Dairy Days: With Recipes!!!

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

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

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

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 Today, in Israel, the Temple Mount has been replaced by the Al Aqsa Mosque, but the mostly agricultural holiday is still celebrated in grand fashion.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients:

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

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

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

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

Ingredients:

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

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

ISRAELI TSATSIKI DIP

Ingredients:

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

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

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

STUFFED SQUASH, MIDDLE EASTERN STYLE

Ingredients:

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients: (Cake)

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

Ingredients: Streusel for swirl and topping

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

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

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

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

In the Aftermath

I really wanted to write the post I’ve had in reserve for over two weeks now. It’s on the dairies of Northern Israel, with lots of delicious recipes I’ve developed. It’s definitely more fun than writing about the current state of affairs here. But I feel compelled to get the news out: the facts which I am sure you don’t hear outside this country. For some reason they are just not being reported correctly. Or at all, for that matter. And there’s way too much misinformation which is leading to acts of violence against Jewish people. It’s happening at an alarming rate worldwide.

Ten days before Hamas’ opening of the latest war by firing a barrage of rockets at Israel, Yaya Sinwar, the head of the terror organization contacted the Biden Administration with a list of demands to pass on to Netanyahu. They demanded that Israel remove all Jews and security forces from the Temple Mount Complex in Jerusalem. As tensions were heating up during Ramadan, Sinwar demanded that evictions of Arabs from the four homes in question in the Sheikh Jarrah/Shimon haTzaddik neighborhood be cancelled. Also that the annual celebratory flag parade on Jerusalem Day be cancelled as it would be inciting violence. A spokesperson for Hamas stated in Newsweek Magazine that their goal was “to have the Israeli occupation authorities accept our demands or they would face the bombing of Jerusalem.”

To quote the Axios News Agency: “With tensions escalating fast, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan had called his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat, while Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spoke to the director general of the Israeli foreign ministry, Alan Ushpiz. The Biden administration had three immediate demands of Israel: stop the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, lower tensions on the Temple Mount and cancel the Flag Day parade.

To appease all sides and deescalate, Netanyahu asked Israel’s Supreme Court to postpone its verdict on the evictions. Jews had already been barred from going on the Temple Mount during the month of Ramadan, but even the Jewish security forces were replaced by Arab Christian, Bedouin, and Druze members. And the parade was re-routed so that it would not pass through the Old City or any part of East Jerusalem.

Did any of this matter one bit? Which side kept up their side of the bargain? And I must say I, as an American Israeli, am so so disappointed in both of the current administrations for bowing to the demands of terrorists.

There have been several falsehoods promulgated by Hamas that have since circulated in the global media. They served their purpose to capture the hearts and emotions of the viewer. We all know pictures speak volumes. It’s just that these were completely false. For the first one: a photo taken in 2013 of Palestinian children staging a funeral was repurposed to seem as if the small child they carried was a casualty of the IDF bombing.

The next photo of a gorgeous young child purportedly killed by the IDF was actually the picture of a 4-year old Russian girl, Sophia. When her mother saw her daughter’s picture splashed across the news, she came forward to say that her daughter was alive and well and living in Moscow. She even submitted a recent picture of Sophia, but most news outlets failed to make the correction. Even the Ayatollah in Iran posted the lie on his official webpage. And outrage was spewed forth against Israel for killing innocent children. Geraldo Rivera???? These libels were another factor fanning the flames of today’s anti-Semitism.

Once again, to debunk the myth of the Israelis launching a genocide of the Palestinian peoples. The Jewish population in majority Arab countries has steadily declined to almost zero since the 1940s. In the past decade, the Arab population in Israel has more than tripled… also in Gaza. Just by looking at official census bureau statistics, you can see there is no genocide of Muslims taking place.

So, where do we stand as of today? Anthony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State, is here in Israel currently on behalf of the Biden-Harris administration. He is holding talks with the leaders of Israel and with Mahmoud Abbas, head of the PA/Fatah. He will again proposed a (failed) two-state solution, which comes during a surge in Hamas’ popularity in the West Bank and an extreme decrease in support of the PA. However, Abbas has told Blinken that if he thinks that they would accept any “so-called peaceful solution or renounce any part of Palestine or recognize the Yahoods” then he is sorely mistaken. A recent poll showed 57% of Palestinians are opposed to a two-state solution, and that they would rather support an armed struggle against Israel.

Blinken today pledged to “rally international support to aid Gaza while keeping assistance out of the hands of its militant Hamas rulers. That begins with tackling the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza and starting to rebuild…We’re going to be working in partnership with the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority to channel aid there in a manner that does its best to go to the people of Gaza. As we all know in life, there are no guarantees, but we’re going to do everything we can to ensure that this assistance reaches the people who need it most.”

Since 2007, the PA has subsidized terrorism with their “Pay for Slay Program.” From a report released in 2019, when the PA publicized its monthly financial expenditures for the first 5 months of that year: the PA paid out an average of over $65million USD per MONTH despite its self-imposed financial crisis .This amounts to an average income for a person convicted of man act of terrorism in prison in Israel of $580/month if he has a 3-5 year sentence. If that person is serving a sentence of over 20 years for killing an Israeli, he receives $3200/month for life. If the terrorist is an Israeli citizen, he gets a $145 bonus (the average Israeli citizen makes an average of $2700/month). I am not making this up…

During the Trump Administration, the US Taylor Force Act was signed in honor of the slain American victim of that name. It halted all aid to the PA if they continued with their Pay For Slay initiative, so they stopped the heinous program. Unfortunately, this policy was reversed in the first hundred days of the Biden-Harris Admin, and has since been reinstitute. As of today, there has been an uptick in Islamic terrorist activity: car ramming, drive-by shootings of 3 Israeli boys at a bus stop; attempted stabbings and just yesterday, a 17 year old Muslim boy from East Jerusalem armed with a knife stabbed two 20 year old soldiers before he was eliminated. This was yesterday’s headline. Welcome to an Israel that your admin has helped promulgate, Mr. Blinken-

In addition, Islamic Jihad and Hamas have vowed not to help its civilian population or rebuild apartments and infrastructure, but to carry on the fight and build up its military capabilities. The photo of the day was that of Yaya Sinwar (great name, I must say) holding up a small child with a rocket launcher. These are the people calling for genocide and much of the world seems to be caught up in following them.

Now is the time to speak up. If you’ve ever said “I’m an honorary Jew” or “I’m with the Jewish people,” now is the time to speak up for Jewish people across the world. If you are Christian, walk with your Jewish friends to synagogue on Friday evening or Saturday morning for protection. If you hear an antiSemitic remark, debunk it. Fight fables with facts. If you are Jewish, attend rallies, politely educate others, join groups supporting Jews and Israel, make Aliyah. If we don’t stand together now, it will soon be too late.

Hopefully, next time, I can go back to writing about happier things-

Mostly Quiet

Two days ago, when I last wrote, we were at war. So much has happened and there are endless café-side opinions and posturing today. For the last two nights – all night long- and into today, late Friday afternoon, IDF jets have been strafing the sky. We’ve had at least 4 info-getting drones up over just our immediate area. And for the person that asked on Wednesday if I was worried or afraid – I had my two big meltdowns since this started. After I realized we had 4 rockets launched over our heads (in my last post, I was able to video one being intercepted about 9 miles from our upstairs balcony), I got a little nervous. It’s late at night, lying in bed, unable to sleep as the red alert app is going off signaling rocket barrages down South, jets racing through the sky to let our neighbors know we are alert and ready for anything, and the flashing white light of a buzzing drone shining through my window that I lost it. For about 20 minutes. I was really apprehensive. OK. I admit. I was scared. And tearful.

This morning we awoke to the news that a ceasefire had been called. A unilateral ceasefire. And Joe Biden was taking the credit. Promising unlimited aid to the Palestinians to rebuild and to help them in any way possible. That the US had denied an arms package to Israel in Congress. And Hamas was celebrating. And the Palestinians were calling it their victory. Candy was being handed out in the Palestinian towns in celebration of their victory. Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan said that he had received guarantees from the US mediators that, “the occupation will remove its hand from al Aqsa and Sheik Jarrah.” We still have not gotten back the bodies of Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Oren Shaul or captive, Avera Mengistu, who have been held in Gaza since 2014.

At the announcement of the truce, there were immediate clashes – in the middle of the night, mind you – at the Damascus Gate outside the holy Old City of Jerusalem. Video was circulated by Palestinian media this morning showing the Islamic militant mobs armed with fireworks, rocks, wood, and sound grenades. The police responded with tear gas. “We have prepared a serious missile attack that will hit Israel from Haifa in North to Ramon Airport in South, ” Khalil al-Hayya, a Hamas senior operative threatened. For some reason thousands of Arab men were already assembled last night at the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. They were waving flags and chanting “Death to all Jews. The soldiers of Allah are victorious. Praise to Allah.” Video showed them throwing bottles at Israeli police who seemed to be standing aside.

All Israel remains on high alert. The reservists are still called up. The Jerusalem District Police have increased their forces and patrol of all neighborhoods. A number of police vehicles have been damaged. There have been reports of unrest in several towns and cities in the West Bank including Nablus, Tayibe, and Jenin. Hizbullah sent their congratulations to Hamas today for what it called a “heroic round, establishing a new set of rules that will pave the way for the next and greatest victory” and for their “heroic and sacrificial effort to restore life to the holy cause of total Jihad.” They are gloating that now “we have showed Israel is as weak as a spider’s web.” Today there was widespread rioting on the Temple Mount again today after Friday prayers, although nothing was done to stop the perpetrators.

As of this morning, another large caravan of trucks with aid from both Israel and Jordan was headed into Gaza. Two days ago, the aid had to be halted because of rocket fire. Yesterday two Jordanian aid workers trying to bring relief were killed by Hamas rocket fire at the checkpoint. Things are relatively quiet, but very shaky. There’s a lot of rebuilding to be done both in Gaza and here in Israel. Buildings destroyed. Roads and field that have incurred direct hits. Lots of injured. And of course, the psychological trauma. Bur these Israelis are a determined and tough lot.

So what is new? This was the first time over 4500 rockets have been fired into Israel. We’ve seen the accuracy and effectiveness of the Iron Dome and the resilience of the Israeli people. For the first time, Israel has had to deal with insurgents within our own cities, waging a progrom against the Jewish people of Israel, burning synagogues and houses, lynching civilians, torching cars. We’ve seen over 1000 Palestinian sympathizers at the Jordanian and the Syrian borders trying to gain entrance into Israel… and not with good intentions, I’m afraid. We’ve had Iranian drones filled with explosives launched into Israel from Syria and Iraq. We’ve had roque Palestinian missile barrages into the North of Israel from Lebanon. We’ve had Islamic attacks on Christians in towns in the North.

But the most upsetting and egregious war, I believe, is the one being fought on social media. From the celebs and super-models to sports figures, talk-show hosts and even politicians, we’ve heard the call for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people. We’ve heard that the fight was disproportional. We’ve heard that Israel was, is, and remains the aggressor. That Israel is a White Supremist, Colonial, Apartheid State. even though the majority of the Israelis are brown people – Sephardic and Mizrachi Jewish refugees, Arabs and Druze, Ethiopian and Ugandan. The most distressing take-away is the complicity of the media to uphold and disseminate such hatred against Jewish people. We’ve been incredulous at the feeds coming in from CNN, NPR, Sky News, and various newspapers. In London, Spain, Paris, Los Angeles and New York City there have been attacks upon Jewish people; parades of Muslim Brotherhood, Black Lives Matter and Palestinian sympathizers marching in the streets and driving in caravans throwing rocks and firecrackers and chanting “Death to Israel. Death to the Jews.” I’ve never seen anything like this uptick in anti-Semitism. It’s terrifying.

For the most part, it seems to be advancing unchecked and without too much opposition. When will it all end? I pray the people of Gaza can somehow get free of the yoke of their Hamas/Islamic Jihad oppressors. I pray that citizens of the world will wake up to the rise in anti-Semitism; that people will stop this inflammatory rhetoric of hatred, especially when they are lacking in facts; that there will be some sort of dialogue leading to a better understanding of each side; and that we will all be able to pick up our lives and start the long, hard process of healing.

I hope we all can enjoy a peaceful Shabbat and quiet weekend…

Closer to Home

We are fine. We are safe. No worries. Really. But things just got a little more real up here in Northern Israel a couple hours ago. Hundreds of rockets continue to rain down on central Israel every day. We’re now close to 4000 total rockets sent across from Gaza. And there have been “ticklers” elsewhere. What is a “tickler?” It’s when another country or group decides to test the area to see if the targeted country is watching and will engage. In the past 5 days, we’ve had 4 instances of lone rockets (or small clusters) and a drone fired into Northern Israel from Lebanon; 1 incursion from Syria into the Golan Heights and a drone and lone wolf Palestinian from Jordan armed with knives try to cross the border. It was determined that these were rogue Palestinian operatives based in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. It was determined that the drones were of Iranian origin. Both Hizbullah and the Lebanese army were quick to state that it didn’t come from them. The question remains are they trying to escalate the conflict and bring it to other fronts? One Israeli/American news outlet that is infamous for pumping out fake news came out with this headline two days ago:

So, once again, you cannot believe everything you read. For now, it appears that Lebanon/Hizbullah is turning a willful, blind eye. They are supporting Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and their backers Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood without getting directly involved. It seems to be their way of sympathizing – or so we hope. After tracking, the IDF has shot down the drones once they crossed into Israeli territory. They have responded with their own warning shots, sending volleys across to Lebanon and Syria. Supposedly, the Lebanese army arrested the perpetrators on their side. They know that tensions are running high. The other neighboring countries have a clear understanding of who Hamas is, what is at stake, and the risk of destabilizing the entire region. Noone, thankfully, wants that. At least not yet. But they are carefully watching us. Our response to Hamas. Our response time with the Iron Dome Defensive Shield. Whether we can be overwhelmed with rocket barrages. What Israel will do.

So, just this afternoon, I was up on our rooftop terrace watering my garden when the red alert siren went off again – as it does every few minutes round the clock. No Exaggertion. Read my other blogposts. I’ve learned to ignore every single buzz, but this time I felt the need to see where the rockets were headed. Shefaram and Ibillin, two Arab villages, which I can see off in the horizon to my left. I know them well. They are only about 7 miles as the crow flies. We buy our gas in Ibillin because it’s a few shekel cheaper per liter. Yikes! Then the next buzz goes off. Kiryat Bialik/Kiryat Motzkin/Haifa/Acco just about 7-18 miles to my right on the Mediterranean coast. I hear no warning siren in our immediate area. So I decided to try to film it. I thought they were strays from Gaza. It happens occasionally. The video of the actual moment of impact was obscured in the first video by the palm tree on the right, so it’s quite difficult to see unless you do a freeze frame. But here’s the second video clip I took where you can see the puff of cloud from where Iron Dome intercepted the rocket.

We quickly learned that at 4:13 pm, 4 rockets were fired at Israel from Lebanon. One landed back in Lebanon. Two fell into the Mediterranean. One was intercepted over Kiryat Bialik by the Iron Dome. And one landed in a field just outside Shefaram. The IDF fired back, and that was that. For now there is no escalation or involvement of another front.

As a side-note, I’m getting quite the education. My Hebrew vocabulary expanded quite a bit during the COVID lockdowns. Now I’m learning the words for ‘missile’ and ‘rocket’ and ‘barrage’ and ‘cease-fire’ and ‘siren’ and the like. Not only that, I’m learning the difference between rockets, which are just pipe-type bombs with exploding tips and shrapnel fill. Once they are launched, there is no control over where they go. A missile can be guided and is much more precise in its trajectory and focused target. Last weekend we were guests at the home of a native Israeli who had much knowledge militarily and in history. Sunday, we were guests at another home of native Israelis, and a couple of the men there not only had military experience, but were retired officers or reserve officers. It’s been fascinating.

I will now try to answer some of the questions I’ve received: just last night I was speaking on the phone with a close friend in the States. No. We are not afraid. Really and truly. I tried to explain that, as of now, we are far from the “action.” I’ve taken the pictures off the walls and the breakables off the shelves as a (now regular) precaution. Our underground shelter is fully stocked for us to last a good two weeks. I pray we never have to use it, but we are not afraid. We just watch the latest developments as they come in and pray a lot.

As I wrote in my last blogpost – No. Israel does NOT control Gaza. It was a lush and fertile farmland with some of the most beautiful beaches in the country and inhabited by both Israelis and Arabs. In 2005, the land was given to the Palestinian Authority in return for peace. The Israelis were forced out of their towns and homes by the IDF. In 2006, Hamas won legislative elections and took over rule in 2007 by defeating the PA in a violent coup. They now rule the strip with a violent fist. The PA and later, Hamas, have been receiving humanitarian aid since 1948. According to the World Bank data, between 1993 and 2013, they have received $27.1 billion worth of aid. They are also funded by Iran. Hamas has chosen to use much of this money to fund their terror campaign rather than on their own infrastructure. It’s more than tragic. (read that past blogpost)

Still, just yesterday, Israel packed up 38 large flat-bed semis with relief food, water, diapers and medical supplies bound for Gaza. They were met with rocket fire at the Keren Shalom crossing – Hamas obviously does not care about its own civilian population. Only three trucks made it in. 21 trucks were met with the same type of fire at the Erez checkpoint. Again, it’s heartbreaking.

To note, the Gaza Strip also shares a border with Egypt. This border is also closed with a large wall, electric fencing and razor wire. It is needed for the defense of Egypt. They do not want terror exported into their country. Still weapons are smuggled by underground tunnels from Egypt into Gaza, which the Egyptians repeatedly find and collapse. It is unfortunately necessary for both Israel and Egypt to maintain tightly secured borders. And to answer your question, Andrea, the people from Gaza are not “trapped” inside their small compound. They can and do make request for visas into Israel. The Gaza’s are regularly allowed in and out for jobs and medical care in Israel. If they are not deemed to be a terrorist, they can travel out of the country through Ben Gurion Airport. They can go to other neighboring Arab countries with their permission. However, due to Gaza’s tendency to import weapons parts, which are in turn used on Israel’s citizens, Israel carefully inspects all imports at the border. Hanan was telling us Sunday of the time remote control devices were attempted to be smuggled by way of a truckload of watermelons. He was inspecting the truck when he and another border patrol soldier noticed a few of the melons leaking. Holes had been bored into the melons which were filled with contraband and then shoddily plugged back up. Now, as Israeli citizens, John and I are absolutely not allowed into Gaza or much of the West Bank territories. When we have visitors from abroad, they are allowed to go into Bethlehem or Nablus. They can travel to other Muslim countries that we cannot. We stay behind. If I were to try to walk into Gaza, I wouldn’t come back out alive.

In response to Julie’s statement that the war is unfair and lopsided against the Gazans – I’d like to quote IDF Major in the the Reserves unit, Dan Pfefferman. “There are many armchair commentators outside of Israel right now. they speak with an ignorance about how militaries work and how wars are waged. Many people are protesting what they perceive to be disproportionate levels of force and unfair advantages and disadvantages. This is not some sort of football match where the score stays fairly even until the end. We need to be talking about disproportionality of intentions, not capabilities. Then it should become very clear who is the oppressor and who is the defender in this case. We need to ask, “O.K. So what would YOU do differently? What would you do if another country was bombarding your civilian population centers?” You can’t talk disproportionality in war. You can’t tell one side to ‘use no more force than you need to achieve your goals.’ It’s completely unrealistic. It’s a complete disconnect and a misunderstanding of how militaries operate.”

Retired Tel Nof Air Force Base commander, Brigadier General (Ret.) Israel “Relik” Shafir states, ” Most people are completely unaware of how the IDF operates. It’s a whole complex process before we make a strike. First we need to see clear, hard intelligence to be assured of the exact terror target to strike. It’s definitely not indiscriminate. We have a group of military commanders, strategists, international law experts and our intel meeting together to discuss the operational worth of a strike. There are legal and moral aspects to consider as well as ‘strike windows’ of when we can and cannot strike. Everything is discussed, vetted and validated before a decision is made. We must consider the efficacy of the strike versus the risk before proceeding. We do not want to hit civilian or non-terror related targets. I know of no other army that goes through such a process. And you have seen film of where at the last second, a strike has been called off because we see children or innocents in the area. “

I’m constantly listening to the news for further updates. As I was writing this post, a senior United Arab Emirates official said, “If Hamas does not commit to complete calm, it is dooming the residents of the Strip to a life of suffering. Its leaders must understand that their policies are first and foremost hurting the people of Gaza.” Powerful words from someone how truly understands. Just a short while ago US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and President Joe Biden called Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu to order a “significant deescalation today on the path of ceasefire.” I do not believe any Hamas operatives were also called. It seems one sided to me. Bibi Netanyahu just released his response. ( I will translate from the Hebrew) “…I greatly appreciate the support of these governments and I especially appreciate the support of the President of the United States our friend Joe Biden for the Israel state self-defense. I am determined to continue this operation until its goal is achieved – to bring complete peace and security back to the citizens of Israel.”

In the meantime, what are some things you can do to help? Thank all of you who offered to send us care packages. Firstly, we have everything we need at present. Also, shipping from the States or Europe is prohibitively expensive. Lastly, our airport is still closed, so shipments will probably be held up until who knows when. Still, many many thanks!!!! I can’t tell you how much your support is appreciated. So what can you do?

Do your own research. Ask questions. If something seems exaggerated, exclamatory, propagandized, or fake, it probably is. Do not take the word of celebrities, sports figures, supermodels, late night talk show hosts, musicians or other self-defined experts.

If you wish to make a donation, but don’t know who to support, there are a few non-profit organizations that we, ourselves, donate too. They are reputable and have offices both in Israel and in the US. The first is United Hatzalah. These are paramedics on motorbikes, volunteer medics from both Jewish, Christian and Muslim sectors. They are risking their lives to help provide first-responder care to those who have been injured. They are often the first to arrive on the scene, but with the conditions today, they are desperately in need of bulletproof/shrapnelproof vests and kevlar helmets. I can’t speak of these fine men and women highly enough. Go to @israelrescue.org

The next organization was a tremendous blessing helping out those affected by the COVID lockdowns. They provide groceries and boxed, Kosher meal to anyone in need no questions asked. They have been taxed to the limit the past week, delivering food boxes to the fallout shelters. They deliver children’s care packages, staff counseling centers to help with the PTSD that everyone down South seem to be experiencing. The good folks, all volunteers, at Meir Panim are true heroes. They can be reached @give.meirpanim.org

Israel is the only standing army I know that has volunteer soldiers join from foreign countries. Fine young men and women from 81 different countries are currently serving in the IDF – and no. Not all of them are Jewish either. Most come in from the US, but we have soldiers from the UK, Switzerland, South Africa, India, the Philippines, Mexico, Brazil … from all over the world. It’s pretty amazing. They must learn the Hebrew language, then go through boot camp and advanced training. We’ve been privileged to meet many of them. Some of them have to find their own apartments for the times they are off duty. Many later go on to become full citizens. And “TheBase: The Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin” is right there to help. They offer housing to the soldiers; provide meals; counseling; social activities; support in everything from finding the right medical care to helping read bills, fill ourt paperwork and understand important mail. They are the lone soldiers’ life line and are truly a home away from home. You can contact them at lonesoldiercenter.com

Again, we know that we live in a lovely country filled with beautiful, caring people. It’s just that the real estate is in a really crappy neighborhood for the most part. So again, it’s wonderful hearing from all of you! Please keep the questions coming. I’ll do maybes to find out the answers. Thank you for all your outpourings of support. Keep the prayers rising up. If you like what you read and find it helpful/informative/entertaining, then please hit the subscribe button and also SHARE THESE ARTICLES with as many other as might be interested. You can follow my Instagram feed @eemahleh. I will try to do another update in a couple days. Hopefully there will be good news to report.

In the meantime, here’s a map for you of response times. It’s the time we have to run to a shelter from anywhere in the country when we hear a siren go off. It’s kind of interesting. If a missile were to be fired towards our home and a siren were to sound, we would have between 45 seconds and one minute to stop what we’re doing and take cover. Wow-

More on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

It’s been a most difficult week both for my Israeli brothers and sisters and also for the innocent civilians in Gaza. And it’s been an overwhelming week for anyone who has been bombarded with insane disinformation by the mainstream media, social media, and well-intentioned but misinformed celebrities who are not living this nightmare. First of all, I want to thank all those who have written, called, and reached out to check on us, find out our situation and express concern about our well-being and the well-being of those around us. For all those who are praying for an end to the violence. For all those who have requested information. For those who have asked questions (based on what they have been hearing) and for those who have sent us articles and videos. I can’t begin to tell you how much it means to John, Max and me.

I will try to answer as many of the questions as I can with history and facts so you will have a better understanding of what is going on here. First of all – it’s more than extremely complicated. Secondly – I posted an article on Monday, 10 May, when this whole mess exploded (literally). In it, I gave a timeline of events leading up to this “Perfect Storm,” which was the title of my article. Please read that first, if you haven’t already.

So, what’s going on with the Gaza Strip? It’s one of the most frequently asked questions I’ve gotten. Let’s go back to 1993, the time of the Oslow Accords. In a nutshell, after years of violence and territorial disputes between Israel’s Jewish and Arab population, talks were held between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, US President Bill Clinton and Yassar Arafat, head of the Palestinian Authority. In 1994, a document was signed to create “a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.” The Palestinian Authority was officially recognized as the leading political party of Judea and Samaria, a huge swath of Israel better known as the West Bank (it actually is a third the size of Israel – please look at a map). The PA was given “wide legislative, executive and judicial powers and responsibility over their own internal security, health, education and social welfare.” Free elections were to be held and a Parliament established.

On 13 May, 1994, Israel formally pulled out of much of the area, ceding Jericho to the PA. By the end of the summer, the cities of Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus, and Jenin were completely under the PA control. It also marked the establishment of the terror organization, Hamas, and the beginning of the First Intifada against the Jewish citizens of Israel. It was a bloody summer, and by the end of 1994, 120 Israeli citizens had been murdered by suicide bombers and random attacks at cafes in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem bus stations, on city buses and in malls and grocery stores. Prime Minister Rabin continually called for calm and peace. Israel was completely divided as to whether to continue negotiations, peace talks and withdrawal from its own territory. Each time there was a greater escalation of terror, but negotiations continued.

4 November, 1995 Rabin was assassinated by an angry Israeli man, Yigal Amir, plunging the nation into even greater despair and division. Shimon Peres of the Labor Party stepped in as the next Prime Minister and the peace talks continued with Arafat. Each time, the Palestinian suicide bombers continued to try to derail the peace process. Arafat refused to control the terrorists. So Peres stopped the negotiations.

Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the Likud Party, was elected by a very narrow margin as the next PM in 1996. Like Peres, he pressed Arafat to act against the suicide bombers, but still Arafat did not do so. Despite all this, Netanyahu continued with the peace process, transferring 80% of the city of Hebron to the PA. The Jews retained control of the small neighborhood surrounding the Cave of the Patriarchs, the burial place of Abraham, Sara, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. Jewish settlements were established in the West Bank, leading to further conflict.

Skipping ahead to 1999, Ehud Barak succeeds Netanyahu as the next leader of Israel. His first act as Prime minister was to withdraw IDF forces from a small 2-mile-wide strip along Northern Israel that formed a safety barrier against Lebanon. More acts of terror, this time from the North. Then, in 2000, Barak and Arafat met at Camp David with President Clinton. Prime Minister Barak was ready to give up 90% of the West Bank to Palestinian control. Arafat had to agree to recognize Israel as a sovereign Jewish state, but he refused and the Second Intifada began. Over 1000 Israelis were killed in acts of terrorism within four years.

In 2001, Ariel Sharon was elected Prime Minister of Israel. By now, Arafat had become old and infirm. He was powerless to stop the Islamic terror. In 2004, Sharon ordered construction on a high wall to be built on much of the border between the West Bank and Israel to try to hedge in the terrorists. Checkpoints and IDF guard stations were installed as a deterrent to constant threat of attack. Arafat dies, and Abu Mazen, better known as Mahmoud Abbas, is elected to a four year term as Prime Minister of the PA. He is currently in year 16 of this “four-year term.”

In August of 2005, there is a unilateral evacuation of all Jews living in the Gaza Strip, a 141 square mile strip of land that is bordered by Egypt to the South, the Mediterranean to the West, and Israel to the East and North. 10,000 Jewish residents left, many forcibly evicted from their homes by the Israeli Defense Forces. They left behind their beautiful homes, schools, synagogues, hospitals, parks and irrigated agricultural lands. Newly formed Islamic terrorist group, Hamas, quickly stepped in to vie for control with the PA. Israel gave this land up voluntarily because they thought it would finally bring about peace. The Palestinians immediately set to work destroying all the existing infrastructure. They razed the synagogues, schools and hospitals.

This area, the Gaza Strip, could have been a living paradise with its beautiful beaches, arable lands and existing infrastructure. Instead, it’s been turned into a nightmare of Jihadi terrorism. Hamas, and now the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a militant arm of Iran, hold the innocent civilians of Gaza hostage to their dictatorial regime. They feed the people a diet of fear of the Jews. It’s so sad, that they have educated their young children to hate and to become soldiers of the Jihad. 63% of their population live in abject poverty. The terrorist organizations have siphoned off the billions of dollars in humanitarian aid to fund building of terror tunnels, procuring of weapons, and lining their own pockets. It is truly tragic. Abbas and the PA, who had official control of the Strip until recently, instituted a program called ‘Pay to Slay’ where families of their ‘martyrs’ (those that have been killed while trying to commit acts of violence against Jews) are given a lifelong pension. Trump cut off funding. Biden re-instituted it. What can I say???? It gave them the green light to continue the terrorism, which picked up in March of this year with car ramming and stabbings.

So, to the woman in CA who expressed concern for the suffering Gazans: YES!!! The poor Gazans ARE suffering. But it is not because of Israel. As I write this now, I’m listening to the morning report online from NPR. I know you mentioned that’s where you get much of your information. Their narrative is very interesting, but not necessarily complete. I’ve been taking notes from their broadcast- and this is a direct quote:

“Israeli attacks on Gaza are become more intense every night, greater than the night before. These strikes are keeping Palestinians up all night terrified. They are not getting any sleep at all. Their water supply is short and they only have about five hours of electricity per day. There is no place for them to go. They have no escape.”

There was absolutely no mention of what is happening here in Israel. Since exactly this time last week, with a joint effort between Hamas and PIJ, over 3,150 rockets/missiles have been fired at Israel. The barrages have been incessant, 24 hours a day for seven days now. Over 2 million people have been forced into bomb shelters. In those sorties, 463 Hamas rockets have misfired, falling back into Gaza. 21 of these have taken down electrical power lines in the Strip, causing widespread outages to their already limited power. Hamas is so unfortunately creating its own humanitarian disaster. As of Saturday, they shut down the water purification plant in order to siphon off power to their command centers. Densely packed Gazan residential areas are being used as military strongholds, sites for mobile rocket launches (see my Instagram video post @eemahleh), weapons storage facilities and entrance into their underground tunnel network. In the meantime, Israeli civilians have been forced into their bomb shelters. all hours of the day and night.

Why are there more casualties in Gaza than in Israel? There are several reasons. Israel is committed to the protection of its citizens. We have the Iron Dome System, which sends guided missiles up to intercept the Hamas rockets before they reach Israel’s population centers. We have sirens everywhere, blaring as soon as a rocket’s trajectory is known. This warning system alerts Israelis so they have time (sometimes as little as 15-18 seconds) to get into a bomb shelter before impact. Most individual homes and newer apartments have a safe room, with 10-inch thick rebar enforced concrete walls and metal door. All apartments and public buildings are equipped with underground bomb shelters, however, sometimes there’s only enough time to crowd into an internal stairwell. There are public concrete bunkers on many blocks and in parks. In edition, each person with a smart phone has the Red Alert App. Every time a rocket is launched into Israel, an alarm goes off with a buzz, a vibration, and an expected impact range. My phone has been buzzing incessantly 24/7 for the past week. All day. All night. There is not more than a half hour when a new barrage is announced. It’s a hell of a way to live, but thank goodness we have it. It saves lives.

Tragically, as stated previously, Hamas and PIJ are using their civilian population as human shields. Since last Monday, the IDF has struck over 820 terror targets. As of today, there are an unknown number of Palestinian civilian casualties among the estimated 140 deaths. Before the IDF strikes a target, they follow a set protocol: first leaflets are dropped and SMS messages are sent to residents of a building 40 minutes before the strike. It warns people to evacuate the premises due to an imminent attack. Phone calls are made to those inside. See the video where the security guard is called by the IDF 10 minutes before the AP/Al Jazeera building was taken down. There were no casualties. 5 minutes before an IDF bombing of a building, a “knock bomb” is dropped. This blunt metal pipe knocks on the roof to let those inside the attack is forthcoming. Evacuate now.

In the meantime, both countries have been extremely hard hit. This past weekend, despite a 90% success rate, there have been many direct hits on apartments, homes, synagogues and cars. Thankfully, this war has claimed only 11 Israeli lives. I leave you with a post from Israeli soldier:

IDF Cpl. Zoharya, Liaison to Platoon Commander in the Search and Rescue Brigade shares:

“Last night there were sirens and rockets falling everywhere. We were told to put on our gear and be ready in five minutes. We left our bomb shelters and went as fast as we could to a building that was hit in Petach Tikvah.

The cars were exploded and melting. we entered a half-collapsed building and saw tons of broken and shattered glass. Our mission on the ground is to help as many civilians as possible. We went to every single door, to see that everyone managed to get out, and that if they needed help or medical assistance they got it.

I drafted five months ago. I’m 19 years old; I’m actually still training. These past few days we’ve been on call 24/7. You go to eat, and you eat in 10 minutes because you have no idea what’s going to happen.

I think people just don’t understand the situation we’re living in here. However, we are helping people and giving them a sense of safety, and that makes everything worth it. In three hours on the ground we helped them so much.”

One last thing: in answer to the three people who have sent video clips from their pastors and rabbis in America:

No. This is not G-d’s judgement on Israel because Bibi Netanyahu entreated into a contract with Pfizer to have the population vaccinated. No. I do no believe G-d is judging Israel for baseless hatred. You are not living here. Israel now is more unified than ever. Everyone is helping everyone else out. We will hopefully be hosting two families that are caught in the bombings of Ashdod for as long as they need it (where we are, it is quiet). Everyone is praying for everyone else. Parents are making relief boxes and treat packs for the soldiers. Restaurant owners are sending boxes of pizza and sodas to the front. It doesn’t matter whether a person is secular are religious – or what religion, for that matter. The mixed community of Abu Ghosh in the Jerusalem suburbs has been having a Jewish-Arab solidarity and friendship rally. Up here, groups of grandmas are making hand-made dolls to give the children of the south. There is no baseless hatred. No. Netanyahu did not fabricate this mess to hold onto power. That is absolutely ridiculous.

Again, thank you for your readership, support and prayer. In my next post, I will outline ways to help. In the meantime, you have my permission to share this post.

Honey and Wine

Israel is a country that never ceases to surprise us. Last week was khol ha mo’ed, the intermediate days of the Passover holiday. It’s a time for hikes, picnics, barbecues, visits to friends, and tiyuulim, which is basically day-tripping. On the recommendation of a couple friends, John and I decided to visit a fairly local winery. Our friends had been raving about their rosé and white wines, so we set out for Jezreel Winery on the small moshav at Hannaton. Oh my goodness, it was packed!! Every picnic table was taken and all outdoor cafe and bistro seating was occupied. The sommelier told us there would be table service for the tasting of all their wines which included a cheese platter, but the wait could be up to three hours. We decided to return another less crowded week, and instead go somewhere else.

It was a beautiful day, the winter storms over, and every hill and roadside field was awash in a rainbow of floral colors. A great day for a ride. We were minutes away from another favorite haunt: the tiny moshav of Alonei haGalil (Galilee Oaks). On the road to my favorite antiques shop, I remember seeing a small, hand-painted sign for another local winery. And this is where the story gets good. We pulled off the single lane ‘main road’ onto a little dirt path and there it was! It had a very familiar fell to it: homey and reminiscent of my childhood in the southern United States. Under a large spreading oak tree was a log cabin! More like an old tobacco curing shack, the the of which used to dot the fields of rural Virginia/North Carolina. Not something one would expect to find in the lower Galilee of Israel. It was the tasting room of Meshek Ofir Wines.

As soon as we entered, I knew right then and there I’d found my new Happy Place. The tasting room was warm, cozy and inviting, and the young sommeliers spoke both English and Hebrew fluently. Besides a nice selection of wine, it was also the tasting room for all their local honey. Tamar, our hostess for the morning, ushered to a porch table under the oak canopy and brought us a flight of six wines to try – all generous amounts – and a gorgeous cheese platter featuring a selection of local goat cheeses, labaneh, pestos, tapenade, fresh veggies, nuts, dates, and because it was Passover, matzah.

There were only two other couples there. Meshek Ofir is a tiny, family-run business that is not well known yet. Their wines are not sold in stores, and they do not market widely. Anyway, as we were enjoying this delightful picnic, a beautiful young woman joined us ( I had mentioned I wanted to find out more about the history of this place for a possible article). Adva is the daughter of the owners. And she began the only-in-Israel story of her family, their history, and the log cabin.

Tzvika Ofir came from a family of beekeepers at Hogla, a small farming kibbutz between Hadera and Netanya. After his IDF service, he met Hadas, a lovely woman from another agricultural moshav. They fell in love and got married. After traveling the world for a year, they returned to Israel and made a home at a newly-started moshav, Alonei haGalil. The newlyweds started beekeeping in 1984 with a few hives from his father, Yishai, getting their own license to be honey farmers (which is now a closed profession here0. It’s one of Tzvika’s passions, and is a win-win endeavor for the farmer as well as the beekeeper. He gets up at 4 a.m. to care for the hives: he now has over 800, collecting the honey and moving the bee boxes to different locations throughout Israel. He smokes out the bees to keep them drowsy and transports the hives in his truck to different fields and orchards. His bees are the pollinators for the different plants, and depending on the flower, the honeybees produce different flavors of the liquid gold.

It’s now the end of citrus season, and soon the mango and avocado trees will be in full bloom. Tzvika’s honeybees produce the most amazing honeys I’ve ever heard of – besides clover and meadow flower, there is sunflower, pumpkin, watermelon, forest fruits, carob, squash blossom, and cotton blossom honey. All are organic and unique to the area, different in color, viscosity and taste – and all are absolutely delicious! And that jujube (Christ’s Thorns Bush) honey is hands down the most different and the best honey I’ve tasted. So I bought a couple jars. They are all so reasonably priced. But I’m skipping ahead….

Having apiaries was Tzvika Ofir’s main love and means of financial stability, but he wanted something new. In 1986 he began to deepen his roots, planting his first vineyard the day Adva was born. Shortly thereafter, two sons and another daughter arrived on the scene. As the family grew, so did the vineyards. Tzvika’s grapes were sold to larger wineries like Recanati, Kassel and other more famous Israeli wineries. The vintners absolutely loved the high quality of his grapes. after ten years, what started as a hobby, took on a new life as he decided to try his hand at making his own wines.

In 1999, Yiftachel Winery was established, bring the story full circle. You see, in this exact area in Israel, archaeologists have uncovered ancient Jewish settlements and villages, each with winepresses, dating from the first century, BCE. Taking on a professional vintner, Kobi Toch, and studying viticulture himself, Tzvika now produces 10,000 bottles a year under his own label (at first Yiftachel Wines, now Meshek Ofir). It is truly a boutique family winery. All four children, now grown, work in the fields with the vines and the bees, and also in the production and marketing end.

All of the wines we tasted were surprisingly good. Adva explained to us that the Sangiovese grape was native to the Jezreel Valley here in Israel. The Romans loved it so much (going back 2000 years), that they took vines back to the Chianti region of Italy, but it was originally an ancient Israeli plant, that grows well here. It’s a big, jammy wine, with a full body and fruity nose. Redolent of chocolate, cherry, and oak, we bought several bottles. Their unique “Marselan” wine is a red blend of Cabernet and Grenache. Aged in American oak barrels, it has a nose of berries, plum, and hints of sage. This is a lighter wine with a nice finish. It pairs perfectly with cheeses and lighter fare like pasta, and makes an excellent sitting-on-the-porch sipping wine. We bought several more of these. John and I sampled the Rosanne ’20, a grassy, citrusy, medium dry white. Also as part of the flight were their Shiraz ’16 and Merlot ’14. But for us, the star of the show was “Deep.” a dark, deep, full-bodied red. the nose has hints of violets!!!! With a rich mouth of berry and cherry and no unpleasant tannic aftertaste. This smooth wine pairs with meats and heartier foods, and it was, by far, our favorite. An amazing wine at a great price. So we bought a case-

Now, about that cabin: Adva was happy to tell us the wild story. It was, in fact, a transplant here. It’s named “Biktat Alan” or Alan’s Cabin. Alan Radley, a nice Jewish boy from the Shenandoah mountains of Virginia, came over to Israel as a Lone Soldier in 1973. He fought during the Yom Kippur War, and afterwards lived on a kibbutz where he made friends with Tzvika Ofir. Besides his love of Israel, he loved building log cabins. Upon his return to the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, he bought an old circa 1840 tobacco shack from a Scottish woman. It was in terrible disrepair, but had potential. Radley had it disassembled and the wood shipped to Israel in 1992. The logs were stored at Tzvika’s meshek (farm). After sitting there idle for a decade, Tzvika offered to buy it from Alan and build the visitor center. He contacted Radley, and for the price of a plane ticket and room and board at the moshav, Alan flew out. With the help of Tzvika and two other friends, had the main frame put together in one day. The logs are all locked together without nails just like Lincoln Logs. By 2004, the panels had been mudded in, windows added, roof put up and an oak plank floor installed. And almost as if it was planned – in Hebrew, alon translates to oak tree. So this oak cabin now sits in Galilee Oaks – thanks to Alan.

Tzvika Ofir, left, sitting with two friends & Alan Radley, right

Everything about this place is a labor of love. Aside from the great atmosphere, excellent service, and top-quality products, their prices are more than reasonable. It’s truly a small family business without pretension. Unlike many of the chi-chi boutique wineries here, Meshek Ofir is a gem and a real bargain. Plus, they offer club membership with a 10% discount on each case. Every Thursday evening Alonei haGalil hosts a local farmer’s market/shuk. The farmers bring their produce fresh-picked from the fields, all organic. There are also artisan cheeses from dairies in the North and artisanal breads as well. Before all the pandemic craziness, Ofir Family Farms hosted regular festivals throughout the year celebrating both the honey and the wine with live music on their sprawling grounds under the oak trees. Hopefully, these fun events will resume later in the summer. Until then, we just can’t wait to return.

Six Years In

It’s a bit hard to believe it’s been six years since we sold our home, packed up our lift, said our tearful goodbyes, and moved across the world to Israel. Six years. In some ways, it seems like no time at all has passed. In other respects, it was a lifetime ago.

In those six years, we’ve learned so much about our new country and about ourselves. We’ve had incredible experiences and have met some pretty amazing people. We’ve traveled the land of Israel from North to South, walking the pathways of our Biblical ancestors. In a land this old, history is all around us. Layer upon layer from Neolithic cave dwellers to Biblical patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). Greeks, Assyrians, Romans, Jews, early Christians, Byzantines, Muslims, Crusaders, Napoleon, Pioneers from Europe, they’ve all left their marks on this tiny country. We’ve toured so many different places and archeology digs, and there is so more still to see and do.

We’ve made new friends from all over the world as well as native Israelis. Until COVID hit, we hosted many visitors from the United States. We’ve seen far too many friends who have moved here return to the familiar lives of their native countries. Leaving behind family, friends, livelihood, and all that you once knew is more than difficult.

In order to fully integrate into a new culture learning the language is becomes a priority. I’m much better than I was six years ago. I can hold my own in a social setting, but am far from fluent. Next month, I am starting another Hebrew intensive course three days a week. Hopefully, I can lose my phone anxiety. Imagine making a phone call and getting plugged into a service loop in a completely different language. It can be terrifying. Reading and understanding bills is another interesting endeavor. Hebrew has absolutely no vowels given, so besides actually reading the words, recall and context are absolute necessities to deciphering the “code.” One can live and function here on just English, but it’s a peripheral life in society without Hebrew language skills.

Still, attaining some sense of competency is doable. You just have to be extremely dedicated – or young. Our son achieved a working fluency within two years. It’s been beautiful to watch him grow up and adapt to this new life. He served for over two years in the IDF in the Foreign Relations unit working on the Syrian border. For a parent to see their child take on entirely new skill sets and adapt, holding a job with responsibility, making friends, navigating the system – it’s a tremendous blessing. He’s now in university studying foreign policy and government and doing amazingly well, far above our expectations. We wish him only continued success.

I’ve learned a lot and have made many mistakes since our landing. Being too eager to get to work and start a successful business in the first months was a tactical error. Yes, I enrolled in a business class for new immigrants at the local community college, but still did not know enough about how a start-up works in a new country. Accounting, tax laws, business certifications, marketing to a different culture and the ability to communicate effectively are all things to fully know before venturing out on your own. It didn’t help that the Israeli culinary palette is completely different than the Anglo food tastes.

In the six years since we’ve landed, we’ve been able to taste many of the different foods here, learning all about dining in the Middle East; the different spices, food combinations and ways of preparation. Because breaking bread together also breaks down cultural barriers, it’s been fun to meet other immigrants (and locals) of various ethnicities and swap recipes. A great ice-breaker I’ve learned to use is at the grocery store or produce market. I don’t hesitate to ask what an item is and how it’s prepared and eaten. I’ll inquire where the person is from (telling them I’m a fairly new immigrant from the US) and ask how long they’ve been here. Many times I’ve gotten the invitation to the person’s place for a meal. I don’t ever remember that happening anywhere else.

I’m still not sure if it’s a Middle Eastern thing or not, but hospitality here is a way of life. We’ve had countless invitations to share meals with relative strangers. Even during business meetings (with our printer, our insurance salesperson, our auto mechanic), it’s typical for us to be ushered into the office and before any business is discussed coffee is made. Not typical American drip coffee, but a type of Turkish espresso with cardamom – or “botz” which is a little tiny demitasse of strong blackness leaving a muddy residue at the bottom. It is in very poor taste to decline for whatever reason. Along with this, coffee, pastries or cookies are usually served – or some type of sweet, and of course, the offer of a cigarette. It was strange a first, and of course, to decline the cigarette is perfectly acceptable (this is only done between the males. I’ve never been offered a smoke). It seems many of the males smoke. It’s ubiquitous here. Something that can be more than a bit off-putting for the Anglo.

A lot of unforeseen circumstances have happened since we first came to Israel. Who would have thought that both my husband and myself would be diagnosed with cancer within five short years of living here? We’ve learned to navigate the medical system. With socialized medicine, the prices are incredibly low, but bureaucracy and wait times for scheduling tests and appointments can be interminable. We have a whole new medical vocabulary down in Hebrew. And despite the difficulties, we’ve had access to some of the best doctors and cutting edge treatments in the world. In America, even with insurance, we would have had to sell our house and hock our kids to afford the care we’ve had here.

Before the ‘pandemic,’ we were able to travel a few times to Europe. The continent is only a 3-5 hour flight, and much more affordable. John and I have visited the Czech Republic numerous times, Hungary, Northern Italy, Switzerland, the French Alps, and Amsterdam. We spent two and a half glorious weeks in Scotland, traveling with American friends who now live near us in Karmiel. Hopefully, we can resume our travel adventures. We’d love to go to Greece, Southern Italy, and now that the UAE is open to us, Abu Dhabi sounds magnificent. Still, first on our list is a trip back to the United States.

It’s been over three years now since we’ve been back. And that’s probably the hardest part. We miss our kids something terrible! We have two grandchildren that we’ve only seen when they were first born – and a brand new granddaughter. We are missing one of our daughter’s wedding, which is something that is breaking our hearts. I’m so hoping our airport will be completely open and that we’ll be able to find a flight out later this summer. At this point, it’s impossible to tell what will be even in the next few weeks. Thank heaven for FaceTime and Zoom or we wouldn’t have been able to survive. We get to “see” the girls and their families just about every week through these virtual communications platforms.

Since being here, I’ve run out of many of my favorite American products: from dryer sheets to antiperspirant to cinnamon gum, Shout, and certain medications. Thankfully, every month, we find more of our familiar standby’s like zip-lock baggies, craft supplies, food items (like albacore tuna!!! and salsa and taco mix and shells!!!). For some things, I ask my daughters to make up a care package (cello sponges, flavored coffees, extra-strength Advil). I’ve learned to make my own salad dressings, barbecue spice rubs, pickle relish, garlic croutons, kombucha and focaccia. And just in the nick of time, last month we received the most thoughtful and wonderful gift box from a dear friend back in California: a box of Airborne, Zinc tablets, echinacea drops, thieves oil, Emergen-C packets!!! Oh my goodness!!! It cost an absolute fortune for her to mail this, but man oh man!!! Was this welcomed!!! And last year I found iHerb, which ships many food, beauty, household and vitamin products to us for free.

All things considered, I think we’re doing a pretty great job of acclimating to our new land. Although it’s been more than difficult at times, it’s been well worth it. Life is casual here. We have had many amazing adventures. We now have favorite places to visit, favorite music groups, new pastimes. We’ve made friends and attended a fare share of funerals and weddings and baby showers (that’s for another blog), which are nothing like their American counterparts. We’ve learned from our many cultural faux-pas. Through all of our ups and downs, and with our strong faith in G-d, our marriage has been tremendously strengthened. This has been one of the biggest surprises and blessings of all.

We look forward to see what the next six years will have in store for us. Hopefully, the skies will reopen and the tourists will be back. We will be able to go places again, both domestic and foreign. We will be able to entertain guests. We look forward to exploring new cities and ancient ruins. we pray that we will be able to enjoy the relative peace and safety of the past six years. In the meantime, we celebrate locally by raising a felafel in our honor –

Time for a Bit of Fun!!

Oh my goodness! Between elections, lockdowns, Green Passports, ankle bracelets for quarantines, and the news cycle in general – it’s time for a bit of fun. Actually, as a semi-new immigrant in a foreign land, there’s lots that can make you completely crazy – or absolutely uproarious. We choose to take the “let’s just laugh at it all and make fun of everything” route. So – let’s go!!

Let’s start with driving. Israeli style. Hold on to your seatbelts, because the lines on the roads (Israeli’s say “lane” for line and “line” for lane, so THAT’s always confusing!) – those lanes/lines painted in the middle and on the sides – well, they are put there as a subtle suggestion. We live way up North, in the perifery, where many of the highways are still one-lane in each direction. So imagine driving on this two-lane road, winding your way up a mountain. And you get behind a very large truck hauling a tank. Yes. A ginormous army tank. No biggie. Common occurrence. It’s very slow, but it gives you a chance to take in the scenery.

The cars behind you start honking like mad. This too, is a very common occurrence. Israelis talk with their horns: whether it’s to tell you that the light is about to turn green; to speed up because ‘I’m in my line/lane getting ktsat impatient’; or just to say shalom – the horn is there for communication. All the time. So the car behind that’s honking decides he’s had enough and creates a third line/lane right down the middle. The tank pulls waaaaay over to the side. You’re plotzing as you watch the oncoming car get waaaaaaay over without slowing down, and the new middle line/lane takes shape. Yikes!!!

So last week, for some weird reason (I think John did a California Roll instead of coming to a full stop), a cop pulled us over. Of course, at this point we are very nice and speak only English. Despite the policeman’s attempt at communicating in Hebrew, we understand NOTHING (wink, wink). So he switches to very broken English. And it happened again: “You need for me lessons,” he says. “Why do we need lessons? What’s wrong?” John asks. “You give for me lessons.” I’m trying really hard not to crack up. John responds, “I took lessons already.” “No. Your lessons. I not took your lessons.Take from me your lessons.” At this point, I interject -“OH!!! You must mean license!!!! Honey, the policeman wants your LICENSE.” He says, “Yes. Yes. Your lie-sense.” After minutes of back and forth, it’s pretty obvious he’s getting nowhere and lets us off the hook. Still – you had to be there. The whole thing was a complete comedy routine.

Parking: if you thought the rest of the Western world was bad in their parking abilities, then you’ve never been to the MidEast. Welcome. There are never enough parking spaces. This country was designed for only a few cars. Small cars. Miniature cars. So parking over the lanes/lines is just a thing. You’ll see cars half-on/half-off the sidewalks. You’ll see cars parked in places one would never dream of parking anywhere else. A few weeks ago, I went to the supermarket. And when I came out, this was my predicament. I had no idea who the wiseguy was (notice he pulled his side mirror in, a sign he does this shtick regularly). All I could do was shout “Un-be LEEEVE-able!!” five times – and take a picture. (I just notice: I am on the lane/line. Oops)

So I climbed around the other side. Speaking of climbing on/out, I’ve never before been to a country where the following happens: I’m driving on the highway…..the big one, Kveesh Shesh…. the one with three lines/lanes in each direction. And there’s a bus right in front of me that decides it’s time to slow down and then stop right in the middle of line/lane one. And a bunch of Ultra-Orthodox Jews hop off the bus. A whole bunch. Why? Because it’s time for afternoon prayers. And when it’s time, it’s time. So they hop off the bus and line/leyn (sorry, if you’re Jewish – pun intended) up on the side of the road, and in back of the bus, and whip out their prayerbooks and start to sway back and forth in prayer. With cars speeding by in lines/lanes two and three. Then they get back on the bus, as the cars behind me create a fourth line/lane, and drive around the bus blocking up traffic. It’s actually kinda fun to watch. Then there’s the Muslim contingents who stop, whip out their prayer rugs and pray on the side of the road. And it’s not at all uncommon to see the Arab contingent parked on the side of the road, taking a break under a tree. Because when it’s time for coffee and hookah…. they whip out their plastic lawn chairs, bring out the porto-hookah and mini camp stove to make Turkish coffee and take a break. Would I lie to you???

There’s one picture I just refuse to take. Something that totally drives me mishuggah. The men. Yup. The Middle Eastern men. They have this thing about stopping the car to jump out and walk over to the side of the road. They then proceed to whip out… well, you can only guess. ALL THE TIME!!!!! Watch the Seinfeld ‘Uromysetisis’ episode. It’s absolutely ubiquitous here. Un-be-leeeeeeve-able! And while we’re on driving, the road signs can be quite amusing. For one thing: Hebrew uses completely different letters than English, so all the English words are merely transliterations which can be spelled many different ways – like Tsfat/Zefat/Tzfat/Safed or Akko/Aco/Acre. Can be a bit confusing for the uninformed. And the Hebrew signs! This one, for the city of Bnei Brak, an extremely ultra-Orthodox place, announces that the entire freeway ramp leading into the city is blocked off from Friday afternoon- Saturday night because you ain’t gonna drive in this town on Shabbat – or holidays. So we’re just gonna shut it all down. So there!

This is a cool one: the place on the road sign reads “Ma’aynei HaYeshua” which means Springs of Salvation.

Religion here is a pretty thing. Taken quite seriously. So to see semis on the freeway with “Ayn ode milvado” in Hebrew, which means “There’s no other but Him” on the mudflaps is actually nicer than the naked girl on the flaps of American trucks. Yes, I’ve seen Scripture verses on the windows, verses that remind me to refrain from gossip “Lo lishon harah” which is a good thing for me to keep in mind. The city buses will even have Scripture and Shabbat or holiday greetings. Speaking of Shabbat, check out this guy. He reminds us “Keeping the Sabbath is a source of blessings.” Also nice.

This one is seriously funny. We see it in the Golan and it cracks us up every single time. It tells us not to enter the military training ground. Live fire. Feathers???? Obviously, someone needs spellcheck! Oh, and the deer – it’s not a hunting area. It’s the symbol of the Northern Command. No animals harmed here.

We don’t live too far away from the Jordan River. For the Christian tourists, it’s a holy place reserved for baptisms. For the Jewish contingent, it’s a great place to go river rafting and canoeing. There’s this great place for canoeing called Rob Roy. But their logo is a bit of a mixed metaphor. It’s the Jordan. Right? The JORDAN!!! And their logo features a Native American, because we all know Native Americans travel exclusively by canoe. And Rob Roy??? A Scottish highwayman who lived in the 1600s? I just don’t know about that one…

Back to driving with another example of terrible Israeli drivers. We had to follow this guy and snap a photo. What makes it so uproarious is that it’s the test car for someone who is trying to get their driver’s lessons. He was backing into a parking spot and totally hit a pole and tore off the back bumper, crumpling up the trunk. We think he needs more license!

O.K.This next one’s pretty funny. They built a new home here in Karmi’el. A beautiful, expensive, multi-million shekel home. But the builder made a very big mistake. He didn’t measure the owner’s car before he built the garage, which is just a few centimeters too short for the intended vehicle. Gotta get a photo of this one!

The next one is cute: in the neighborhood near ours, the women obviously take pride in their bus stop. For Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, they decorate it with a bamboo stalk roof, and palm branches and decorations. They have a light-up menorah and hanging decorations at Chanukah. Here it is in the summertime with framed prints of artwork. Community beautification. I love it!

I think the same group of ladies who decorate the bus stop are the ones who take care of the cats. Let me back up. In Israel, we don’t have squirrels roaming all over the place. We have cats. Feral cats. Lots of them. They are absolutely everywhere. Maybe that’s why we don’t have huge rodent problems…or squirrels? So these ladies (I’ve never actually caught them in the act, and I think all the old ladies in Israel do this…) leave out food for the cats. On paper plates. In foil pans. In empty plastic ice cream containers. Cans of cat food. Handfulls of kibble. Huge pieces of schnitzel, potatoes, green beans, couscous. Fish tails. Fish heads. Meatballs. Seriously. Go for a walk after dinner on a Friday night, and see what the kitties are feasting on. Not only that, but in the more upscale neighborhood, there are special kitty feeding stations for cats of privilege.

Heaven forbid, anyone should ever go hungry here! With all the Jewish mothers around…. and the cathouses. Yup you read that one correctly. Cat Houses. They are set up in the winter. Everywhere. In the parks. Under bushes. Behind rocks. With blankets. And pillows. And. of course, food. So they stay dry and warm. Everywhere. Because heaven forbid, a kitty should not be cold and wet. I kid you not. This is the WEIRDEST place!!!! We love it!!!!

Grocery shopping is always an adventure here, too. For one thing, to get the agahLAH, grocery cart, you have to put a coin in the slot to unchain it. It took a very long time, and a continually upset husband, for me to realize that the “nickel,” the five shekel coin that’s the same size as a US nickel…. (well it’s actually worth about $1.50) needs to be retrieved from the slot at the end of the shopping trip. And you never know what you’ll find at the store here. We’re always on the lookout for hard-to-come-by American imports, and like the typical freiers that we are, have been known to pay $12 for a box of Poptarts (I never ate them in the States, but hey…. nostalgia kicks in) or $9 for a teeny can of albacore tuna. And when you see that product (Brillo, mandarin oranges in a can, Brianna’s salad dressing, molasses, Crisco), you buy it all, because you’ve learned it’s a fluke and you’ll never see it again. Then there’s the fake news of American products which are usually made in Lithuania or Botswana or Upper Korindia. Beware!!

Some things are really fun. Like the Bazooka flavored milk. Israelis love Bazooka. Gum. Milk. Ice cream. Bazooka cakes. We have hot dog buns imprinted with fun slogans like “Summer’s here” and “Time for some Fun.” And the ever-interesting Russian cans of ???? The CIF jug is always my favorite. I have absolutely no idea what it is: laundry or dishwasher detergent? Floor cleaner? Windows? Toilets? Radiator fluid? Your guess is as good as mine. It’s the yellow jug below. But what makes this ultra hysterical (and I mean HYSTERICAL) for us is that Hebrew name. Hebrew is a language with no vowels. Your guess is as good as mine. Plus the letter “P” is also an “F” except when it’s at the beginning of the word, in which case it’s a “P” except for weird exceptions. So when we see that bright yellow jug, we ALWAYS shake our heads and say “Pants steak?????” But if you look closely, it actually reads “Fantastic!” as is fahn-TAH-steeeek. Every. Single. Time. Pants steak. Gotta love it!

Another fun thing you won’t see too often outside of Israel is this: An every day sight here:

It actually makes us feel really safe knowing there are always soldiers around (he’s probably an American lone soldier. He has a jar of Skippy. Maybe I should invite him over for Shabbat dinner?) I also took a picture of the t-shirt another gentleman in the next line/lane was wearing. He wasn’t American. I have this sneaking suspicion…

OR this one: 2021- the year spelling turned deadly –

We really haven’t gone to restaurants for over a year now, but here are a couple mis-spells to make you scratch your head:

If anyone knows what pettrejane is, please let us know. In the meantime, al snarkiness intent ended. The small salad is exactly as it sounds. Just that. A small salad. And don’t you dare ask for dressing!

Tu b’ Shvat: Fruits and Nuts Galore!

We’re smack-dab in the middle of the rainy season here in Israel. Our summers are hot and dry and much like Southern California, things go from golden brown to crispy rather quickly. We start praying for the early and late rains at the holiday of Sukkot, usually in late October. And we are rarely disappointed! We always get at least a sprinkle. The real rains come in November/December, and if we are fortunate, last until the Passover holiday in April. The hills and mountains and fields come alive again, and Israel begins to look more like Ireland, clothed in her beautiful bright green suit.

Tu b’Shvat is a non-Biblical, minor festival celebrated in January/February (the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat) – the beginning of the agricultural cycle. In Biblical times, worshippers would bring their offerings of fruit to the Temple. Because the ground is now soft and pliant after soaking up all the rain, it is an optimal time for planting trees, hence the New Year for Trees (we were the first to commemorate an Arbor day or Earth Day). According to the ancient Jewish sages, from this day the fruits begin to flourish revealing their true potential, so these mystics and writers of the Talmud created a new tradition. These sages (in the mountain city of Tsfat, right up the road from us) created a Tu b’Shvat seder, a meal with a set order, much like a Passover seder. Fruits and grains associated with the Land of Israel are consumed along with special prayers and readings – and, of course, four cups of wine from white to rosé to red.

The Mizrachi (Middle Eastern) and Sephardic (Spanish) Jews celebrated this feast heartily from the Renaissance until modern day. For Ashkenazi (European) like me – well, not so much. In the depths of winter, when the ground is hard and frozen, who can plant? And who is eating fresh fruit? Tu b’Shvat was always a minor, minor, rather forgettable day, marked by sending money to the JNF to plant trees in the Holy Land in remembrance of a loved one. Living here in Israel has changed my mindset.

For one thing, it’s a time when all the citrus fruits are exploding off the trees. We are blessed to be renting a home with amazingly productive lemon, pomelo, grapefruit, mandarin and clementine trees, and I’ve been picking and preserving for weeks now! (Recipes to follow!!!) Between rainstorms, we go walking in the neighborhood park (that’s about as far as we’re allowed under lockdown) where I’ve been foraging for wild asparagus. Asparagus in the store is super expensive, with a small bunch running upwards of $12.00 for a tiny bunch. So this is the one time of year when we can totally enjoy roasted asparagus with a little olive oil and some grated lemon rind. I harvested enough to make a cream of asparagus soup last week.

We also have the most wonderful, huge concrete planters outside each window. I have each planter filled with different edible delights: kitchen herbs; edible flowers like rose geranium and lavender; and two garden boxes filled with different types of lettuces, which are going gangbusters right now. My husband’s favorite winter green is mâche (pronounced mosh) which I used to grow in my California garden. I brought the seeds with me when we moved. It has a light, sweet, slightly nutty flavor and is great in the salad below. I picked a pomelo off our tree, and assembled the ingredients for the whole thing in less than ten minutes. So here are a few recipes using our local produce to enjoy for Tu b”Shvat:

Mache Salad with Pomelo (serves 4)

Ingredients:

~ 2 cups washed macho leaves ~ 1 large pomelo, peeled, seeded and segmented with pith removed ~ 1/3 cup bleu cheese crumbles ~ 1/4 cup roasted, salted pecan halves ~ 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (the best you can get) ~ 1 Tbsp dijon mustard ~ sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Wash and dry the mache leaves (you might have to separate the little root) and place in a serving bowl. Sprinkle the crumbled bleu cheese on top. Arrange half of the pomelo segments on top of the salad. Sprinkle with pecans. Just before serving, our the dressing over. This is so fresh and delicious, I could eat it all day!

Dressing: Squeeze the juice from the remaining half of the pomelo. Place in a small mixing bowl. Add the dijon mustard, olive oil, salt and pepper. Whisk until a creamy emulsion is reached and pour over the salad.

My grandmother and aunts (from the Polish/Ukrainian shtetl) had the tradition of making the most luxurious eingemacht. They used to serve it during the winter months through the Passover holidays. Eingemacht is a Yiddish word for which there is no real translation. It’s kind of a cross between a chutney and a a preserve or conserve often made with dried fruits (available in the winter) and root veggies like carrots and beets and onions, simmered in honey and spices. Sometimes it would have nuts added in as well. Bubbe used to serve it on warm challah bread, and would use it to fill rugelach, the hamentaschen pastry for the Purim holiday, or spread over matzoh brie (a matzoh and egg frittata). I remember she always had a large crystal jar filled with eingemacht on the table. This is my version-

Eingemacht (makes about 4 pint jars) pareve

Ingredients: ~ 1 pound apples, peeled. cored and chopped ~ 2 cups dried apricots, chopped ~ 2 large brown onions, chopped ~ 1/2 cup brown raisins ~ 1/2 cup large yellow raisins ~ 1 large red bell pepper, chopped ~ 1 cup apple cider vinegar ~ 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar ~ 2 cups honey ~ 2 cinnamon sticks ~ 3-4 garlic cloves, minced ~ 1 tsp each, ground cloves, allspice, coriander, ginger ~ (optional) 1 small red chile or 1/2 tsp dried hot, red pepper flakes ~ 1 orange, rind grated, juice squeezed

Put all the above ingredients in a large heavy-bottomed pot or stainless steel saucepan. (I love my LaCreuset dutch oven for this). Slowly, over medium-high stove, bring to a boil, stirring to mix thoroughly. Let boil for about five minutes, then reduce heat to a low flame. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, on low for about 2 hours, or until a wooden spoon drawn across the base of the pot leaves a thick trail. Make sure to stir so that the mixture doesn’t burn on the bottom. It should begin to thicken and look glossy. Ladle into hot, sterilized jars and seal. You can then process in a hot water bath for 20 minutes. Keeps 1 year in pantry. Refrigerate after opening.

Lemon Curd (makes 3 half-pint jars with some left over) dairy

I’ve played around with this recipe until I’ve come up with a smooth, creamy, lemony sweet spread that we love on warm scones or with challah. I mix it into my goat milk yogurt in the morning and top it all off with a teaspoon of halvah granola for crunch. I’ve also whipped up a fancy and easy dessert that looks like you’ve been slaving in the kitchen, but is simple to make, light and elegant – all I do is buy pre-made tart shells, spoon a tablespoon of the lemon curd in, and top with whipped cream and a mint leaf. It’s also wonderful on the Passover or Easter brunch table.

Ingredients: ~ 4 large lemons, scrubbed and dried ~ 6 eggs, beaten ~ 8 Tbsp unsalted butter, diced ~ 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar

Finely grate the lemon rind and squeeze out all the juice, straining to remove pips. Place the rind (about 4 TBSP) and juice (about 1 1/3 cups) in a heatproof bowl (I use a pyrex bowl) which fits over a saucepan. Stir in the eggs, and add in the butter pieces and the sugar. Place the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water. Make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture becomes thick and glossy and coats the back of a spoon. Spoon into hat, sterilized jars. Seal and store in a cool, dark place. Use within three months. Refrigerate after opening.

What a Year It’s Been!

So long 2020!! Hello 2021! What a year it’s been for all of us!!! Pandemics. Quarantines and lockdowns. Face diapers. Isolation. Election fatigue. Fake news. We’ve all been through it. But, I prefer to look on the bright side. It’s not been ALL that bad. I even bought a 2021 calendar (probably my most wasted purchase of 2020 was my past years’ calendar).

Our first lockdown happened during the coldest, rainiest winter/spring I have experienced since moving to Israel, so being unable to roam the country freely wasn’t a huge sacrifice. There were books I read that had been stacked up beside my bed. Movies and shows to catch up on. Virtual museum tours and operas and Broadway shows. A few of our favorite musicians gave regular concerts via Facebook and Instagram Live. Such a treat! We watched friends in Tel Aviv spreading cheer through group serenades from their apartment balconies. That was fun. And our local mayor made sure to have the “fun wagon” blaring out music and inspirational messages from a loudspeaker as it slowly wound its way through every city street once a month. Things could be worse. At least people in Israel were not hoarding toilet paper – that was HYSTERICAL, Americans!!!! Thanks for the laughs, memes and jokes about that one!

Many of us started making our own bread and fermenting pickles and cooking up elaborate gourmet meals with the items we found in our fridges and pantries. Cooking classes. Crafts classes. Book clubs. We were never big drinkers, but a friend of a friend gave a free online professional bartending course, which was a blast! Later in the spring, backyard/balcony gardening became the rage. It became the Year of Zoom. Thank goodness we were living in 2020 instead of 10 years ago! Yes. Celebrating all those spring holidays over Zoom was a bit weird, but it was an adventure…. at least at the outset. Through the course of the year, we attended virtual Passover seders, virtual weddings, and virtual classes of all kinds. We longed for more ‘human’ interaction.

Six weeks to turn the corner turned into six months plus of marathon. We were “allowed out” on a limited basis this summer, so I was able to get in a few tiyuulim, or field trips. We celebrated my husband’s being cancer-free. What a celebration and a gift that is!!! We’ve learned that each day is precious and not to be taken for granted. We’ve grown closer to our children. Four are back in University, so John and I spent a lot of time editing papers. We really do need to be presented with honorary degrees at the time of their graduations. In a few weeks, we will be blessed with another grandbaby…. she’ll be joining the new gen of “Quaranteens” in a dozen years. Hopefully, we’ll be able to travel back to the States in 2021!

Our international airport has been pretty much closed to tourists and visitors since early March. It’s been surreally quiet without all the tourists and pilgrims. John and I have been able to go to holy sites in Jerusalem and be the only ones there – the Western Wall was strange with cubicles set up so there would be limited contact between those praying. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was completely desolate: no long lines and craning necks. The vendors lining the shuk (bazaar) are shuttered or emptied with occasional old men sitting outside their stalls playing chess or smoking on their hookah pipes. I must say, my heart breaks for all those who make a living off the tourist industry here: hotels, restaurants, bus drivers, tour guides, vendors. These lockdowns (we’re in the middle of our third, presently!!!) are beginning to take their toll on livelihoods and peoples’ patience everywhere.

And just as in the United States, people are showing signs of election fatigue – we’re in a similar situation here. Our “unity government” has been anything but. We are now facing our fourth election in just under two years! We, too, have had protests and marches – thankfully without the rioting and violence that has happened in the US. But we HAVE seen diplomacy at its best with the Abraham Accords. Who, even five years ago, would have thought any type of peace in the Middle East would be possible, much less a reality? This year, Israel has signed peace treaties and cooperation agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, Bhutan, and Sudan. At least five other countries are ‘in the wings’ towards normalization of ties. That’s a miracle!!! Is a trip to Dubai on the list for us in 2021?

We have no clue what this next year has in store for any of us. I will keep writing my blog – spoiler alert: a lot more new (and ethnic recipes!) and quite a few archaeological and historic sites will be among my 2021 posts. I’ll share new towns we’ve visited; unique artwork; and hopefully some interviews with our diverse population (new immigrants; a nearby Arab farming community that has been using ancient techniques and growing heritage produce for hundreds of years in the same tiny valley; artisanal foods; local crafts). It should be quite the year.

Until then, I’ll be deleting much of my social media and game apps as of 1 January. They have become waaaaay too much of a black hole sucking up time. I WILL be keeping my Instagram platform. You can follow me there @eemahleh. You’ll be able to see my beautiful pictures of the Holy Land and all that we’re doing here. And if you want to keep in touch personally, just leave a comment after the blog – I’ll give you my email and personal contact info.

My prayer for 2021 is that all of this COVID-related lifestyle and concern will be a thing of the past. That we can all put aside baseless hatred for those who are different from ourselves in any way. That more people, groups and countries will put down their swords and pick up their plowshares. That we will be able to travel the world freely again. For an end to political wrangling. For health, for happiness, for peace and prosperity and freedom to reign supreme. Here’s to seeking out the True, the Beautiful, the Positive and for living each day to the fullest in Love, Respect, and Holiness. Happy Sylvester for those in Israel! Happy New Year to All!!!