Welcoming the Light

Almost three months of travel!! We went to England (at the time of the Queen’s funeral) which was indescribably lovely. The occasion: to meet my daughter’s fiancé – who is every bit the quintessential Victorian gentleman – and his family. We fell in love with them all!! So much fun touring the Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire areas. Then my husband and I toured the Lake District of Northwest England, home to Wordsworth, Coleridge, Beatrix Potter, Charlotte Mason, standing stones, and the natural beauty of mountains and lakes just as the leaves were beginning to turn: it was a dream! Our son met us and it was on to Scotland with its castles, whiskey distilleries and highlands. We visited friends in the Highlands, toured Pluscarden Abbey and the Highland Heritage Center (Outlander!) and learned so much about the history and culture of the Scots. Later that month, our daughter got married in St Andrews, Scotland. We were amazed at the family and friends who came from California, New Jersey, Ohio, Virginia & Maryland, Italy, France and Israel. I’m sure I left people out. The wedding itself was the most holy, meaningful, thoughtful ceremony with gorgeous music provided by Tristan’s sister, a trumpet player with the London Phil and my daughter, an opera singer. And the reception was nothing less than an outpouring of love with everyone in attendance helping put it all together the day before and during…. I’ve never experienced such a coming together of friends and families from both sides.

After the wedding, we flew to Los Angeles to welcome our oldest daughter’s newborn baby into our family. The latest little blessing was named after my father and is the easiest, best baby I’ve ever seen. My husband and I were blessed to be able to take him overnight for over a week, and it was pure joy and love. It was hard to give him back. We visited our other daughter north of LA and stayed with a couple super fun grandkids while my daughter and her husband were at work. It was warm enough for my husband to take them swimming, and we watched them, too, for a week. Super fun. We now know every Superhero in the Marvel Universe and can sing Baby Shark in our sleep. On to Seattle to visit our youngest daughter and her wonderful family. Heavy frost on the ground each morning and a brilliant display of color as G-d’s majesty was on full display made for glorious walks with our other granddaughter. The last couple weeks was spent relaxing on a small island off the coast of Northern Florida visiting my husband’s 95 year old father and the Dunbar Clan there. Family, food and football marked our American Thanksgiving in the States.

Unfortunately, my back started to give out again in Los Angeles, limiting our visit to just family in our hotel room. Next time we shall see our friends in California. It finally gave up the ghost in Florida and the 12 hour flight back to Israel was intense to say the least. It’s interesting that we usually have no problem traveling in Europe or America on our Israeli passports or telling people where we are from. There’s so much antiSemitism now and anti-Israel bias that we used our U.S. passports exclusively and told people we were form Los Angeles. Not a lie, but…. How sad is it that there is so much division, mistrust, and baseless hatred in the States currently!!! I’ve never experienced anything like it before. And that it a topic I shall cover in my next blogpost after the holidays – but for now let’s celebrate!!!

It’s holiday time in Israel again, and this year the days are concurrent on the calendar as we welcome the Season of Light in the Holy Land. During the darkest point the of the year, it’s a time of great rejoicing and light. The Jewish people are celebrating the victory of the Maccabees over the Greco-Syrians in 150 BCE and of the Rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which had been defiled. There was only one small cruze of oil found to light the giant menorah. Only enough to last one day. The first major supply chain shortage. To bring the pure olive oil from the Galilee to Jerusalem would take a week. Miraculously, that little bit of oil lasted eight full days until more oil could be had. Therefore, the celebration of Chanukah lasts eight days and nights. We light our chanukkiahs, our nine- branched menorahs, eat fried foods and jelly-filled donuts, sing songs, play dreidels, spinning tops, and have fun.

Northern Israel is where the majority of the Christians live. Most are Maronite Catholics. The Aramaeans who dwelled in the Galilee region alongside the Jews, and with many Jews in that area, followed Jesus as their Messiah two thousand years ago. They became the first Christians. There are also Greek Orthodox and Byzantine rite Catholics up here. Today, they are full Israeli citizens with all the rights and privileges that offers (except they serve in the army only voluntarily and are exempt from property taxes). The Christian towns of Fassuta and Ma’Ilya and the city of Nazareth are all lit up with Christmas trees and decorations. Christmas markets have just become a thing. And tourism to the area is growing as many of the more secular Jewish population are drawn to the celebrations.

These Christian families are celebrating the birthday of the One who proclaimed to be the Light of the World. As a Jew living in the HolyLand (home to Christians as well as Jews), Jesus was worshipping and celebrating Chanukah at the Temple Mount in the gospel of John. So, in light of unity, we celebrate a common ancestry with each of our Festivals of Light. The Christians here commemorate Christmas differently from Europe or America. Many erect huge nativity scenes in the living rooms of their homes or apartments. Sometimes, they move out much of the furniture, spending much of the Advent weeks building rocks and deserts, inns and villages in miniature with a crèche or manger scene as the focal point. From the midst, the Christmas tree (a more modern tradition) rises.

We have Lebanese Christian friends in Tiberias. Paula makes many varieties of cookies, cakes, puddings and sweets for Christmas. (Their apartment is the above middle photo. You can see the elaborate scene they made – and if you can look out the windows, you will see a magnificent view of the Sea of Galilee at night). My favorite cookies, which are actually kosher, dairy, are the techineh and rose water balls. Melt in your mouth delicious. One bowl. They can’t be easier to put together. I’m making a batch now and can’t wait until they come out of the oven. These cookies freeze well, so I’ll be sure to have them around when my son and his friends come home for Chanukah.

Techineh (tahini) Rose Cookies

(Makes about 50-60 cookies)

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup techineh (tahini)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 6 tsp rose water (found in large supers or MidEast stores)
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1 stick butter, room temperature
  • optional: sesame seeds, dried rose petals (MidEast markets sell them)

Preheat oven to 150*C/3255*F. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix with you hand until the dough sticks together nicely. Form into balls a little smaller than a ping pong ball – about the size of a large walnut. You can roll some in sesame seeds at this point. Space on parchment or slip at lined cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes. C when they come out of oven, you can gently decorate with pieces of rose petals, dried, organic. Or dust with powdered sugar, sanding sugar or leave plain.

The next recipe is from Lily Cohen. Lily moved here with her husband and three children from just north of Paris about two years ago. They are fairly secular Jews living in Herzliya, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Even though the boys, ages 9 and 11, do not wear a kippah (yarmulke), they were constantly getting bullied in school because of their name. Etienne was on his way home, when he was beaten up by a throng of other boys, kicked numerous times, pelted with stones. The family decided it was time to leave. Daniel, the father, was a fairly respected university professor, and he, too, was feeling the effects of antiSemitism. Now the family is thriving. My son was invited to dinner at their house and called me absolutely RAVING about Madame Cohen’s delicious brisket. I have always made my brisket smothered in onions and a tomato sauce. Very heavy. This is a much lighter, dare I say, French version. I will definitely serve this for Chanukah this year. Can’t wait!!! It’s become my new favorite way to make a brisket.

Lily Cohen’s French Brisket Au Jus

Ingredients:

  • 1 4 pound (2kg) brisket
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 cup white Zinfandel wine (or white grape juice)
  • 1/3 cup strong Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tsp dried tarragon
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
  • 7-9 shallots, thinly sliced
  • 10-12 mushrooms, sliced medium fine
  • Sear brisket in skillet over high heat on all sides until browned. Sauté shallots and mushrooms in leftover brisket drippings, adding a little oil if needed. In large bowl, stir Dijon into broth incorporating well. Transfer meat to a Dutch oven or baking pot. Pour mustard broth over. Add in wine or grape juice and seasonings. Cook, covered, at 325*F/150*C and bake 25 minutes per pound (50 minutes a kilo). Add in shallots and mushrooms over top in last 15 minutes. The natural gravy is fantastic over the brisket or rice. I’ll be pouring mine over potato latkes.

No matter what feast you will be celebrating, I wish you a happy, healthy and peaceful one. Thank you for your continued readership and I shall see you in 2023.

6 thoughts on “Welcoming the Light

  1. Welcome home. How is your back doing now? Do you ever come to the center of Israel? My friend’s sister teaches at the university in Saint Andrews. She teaches something Judaic, maybe Medieval Jewish something? My friend says they are active in the Hillel/Jewish community at the university. Maybe your daughter knows her? Maybe you met her?

    Judi

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  2. Oh what a lovely newsie post. THANK YOU! And the brisket recipe I am going to do in my instant pot. Question why white Zinfandel isn’t it sweet?

    May all the blessings of the holydays be upon you and yours!

    XOXOXO

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    • Merry Christmas, Claudia. OK. Best answer is that here in Israel the white wines just aren’t that sweet. The Emerald Riesling and White Zin are a bit less dry than a California chardonnay. So for you, I’d try a less expensive Chenin Blanc. I hope that helps-

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  3. Mazel tov on all the great family news and your amazing travels! And love your descriptions of holiday celebrations in Northern Israel! As a vegan now, I’m off brisket, but I’d like to try the tahini cookie recipe using date sugar and a substitute for the butter (oil? cashew nut butter?).
    Chag sameach to you all!

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    • Hi Sue! Thanks for continuing to read. I will tell you… those techineh cookies are nothing short of addictive. I don’t know if it’s that sesame seed paste or the rose water(don’t be afraid to add a few drops extra), but man o man! Yes date sugar is great- even more authentic Israeli. I’m now using coconut sugar as it is neutral low glycemic. I don’t know about a butter substitute but if you try cashew butter, let me know. It should be thick enough to hold the dough together, but not overpowering to the techineh taste. Let me know what you try and how it turns out… I’ll even feature it on the blog if you like. Blessings for a happy, healthy 2023.

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      • I’m off coconut (especially coconut oil) because it raises LDL cholesterol really badly but not sure it that applies to coconut sugar; at some initial research, looks like it has zero fat. Good to know that date sugar is more authentic. Looking forward to trying out an adapted recipe!

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