Aliyahversary: 4 Years!

It’s hard to believe we’ve been Israelis for exactly four years now. We arrived the week before Passover to a most amazing welcome from our real estate agent, Tal Shtekler; our landlady, Rachel Ronen; various neighbors and an assortment of people I had connected with on my Pilot Trip. We arrived to find our fridge laden with meals for the week; flowers, wine and challah for our first Shabbat; and generous offers from Rachel and “Ms. Karmi’el,” the Grande Dame of information and hospitality, Sylvia Walters, to show us all around our new city. And dear Gwen White to help us on that first overwhelming grocery store trip where everything was in Hebrew and nothing was the same as we were used to.

A couple days before the Passover Seder, John, Max and I made the 4 hour bus trip to Jerusalem. It was before we had a car, and the train line to Karmi’el had not yet been built. My friend from CA, generously lent us her apartment while she was visiting family for the week. And our realtor, Tal, had made all the arrangements for us to be hosted at Pesach Seder with the Eisenberg family….plus we met people in Jerusalem and had to turn down three other offers. When we told shopkeepers and cabbies we had only made Aliyah one week prior, we received instant invitations for Passover meals. People who didn’t even know us!

That Seder with the Eisenberg’s was absolutely the best, most meaningful and entertaining Passover meal of our lives. Not only did we feel welcomed, but their seven children were amazingly bright, well-mannered and totally engaged. The food was to die for, and we’ll never forget going outside to sing Hallelujahs at 2am. Instead of opening the door for Elijah, we opened the door to Jerusalem police asking us to keep the festive noise down… and then they came in for dessert! Incredible!!

Over the past four years, we’ve grown a lot in so many ways. We’ve learned that even though there are a ton of problems here… no country is perfect…. Israelis tend to wear their emotions on their sleeves and can be very, very opinionated (and NEVER wrong!!!) and loud- once you get to know them, they are the warmest people you’ll ever meet. We’ve learned a ton about hospitality and opening your home and heart to others. It was quite uncomfortable at first, coming from the very private Los Angeles, where the common phrase “We’ll have to do coffee or lunch soon,” is just a nice way of blowing people off. The coffee and lunch dates rarely happen.

Two years ago, we enjoyed hosting my son’s IDF soldier friends, some serving from other countries- the US, Switzerland, Mexico, Columbia, South Africa- to our home for Seder. And by making pre-packaged individual Seder Bento boxes filled with food and Haggadot (prayer books recounting the story of the Exodus) to take to soldiers guarding the country at the extreme Northern outposts…we had to leave the meals at the gate). Still, it was an outpouring of gratitude for their service.

Last year, I found myself back in Los Angeles, with two children in the hospital. Sending out 23 emails to request an invitation for this wandering Jew to attend the Pesach celebration, I received 11 answers. 10 were no’s: “we’re full up; we’re only having family; check Chabad”… yes, I found a lovely Seder at my old Rabbi’s home. It was wonderful. But still, I couldn’t help thinking of how the opening line in the Haggada, “Let all who are hungry, come and eat” was just that. An opening line in a Hollywood movie. And yes, I also got a couple “We’ll have to meet for lunch one day” responses… It’s really quite sad.

Fast forward to this year. My husband has been diagnosed with cancer. I had knee surgery two weeks ago and my own tests for cancer this past week. My son, still serving in the army is suffering from Crohns and is working out his own time to have an upper and lower GI. We have been accompanied to hospitals by kindhearted Israelis who have been our drivers and translators, taking time off their own busy work schedules and Pesach preparations. We received eight invitations to celebrate the Seder with other families. When I said this year my husband and I want to remember the passing over of death from the Jewish homes and the march to freedom and victory, what happened? We received so much food from others, it was incredible!

We had such an abundance, that on Sunday afternoon, we drove up to Max’s base with deviled eggs, roasted carrots, fresh avocados, matzah balls, orange soup…. things that would rest gently on his stomach, but lots to share. We were “snuck” onto base by his mefakedim to hang out for a couple hours with the “kids” in their lounge. And to our surprise: Ido’s mom had sent up brisket, roasted potatoes, Passover cake. Shoshanna brought back roast chicken and veggies and lots of macaroons; there were other treats as well brought up by the surrounding ranchers and neighbors. Such joy! Such feasting!

In four years here, I’ve learned that Israel is one big family. We help each other. We depend on each other. It’s a mitzvah and a way to bring light to a dark world.

Starting tomorrow, we will be making the two hour drive each way, 5-6 times a week for six weeks for chemo and radiation. We’ve had offers to watch our little doggie while we are gone. We’ve had offers from people to drive us down to Ramat Gan. Friends of friends have offered their places down near Tel Aviv, or to find us less expensive hotels. Karen has given us the list of hotels in the area. Tal is looking for short-term rentals just in case. Amiad and Elisheva have graciously offered to house us. We don’t even know them… and I’m still unsure exactly how Amiad got our number! My friends, this is Israel!!!

The incredible Paula Stern has been working to find help for Max in the army. Does he need emergency leave or transfer to be with us? Can she expedite paperwork so he can get prompt medical care? Do we need people to stay with US in the hospital? How are WE set for meals? Extra care? What are our most immediate needs and how can she help? Paula, who has her own family and tremendously busy schedule, has been there for us at the ring of a phone. G-d bless this woman, a friend who I have yet to meet face to face.

We have met a few Arabic Christians and Druze in our area that have also become friends. It’s not just limited to Jews. These Israelis are also warm and generous with their time and offers to help, translate medical documents, make hospital calls…

This is Israel! We are all family here. We are a diverse people: Anglos, Moroccans, Russians, French, Brazilians, Jewish, Christians, Druzim. Yet we are mostly united. Ready to open our hearts and our homes. And it’s why I we so love it here. Happy Passover! Blessed Easter! Joyous spring! Here’s to friendship,

to new life, to hope! To our new country!

Walking THROUGH the Valley of the SHADOW of Death at Passover

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                                       -a note hanging on my bathroom mirror-

So…. please bear with me as this has got to be the hardest blogpost I’ve ever had to write. The past month has been like a fast-moving cyclone, enough to make one’s head spin. But in many ways, we are doing great and standing strong in our faith in the Lord to see us through to the other side. The road has been rocky, but there have been so many gemstones on our path.

Early this past January, I took a rather nasty fall and totally messed up my knee, tearing the meniscus in a couple places and other nasty little bits. After several weeks, I managed to get scheduled for surgery with a great doctor who was the head of the arthroscopic surgery department at Nahariyya Hospital. Before the scheduled operation, I had to undergo a few routine preliminary pre-op tests. My blood markers were a tad elevated and I had been having some other minor symptoms, so was scheduled for an upper and lower GI late last month. My husband, John, and son, Max, also were having some gastro problems that seemed to be worsening, but more on that later. The morning before I was set to start prep for my GI procedure, we received some pretty devastating news from a close relative and we were wondering whether a trip to the States would be necessary. Before any decisions could be made on that matter, I was taken by ambulance to Ziv Hospital in Tsfat in terrible pain. It felt like something had exploded on my right side. Stress???? No. Turned out I had a nice case of kidney stones, with a rather large one nestled snugly in my right ureter. Naturally, the scheduled GI was out of the question for the time being, so we decided to switch appointments John would take my appointment and I would take his later in the month. No problem. Those kidney stones turned out to be a gift from G-d!!! They are yet unresolved and I am on alpha blockers and other meds to dissolve the stones and widen the ureter. But that’s the least of our worries at this point.

Here’s where it gets “interesting.” Three weeks ago Friday, John, who took my appointment,  was diagnosed with a colorectal tumor that turned out to be malignant. By Sunday morning we were at Bnei Tzion Hospital in Haifa talking to the head surgeon, who proceeded to admit him for a week of further testing. We told our Ulpan (Hebrew) teacher, Efrat, who came with us and spent the day with us at the hospital to help with translation. In the meantime, we had already been doing lots and lots of research on the top hospitals and treatment options.

Sheba Hospital outside Tel Aviv is the #1 medical center in the MidEast and #10 in the world. It ranks 4th best for treating colorectal cancers. We had tried calling, but getting an “in” would be a long, slow process. Efrat’s sister’s friend (here you have to know people. They call it ‘proteczia’) worked at Sheba and was able to get us an appointment with a gastroenterologist the next week. That was a major miracle, and I owe a debt of thanks to Efrat and G-d.

John has been incredibly strong and upbeat, and as usual, has managed to charm all the nurses and staff on the floor at Bnei Tzion with his humor and wit. He was showing them pictures of California hospital rooms (you know, private rooms with sofas, room-service, wide screen plasma TVs), wink. wink:

This is most definitely NOT the case in Israeli hospitals, which have wards of 4-6 beds, little privacy, no TVs or phones, and are much more “basic,” shall we say. The bring your own towels, pillow and blanket basic… so it was with great fanfare that the nurses gave my dear husband a gift: his own private room with a view of Haifa Bay!! Actually, it was pretty darned awesome!

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In the meantime, making my way home from Haifa that Monday in the pouring rain, my car completely died – all the lights going off with heavy drag on the car. I pulled over to the side and worked on getting a tow to the garage and a ride back home. Yikes. The tow guy would be there within four hours! I was to leave the keys in the glove box in the unlocked car on the side of the road, lights flashing. Only in Israel. Turned out to be fine. I got a call at 9:30 pm that the car was safely at the mechanic’s. The next morning, I went with our dear friend, Hanan (Efrat’s husband) to the garage to find out it was the gear box in the transmission and would cost about 10,000 shekels to fix. Thats about $3650 USD!!!! But the car had to be towed to Akko, 15 miles away. So Hanan suggested he drive it to the side of the road as the towing company would not pick it up at the garage. The car seemed just fine. So he drove it for 40 minutes, and all was great. Major miracle there and answer to prayer. We think water from the storm had splashed onto something in the engine and shorted the system temporarily. In any event, we’ll take all the blessings we can get.

That Tuesday afternoon(April 2), I went with my friend to the hospital for my pre-op as my knee surgery was scheduled for that Thursday. I desperately needed a translator, because in Nahariyya, the only languages spoken are Hebrew, Arabic and Russian. The English translating apps were not much help either. This is what google translate did with my diagnosis. You just have to laugh!!!!

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It’s a surreal semi-erotic nightmare. But really, really funny!!!! I needed a translator…. all the while seeing if Max could be allowed home on special leave from the army to get me home after I’d be discharged. So glad my friend, Julie was able to come with me. The intern who did my pre-op (Yvgeny) was about as old as Max and spoke Russian and Hebrew only. Really nice guy, but his Hebrew was quite difficult to understand. Thank you, Julie for taking the whole day off to be with me at admitting and handle the paperwork!!!

In the meantime, John was in Bnei Tzion having CTs, MRIs, bloodwork, and the like. Also, I couldn’t have done it without my amazingly awesome friend, Gali, who took me to the hospital the morning of the surgery and stayed with me until late at night. Translating, praying with me, telling stories, fetching the nurse, helping me in every way imaginable. She was there waiting through the surgery and met me in recovery. She brought me food and drink. And lots and lots of comfort. How can I even begin to thank you for taking a whole day off work to be with me?

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My friend, Paula, who is the liaison for Anglo parents with kids in the IDF has been a tremendous blessing. She has been working nonstop behind the scenes to arrange Max time off to pick me up from the hospital that Friday morning, and then to pick up John later that same morning. We were in separate hospitals 40 miles apart. Paula has also been working to arrange meals and places to stay when we trek down to Tel Aviv, as well as working to coordinate Max’s leave for his upper and lower GI, further testing for highly suspected Crohn’s Disease (which runs in the family), and other support for when we need it.

Great news: my knee surgery was a tremendous success!! All the bone shards removed, the knee cleaned out, the meniscus repaired. Hallelujah! We spent last Saturday melting in the much needed rest of Shabbat. Then it was a two hour drive first thing Sunday morning to meet the doctor at Sheba outside Tel Aviv. Baruch HaShem, Praise the Lord, Dr. Shmueli turned out to be not just a gastroenterologist, but the head of gastro oncology at Sheba. To put it mildly, she’s the best!!! Another unexpected miracle. She was able to answer many of our questions and started to assemble her team of the best radiologists, surgeons, dietitians, alternative therapy doctors, social workers. All paperwork would be processed immediately. That’s another miracle for Israel. Most things take weeks and months to process here.

After spending all last week running from one clinic, hospital, and lab to another for all three of us – Max is having his preliminary tests run on his days off – John and I are headed to Sheba tomorrow. From the looks of it, not 100% sure of the exact timeline, but John will begin six weeks of chemo and radiation on an outpatient basis. After a rest of a few weeks, and the tumor has shrunk, he will have surgery, followed by more chemo and radiation.

We are also looking into alternative therapies in conjunction with the above protocol. We have begun a strict juicing regimen for all of us of organic, raw veggies: beets, carrots, celery, chard, ginger, lemongrass, etc. to feed the mitochondria and keep the body nourished and nutrient-rich. Never before have I imagined this, but Israel is the leading country for cannabis research for cancer. I have contacted the head of the department at Technion University in Haifa and am consulting with him on a regimen that juices the raw plant to extract turpines, a chemical found to have great success in shrinking these nasty tumors.

But above all, and most importantly, we have a profound faith. In the Bible G-d says, “Put me in remembrance of My Word that I might perform it.” So we are doing just that. We are soaking in Scripture, davening or praying, and standing in faith for a complete miracle, nothing less. And what better place to be but here in the Holy Land? He said He would be with us in the midst of our troubles to deliver, rescue and heal us. We believe Him. He said to call on Him in the day of our distress and he would deliver us. We forget none of his mercies: he rescues our life from destruction; heals all our diseases, ransoms our life from the pit. We believe Him. He says in Exodus 15:26 “I am HaSham, your healer.” Tehillim, the Psalms, are absolutely wonderful. I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand I will not falter.  Also, he asked life of You and You gave it to him; life and length of days. Trust in the Lord and the mercy of the Most High and he shall not falter. (Psalm 21). G-d is a refuge, a strength for us, a help in distress, very accessible.Therefore we shall not be afraid. I take refuge in Him until desolation PASSES. The passages just go on and on. He sets before us blessings and curses, good and evil, life and death. Therefore, CHOOSE LIFE that you and your seed shall live!!!!! And of course, yea, though we walk THROUGH (we’re not staying we’re just walking through … a bunch of crap, but we’re getting through) the valley of the SHADOW (shadows are not real, just shadows) of death, we fear no evil for G-d is with us. Yishayahu (Isaiah) 58 proclaims, “My light shall break forth as the morning and your health shall spring forth speedily. My righteousness shall go before you. The glory of Ad-nai will gather you in.” We are already gathered in, just waiting on the rest to be fulfilled.

We are in a good place. We have the best of care and a lifeline of great friends to support us at this time. The outpouring of generosity and kindness of people has been nothing short of mind-blowing. The Milzmans have agreed to care for our little doggie without asking questions. They’ve been helping in countless other ways without our having to give tons of details. So far, we’ve only told a tiny handful of people, because we wanted to share the news with our families first before wild rumors started springing up on social media.

John and are are totally united in every way. We are learning the importance of living in the moment, savoring each moment together. Of seeing the little miracles along the way – and there are lots! Of being thankful for EVERYTHING!!!

At this time, I ask for prayer. NO PHONE CALLS PLEASE. Emails are okay, but our time is more than limited. We will be making the two hour travel each way, five-six days a week for therapy, so most likely, we will be more than exhausted. But we will come out of this trial stronger, and shining gloriously. And please REFRAIN FROM COMMENTS AT THE END. JUST JOIN WITH US IN PRAYER. I’ll keep you posted… Thank you so much!

Time for Some Humor

We knew from the beginning that making Aliyah would be challenging at best, and in order to cope with everything (bills in Hebrew, no vowels; dealing with a phone representative who cannot speak English; cultural differences; navigating health care in a foreign country; you get the idea); we decided early on to find the humor in every situation. It’s a great survival tool.

So, today I thought I’d share some of the “funny” with you to lighten your day as well.

First of all – English translations and Englishisms in a country where English is a foreign language and much is transliterated. Just gotta wonder:

Is it a saloon? After all there’s a Coke bottle on the marquis. Nope. Just your everyday Beauty Salon/Bar.

Misspellings are particularly funny for us. Like “Elbow” instead of “Elmo.” He is good friend, haha. The grocery store is another place we see all kinds of mix-ups and just plain weird (to us) flavors. What WERE they thinking????

I think they spelled carp wrong. Or just from the looks of it, maybe they’re telling us to stay away. Really far away. Oh well, at least I finally found some f-ing cotton balls.

So is the yogurt from sheep or goat milk? Or a combo? Guess will never know…

I bought what I thought was salad mix or salad herbs a few weeks ago. Got home, opened the box, THEN looked at the writing. It was a box of salad WEEDS. Gourmet weeds for salads!!!! Not joking! But it was hysterical.

Being in the Holy Land, tourist items are a bit weird. Here’s a take home pack of incense for all those guys named Frank who want to do home liturgies. But only if your name is Frank! If it’s not, you’re outta luck….

Even finding a bathroom can be cause to laugh. Here’s one from a kibbutz, the others just great. Completely assesses my situation.

Going to the hospital is always a fun experience…NOT!!! But in the North of Israel it can be a bit surreal. Very recently I had a bout of kidney stones. One of the better hospitals is in Haifa, about 40 minutes away. Assuta is located- wait for it- on the third floor of a large shopping mall. Yup. You read right. Cinemas and restaurants at one end; stores on floors 1 & 2; full service hospital on floor 3. Love it when they gave me an IV drip and told me to walk the mall for 90 minutes so they could do a CT (pronounced ‘city’ here… just to add to the confusion).

As if things aren’t crazy enough, guess who shows up during check in? No help at all… she was a mime. Translator please???

As I mentioned in another post, Israeli drivers are notoriously bad. Here are some great examples of parking jobs that just leave you head scratching… better to shoot a picture than to shoot a driver.

Yes. We were behind a kid on a mini ATV and behind a tour bus trying to navigate narrow, serpentine streets in an Arab village. It’s not uncommon to get stuck by a tractor slowly buzzing down Main Street in a village or to see pensioners driving their golf cart on the highway. And no, there is no golf course within 100 miles.

People shop like they drive. Cue up your shopping cart at the checkout and leave an empty basket while you finish your shopping. Or – how many people will jockey to cue up? Line? What line? Rules? What rules???

Reading menus, especially those great translations are the best!!! I’ll have a medium rear please. Note the inside of the meat is served worm temperature. READ THE DESCRIPTIONS!!

So, despite the situation, we are always reminded. At those most difficult moments, don’t forget to smaile…. 😉

Election Season:The Political Post

It’s that time in Israel again: election season. It will be the first time we will have voted in a national election here. Several of my daughters and friends in the States have asked us if we will be voting for Netanyahu on April 9. I am not posting my political leanings, but must say that the election system is decidedly different than in the United States. And perhaps as, shall I say, entertaining?

For one thing: we do not vote directly for the Prime Minister or President. We vote for a political party. Israel is a true Democracy. All citizens have a vote. And any citizen (male, female, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Druze, straight, gay, trans, purple with bright yellow polka dots) can form their own political party. All that is required is to submit the party name, registration fee, and petition garnering 5000 signatures. At the last count, 47 different parties have qualified to run in this upcoming election!!! A minimum number of votes is needed for two seats in the Knesset or Parliament. There are 120 seats. All government officials chosen for ministry positions must come from within the elected seats in Knesset. In theory, we vote for the party, not the man.

Here’s where it gets interesting. To establish a working government, a majority of 61 seats is necessary.  No one party has ever received close to this majority.  The highest to date have received 38 and 41 votes. So, the President, elected by Knesset,  will appoint the greatest probable winner with the best chance of forming a coalition with other parties to bring the seat count to 61. The declared winner of the election then has 30 days after the election has been decided to form his government. And the race is on. There are deals to be made. All the focus is on reaching those 61 seats. No deals are allowed to be made behind closed doors for the parties to cooperatively come together. The parties must sit down with legal representatives and draft their contracts. All platforms are listed out in detail in writing. It’s quite a transparent process.

In Israel, the majority of the population (about 65%) is Centrist. There is right of center and left of center, but the extreme parties  never receive more than 10% of the vote.  The more Knesset seats a party receives in the elections, the more power they wield  to negotiate later. There are portfolios to consider (Ministry positions – Defense, Finance, Education, Culture, etc.) – which person from which party will receive the portfolio, causing them to join the coalition. There are clauses, all legally binding, written in. For example, “If we join your party, you will not be able to give up territories,” or “You must promise not to ally with Russia for us to join your party,” or “In order for us to merge with you, ultra-religious Jews will be forced to serve in the army.” All made up examples, but these are the types of promises that go into forming the new government.

The last few weeks, many new political parties have sprung up. Others have dropped out. A few leading contenders have merged, forming new parties right before the ballot deadline. There are 14 Arab parties in contention. The Joint List, consisting of four united anti-Israel groups, won 13 Knesset seats in the last election four years ago. As of this week, some of them have merged into a mere 5 parties. There are Christian parties, Muslim parties, Communist, and Socialist groups represented in the Arab makeup in Israel. Those living within the Palestinian controlled areas have their own, independent government and elections.

The Shas party (extreme Right) is made up of ultra-religious Haredi Jews who believe that the government should be run on extreme Biblical interpretation. The Meretz party is extreme Left, believing in extreme intersectionality and the removal of the Jewish identity in all official capacity. Giving up land is part of the game.

Some of the more familiar players are the Labor party, who are running on the strengthening of the labor unions. United Torah Judaism is made up of a group of Torah scholars. The party Yisrael Beitenu has former Defense Minister, Liberman at the helm. If you like what he did as Defense Minister, are Russian, or into Olim (immigrant) rights, this might be your party. There is Zehut, a newly formed party that is most closely aligned with the U.S. style Libertarian way of thinking. Naftali Benett, current Minister of Education and Ayelet Shaked, Minister of Justice, both formerly Bait Yehudi, are now the New Right (HaYamin HeHadash,) merging both religious and secular Zionists who are strong on defense. In the last couple weeks, two popular frontrunners, Yesh Atid (led by the “model-looking” former Finance Minister, Yair Lapid), and Israel Resilience (led by former Chief of General Staff of the IDF, Benny Gantz) have combined forces into the just-left-of-center Blue & White Party. They seem to be poised to take a slight lead at this point.

And of course, there is Likud, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party, which is right of center. And that is the reason we are having these elections. A few months ago, the Knesset parties passed a vote of no-confidence in the present government, forcing a new election. Despite forging new, positive relations with many different foreign countries (India, Russia, China, Brazil, Columbia, Australia, Czech Republic, Hungary,  several Arabic and African nations); despite a burgeoning economy; despite getting the recognition of Jerusalem as the nation’s official capital by the U.S. and other countries; despite unveiling the plans of the evil Iranian regime, Netanyahu has been plagued by corruption and bribery scandals, as of yet, unproven. These issues, combined with the ongoing Gaza and Palestinian problems and ridiculously expensive cost-of-living here, is making for a tight race. Many native Israelis feel that “Bibi” has created a dynasty for himself, has served long enough, and they have become the party of “Anyone but Bibi.”

As if this was all not confusing enough, there are lesser contenders like the Pensioner’s Party (no true leader, just more benefits for the elderly); the Human Dignity party (no information found on internet, but excellent name); the Equals party, representing those ‘second class citizens’….whatever); the Second Class Citizens group (beginning to sound a bit Monty Pythonish, but I kid you not!); Abrahamics United; Simply Love: Tailwind for Education: All Israel Are Brothers (focused on justice for Jewish refugees from Islamic nations); Remember Our Voices (focusing on equal labor protection for the police and security services, not IDF-related); Justice For All (gay and animal rights groups combined with a spattering of environmentalism); Me & You (let’s just end the whole party system and vote for people directly); Hope For Change (United Zionist Arabs); Social Justice Party; the Pirate Party (YES!!!!!! for those who believe in anarchy….aarrrggghhhh, Matey! Can you BELIEVE this????); the Na-Nachs (think tie-dyed wearing, ganja smoking, dancing Ultra Orthodox Jews who dance around to Reggae music and spray paint their logo on everything in sight….for reals… this is Israel); and The End (a combined Jewish and Evangelical Christian unity party) – but it’s not really the end of all the mishegass (craziness) or of the myriad other outliers.

Election Day is a national holiday of sorts. All schools and government offices are closed the entire day. Soldiers vote from their home bases. Each party has as their symbol a letter or group of letters of the Hebrew alphabet representing their group. When you go to your polling place to vote, you present your national ID card (used for EVERYTHING here) three separate times: as you go in; as you register and receive your ballot ticket; and before you put your ticket into the voting box. When you receive your little envelope, you go behind a screen and pick up the ticket with the letter representing your preferred party and place it in your envelope and seal it. Place it in the box in the middle of the room, and you’re done. It’s just that easy! 5C77037E-9E9C-48F7-9964-54E811DA89CF.jpg

(The above picture was of our regional city council elections. Just imagine 47 tickets in place of the 10 shown above.)

 

Just Stuff It!!!

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The past couple weeks have been quite cold and dreary here in the North of Israel. And we have received a fair amount of rain, for which everyone is more than thankful, as it has relieved our eight year drought. I must say, the clouds have created some rather magnificent sunsets, and the wind, hail, thunderstorms, and pouring rain have given me a respite to work on unfinished projects indoors. Still, we manage to get out and hike the mountains and wadis in the area when the sun does peak through. But in the meantime, I’ve been cooking and working on some regional recipes.

Israeli society is made up of a large strata of people from all over the world, but it seems that a majority of the population are former refugees from neighboring Arabic countries. We have friends from Yemen, Egypt, Libya, lots of Iraqis, plus the Druze and Lebanese. Each come here with their own culture and their own recipes. One of the most common types of food is memuleh (mem-oo-LEH), or stuffed. They stuff EVERYTHING here, from the typical dolmah (grape leaves filled with spiced meat and/or rice mixture) to filled potatoes, tomatoes, onions, peppers, squash, eggplant, and everything else you can core out and fill or roll up. The flavors vary widely depending on the local culture. The inner stuffing can be spicy or sweet, savory or crunchy – but never bland. Sometimes the veggies are baked, other times poached or most typically, stewed in a broth or sauce.

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So, today I thought I’d share a few of my favorite recipes which include met as well as vegan options. They can be used as appetizers (stuffed mushrooms), entrees or side dishes. Get your aprons on and get ready to cook!

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This is much more simple than I thought it would be to make. The rich flavors are warm and the spices not too intense, but create quite a depth of palate to warm up family and guests on a cold winter day.  A little stuffing definitely goes a long way for this. I stuffed three rather large squash (enough for two meals) and had plenty of the filling to freeze and use later in another dish. because it has so much color and aroma, this is a perfect meal  for when company comes. Also, freezes well – and tastes even better the next day.   This recipe serves 3 really hungry people or 6 with the addition of a side dish or two, and only takes about 45 minutes to make.

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    INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 medium-large acorn squash
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 pound (1/2 kilo) lean ground beef
  • 1 cup rice, cooked (I used a multicolor Basmati/brown/purple/red blend)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon yellow curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon tumeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • juice of 1 squeezed orange
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries

Instructions:

First, cook the rice according to package directions until just light and fluffy. Preheat oven to 400* F/200* C. Wash the squash and cut down the center lengthwise. Remove the seeds and stringy bits. Brush with olive oil and place, flesh side down, into a baking dish filled about an inch high with water to make a bain marie. Cover with foil and roast for about 30-40 minutes. While the squash is in the oven, brown the onion, garlic and ground beef in a heavy skillet. Add in all the spices and stir over low heat. Mix in the rice. Add orange juice and stir. Cover and let sit on low heat. When the squash is tender, remove from oven and set individual squash boats on a platter. Scoop the meat-rice mixture into the shallows, letting some fall onto the plate. Can top with chopped parsley or cilantro (cuzbara), or pomegranate arils. Serve hot.

 

PERSIAN STUFFED KHAZILIM (Eggplant) – Vegan – serves 4

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I was served this dish a few weeks ago at a friend’s home. She is originally from Iran, so this was quite exotic and fancy. You can serve it plain or with the yogurt sauce, as Raz did. Either way, it’s very filling with bright flavors that just pop in your mouth. the combination is smoky, sweet, with a mild spice. Just over-the-top delicious!!!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 large purple eggplant
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 cups couscous (small grain)
  • 1 cup unsweetened apple juice
  • 1/2 cup mint leaves, chopped (reserve 2 Tbsp if making sauce)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice (English pepper, here)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 pomegranate
  • 1/3 cup roasted pinenuts
  • 1/2 cup yogurt (I use goat milk yogurt)

Preheat the oven to 400*F/200* C.  Wash & split the eggplants lengthways and brush each half with a little olive oil. Wrap in aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet in the oven for about half an hour until the eggplant is soft, yielding a bit squishy to the touch (Raz grilled hers on a barbecue, which gave the eggplant the most glorious smoky flavor!! I suggest you try it this way, if at all possible). While the eggplant roasts, prepare the couscous according to package directions, but substitute 1 cup of apple juice for the same amount of water. Cook until light and fluffy with a fork. In a very small frying pan on medium high heat, add the pine nuts and roast about two minutes, shaking pan gently. Do not let them burn! When the couscous is done, gently fold in the spices, salt, pepper, mint leaves, roasted pine nuts and 1/3 cup fresh pomegranate arils. Take the eggplant out of the oven, carefully unwrap (watch the steam) and scoop out about 1/3 of the eggplant. In the created well, spoon in the couscous mixture. Top with mint leaves and sprinkle over a few of the pomegranate arils. You can make a sauce with the yogurt and mint leaves, or keep it vegan and serve as is… enjoy!

 

STUFFED MUSHROOMS

I make this just about every Friday night as an appetizer for our Shabbat dinner. We absolutely love them, and I think you will too. Not only are they tasty, but it’s a really simple recipe to fix. This recipe serves 4.

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 extra large, jumbo mushrooms or 8 medium mushrooms
  • 1 white or yellow onion, diced into small cubes
  • 2 clove garlic, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large stalks mangold or Swiss chard
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon zata’ar (found in most large grocery stores)
  • 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1 Tablespoon sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 350*F/170*C. Clean mushrooms and remove stems. Chop up the stems, onion, garlic, and leafy greens (not the stalk part). Set the mushroom caps in a slightly greased baking pan. In large skillet over medium-high heat, add the olive oil. Let warm slightly and add the chopped onions and garlic. Sauté about 3-5 minutes until just softened. Add in the reserved mushroom bits and mangold or chard leaves until wilted. Stir in the zata’ar, salt and pepper. Scoop by teaspoons into the mushroom caps. Top with the breadcrumb and sesame seeds. Bake for about 15-20 minutes.  Serve hot.

                           ISRAELI STUFFED PEPPERS- DRUZE STYLE 

So this is an interesting dish with all sorts of variations and flavors. The Druze make it with ground lamb, but you can substitute ground beef or turkey. The peppers are stuffed and stewed in a tomato sauce. You can also use zucchini if the peppers don’t agree with you. Different cultures add chopped prunes or dates to sweeten the sauce. Some use a beef or chicken broth in lieu of the tomato sauce. They are all regional variations. Mint leaves enhance the lamb flavor, but if you use another meat, you might opt for no mint. Either way, this is a recipe that’s fun to play around with and adapt to your own tastes. This is my take on the Druze specialty. I hope you are not too confused, but it’s a great one-pot meal to try on a chilly day.

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 bell peppers – the red and yellow are prettiest and sweetest (or try zucchini, tomatoes, or onions)
  • 1/2 large red/purple onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 pound (1/2 kilo) ground lamb (beef or turkey)
  • 1 cup Basmati rice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 cup chopped mint leaves, optional
  • 1 chopped tomato

Sauce:

  • 1 16 ounce can chopped tomatoes with juice
  • 4 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 chopped dates, pits removed
  • 6 chopped prunes

Slice tops off peppers, core and seed. Mix all the fillings in a large bowl… these are uncooked ingredients!!! Stuff the peppers, but loosely! DO NOT TIGHTLY PACK!!! Thump the peppers on the bottom of the counter to get the filling to the bottom. Leave about 1/4 inch/1 cm spacing at the top as the filling expands when cooked. Mix all the sauce ingredients together in a large bowl. Place the veggies in the bottom of a large stockpot and pour the sauce all over the top of the stuffed veggies. Place the pepper tops on top of the stuffed peppers. Heat the stuffed veggies until just boiling, the cover and simmer for 1 hour. Serve with sauce spooned over the top.

WINTER AVOCADO & GRAPEFRUIT SALAD

Obviously, this is not a stuffed dish, but we’ve been enjoying it a lot lately as a side dish to the stuffed veggies. It’s seasonal for us this time of year and is healthy, light and vegan. Serves 4.

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 medium-large avocados
  • 1/2 small red/purple onion
  • 2 grapefruits or pomelos
  • 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper

Peel and slice the avocados into a pretty serving bowl. Peel and thinly shave/slice the half of onion. Peel the grapefruit. Segment the deseeded and destined grapefruit or pomelo. Place 3/4 of the segments in the dish and in a small bowl, squeeze the remaining grapefruit juice (from 1/2 of the fruit). Add dijon, freshly cracked black pepper and coarse sea salt. Mix thoroughly and pour over salad. Quite refreshing…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hebrew Benedict Arnold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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                             (the cave where Josephus hid from the Romans)

The Beauty of the North

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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