The Wait

Yet another unplanned post-

Living in Israel has been mostly positive. Of course everything has its ups and downs. Being separated from friends and families has been made tolerable due to modern technology: Skype, FaceTime, SMS, Email, the myriad social apps, and our favorites, Viber and WhatsApp that allow one to call or text anywhere in the world for free. We’ve also been host to a fair amount of pilgrims, adventurers and family wanting a home base as they tour our beautiful country. Keeping in touch has never been a problem.

The past week, though, we were thrown headfirst into a most dire and difficult situation that grew beyond our most distressing imaginations. I had bought my ticket back to California last December. With plenty of time before the birth of our first two grandchildren- one due late March, the other at the end of April. My husband was due to follow late April.

A week and a half ago, Tess messaged me photos she had taken of her legs, feet and hands. Swollen so large she could not wear shoes. Her blood pressure was elevated. She was feeling nauseous and dizzy. Despite my pleas to take off work, rest, hydrate, and go to the clinic, she went to work…. for most of the day until she could take it no longer.

That night, she and Michael made the trip to UCLA Medical Center, thank G-d, a top level hospital! As I had suspected, she had preeclampsia and her BP was sky high. After a small seizure, she was put on morphine, but her and the baby’s heartbeats and blood pressure plummeted so they gave her norepinephrine. They wanted to get the baby delivered, so pitocin was started along with a whole host of other meds. That’s when we got the phone call.

John and I were beside ourselves. Me, especially, since I was to be present at the delivery. We could only pray, wait, and give them our “attaboys.” The long night for us passed with no news. Finally, late morning, calls from older sister who was taking my place as L&D coach. Tessa was ready to push, but having a really hard time.

No word. We are on pins and needles, but praying. My strictness in observing the Sabbath without phone in hand had been thrown out the window hours ago. Three hours later. Finally!! There are problems. Baby stuck and they have to try to turn it manually. More pushing. We are praying now harder than ever, our pleas ascending to G-d from the Holy Land. Two more hours. No word.

At last, baby is born but not breathing. Rushed to NICU. Tessa in bad shape. They are working on both patients. So…. what can we do??? I’m dying that I’m so far away from my babies. I want to be there for my daughter, to comfort her, hold her. My dear husband reminds me that we can do the best for the both of them just by our prayers. So I text four really close friends to have them join me in intercession on Tessa and Quinn’s behalf.

For the next couple days, the news is not good. For either. We now have people davening and praying and fasting and offering up all over the world as the small group of four pass the intentions on to others. It is very comforting, but still… I have 2 days before my booked flight- and this is the first time I don’t want to be in Israel….

Finally news on our granddaughter- after blood transfusions, oxygen support and other numerous procedures- takes an upturn. We are praising HaShem and rejoicing for this miracle, for new life!!! We get pictures. Of the baby. Hooked up to machines. Various tubes and monitors. It takes me back to the days when I delivered my preemies without family support. But Mike and her three sisters have put their schedules asides and are taking turns round the clock staying with Tessa – and visiting the baby. I feel a little better.

Still, as I mother, I’m beside myself. John reminds me that if I were in another state, we’d be in the same boat. But I’m not!!! I’m a world away!!! Tess takes a huge turn for the worse and begins to hemorrhage. She receives several units packed red cells. We pray even harder. We pull out specific Scriptures reminding G-d of His promises. Tessa’s fever has spiked to 104.6F/40.5 C! More IV antibiotics. They can’t figure out the exact cause of the infection.

Her gallbladder goes. I’m scheduled to leave the next day. A 25 hour trip with layovers and travel times. She’s going into surgery. Surgery is delayed until they can control the bleeding… I contact a whole host of other friends for prayers. Please go straight to the Kotel. Put a petek in the wall and daven, daven, daven! I plead with my Jerusalem girlfriend.

Priests are praying at the Holy Sepulchre, the Mount of Olives, throughout the Galilee and around the world. Rabbis in Los Angeles are praying. Torah classes are studied in merit of mother and child.

Tessa’s lungs are building up fluid and she’s having trouble breathing on her own. Unresponsive to antibiotics. Women’s groups are dedicating their Tanya studies to Tess & “Malkah bat Tessa.” I’m pacing the balcony, praying, glued to the phone. Possible sepsis? Clots removed. Heparin. Lasix. Blood. Morphine.Echocardiograms. MRI. Chest X-ray. CT scans. I’m floating in medical jargon.

John says to have faith. Look at all the good that’s already coming from this. We’ve told seven people and now there are prayers all over the US, Israel, Canada, the U.K., Europe, Australia and even Africa. People of all faiths are turning to G-d and doing goods deeds on her behalf. That G-d is faithful and merciful and compassionate even when we don’t get immediate results.

We are being purged emotionally, drained spiritually, but our faith is still unfaltering. Think of the many close calls, the many miracles we’ve already witnessed in our lives. John goes off to coach his baseball team when I get the news. Liver is going south. Heart and BP irregularities. I leave in four hours- not soon enough. I just want to hold my daughter. Tell her how much I love her.

I send encouraging texts to her sisters. We’re strong women. She’ll pull through. Keep up the faith. Don’t stop praying. I send them photos from my book, Talking to G-d by Rabbi Naomi Levy ( highly recommended!!!!!!). John comes home and I plead with him to come with me on the next flight. He reassures me that our G-d is faithful. That faith is believing without seeing. Hoping beyond all hope. When I get there in a few hours, if needed, he’ll change his flight-

This was the only time I’ve been in Israel that I really wanted to be elsewhere. By this time, we were being flooded with emails, calls & messages from concerned folk. Hundreds of them. I needed time to de-pressurize. To cry quietly. To breathe. The flight proved the perfect opportunity. 18 hours of blank space. Time to pull myself together. Hope I’d be there “in time” crossed my mind a few times, but I quickly pushed it aside and opted to focus on the saving power of a merciful Creator. He could do this. We could only pray for wisdom for the doctors. As my husband had reminded me, ” This is completely out of our hands. We can do nothing. G-d is in charge. What good will worry do?” Now you know why I love this awesome man so much!

By the time I arrived at Tessa’s bedside, the bleeding was under control and six antibiotics were down to four. She was sitting up and lucid. Mike and my three other daughters were there. They hadn’t left her side in almost a week. I could breathe a sigh of relief – and give these exhausted kids a much needed break. I was there.

By the next day, IV lines were pulled and oxygen was lowered. The baby, still in NICU, was allowed to be brought down to see Mama. The worst was over and all would be well in the long run.

Last night we were surprised when the evening rounds were made and discharge orders were written up for both. Shocked, but elated!

Yes. Sometimes we go through pure hell. Sometimes things happen in life that are simply beyond our control. But we have a most awesome G-d who listens and is merciful, and if we let Him, He can bring tremendous good to a broken world.

I’ll spend the next few days helping the new family get settled- cooking, cleaning, shopping, running errands so they have time to bond. It will be a long, slow process for Tess- but she’s skied, parachuted out of airplanes, rapelled up the tallest mountain cliffs in Hawaii, New Zealand & the States. And more. She’s a strong, athletic woman. Then I’ll move on…

I’m eternally thankful to HaShem for His mercy towards us. How can I ever repay????? And to all those out there who prayed for us; who sent notes of encouragement….. see, our prayers were answered! Hallelujah! Thank you so much for your outpouring of love. Hugs and high fives to all.

I will be in Southern California through the end of May. My regularly scheduled posts on life in Israel will continue as usual, hopefully uninterrupted.

The Ubiquitous Cholent

For observant Jews, Shabbat is a day of complete rest. No work at all can be done. No physical work, no driving, no shopping, no writing or computer use, not even turning on or off electricity and NO COOKING! All work must be completed sundown Friday (through nightfall Saturday). Shabbat is a day for prayer, family, visiting neighboring friends, and relaxation. It’s a necessary unplugging from the frenetic pace of the week.

There is a traditional Sabbath dish in the Jewish culture. A mainstay. It’s ubiquitous here in Israel. Called cholent ( pronounced CHO lent, SHOW lent, or shoont), it is a hearty thick cross between stew and chili that is prepared on Friday and cooks in a crock pot or on a hot plate through Saturday. Especially great on a cold winter day, it has as many different variations as there are cooks. It was birthed from necessity over hundreds of years and encompasses all the different Jewish cultures of the world – made with different ingredients: meats, veggies ,spices, beans, grains – based on the tastes and availability of products in that part of the world. I’ve had the “typical” Ashkenaz cholent as well as the Sephardic, Yemenite, and North African versions, called chamin (kha MEEN), which translates to “hot” in Hebrew.

The basic ingredients for cholent are cubed stew meat, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, spices, whole eggs (really!!!), vegetables and sometimes grains like barley or cosemet (bulgar or buckwheat groats). The meat is seared first, the rest of the ingredients are added, brought to a boil, and then set on a slow simmer (crock pots are great for this) for the duration of Shabbat.

The hard boiled eggs can be fished out and eaten at breakfast; the stew makes a stick-to-the-ribs midday meal, and any leftovers are scooped up with bread; stuffed into pita; and served with accompanying cold salads, olives, pickles and other mezze.

The “guys” love cholent with the addition of a can of beer or a cup of whiskey, which cooks out leaving flavor. It can be dressed up with a dry red wine, but mostly it’s made alcohol free.

This is a very creative dish. Basically it uses the meat and red kidney beans or brown beans. The Spanish and Mexican style uses black beans. Middle Eastern versions use chickpeas and turkey or chicken thighs for the meat. For the Eastern European, white potato chunks are added. The Yemenite and South African style uses sweet potatoes. Always, lots of onion chunks and garlic cloves are thrown in. Some people put in cut up carrots, celery, turnips, tomatoes, even peas. And…. it can be made vegan without the meat.

So, without further ado here are some basic recipes:

Basic Ashkenazi Cholent. Serves 6


1kg/2.2lbs Beef short ribs or stew meat. 1 onion cut into large chunks. 8 pieces garlic. 1/3 cup northern white beans. 1/3 cup red kidney beans. 1/2 kg/1lb. large chunks unpeeled red potatoes 3/4 cup pearl barley. 3/4 cups beef broth. 6 whole eggs. 2Tbsp honey. 2 tsp paprika. 1 tsp each salt & pepper

Sear meat on high heat in skillet. Add to bottom of crockpot and dump all the additional ingredients on top. Cover and bring to a boil on high setting 1-2 hours. Then set dial to low. Keep covered 12-18 hours. Can add more liquid ( can of chopped tomatoes with liquid) if it looks too thick or dry. Also, when in the US I added a frozen vegetarian kishke chub which, for us, puts the dish over the top! It’s something I can only find at Mehane Yehuda in Yerushalayim here in Israel.

Yemenite Chamin


1 kg/2.2 lb chicken things, skin on. 1 red/purple onion cut in chunks. 6 cloves garlic. 3 large sweet potatoes, cut into large pieces. 3 carrots, cut up. 2 dates, pitted. 1/2 cup apricots. 1/4 cup raisins. 3 cups chickpeas. 6-12 eggs, whole. 2 tsp turmeric (curcum). 1/2 tsp allspice. 1/2 tsp cumin. 1/2 tsp cinnamon. 1 tsp salt. 1 quart/1liter chicken broth

Brown the salted and peppered chicken thighs in a skillet until golden. Transfer to crockpot and add all other ingredients. Stir well and cover. Heat on high 1-3 hours then set to low 12-18 hours.


1/2 kg/1 lb ground meat, browned. 1 onion, chopped large. 6 garlic cloves. *optional 1-4 jalapeño, chopped 1 cup black beans or frijoles. 1 cup rice. 2 cans (425 ml) chopped tomatoes with sauce. 1 can corn with liquid. 1cup water. 6 whole eggs. 1 bunch chopped cilantro (cuzbara). 1 1/2 tsp cumin. 4 drops Tabasco. 1/2 tsp chili powder. 1 tsp each salt & pepper. 1/2 tsp. Sugar

Add all ingredients to crock pot. Set to high 2 hours, then turn to lowest setting for 12-18 hours. Can add water if needed, but try to keep covered



2yellow onions, cubed. 1 red/purple onion, cubed. 6 garlic cloves. 3 large zucchini cut in very large chunks. 6 carrots cut in large pieces. 1 pack brown mushroom, sliced thickly. 3 stalks celery, cut large. 2 cans chopped tomatoes with juice. 2 cans white cannellini beans, Lima beans or northern whites. 1/2 kg/ 1 lb red potatoes, cubed. 1 cup grain (barley, couscous, brown rice) 6 eggs(omit if vegan). 2 tsp dried thyme. 1 large bay leaf. 1 bunch parsley, chopped. 1tsp each salt & pepper 1 1/2 cups water

Add all to large crockpot. Allow to come to boil on high heat 15 minutes, stirring well. Switch to lowest simmer 12-18 hours.

As stated previously, there are many variations. Start with the basics, then be creative. But most of all enjoy! B’tayamim!!

Truth & Lies

Once again, I’m writing a politically charged article that I had not planned to write. But what I have to say needs attention as history is repeating itself, albeit in a different arena.

One of the many reasons we moved to Israel (and there are many) was the fact that it provided us a much more affordable launching pad to travel to Europe. We always dreamed of traveling, and have been able to take advantage of low-cost airfare and shortened travel times.

John and I just returned from two glorious weeks in the Czech Republic. For our last day’s excursion, we arose very early to make the hour train ride from Prague to Terezinstadt, one of the 633 European Nazi concentration camps. We knew it would be a most difficult day.

In 1780, the Hapsburg emperor, Josef II had a fortified town built as a deterrent to Prussian attacks. Surrounded by high walls and moat, the lovely island of a village was continually inhabited until 1941, when a truly diabolical plan was hatched.

There needed to be a spin put on the Nazi’s true program of liquidating the Jewish population of Europe. A different face to show the world. A kinder, gentler, human face. A mask for what was truly happening. A concentration camp “showplace” so to speak, to prove to the International Red Cross and other humanitarian agencies that anything they might have heard about the unethical, inhumane treatment of “undesirables” was just rumor. Terezinstadt became the perfect place for their propaganda machine.

The town was emptied of its Bohemian residents, which once numbered about 5,000 people. Apartment buildings were turned into dormitories for over 500,000 Jews over the next three years. But this was no ordinary camp. For most, it was a sorting place on the way to the death camps in the East. For a select few of the most elite… artists, composers, writers, doctors, professors – and children – it served a different purpose. While most people suffered and died from malnutrition, disease, cruelty, a select few thousand were chosen to be the faces of Nazi propaganda.

Away from the crematoria, the fierce guard dogs, the machine-gunned sentries, the brick walls and iron bars, was a lovely village. Lush gardens filled with fresh vegetables tended by the Jews in their model village(which actually served the Gestapo…the Jews were forbidden to eat from the plots they tended upon threat of being shot if discovered). There were cafés, theaters, a symphony orchestra, choirs, and happy Jewish families, well-dressed, well-fed, well-cared-for. A large town square provided for ample fresh air, exercise, picnics and outdoor concerts. All a lie. The inmates were only allowed out of doors when visitors came. It was a cruel ruse. A mere facade. An act.

From this part of the town, propaganda films were made. Fake documentaries to hide the truth of atrocities being committed just a few hundred meters away. Films like “The Fuhrer Gives the Jews a City” and”GhettoTheresienstadt. “For three all-too-short years, these chosen few (many were children) had a temporary reprieve as humanitarian agencies were paraded through this “typical” camp.

However, from within the walls of Terezin, something else amazing was happening. The children were organized and taught by artists such as Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. They wrote stories and poems and published their own little weekly newspaper. They created art. With the help of composers Viktor Ullman, Patel Haas and Hans Krasa, they staged magnificent plays. The most famous is an original children’s operetta, Brundibar, about a mean organ grinder(Hitler) persecuting helpless children in a dystopian land. With the help of brave woodland animals, they chase the organ grinder away. It was performed over 50 times for the Nazi officers and their special guests, although no one seemed to catch on to its symbolism. Still, the weekly artistic performances gave the Jews an outlet for their misery and proved a temporary diversion.

After the SS and Gestapo sat to have their portraits drawn by rather famous artists of the day, another type of art was being produced…. and hidden away for posterity. These were the true sights of what life was like within the camp. As under cover of darkness, trains of human cargo would come and go; more people added to the pre-existing crowded conditions; death ruled, and crematoria destroyed the reality of human life snuffed out prematurely, the truth was being painfully recorded.

After the Jewish inhabitants served their purpose, they were sent on to the death camps of Auschwitz, Treblinka and Bergen-Belsen. Thousands crowded into boxcars standing room only, deprived of water, food and bathroom facilities for days at a time. Many of whom died in transit. Soon, World War II would be over, only to be replaced by the Communist regime. Terezin would be reinhabited by local population.

Even though the camp serves as a memorial to the atrocities of man’s inhumanity to man, today there are stark and surreal inconsistencies. Local villagers now inhabit many of the town’s dormitories that once housed The Jewish population. Laced curtained windows look out across the street from old abandoned barracks once crammed with the suffering. Who in their right mind could live here? What could they think? How can you raise a healthy young family with reminders of torture, suffering and death directly across the street?

It’s an indescribable juxtaposition. The most inconceivable absurdity was the antique bazaar, set up in an unused, dilapidated dormitory building. Today it sells old furniture, housewares, vintage clothing – and leftover remnants from the Nazi and Communist regimes. For me, it was just too much to bear.

It was a bone-chilling winter day. Bleak. Strangely silent except for my muffled sobs as we walked the desolate streets haunted by memories of the past. The train ride back home was equally painful, punctuated by the deafening squeals of the metal wheels of the train as it pulled into Prague Station. John and I just needed time to decompress. To find something a bit more uplifting.

We returned to the comfort of our warm hotel room and turned on the television to watch the Winter Olympics from South Korea. We don’t have television in our home in Israel ( by choice), so this was a real treat. Or so we thought.

About fifteen minutes into the pageantry and festivities, the camera turned to a lovely young woman and a bevy of her smiling, clapping, red-outfitted entourage. This was none other than North Korean Kim Jung Un’s sister, second in command and Minister of Propaganda!!! This, a head of an absolutely evil, totalitarian regime, was being hailed by the commentators as a diplomat, an ambassador of peace and goodwill!!! After the day’s outing, we could hardly believe what we were seeing. “How radiant and happy they are! So cute! Look at her smile!” This was the same story being peddled to the ignorant masses around the world. The personification of an Evil Empire bent on the destruction of man disguised as innocence and congeniality. Obviously, the propaganda was having its desired effect. I could only think of the starving millions in North Korea, the defectors, the over 150,000 “political” prisoners – and of Otto Warmbier, the young Jewish student who made a class trip to North Korea. He was imprisoned for taking down a poster as a souvenir of his time there, brutally tortured, then shipped back to the States many months later, comatose. His last few days were spent in a US hospital, never regaining consciousness…. just one example of the cruelty of this regime. Were his parents watching this mockery- and what could they think? As the American reporters fawned over Kim Yo Jung and bashed Vice President Pence as a nefarious sort, we recalled a subtitle from the Terezin documentary:

We are, ironically, about a week away from the Jewish holiday of Purim. A time when we celebrate the bravery of Queen Esther and her heroic saving of the Jewish people from destruction. It was during the captivity of Israel in what is now present day Iraq/Iran. A decree had gone out under the evil Haman, the king’s vizier, for all the Jews to be killed. His plan was thwarted by a fearless and outspoken woman, who drew the king’s attention to the diabolical scheme ( which would mean her ultimate death as well). This was a favorite play of the Terezinstadt Jews, performed numerous times as a source of hope and reminder of eventual justice. We need more people today, willing to call attention to the TRUE injustices of the world – at what reality truly exists. We can no longer gloss over the twisted and evil and downplay the good. Or we will be doomed to replay the same tragedies.

If you have been touched by this article in any way, please share this post. The world needs to see the hidden truths.

Hidden Truths

I really had not planned to write a political post. Not at this time, anyway. But after this week’s events, I cannot keep silent.

Last Wednesday  I received a series of ‘interesting ‘ emails and calls from one of my daughters in Los Angeles. She had been out with a group of her young, hip, urbane, well-educated friends. It was a very diverse group racially, religiously, politically. They had begun discussing the Mid East. And they had begun discussing Israel: the colonialist, apartheid, unjust occupier of Palestinian land. Their talk led to the unfair treatment and persecution of all Arabs, most notably, Ahed Tamimi, Palestinian  poster child.

My daughter tried to refute the many assaults against Israel….after all, several family members have made Aliyah. She stated historical facts not only about the Jewish people returning to their ancient and promised homeland, but cited modern day treaties and declarations.  She explained that Israel was the only true democracy in the Middle East, a place where Arabs have rights, where Arab women do not have to wear burkas or hijabs- where Arab women drive freely, unescorted; where the university system is open to all; where not only Jews, but Christians & Muslims can and do serve as members of Knesset (Parliament), doctors, engineers, architects, actors.

The discussion then moved on to the current US administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the rightful capital city of Israel. My daughter confronted one of the men as being anti-Semitic. His response to her was that he was by no means anti Jewish, but was anti Zionist (against Jewish people claiming Israel as their home). And then the Tamimi affair popped up.

Ahed Tamimi is the blond haired, blue eyed 17 year old Palestinian activist. She is often pictured wearing “love” and “peace” T shits and jeans. Very Western. She hails from a long line of Hamas supporters. Her  cousins include the first female plane hijacker and a female suicide bomber. The parents of Ahed have a long history of using their children, most notably, Ahed, in the front lines of protesters, rioters, and hecklers of IDF soldiers. In the latest video clip, two IDF soldiers have come to the Tamimi home. There were only two soldiers. It was not a raid. That December day, there had already been several outbreaks/riots in the village of Nebi Salih. There was a report to check  the Tamimi house, as that was a usual hotspot for terrorist activity.

In the clip, Ahed can be seen taunting the soldiers. She and her sister (filmed on cell phone by a friend), slap and punch the soldiers, spit on them, curse them, and punch them about the face and head. The soldiers show great restraint and eventually leave the premises. They do not engage or respond to the verbal or physical abuse. After the video is posted to Facebook and other social media as a resistance movement advert, Ahed is arrested. It has since become a propaganda piece for those who claim the injustice of the Israeli occupiers towards the Palestinians.

My daughter texted me and called to find out what we knew about it. She wanted factual information to rebut what she perceived as inaccurate reporting. I had been following the story for the past month in several of our media outlets. In fact, I bookmarked a couple of the stories.

My first surprise came when I went to retrieve the articles. They had been removed!!! So I googled Ahed Tamimi. I found plenty of articles from the mainstream American and European news outlets, Memri, Al Jezeera, NPR, the Guardian, the BBC, Newsweek. All slanted in Tamimi’s favor. It wasn’t until page 16/20 that I found an article published in The Tower which told the whole story. I copied it and sent it to my daughter. An hour later, I could no longer bring up that exact article in my google search. Also, all the other reports from our Israeli news outlets were not present. I finally reached the end of my search on page 20 to find this:


The plain truth is that the real truth has been hidden. Obscured. Obfuscated. Obliterated.

I have recently been hearing about how Google, Facebook, YouTube and other outlets have been selectively removing facts with which they do not agree. But here it was up close and personal, so to speak. Revising facts. Absolute censorship. Selective reporting. Even fake news. I was seeing it all firsthand. How can one see both sides of complex issues when truth is hidden? How can this happen when there is supposed to be freedom of press and speech? Where is our world heading when basic up-to-date information is twisted, slanted, or in this case, altogether buried?

Much food for thought. In the meantime, we are trying to provide our daughter with both sides of this story, as well as with reports of the good that comes from this country. Operation Good Neighbor: the IDF work to provide food, clothing, and desperately needed medical care to Syrian War civilian casualties. The Search & Rescue teams Israel sent after the Nepalese and Mexican earthquakes. The well digging, water purification and reclamation projects by Israel to help draught-stricken African nations.

In conclusion, I refer you to an article written in November,2015 in The Tower Magazine( It is entitled “How a Family Became a Propaganda Machine.” I hope my next posts will resume a more pleasant tenor….

The Great Bird Migration

The first week of January, John and I took a trip to the Hula Valley to witness the yearly winter migration of the Great Cranes from Europe to Africa. It was something we had planned on doing for two years, and was a spectacular sight.

Located in Israel’s far north, the Hula Valley lies just north of Lake Kinneret, also known as the Sea of Galilee. Formed by the Syrian-African Rift, the valley is framed by the Golan Heights to the east; snow-capped Mount Hermon to the north; and the Naftali Mountain Range to the west. In this small area, a mere 30 km long and 7 km wide, is some of Israel’s most fertile agricultural land filled with fruit orchards, wheat, corn, peanut and barley fields, spotted with well-stocked fish ponds and lined with canals.

It is also one of the best places in the world for bird watchers. Israel, lying at the intersection of Europe, Asia and Africa – the Rift Valley especially- is a superhighway for over 450 species of traveling birds. That’s over 500,000,000 birds each year!!! The Hula is the last green spot before flying over the vast Sinai and Sahara Deserts in Africa. Thousands of visitors from all over the world come in the fall and spring to see the great bird migration.

At the end of the Ottoman Empire in the late 1800s, this area was a vast swampland inhabited by a few Bedouin tribes who made their living weaving papyrus mats, and a few early kibbutniks, mostly from Russia and Poland. It was a harsh land and malaria was always a problem. The Jews settling in the valley bought the land for their kibbutzim from the Bedouins at exorbitant prices. Even then, as they tried to farm the area, they were constantly under Arab attack.

Shortly after independence, in the early 1950s, the Jewish National Fund invested in the first national engineering project- the draining of the swampland. One third of the valley was totally swampy, another third had groundwater right under the surface. The water came from the aquifers of Mt Hermon, the Dan River and tributaries of the Jordan River which runs from the base of Hermon through the Hula Valley and into the Kinneret. The draining left spontaneously igniting peat bogs, which then had to be cleared, but which added to the richness of the soil. Canals were built parallel to the fields for adequate drainage, and in the late 1980s, man-made lakes and ponds were added and stocked with many varieties of fresh water fish. Today, not only is it prime agricultural land, but Agamon Hula has become a nature reserve for a number of animals.

Twice a year over 300 species of migratory birds (White Pelican; Cormorants; Great Spotted Eagles; Imperial Eagles; Cranes; Storks; Snowy Egrets;Herons) rest and refresh here as a midpoint in their travels.

We started our day early in the morning- entrance is free to wander the 8.5 km of meandering trails. Bikes are welcome and available for rent as well as golf carts and family friendly covered pedal carts. Our first stop was one of the beautiful bird watching platforms right on the lake. We took binoculars, but free telescopes are available for public use on each platform. Our morning sighting started with several varieties of duck, coot and loon as well as a few herons and graceful white egrets.

No one could have prepared us for what was in store next. We decided to buy a ticket to the tractor-hauled, camouflaged duck blind for a trip into the fields.

Passing through magnificent landscape, we finally arrived at a massive field where over 42,500 Great Cranes awaited. They had just arrived from Russia and were feasting on corn. In order to prevent these creatures from reaping havoc in the farmland, over 3 tons of corn per day is scattered in one of 3 fields specially designated for the ravenous sojourners. What a sight it was!

From there, we went closer to the lake to watch thousands of White Cranes and long legged storks.

Also in the adjacent fields were a herd of Water Buffalo being raised for their milk which is used by a nearby kibbutz for artisanal mozzarella.

Because these birds are so well fed here, many refuse to leave, staying in the area throughout the Hula, Golan and Galil year round. The White Cranes and Blue Herons are often spotted tagging after herds of local grazing cattle. The fish in the Kinneret are also an abundant food supply. Just last week, right above our house, there was a regal presentation of Aya, or spotted hawks. This truly is a land of diversity and plenty, and we are so blessed to be able to live in such a remarkable place.

Making the Connection

IMG_0862The United States today is facing a time of the erasure of its history; “cultural misappropriation” and confusion; fractioned families; identity confusion. Colleges and universities have been taken over by waves of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, and Boycott, Divest and Sanction programs against Israel. There has been an ongoing bias in the UN and in the media against Israel.  Also, there has been a growing shift towards secularism and away from any and all religion. How then to connect the Jewish young adult to his/her heritage? How does one foster a connection to Judaism, to the land of Israel, to awaken a dormant spirituality, to create a sense of heritage, belonging, and identity?

Aaron Botzer, who immigrated to Israel in the late 1970s has done exactly that. From humble beginnings in the scenic mountain town of ancient Tsfat in the Upper Galilee, Aaron has cobbled together an amazing program for Jewish young adults. Livnot U’Lehibanot, Build and Be Built, is a program like no other in Israel. It is a holistic, physically and spiritually challenging Jewish experience that connects the participants to their heritage and community in an open environment. Combining hiking through the beautiful countryside while learning about the history, the land, the ecological balance, and the flora and fauna is only one experience to feed the soul. Through nature, hands-on experiences, seminars, connection to the local community, field trips, and unique cultural opportunities, the soul is elevated and can make connections not otherwise drawn.

Situated in the mystical city of old Tsfat, which is literally built atop layers and layers of history provides another advantage. Not only are the youth able to enjoy the artsy and spiritual vibes of this unique place, but the Livnot Center itself, is built on a most amazing archaeological site, the Kahal. Located on a 700 square meter site, in the heart of Tsfat’s ancient, Jewish quarter, are underground stone passageways and tunnels leading to rooms, structures, ritual bathing pools (mikvaot), synagogues, and homes from the 16th century, Tsfat’s Golden Age. The participants in this program spend time actually working on the ongoing excavations and renovations of the site. It provides a unique hands-on opportunity to connect with the past as well as to enjoy all that it offers in the present. There is a large communal hall that has been unearthed and restored. It contains wood-burning ovens from the 1500s, where today, pizza is made and challah is baked. The carved-out stone seating area along the walls of this spacious stone room is lined with richly colored Middle Eastern pillows and cushions – a perfect place for seminars, musical concerts and just hanging out.


Livnot U’Lehibanot is not only concerned with the past, but community service programs and opportunities to volunteer within the local communities provide a link to present-day Israel. There are seminars and group discussions led by leading experts in different fields. Also, there are interactive workshops, in art and music, challah making, cooking, folk dance, ecology and sustainability, and spirituality. Fantastically fun and spirit-filled Shabbat celebrations are another highlight of the program. There are classes in leadership training as well, as the future leaders of society make up the different groups.

This life-changing program is not affiliated with any particular denomination of Judaism, which is very unique here in Israel. The philosophy behind this is that all denominations have the ability to influence one another for the good of all. There is no pressure on the youth to go one way or another, just to enjoy and grow from the experience. There are many different paths of Jewish spirituality that vary from individual to individual. It is quite open-minded in its holistic approach, which helps bridge many gaps. Ultimately, to form a bond with the Almighty, with Judaism, and with the land of Israel is the ultimate goal. Here, the young adult will meet many different people from all over the world – not just the States, but Europe, South Africa, Canada, Australia and South America. Trained mentors oversee the activities in a safe and fun environment.

The Livnot programs consist of short term 1 week, 2 weeks, and 6 weeks intensives. Each group consists of no more than 24 youth. The intensives are highly subsidized by generous patrons, making it very affordable indeed (a full week including room and board is only $195/ a six week course runs $500). It is perfect for the person who has made a Birthright trip and wants something more – to take that adventure to a higher level.  There are winter programs, running from December through February; summer programs from May through August; and special holiday programs. Perfect for the university student as well as the post graduate, who is looking for a different kind of spiritual experience. To date, over 1000 alumni of Livnot have completed the program and have gone on to become active young professionals and lay leaders in their own communities back home.

“In retrospect, there has probably been no single life experience                     that has had such a profound effect on my life. I was able to discover what a gold mine was out there for Jewish souls. Shabbat evening, with its candles and sensual setting, was a profound experience of peace and belonging, connection and fulfillment. My life has been forever transformed.”   Avi R., Program T25

” I am reminded of how one week in Tsfat set me on the path of personal legacy. Livnot has been the catalyst of my Jewish journey…my program showed me that being Jewish isn’t about scrambling to save people from being washed out by modern society, but rather that we are privileged to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We are connected to a thriving, growing family and culture that is infused with thousands of years of spirituality and wisdom.”  Abigail C., Program 256

“Life altering is an understatement!”   David B., Program 126

For more information, as a potential participant, or to donate – contact



Recipes & Ideas for the Fall Feasts


It’s a few days after the observance of Rosh HaShannah, the Jewish New Year – and I’m finally beginning to catch my breath. John & I had just returned from two weeks in Europe, and I was having five extra guests plus my son (on army leave) over for dinner. I wanted a really pretty table and menu with a minimum amount of hardship. Plus, we would be celebrating a traditional New Year Seder here in Israel.

For the centerpiece, I used my Rosh HaShannah seder plate which I got at Shalom House in Tarzana, California. Underneath I laid (silk) fall leaves with grapes and chestnuts (I picked off the ground in Geneva & will cook later) surrounding the plate. I decided to use my autumn colors tablecloth so I didn’t have to iron my good white damask one. Gold trimmed placemats, my autumn (meat dishes) china, and we were almost good to go. Hollowing out a few tiny acorn squash and inserting a tea light in each one was inexpensive, easy, and really lovely.  I put a hostess sized Tamar Gourmet Preserves or Chutney at each of the guests’ plates.

Now for the traditional foods and their meanings: the Seder Plate contains nine symbolic items, each associated with a blessing. The first is a pomegranate. I discussed the symbolism of the pomegranate in my last blog post. May the 613 arils remind us of the commandments in the Torah, so we  can have a holy year. Scallions or leeks are used to remind us of the whips of taskmasters and oppressors. May we never come under the rule of oppressive dictators and Pharaohs again. Amen! A gourd: may our good deeds in the coming year be as numerous as seeds of the pumpkin. The head of a fish (I use a paper one) so that we may always be the head and not the tail in the year ahead. A beet or carrot. Some of the words in Hebrew form the meanings or word play for the symbolism. They just don’t translate into English well. Also, each community has their own tradition – go with me on these. The beet (or carrot). May G-d in His mercy keep our enemies far away from us. A double Amen as we live in a very uncertain world these days. Black eyed peas: a few traditions on this food. One is that our enemies will be turned back; another is that the eyes of G-d, the angels and holy ones watch over us to guard us and guide us throughout the year. Dates. I discussed the significance of the date palm (tamar) last post, but may we bend under troubles and not break, as other less supple trees during storms.

I really love these sticky, sweet fruits for so many reasons. As an object lesson, think on the date palm. They bend: they give when pressure is applied. When an intense wind storm hits, they drop their fruits. I like to think of myself as being especially fruitful during a hard situation. Yes, sometimes I lash out and can be pretty miserable; but like the date palm, that’s when I want to be spreading the most help, the most cheer, the most optimism to others. Going with the flow, accepting what I have no control over, and being as positive as possible.

The next food, perhaps the most famous combo associated with Rosh HaShannah is apples and honey. May we have a sweet year. A year of health!!! A year of joy!!! A holy year. A year of prosperity. A year of peace!!! And lastly, the wine and the challah. From Rosh HaShannah through Simchat Torah we use a round bread, not the traditional braided one. The roundness is to remind us of many things – the cycle of the year and the cycle of life. The fact that G-d has no beginning or end. He was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Also, the rounded loaf looks like a crown. During this season we crown Him King of our Lives.

I love the new round challah cover I just bought for the holidays in Budapest last week. It was made by a 93 year old woman who somehow survived during the Holocaust and now works at the Dohany St. Synagogue. She’s a lively, chatty old soul – but has had to slow down over the years due to her failing eyesight. She now uses a machine instead of sewing by hand, but either way, this is a beautiful piece I’ll treasure always. It says in Hebrew “Sabbath Peace and Holiday Happiness.”

During, the holidays, I try to keep to a healthy diet, using as many of the fall fruits and veggies – Israel’s Seven Species, and incorporating as many of the symbolic foods as possible. Because there is so much cooking this time of year, I also try to make things as simple as possible. Hope you can try a few of these as well during your fall feasts.

BLACK-EYED PEA SALAD, ITALIAN STYLE                      parve, serves 8



  • 2 cups uncooked black-eyed peas or 1 large package frozen peas
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 orange bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 2 large stalk celery (or 6 tiny Israeli stalks)
  • 6 large scallions (green onions)
  • 1 small bunch flat, Italian parsley, minced
  • salt & pepper to taste
  •  Italian dressing (I make my own using 4 Tbsp red wine vinegar; 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil; 1/4; 4 cloves smashed garlic; 1 tsp oregano; 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper; 1 tsp sea salt)

Soak the dried peas overnight, covering with boiling water. Drain, rinse, then cook in salted boiling water 15 minutes. Let simmer for 1-2 hours or until softened. Drain & rinse well. Drain again.                                        You can save yourself all the extra trouble by using defrosted frozen or drained & rinsed canned black eyed peas, if available.  Place peas in a large bowl. Cut up veggies into a small dice. Add to bowl. Pour the Italian dressing over top. Before serving, mix in the minced parsley leaves. Garnish with parsley leaf and the top of a pepper. Refrigerates and keeps well for leftovers. Can be served as a hearty salad lunch or as a side with either meat or dairy. Protein packed!!!

HARVEST QUINOA SALAD                                         parve   serves 6-8

I love quinoa. It’s gluten free and great for special needs diets; so versatile and easy to prepare!



  • 2 cups cooked, fluffed quinoa (cook according to package directions)
  • 1/3 cup dried sweet pitted cherries
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions (scallions)
  • 1’4 cup sliced almond pieces
  • 1/2 cup roasted butternut squash or pumpkin cubes
  • 1/2 cup dressing (if in US, Brianna’s Blush Wine Vinaigrette is amazing!!!!! If not, recipe follows…

Cook the quinoa according to package directions to yield 2 cups. Fluff and set aside to cool in large bowl. Halve and de-seed a butternut squash or small pumpkin. Place on baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt & pepper. In  220*C/450 *F oven, roast the gourd for about 15-20 minutes until tender. Let cool. Add dried fruits, sliced scallions and almonds to quinoa. Mix gently to incorporate. Cube the flesh of the squash/pumpkin into small bite sized chunks and add to quinoa bowl. Mix gently. Pour dressing over top, and mix in. Can be served room temp or refrigerated. This makes tasty leftovers – if there are any!!!

Dressing: Blend well-

  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/3 cup blush or rose wine
  • 2 Tbsp red onion juice (I use my garlic squeezer to juice my onion) and remaining pulp
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp honey or sugar
  • 1 tsp ginger juice (squeeze fresh) – optional
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg -optional


              ROASTED FIGS ON BABY GREENS                    parve      serves 6

Another easy one, that is raving delicious! I cook the figs with all the other items I’m roasting that day, running the oven only once….

On a foil-lined cookie sheet, halve washed figs. Drizzle with small amount of olive oil, salt & pepper. You can also add a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar, but only if it’s sweet (3-5 coins on packaging). Roast at 220*C/450*F oven for 10 minutes.  In large bowl, put pre-washed mesclun or baby green salad mix. Lay the roasted figs on top SAVE THE JUICE!!!!!! Add a few thinly sliced purple onions to the top, and sprinkle on some candied pecans.

Dressing: pour the reserved fig juice into a small bowl. Add a bit of olive oil, salt & pepper. Squeeze in 2 Tbsp onion juice (I use my garlic press) and pulp. Blend well & pour over salad just prior to serving.


This is also quick and easy. It’s very colorful and oh so good for you. Can be served at any meal. The veggies can be bought pre-prepared and mixed or you can run the fresh veggies through a food processor. I use my mandoline slicer –



  • 3 medium red beets, peeled, raw, and julienned
  • 2 large carrots, peeled, raw, julienned
  • 1 large kohlrabi or jicama, peeled, raw, juilienned
  • 1/3 cup Brianna’s Blush Wine Salad Dressing if in the US. If not see recipe for the dressing above in the Quinoa Salad.

Enjoy, my friends. I hope your Fall Feasts are sweet – filled with family, friends, good food & good music. And in this holy season of introspection before Yom Kippur, the Day of Atoning: