Rosh Pina: “Chief Cornerstone”

Last week John and I took the advice of my business professor and toured the Hula Valley, Katsrin, a small town in the Golan, and Rosh Pina in order to visit several successful local small business owners. What started as a business trip turned into another fun day, and chance to form new friendships along the way.

Our first stop was Golan Distillery in the industrial section of Katsrin. David Zibell, another recent immigrant and classmate of mine, was only too pleased to meet us. This young man in his thirties started distilling spirits from his home upon moving to Israel in 2014. The fruits of his labors were popular among friends and the locals, and he even won first prize for one of his liqueurs in the Treviso Wine Competition as outstanding new artisan. From there, he held a GoFundMe crowdsourcing project to earn enough money to rent space in a warehouse and for equipment. It was a huge success for him, and each contributor was shipped a bottle of whiskey. John really enjoyed seeing how Scotch was made starting with the fermentation of the mash in large metal containers. From there, we checked the temperature of the still outside, and then learned how this particular Scotch is barrel aged first in old oak Chardonnay barrels, then transferred to Cabernet barrels, and for the last process, aged in new oak.

It was time to taste, and just like wine, we first checked the clarity, then the nose, and finally the taste. Very interesting – and fun!!! David’s grandemere lived in Paris during the early 1900s. He remembers her stories of the prohibition of Absinthe (poison? dangerous?), the jazz clubs, the ex-pats living there – artists and musicians, and the liquor. What a time that must have been!!! She used to secretly make her own Absinthe, and now David has revived the family tradition. Not only did we get a lesson on the history of Absinthe (a liquor made from various herbs, notably wormwood), but also a lesson on how to drink it correctly. David inherited his grandemere’s sterling Absinthe spoon (now I want to find one!) and had copies made – silverplated – which are also for sale. Pour a bit of absinthe into a tall glass, and place the perforated spoon on top. Add a sugarcane to the bowl and then gently drizzle ice cold water over the sugar. It seeps through to the liqueur and turns it a snowy white!!! Quite delicious too. If only Hemingway were there with us – or Picasso, Gershwin, or Modigliani!! Still-David is doing well now, with stores carrying his brand throughout Israel, and a wide fan base in the US, Canada, and Europe. Groups and tours are welcomed and David does private tastings and pouring for weddings, dinners, and parties. He ships worldwide. Not bad for only 2 years as a Master Distiller!

We left Golan Distillery very happy and with a couple bottles of very reasonably priced Scotch – the smoothest I’ve ever had, with a nose like caramel and hints of vanilla and oak on the tongue.

Rosh Pina, across the Hula Valley to the West was our main destination. Rosh Pina, Hebrew for Chief Cornerstone from the verse in the Psalms, “the stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” is a tiny old town built along the side of Mount Canaan. It is the most beautiful city in Israel, in my opinion, offering sweeping panoramas of the Hula Valley and Golan as well as the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) to the South and snow-capped Mount Hermon to the North. Today, it has a population of about 3000, and new neighborhoods are being added at the base of the mountain. It was first inhabited by  residents from nearby Tsfat, then abandoned after Arabs took it over. In 1882, about 40 Romanian and Russia Jews with Zionist ideals fled the pogroms of Eastern Europe to settle in this spot. Shortly after, Baron Rothschild, who oversaw this land for the British helped provide financial resources to fund their agricultural endeavor. The older part of the town has the quaintest old stone homes which line each side of the narrow stone streets. The town’s clear, cool mountain air is permeated by the smell of pines and mountain sage. It’s easily walkable – the old synagogue (still in use), many buildings now museums, artists’ shops, and restaurants and pubs. The house of Dr. Gideon Mar, epidemiologist, is now a museum. He was instrumental in researching ways to solve the malaria problem from the mosquito-plagued swamps throughout the Hula Valley and much of Israel – a real hazard for the new pioneers in the 1920’s-1930’s. After the wars of 1948 and 1967, Rosh Pina fell into disrepair. Many moved out of the town to other parts of the country. Then in the 1980’s, artists started buying up the old properties for little money. After the artists, came yuppies, who saw the town’s potential and put much money into restoration and historical preservation. At the bottom of the mountain is  the more upscale boutique-y area. Lots of independently owned restaurants for the foodie crowd, many Mehedrin Kosher. Always concerts there too ranging from folk and blues to classical and jazz.

So this is where the whole story takes a surprising turn and gets really interesting. Rafi had given me the name of this little “deli” that I had to visit in the industrial part of Rosh Pina on the outskirts of the city. I had not expected that it was home to a couple who makes – get this!!! Jams, jellies, sauces, tapenades, and liqueurs. Yikes!!!! Really awkward, Rafi!! So I decided to look, see what it was all about, and maybe write a blogpost. John and I met the owners of “HaBeytar (the Well Delicatessen),”  Inbar and Sigal Eshet-Shafat, who were warm and welcoming. They had been in the business for 15 years, and started out small – in their home kitchen – and now have a lovely industrial kitchen. Their few items offered have grown to many, one tastier than the next. The liqueurs included lemon, a wonderful spiced autumn blend, and the wild berry liquor is the best I’ve tasted!! Bought a bottle and am using it as a base for soda water over ice. Amazing. I also got a spiced date sauce to use over stir fry too. Inbar’s selection included different tapanades and dipping sauces including the exotic eggplant-mint mixture that I can’t wait to use when I make an Indian meal next week. And yes, she had jams and jellies – lots: plum, passionfruit, mango, pears in merlot, blood orange, a superb wild berry that I highly recommend. And yes, she knows that is the type of business that I want to start, although a bit different, I hope we will be friendly competitors. All of her prices seemed quite reasonable as well.

The real treat was when she offered to take us on a tour of Old Rosh Pina. In addition to her own shop (filled with art and classical music playing in the background) which is one part of a collective – a real treat, because there is also an artists’ gallery with studios of some really different craftspeople. Beautiful hand-crafted high-quality jewelry, as well as ceramics, paintings and sketches were in some of the studios. But I seek out the really special and different that you can’t find anywhere else. Here I hit a jackpot for those of you collectors of art visiting Rosh Pina. Aviva Sawicki, visual artist literally turns trash into treasure. Using melted and molded recycled plastic, she creates some amazing artwork!! This Chilean born artist fuses colored plastic bags which transform to become a vivid palette allowing transparencies and textures, a tangible record of our world in the 21st century. She exhibits worldwide.

Sigal then introduced me to Sari, who owns a really cool gallery, Colors of Light. Sari makes her own parchment and paper using natural fibers and materials, and then forms her work into pieces of art – many also handprinted – from lamps to jewelry to pots to vases. It’s all paper – and it’s funkily gorgeous!!!

Sigal is quite a lovely – and hospitable – lady, and we seemed to have a lot in common. She and her family have a passion for life, good food and art. Her father was one of the first of Israel’s leading photographers and advertising artists in Israel in the  60’s – 80’s. I fact, I have collected some of his artwork ( in calendars, album covers, magazines) from when I was younger….small world! This is truly the Israeli experience, and we can’t wait to see Inbar & Sigal again at the Rosh Pina Wine Festival on June 2-3 (see Facebook for info). Definitely worth a visit to Rosh Pina.

Rosh Pina is a fantastic place to retreat and enjoy nature and the fresh mountain air. Slightly cooler up there in summer – and it snows there in the winter. Also nearby is rafting and kayaking down the Jordan River (Kfar Blum highly recommended!!!!) If you plan to stay overnight, there are many Air BnB’s; small inns and tsimmerim. Here is one of the best:


It is right near the Pina by Rosh Cafe and Restaurant with sweeping valley views. Everything about this place whispers “romance” from the atmosphere to the free flights of wine before the meal, to the menu (not Kosher), to the background music. Sit on the terrace, dine on the patio, or on chillier nights in the art-filled dining room. Fireplaces take the chill off – and their bar has one of the best selections in the area. Reasonably priced, Friendly English and Hebrew-speaking waitstaff. The family also manages a lovely B&B on the property. Links to all follow-

Upcoming not to miss events include the Rosh Pina Wine Festival (see Facebook) June 2-3. We will definitely be going again this year!!! Shuttles and bus service available for those who are drinking….

Until the next adventure in Israel, here are the resources:

Golan Distillery. David Zibell, CEO/Master Distiller. Industrial section of Katsrin, Golan Heights +972-54-3843069   Call first!!!

HaBetar/The Well Delicatessen (no sandwiches, food!): Invar & Sigal Shafat.  Factory- Industrial Zone of R.P. (across Fwy 90). Shop in Old Colony Artists’Collective. 04-6930340

Aviva Sawicki, Visual Artist.;  Old Colony Rosh Pina; +972-77-3456449

Colors of Light.;  Old Colony Rosh Pina +972-54-7602888

Pina BaRosh/Shiri Bistro;  Halutzim 8, R.P.; 04-693-6582;

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