30 minutes, uncovered until soufflé rises and top has browned. Can be served warm or cold.

The next dish is another salad. It’s traditional to eat beans on the Jewish New Year as a sign of our fruitfulness and of the many good deeds we will do in the upcoming year. In the Southern United States we would eat black-eyed peas as a symbol of good luck for the new year (January 1). Also, because beans are a humble dish, according to the Southerner, starting out the year in humility ensures wealth in the months to come. The Jewish custom is to eat scallions: scallions look like whips. At the Rosh haShonnah table the little kids like to smack each other with scallions. It’s a fun object lesson of slavery in Egypt. May we continue to live in freedom without fear of the taskmasters’ whips! Whatever the tradition or superstition, it’s a healthy side dish that can stand alone as a hearty lunch.

Black-eyed Pea Salad

serves 6-8 vegan, pareve

  • Ingredients:
  • 3 cups black-eyed peas, soaked, rinsed and cooked (can use frozen, defrosted)
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 orange bell pepper
  • 4-6 scallions
  • 1 stalk celery
  • handful of each: fresh parsley, oregano, basil, chives
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 lemon
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt & freshly-cracked pepper

In large serving bowl, add cooled tender peas. Finely chop the peppers and celery. Slice white/light green parts of scallions. Add to bowl. Finely chop herbs and mix into salad. Crush the garlic into the mixture. Add the juice of the lemon (seeds removed). Drizzle in about 1/4 cup olive oil, then salt and pepper to taste. Combine thoroughly and place the bowl, covered, in fridge for at least an hour. Serve cold. This actually tastes better the next day when the flavors have melded together.

Enjoy!

A Visit to the States

My husband and I just returned from a glorious 5 weeks in the United States. From all the horrendous news, we just didn’t know what to expect. And we were absolutely shocked!!! To see all the tremendous displays of unabashedly proud American patriotism. Everywhere we traveled-

Savannah, Georgia
Florida

It was all so beautiful. We saw all different races and cultures getting along well together. In towns, parks, university campuses, bed and breakfasts. Everyone was quite friendly and respectful. I think for the most part, people want to get along and enjoy their lives.

Seeing family again after three and a half years was the best thing ever! We got to meet our oldest daughter’s new husband. Three of our daughters met us in Florida for a beachy, family reunion. Unfortunately our son was still in school in Israel, and my third daughter and her fiancé are. In Scotland, where travel is closed. We visited my husband’s family in Florida. John’s dad is now 94. All John’s siblings and their children were there. And meeting our new granddaughter who is 7months old was a special treat. Highlights included a day trip to St. Augustine; a backyard barbecue/wedding reception for Katie and Tim; a sunset boat trip around the islands off the coast of Florida; and a hunt for alligators in the local wetlands (a nice way to say swamp). Our youngest daughter convinced my husband and me to get up before the crack of dawn one morning to see the sunrise over the Atlantic: she, her husband and daughter had done it the day before. We are definitely not morning people, but John and I took a blanket and thermos of hot coffee with some sweet rolls. What an amazing (and romantic) experience!

From Florida, we traveled to Southern California, visiting our #2 daughter. Our 3 year old grandson was getting over a cold, so he and his dad, Steven missed the great Florida/Georgia adventure. Can I tell you how marvelous it was to finally truly meet Logan – endless superhero costumes,parks, a farm, funny faces, and nighttime stories? And the baby is just the sweetest!!! Emma’s organic vegetable garden was huge and incredibly productive with tomatoes, pumpkin, squash, cucumbers, carrots, beets, greens. One day I made a spiced tomato jam, and Emma made the most delicious pasta sauce. Yum! Reuniting with many of our oldest and dearest friends was a time we will treasure, but the week was all too short…

It was on to the Pacific Northwest where my youngest daughter lives. We’d always wanted to travel “up the coast” towards Canada but never did in the 32 years we lived in California. It was gorgeous!!! The mountains and volcanoes, Puget Sound, the forests and the lakes. Now I know why Tessa and Mike love it so much. We hiked a lot. We visited old fur trapper forts. The sal on runs had just started, so watched the fisherman shoulder to shoulder in the rivers. One Sunday we packed up and headed to the lake with their friends. Babies, toddlers, inflatable boats and paddle boards and a lovely picnic made for a fantastic time. And the best part was playing with our 3 year old granddaughter. She’s so cute and a real whippersnapper!

While we were in Washington it was also blackberry season. Thick bushes filled with the ripe purple gems grew wild EVERYWHERE!!!! So I spent hours picking until my fingers and lips were stained and our big buckets were full. In the week I was there, I spent an entire day making endless jars of blackberry lavender preserves. I strained out some of the berry juice and mixed it with balsamic vinegar, crushed shallots, salt, pepper, a splash of white wine vinegar and some water. Not only is it delicious on a spinach salad, but I marinated a large filet of salmon in the sauce. We put it on a cedar plank and Mike grilled it. Heavenly! It broke our hearts to leave them –

The next few days were spent back in Southern California. We spent the time with Katie and really getting to know Tim. Because of the pandemic, we’d missed their courtship and wedding. But I’m absolutely thrilled with the gentlemen our daughters have chosen as life partners. They are great husbands and fathers. We were able to spend a couple days with Logan aka Spider-Man, aka Batman, aka CatBoy, aka The Geko. And John and I shopped for things we can’t find in Israel, filling up another huge suitcase and two carry-ons. The last day was spent with Katie and Tim at the Getty, our favorite place.

It was the most fabulous trip! However, it was waaaaaay too short. We want them all to come spend time together with us here in Israel. We had so many California friends we weren’t able to connect with. Maybe next time. The flight back was a long one and we have been quarantined at home for 14 days. 14days! And three negative PCR tests for each person. Our son, who lives an hour and a half away, was able to come and air out the house and stock up on groceries before we arrived.

Since then, I’ve been cleaning and dong a lot of cooking for the upcoming Jewish high holy days. I have developed a whole slew of delicious recipes using the symbolic foods of the season. I can’t wait to share the, with you in a couple days. Rosh haShonnah is tonight and it’s coming all too quickly. So all those yummy foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner will be posted very soon. Until then, I leave you with a parting shot from our last evening in Long Beach, California –

Living Like Kings

Perched high atop a hill in the Northern Israeli village of Mi’ilya  were the vestiges of an old castle. For decades families had used the outer towers, building their homes over and inside the walls. But time had long ago taken its toll, and the structure had fallen into such disrepair that it was structurally unsafe. 

Labib Assad (of blessed memory) lived in one of those houses since his childhood. He had many childhood stories to pass down of life in the village. Labib, a policeman, and his wife, Salma, owner of the village gas station, gradually bought up the other existing houses one by one until they owned a large part of the complex. It had been Salma’s dream for years and years to bring to life the existing skeleton. In 2012 the Assafs received a letter telling them the castle needed to be restored or destroyed. It could no longer safely stand on its own with its crumbling walls and arches. There was an existential dilemma. What to do? The cost of a rebuild would be absolutely exorbitant, but this could be their one opportunity to make Salma’s dream come true, while at the same time preserving an important part of the local heritage.

Flash back to the 12th century: Baldwin Bourcq led a Crusade from France to the Holy Land with his cousins Godfrey de Bouillon and Baldwin du Boulogne in 1096. On the way, he became Count of Edessa  (in present-day Turkey), marrying and setting up a fiefdom there. He rode into Jerusalem in 1100, winning many battles, and was crowned King Baldwin II of Jerusalem in 1118, expanding the reach of his empire to as far as Damascus. He was aided by the Knights Templars and the Knights Hospitallers.  King Baldwin had four daughters by his Armenian Christian wife, Morphia. The eldest daughter, Mellisande, became his successor. 

Mellisande married and had a son, Baldwin III, in 1129. He was crowned King Baldwin III of the Crusader State of Jerusalem when he was 14 years old. Eventually wresting power from his mother during a familial civil war, he ceded Jerusalem, Judaea and Samaria to her. Keeping his title, King Baldwin set up his home in the mountains of the Galilee. His reign extended from the Jezreel Valley in the south to Beirut in the north and as far as Damascus in the east. On a mountaintop in Mi’ilya, midway between the coastal cities of Acre and Tyre, with sweeping views to the Mediterranean and the Galilee, he built “Castellum Regis,” the King’s Castle. It would serve as the capital of his Frankish Lordship in the Galilee. It was a massive, walled stone compound with four square guard towers, one at each corner. 

The property was first mentioned in 1166 after the death of Baldwin III in a land transfer to a Jean d’Khayfa (John of Haifa). It was, in turn, sold along with the surrounding houses, gardens and vineyards to Count Jocelyn III, uncle of Baldwin IV in 1179 under the name Castellum Novo. A sizable Byzantine church adjacent to the castle was also part of the property. It all fell to the Muslim conqueror Saladin in 1187 during the Third Crusade. However, in 1192, with the signing of the Treaty of Jaffa by Saladin, Richard the Lionhearted and Phillipe of France, it was returned to the Crusaders, along with the Western Galilee and the city of Acre, six miles to the west. 

By the mid-1200s, the castle had been superseded by the newly-built Starkenberg Castle (Castle Montfort) just three mountaintops away. Starkenberg was built by German Teutonic Knights, who also bought the Castellum Novo property for 7000 silver marks. It was a short-lived investment, as Baybars, the Mamluk Turk known infamously as the “Father of Conquest” swept in and took everything, levying a 25% dhimmi tax on the barley, olives, wheat, dates, figs, goats, and beehives owned by the resident Christians. There are no existing records after that. The castle and its inhabitants were wiped out in the 15th century. Was it the result of the Ottoman invasion? An earthquake? Black Plague brought to the area by the Europeans? It remains a mystery. 

Melkite (Greek Orthodox Catholic) Christians returned to the area in the mid 1700s, with the Assaf, Shufani, Abo-Oksa and Arraf families among the first residents. They rebuilt a little village in and around the old castle, and resurrected a church near the site of the original Crusader era one that had been completely destroyed. Upon digging the foundations for their Ottoman-era houses, they began to uncover treasures from the past – mosaic tiled floors, burial chambers and an underground water reservoir. The finds were covered up, but stories of riches in the ground were passed down through the generations.

Salma Assaf had heard the rumors of hidden treasure from her childhood. She was passionate about history.  When the letter threatening possible demolition was received, Salma and her husband made the decision to restore the houses, starting a project that took over a decade and a half to complete. It was her life’s dream. Unfortunately, Labib passed away in 2012 before seeing the project to its fruition.

When reaching the final stages of restoration of the buildings, on a whim and out of curiosity, the Assaf family decided to put spade to the ground below. Would stories of the past be revealed or were they all just legend? Salma reached out to her neighbor, Rabei Khamisy, Doctor of Archaeology at the University of Haifa. He, too, a lifelong resident of Mi’ilya, had been brought up with these stories from the past. Together they sprang into action. In a short time, something extraordinary came to light: the largest winepresses and two treading floors from the Latin East (the correct term for the Crusader period in the Levant) had been discovered. Further digging  2 meters from the winepresses revealed a stone dome which covered a 6-meter deep Roman period cistern from the first century. The Crusaders had repurposed the ancient cistern to hold barrels of wine for aging in the cool deep cavity below. For Salma, it was a good omen. It was upon this historical foundation that she would build her restaurant, Chateau du Roi, the King’s Castle. Salma enlisted her son, Khalil, a successful accountant, to be the CFO.

The whole project – the restoration of the above-ground building as well as the excavation – were privately funded by the Assaf family. A greatly appreciated contribution of the local community helped finance the shoring up of the crumbling north wall of the castle adjacent to the restaurant.

They worked tirelessly for four years in tandem with the Israeli Antiquities Authority to complete the excavation. Much more treasure was unearthed: ancient coins; the seal of the archbishop of Acre, who also lived there at one time; cooking tools, trenchers, and plates from the Crusader kitchen. As to the buildings above ground (where the restaurant, bar and boutique hotel rooms stand today), architects and contractors carefully conserved much of the traditional structure. The winepresses have been preserved in the basement of Chateau du Roi, and are open for viewing. Plexiglass windows have been thoughtfully and strategically placed in the floor of the restaurant’s main dining room so guests can view the winepresses below.

The restaurant is composed of many spaces, each with stone walls, high arches, balconies accessible by winding staircases, cozy inglenooks and fireplaces. A large outdoor patio offers a sweeping panorama of the picturesque Northern Galilee mountains. Chateau du Roi has the ambiance of the finest European restaurant. No detail is overlooked from the china, silver and crystal on the beautifully set tables to the antiques throughout. 

In the cozy and comfortable pub, a large wooden bar stands along one wall. The room is flanked by niches and pillowed window seats built into the arched windows. Luxurious leather chairs invite a person to relax and cast aside all cares. All the culinary equipment and accoutrements throughout the restaurant including the pizza oven in the bar are of the finest quality imported from Italy. Live jazz and acoustic music is featured regularly. Other dining options include a spacious covered patio courtyard with full service, and private dining niches under the castle’s stone arches. It doesn’t get more romantic than this!

Salma called in an old family friend, Elian Layousse, originally from Mi’ilya, who was working as a chef in Padua, Italy. He was more than happy to oblige and quickly assembled an award-winning team. The menu at this five-star restaurant is a fusion of Northern-Italian and Israeli. The dishes are traditional, yet unique. Everything is prepared from the freshest seasonal ingredients: Golan beef, Mediterranean seafood, homemade pasta, locally grown fruits and vegetables. Elian’s passion for detail is evident in every bite. The wine list is impressive. As an added bonus, Salma is able to provide jobs for many of the locals. The staff is warm and welcoming, and not only is Hebrew spoken, but Arabic, English, French and Italian, so guests should feel at home. It is one of Israel’s top gourmet destinations. 

In addition to the restaurant, the Assafs have opened two guest rooms on the property. Khalil, speaking lovingly about how his mother pampers all the guests as if they were her own family, says she serves “the grandest local breakfast. Wow!” Work has already started on converting the west wing of the castle into seven additional luxury guest rooms and suites. No expense will be spared and the fully-appointed rooms will be a blend of ancient architecture and antiques with top-of-the-line modern conveniences. A stay in the castle will make you feel like as if you were living like kings.

Currently, the Assafs are correlating with the Israel Antiquities Authority to open a museum on site. All of the finds from the excavations, which have been catalogued and stored in the Institute of Archaeology at Haifa University, would be returned so visitors can see the town’s history from Roman times onward. 

In addition to Chateau du Roi, the villagers have begun unearthing treasures on their ownproperties. The Arraf family, for instance, are sitting atop a Byzantine church and adjoining monastery. Beautifully colored geometric mosaic floors are once again coming to light. The recent excavations are exposing a complete Frankish rural settlement in what was once known as the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. 

Today, Mi’ilya has grown to about 750 homes with a population of about 3000. It is one of two exclusively Christian villages in Israel (the other being Fassuta, about 4km to the east). All of the land and the excavations are privately funded by each villager. The Israeli government has commiserated, but has done nothing to help financially. All of the funds for the digs have been raised privately by the village and through donations. Each year during the Christmas season, they hold a Christmas market. The village is festooned with lights and decorations. It is a grand celebration and thousands of people from miles around come to enjoy the festivities. In addition to this religious festival, the municipality holds a social/cultural Spring Festival with musical shows and local products for sale. 

A trip to Mi’ilya is a trip back in time, and a stay at Chateau du Roi will make you feel pampered like royalty. Their website is https://chateauduroi.co/  

In the Footsteps of Elijah

Fresco, Ascent of Elijah, on the wall of Stella Maris

I love that everywhere we go in Israel, there is a biblical or historical site. They are everywhere. For the past month, we have been on the trail of the prophet Elijah. Our balcony overlooks Carmel Ridge, where much of the Biblical story takes place. It’s about 40 minutes from our house, so when friends offered to take us to Mukhraka (‘the place of the fire’ in Arabic) last month, we jumped at the opportunity. They were going for the sweeping panoramas. We were hunting Elijah, Eliyahu in Hebrew.

On the southeastern slope of Mount Carmel, the prophet had his famous showdown with King Ahab and the prophets of the god Baal. In this encounter, described in 1 Kings 18:1-40, Elijah issued a challenge to 450 pagan priests over whose god could make it rain. Before an assembly on the summit of Carmel, he called on the priests to seek fire from Baal to light their sacrifice. When Baal failed to respond to their pleading, Elijah built an altar to the L-rd, pouring mega-gallons of water (this was during an extreme drought!!!!!) on top of his own sacrifice. Immediately, fire from heaven consumed his waterlogged offering. Directly down the steep slope of this mountain runs the Kishon Stream, just as it was written in the Bible attesting to us the fact this was the correct location. Elijah tells his servant to go look out to sea to see if there is any sign of rain. From this spot, one can look far off in the distance to see the Mediterranean(another verification of the site). Soon after, the storm began and Elijah outran the chariot and horses of King Ahab down Mt. Carmel to the Jezreel Valley below. When I was a kid, we used to think Elijah was the fastest man alive because he could outrun Ahab’s chariot. Today, now that I’ve been to Mukhraka, I think he was smart. As we stood atop the mountain looking down, we could not even begin to imagine what it must have been like to drive horses and chariot down a steep, very rocky slope. Avoiding trees. Flash flooding. Mudslides. It must have taken endless hours. So much faster and much more direct to just make one’s way by foot!!

Mukhraka today is a Carmelite monastery open to the public. The gardens are well-kept and peaceful. In the center courtyard a monument to Elijah stands. Inside the small chapel is an altar with 12 stones from the site, just like the 12 stones the prophet erected for his altar on this spot. But the prize is climbing to the rooftop for the panorama. You can see for miles and miles in all directions. In the North, you can see all the way to the mountains of the Lebanese border. To the west is the Mediterranean Sea. To the east, the view encompasses the Jezreel Valley, Mount Tabor, Nazareth and the surrounding areas, and to the South one can see Megiddo, Ceasaria, Netanyahu and all the way to Tel Aviv!!! It’s absolutely breathtaking!!!

Elijah the prophet was known to hide out in a cave on the Carmel ridge because King Ahab and Queen Jezebel were both seeking out the prophets of G-d to kill them – and for Elijah in particular. This is where the story gets even more interesting. Here in Israel, you will often find different locations for each Bible story. Because the Roman Catholics, the Greek Orthodox, the Protestants, the Jews, the Druze and the Muslims will not worship at the same site together, there are multiple locations (i.e. The Holy Sepulchre vs the Garden Tomb; three sites of Capernaum; three sites for the Sermon on the Mountain; the Western Wall for Jews and the Temple Mount for Muslims, different sites of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary). After researching and asking many people and tour guides, we found four different caves of Elijah. Each religion swears theirs is the correct one. So, here goes-

The Jewish Cave of Elijah is at the very base of Mount Carmel near Bat Galim Beach in Haifa. It’s not terribly well known. To find it, you must go up a flight of steep steps to a person’s private residence. The old stone home is built right atop the entrance to a cave. Finding it is not so easy as it’s not well marked and the cave is behind a large set of wooden double doors. Once inside, there is a divided cavern – one side for the women and one side for men, as prayer is segregated by sexes in Judaism. At the back of this cavern is a smaller chamber in the rock where the Holy Ark containing the Torah scrolls are kept. All in all, the cavern is spacious, dimly lit and musty. Could this be the place?

The next Cave of Elijah is a story unto itself. We were equally unprepared for this one. My husband and I heard that there was another cave at the top of the western cliff of Mt Carmel in Haifa, just 140 meters up the hill above the Jewish cave. Literally surrounding the cave is the Roman Catholic Church of Stella Maris, run by the Carmelite order. The Carmelites were founded upon Mount Carmel during the Crusades by hermit monks who lived in caves like the prophet Elijah had done. Many of the monks here were killed by the Muslims in the 1400s, but resettled the mountain in 1631, purchasing the land outright from Emir Jorabay with mediation from the French. They erected the monastery, but were expelled by Al Omar in 1767. Not daunted, the Carmelite monks received patronage from the Turkish Sultan and the French and were allowed to return and expand their building. During Napoleon’s siege of Akko eight miles to the north, the building was converted to a French hospital for the wounded soldiers. In 1821, Abdullah Pasha, the governor of Akko tore down the church, but it was rebuilt in 1836. It became an influential institution to the city of Haifa, attracting a large Arab Christian population. Furthermore, the ‘rediscovery’ of the Holy Land in the late 1880s (Mark Twain) brought more visitors and pilgrims to the area. In 1887, a hostel was built around the cave and church. Many brought their sick who came for the chance the spirit of Elijah would heal them. The large complex of monastery, basilica, lighthouse (which we see from our balcony every night), and surrounding gardens stand to this day.

Before I get back to Elijah, there’s another thread I want to share (that happens all the time here. I’ll go for one story and find three other fascinating ones as well!!). A mysterious, invisible straight line links seven monasteries from Ireland to Israel. They were built independently of one another from the sixth to the sixteenth centuries and are all very far apart from each other, yet all in a line. As the story goes, the archangel Michael fought a great battle in heaven with Lucifer/Satan, eventually hurling him from heaven to earth. It is said that the line of churches follows the path of Michael’s sword, the tip landing in Haifa on Mt Carmel. The first monastery is located on the island of Skellig Michael in Ireland…on to St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, UK…Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy, France…Sacra di San Michele in Turin, Italy…Monte Santangelo, Italy….Simi Monastery, Greece… and Stella Maris. And all were supposedly built by direct request from an apparition of St. Michael, Archangel.

We made it up the mountain to Stella Maris Church just in time for the Mass. The church was reminiscent of many I’d seen in France or Italy. It was astoundingly beautiful, but strikingly different, because the raised altar was built over top of Elijah’s Cave. The walls were marble imported from Italy, as was the mosaic floor. Stained glass panels told the story of Elijah, and overhead was a stunning cupola with frescoed panels depicting Elijah, King David, other prophets, and Mary. Just beyond the pews were three steps down into the grotto, where pilgrims go to pray and light candles, much as in the Jewish cave. Above the altar was a large statue of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus. Suspended from her hand is a large scapular. Mary, patroness of the Carmelites, gave this scapular to one of the monks in the 1200s. Many Catholic faithful today wear it. A tiny bit like a talit kattan worn by Jewish men or a mezuzah, the scapular is a prayer placard suspended around the neck by cords or fringes. It rests over the heart and between the scapula bones at the back. Of all the Elijah caves we visited, this was certainly the most impressive.

At the southwestern face of the Carmel Ridge is the site that Protestant Christians claim is the true cave of Elijah. There are no fancy churches, no places for prayer or lighting of candles, no holy books or gardens….just a lonely walk to a cave in the side of the mountain. It was roped off and quite inaccessible to humans – except for a couple of creepy life-sized dolls. Were they supposed to be representations of the famous prophet? The site certainly had that desolate feel of a place a hermit would live or a place one would go to seek escape. But those dolls!!! What were the people that put them there thinking???

The last cave of Elijah was not on Mount Carmel at all. It was adjacent to the city in which we live! A five minute drive across the highway and a twenty minute hike on a narrow trail. Located between the Arab towns of Nahef and Deir al Assad, we could see the structure high up in the mountain cliffs. John and I had always wondered what it could be? It looked like an ancient Egyptian temple or some type of mausoleum. It was the Muslim site of Elijah’s cave. In Arabic Elijah is known as “El Khader”. During the Byzantine period the Beit ha Kerem (House of Vineyards) Valley was a major center of Christian monasteries. The caves in the hills were used as burial sites for local Jewish residents and also for the early Hebrew Christians of the Galilee. Monks secluded themselves in these numerous caves as well. When the Muslims invaded the land, they took over many of these sites. They built their own shrine at the entrance to one of the larger caverns for their El Khader. Today, Bedouins still go up to the heights to offer sacrifices of sheep and goats… seeing the remnants of a recent Eid sacrifice near the entrance was just a little weird for us.

2 Kings, chapter 2 recounts the famous Bible story of Elijah being taken bodily to heaven in a whirlwind. He had traveled with his disciple Elisha down to the Judaean desert at the Jordan River crossing. There, Elijah instructed Elisha to wait on the western side of the river and not to take his eyes off him as he crossed over and ascended in the whirlwind when a fiery chariot split the sky (but Elisha’s attention was not diverted!!!) and he saw his mentor go up into the heavens. He then received a double portion of Elijah’s anointing – and his mantle.

Last month, our good friend, Marc, wanted to visit that spot at the Jordan River – to see how high the water was after two years of heavy winter rains. The Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) was still full and feeding the Jordan, which down near the Dead Sea is usually just a slimy trickle a couple inches deep. This year, it was supposed to be freely flowing and quite deep. I was dying to go because not only was it where Elijah was taken up, but it was also the exact spot where the Children of Israel crossed into the Promised Land of Israel at Gilgal (near Jericho)after their forty year desert wanderings – Joshua 3. Once we got down there, I learned it was also the site where John the Baptist was immersing his disciples – and where he immersed Jesus. Also, it marks the spot where the leprous Syrian general Naaman dipped seven times in the river at the directive of Elisha. He was reticent to do something so simple, but was immediately cured of his disease (2 Kings 5). So it was quite the holy place!!!

In the Samarian (Shomron) desert, also known as the West Bank, on the border with Jordan, is Qaser Al-Yahud, also known as ‘the baptismal site.’ It had been completely closed since the 1967 War. Following Jordan’s defeat in the war, and their loss of control of the West Bank, the Palestine Liberation Organization under Yasser Arafat began to launch attacks on Israel from the Jordanian territory. The fighting lasted until Black September in 1970 when the troops of King Hussein routed the Palestinians (being supported by Haze Assad of Syria) into Lebanon. The area they left behind had been heavily mined. The old church that stood at the site is still pockmarked with bullet holes. Over the past decade, the IDF has been working to clear the landmines in the immediate vicinity so the Catholic Church and Franciscan monastery there could be used again. Today, it’s under the protection of the Israeli Parks Service and the Franciscans and can now be used for baptisms…once tourists are allowed back after the pandemic closures.

Because there were so few tourists on the Israeli side, we had a fun time to ourselves. Being careful to stay within the confines of the designated paths, we made our way down to the Jordan River. Unlike the crystal clear waters in the North, the Jordan was quite muddy by the time it reached Qaser al Yahud. The Israeli side was quite sparse, but there were an assortment of beautiful churches on the Jordanian side: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Russian Orthodox. There were steps leading down to the river for baptisms, and a large chain dividing line that signified the border between Israel and Jordan. It was crazy being so close to the border!

As I was dipping my foot in (I just HAD to do it!) the murky waters, we heard singing coming from the Jordanian side. English voices! Americans!!!! Escorted by an armed guard, an American Evangelical pastor from California had taken some of his congregation on a pilgrimage. I yelled to them from the Israeli side. He was there to baptize them. How lucky for us to be there to see them!!

In total, he baptized six people. Tears were flowing, songs were being lifted heavenward, and you could just tell it was a moment that would forever be sealed in the hearts of those people. By the time we left, the one armed guard was joined by four other Jordanian military. And so we found ourselves at the last point in Elijah’s earthly life. It had been a most interesting journey for us.

Comedians in Shelters Eating Hummus

In this week’s post, I’m sharing an article I recently had published in the Jewish Journal –


The most recent conflict revealed the mettle and elasticity of Israelis and brought some of the country’s funniest citizens to the forefront.
By Tamar Dunbar

Uri Cohen (left) and Benji Lovitt

Being able to find humor in the worst of situations has been key to Jewish survival. No matter where we settled, the Jewish people have been persecuted. Now we have our homeland back, but it’s in a pretty bad neighborhood. When you’re used to a life of terror, you can either become hardened and cynical or you can find comedy in everything.

The latest conflict with Hamas was the first war in Israel since I made aliyah from Los Angeles six years ago. I’ve found that the Israeli persona is truthful, forthright, and direct. Nothing is sacred. There is no running away from political incorrectness. What you see is what you get. While sometimes brutal, it’s also refreshing. This most recent conflict in particular revealed the mettle and elasticity of Israelis and brought some of the country’s funniest citizens to the forefront.

I first ran across Uri Cohen on Instagram as I scrolled through my feed. I saw an Israeli guy in an IDF uniform ranting about being called up for reserve duty for the fourth time this year, and I thought it was hilarious. We were leaving behind our pandemic lockdowns and facing yet another political election, but his posts about his life in Israel were uproarious. I had to get to know Uri.

Uri is a rising comedian and online social influencer. This 28-year old gever is sometimes brash, totally authentic, and has a huge heart. When not working as a security guard for Birthright visitors, tour groups and school groups, or doing reserve duty, Uri is posting on Instagram and TikTok and increasing his fan base with his unique style of comedy.

Who would have thought a young guy could also become a shadchen, or matchmaker? In response to the meetup, dating and hookup app, Tinder, Uri created his own dating site on Instagram: Jewuri (aka Tinduri), where young Jewish singles from all over the world can post photos and brief descriptions of themselves in hopes of finding a match. What started as a joke soon became a way of meeting one’s soulmate. Uri sees this as a way of perpetuating the Jewish people. Nothing pleases him more than “getting people together: sometimes they get married and that leads to making more and more Jewish babies. That’s just wonderful!” He hosts social events once a month in locations throughout Israel—and, yes, it’s all legal and done in a spirit of fun.

This past May, things got real as Hamas started their massive rocket barrage into the heart of Israel. It’s said that there are no atheists in foxholes, but what about comedians in bomb shelters?

IT’S SAID THAT THERE ARE NO ATHEISTS IN FOXHOLES, BUT WHAT ABOUT COMEDIANS IN BOMB SHELTERS?

Uri was called up yet again for reserve duty as a medic. But he also became a kind of lead sapper for the IDF. A real sapper goes to the site of an unexploded bomb, something that has incredibly lethal potential, and bravely diffuses it. But instead of taking apart physical bombs in the field, Uri worked from stairwells and bomb shelters, bravely fighting antisemites and anti-Zionists who call for the destruction of Israel with his unique brand of online humor.

He responded nightly to Hamas’s threats of incessant bombs with his signature swagger: “Yo! Jihadists! You know you promised to send rockets tonight at 9 pm. But listen. I have a date with hot IDF girl. Believe me. She is bigger bomb than all the rockets you send. So please. Make it 12 tonight.”

“YO! JIHADISTS! YOU KNOW YOU PROMISED TO SEND ROCKETS TONIGHT AT 9 PM. BUT LISTEN. I HAVE DATE WITH A HOT IDF GIRL. BELIEVE ME. SHE IS BIGGER BOMB THAN ALL THE ROCKETS YOU SEND. SO PLEASE. MAKE IT 12 TONIGHT.”

When the missiles did not let up for days and it was Uri’s birthday, he created a post thanking Hamas for sending up fireworks in his honor. “Hey. It’s a celebration! They are celebrating me! Gee thanks for the fireworks, guys!!” He took the footage of bombs exploding over the Tel Aviv skyline and choreographed it to the “Star Wars” theme.

His fan base began to grow exponentially, along with his haters. Humor turned into hasbara, diffusing hate bombs with education, explanation, and reproachment, Uri Cohen-style.

Underneath one of his video clips, we see an Instagram comment calling Uri a colonizer and a baby-killer, telling him to get the f–k out of Palestine. In the video, there are tears streaming down Uri’s face. “Wow,” he says. “That hit me so hard.” He continues, as he wipes the tears from his cheeks, “I don’t think I can take it.” Then the camera pans down to the knife in his hand, cutting an onion. “That’s a huge piece of onion. Wow.”

Uri knows that he has haters, but he never shows anger. “That’s what they want. They want to expand the fight. And most of the times these people are not even from Gaza or Palestinian, and they don’t know the facts. So you have to find a way to turn it around. I make them laugh. I make the best of a difficult situation.”

One commenter wrote, “Go back to your countries and leave the rest of Palestine immediately, you thieves. We will liberate Palestine soon,” to which Uri posted a video response. “Yo, bro. I’m truly sorry,” he says in the video. “It was misunderstanding.” He throws up his hands. “I’m immediately leaving. Just please. I only need 5 minutes. To pack a suitcase—and have sex with my girlfriend. And I’m leaving.” He walks out the door, muttering, “And they say Israelis have no patience.”

The bomb is once again diffused, with even the original commenter admitting that Uri is actually funny and suggesting that perhaps Israelis are cool after all. So Uri invited him to his next social event.

Of course, Uri couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make fun of the army rations he was served for Shabbat dinner. Cold schnitzel, limp chips, and a dollop of hummus. He invented the saying that went viral: “More Hummus. Less Hamas.” Within a week, the words could be seen on posters as far away as Paris, New York and Los Angeles.

Uri’s humor is a mixture of seriousness and sarcasm. He became outspoken about the anti-Israel posts by his former fantasy girls, pop icons Bella and Gigi Hadid, Dua Lipa and Mia Khalifa. It was truly a sad day for Uri when he deleted Dua Lipa from his playlist.

What makes his videos and posts so much fun is that they are interactive. Offering quizzes, ways to respond to his posts, and opportunities to ask him questions makes his site personal—and he responds to all of his messages. He pokes fun at himself: “My IDF service is 1% protecting the country; 99% Instagram pictures.”

Uri was not the only one diffusing bombs with humor during the most recent conflict. Countless memes, all darkly humorous, were posted on social media platforms. There were charts on what to do when you hear the Red Alert siren going off, signifying an incoming volley. The conflict also saw the emergence of drinking games for every time you hear a rocket or every time you have to unfollow a former friend for posting an antisemitic comment.

After a year in isolation, meet-ups with strangers in the bomb shelters were a good reason to laugh. Some played games in which each person had to guess what others had been doing prior to arriving at the shelter by noting their attire. Others created online gambling pools to speculate on how long the conflict would last and what the terms of ceasefire would be. Being able to laugh in the heat of an intense conflict was helpful. We laughed at ourselves, our situation, and our enemies. And as a result, we came out of it stronger and more resilient.

Liel Eli, another Instagram and TikTok influencer, made a humorous video of young California socialites trying to be trendy. It was filmed poolside against the backdrop of a Beverly Hills villa, where Liel played the roles of multiple silly, American Israel-haters who had absolutely no idea about any of the facts behind the propaganda. It was so funny that it landed her spots on the local news stations.

“The Daily Freier” is an online Tel Aviv publication that showcases biting satire. There is absolutely nothing off limits to these Anglo-Israeli jokesters. In Hebrew, a frier is a naïve shlemiel who constantly gets taken advantage of. Sample headlines include: “Three of Ilhan Omar’s Ex-Husbands/Brothers Feared Missing in Gaza Tunnel Collapse,” “Victory: IDF Weaponizes its Inability to Write a Proper English Sentence,” and “Anything Happen in Israel This Week? by Chuck Schumer” All of these headlines suggest that there is no political correctness in Israel, and that’s part of what makes it so funny.

Benji Lovitt is an American-Israeli author, comedian and hasbara expert who tours the U.S. regularly to educate groups with his unique blend of humor and encourage aliyah. In 2006, Benji made aliyah from Dallas, Texas during the Second War with Lebanon, so he has racked up points as a conflict survivor. He’s written for Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post among others. Reading his annual “Things I Love About Israel” column helped us make the decision to move to Israel, so when we heard he’d be performing in Tel Aviv recently, we just had to go.I was able to speak to Benji after the show.

“There’s so much happening all the time here,” he said, “that there’s never a shortage of material. And the great thing about this country is that there are no taboos. And during wartime, that’s when the country is most in need of laughter. It dispels the stress everyone is under.” As a result, he created a chart on what to do when the emergency siren sounds—poking fun at Israelis who put their cars in cruise control and start filming the sky on Facebook Live.

Benji kept us in stitches with his latest news updates on the conflict. “A rocket just fell next to the IKEA in Rishon L’Tzion. At least the furniture is already in parts – KÄSSÁM Kitchen Storage Unit….hmmm I wonder if Sweden will retaliate?” And a day later: “Rockets and Iron Dome shrapnel are said to strike several Israeli cities. Just what the economy needs, another strike!” And toward the end of the conflict: “85 year-old Mahmoud Abbas and 78-year-old Joe Biden spoke on the phone this weekend for the first time since Biden took office. Topics discussed include a ceasefire, diplomacy and prune juice.”

One of the greatest experiences we’ve had during our time in Israel has been witnessing the strength and determination of the Jewish people. We have fallen even more deeply in love with this country. Still, I’ve asked everyone—do we get a special pin or at least a certificate to say we’ve survived our first official conflict? And the answer I’ve gotten from everyone: No. Not this time. But the third time: ice cream!

Tamar Dunbar made aliyah from Los Angeles to northern Israel six years ago where she works as a freelance journalist and blogger at israeldreams.com.

Dairy Days: With Recipes!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients:

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

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

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

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

Ingredients:

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

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

ISRAELI TSATSIKI DIP

Ingredients:

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

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

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

STUFFED SQUASH, MIDDLE EASTERN STYLE

Ingredients:

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients: (Cake)

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

Ingredients: Streusel for swirl and topping

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

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

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

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