City of Peace: The Pearl of the Galilee

We visited Israel for the first time in 2011, when I was still a homeschooling mom. Because we used a modified Classical curriculum, my children and I immersed ourselves in history, literature, art, philosophy, ancient languages (Hebrew and Latin), and culture. Israel, a land steeped in Biblical, Hellenistic, Jewish, Roman, early Christian, Byzantine, Muslim and Crusader history was a place where my young son and I could actually walk out much of what we had learned in books. For us, it was truly exiting, and I knew we had to somehow be a part of this fantastic place. We first stumbled upon Tzippori in 2011, and wound up moving to a town just 20 minutes to the north. Last winter, my husband, John, and I decided to visit once again. Come with us to one of the most phenomenal archaeological discoveries in the 20th century (right in our back yard!!).

Perched like a bird on top of a high hill in the middle of the Lower Galilee is the city of Tzippori (which means bird in Hebrew). It was first built by Hellenistic (Greek) Jews around 125 BCE, and was chosen for its prime location on the main trade route between Egypt and Damascus, the Via Maris. It was also on the route from Akko on the Mediterranean to the Sea of Galilee. On several occasions, the city was attacked by marauding bands, and finally Herod Antipas, the great builder, undertook its reconstruction in 37 BCE. He employed many different tradesmen from stonemasons to carpenters and the top artisans of the day to create what the historian Josephus would call “the pearl of the Galilee.” As it is only 3.5 miles (a 45 minute walk) from Nazareth, it is more than probable that Joseph the carpenter and foster-father of Jesus was employed here, as was Jesus himself.

Lower Tzippori, a sprawling city adjacent to modern-day Nazareth, in background

By 4 BCE, the Romans were fully entrenched in the Holy Land. Many times they were fought off by zealots, but Tzippori was different. The newly remodeled city was full of Roman sympathizers, often times at odds with the local Galileans. Because Sephoris (as it was called by the Romans) was a “City of Peace,” it was spared destruction from Vespasian and Titus like most of the other towns and cities that were razed by the Legion between 66 and 73 AD. In fact, at one time, Vespasian had over 7500 troops quartered here. For its time, Tzippori was a very wealthy city as evidenced by the many magnificent buildings and especially the mosaics…some of the best in the world! Craftsmen were not only locals, but employed from Egypt, Greece, Rome, experts in the latest styles of carving, fresco painting and tile work. Let’s visit, shall we?

The archeological ruins in the lower part of the city included a colonnaded cardo, the Roman term for the large main thoroughfare. On either side of the cardo, merchants’ shops stood. From the excavation, we get a wonderful picture of daily life in the first century. Glass bottles with remnants of exotic perfumes were discovered; ceramics and stoneware vessels containing grains and pulses; exquisitely crafted jewelry (a gold earring with gemstones, bracelets, an olive leaf head wreath of gold) have been uncovered in situ. Historians note that farming in the rich Jezreel Valley soil and shepherding was done outside the city walls. Fish were brought in fresh from the Mediterranean and Sea of Galilee. In the center of the city were government buildings, a synagogue, and a bank or treasury. Most citizens in this mixed Jewish and Roman city worked for the government under Herod Antipas. There were scribes, tax collectors, judges, lawyers and merchants.

A large villa was unearthed in 1987. The many rooms contained floors of magnificent mosaics. It is called “The Nile House” because the floor in the main hall has a large mosaic depicting the celebration of the Nile River, with a number of separate scenes of different events. In one corner, the river flows from the mouth of an animal on whose back sits a Nile god. In another a reclining female holds a basket of fruit. There are papyrus and lilies in the stream, and the center figure is a picture of a man on a column with a rod called a Nilometer, which measured the height of the river. Surrounding are mosaics showing wild animals in hunting mode. In the room adjacent, the mosaic floor depicts Amazons hunting. The Amazons were a mythical race of female warriors originating from the Caucasus, they settled in Cappodocia (Turkey) and mated with the neighboring Gargarensians, keeping only the girls that were born. The word Amazon comes from the Greek ‘a’ meaning without and ‘mazos “ meaning breast. Legend has it that these women cut off their right breast in order to be better archers…. Anyway, you can see the Greek (Hellenistic) as well as the Egyptian influences in this ancient metropolis (The Greeks invaded Israel in about 150 BCE influencing many Jewish people in Israel to adopt their culture. Centuries before, the Jews were scattered throughout the ancient world in the First Diaspora, hence Hellenized Jews).

One of my favorite places is the tile merchant’s/ mosaic artist’s showroom. Just as we would go to a carpet warehouse or flooring store today, people in the first century could visit the tile showroom and see samples of floor designs. It’s absolutely great!! The ‘warehouse’ had sample designs in little cubicles, offering a variety of geometric shapes, borders, floral and figurative designs. Plus a sample board to choose the colors and sizes of the tesserae!! I don’t think you can find this anywhere else in the world!

Close up of tesserae samples… 68 varying shades in all

For those of you who are interested in feats of engineering, one of the first considerations when building a city is water. How does a team of engineers get water to a city without digging wells? Israel is situated in a desert/sub-Saharan zone. It only rains in the winter: the rest of the year is bone dry. Especially in ancient times, cities were built atop hills and mountains for obvious defensive reasons. So getting water uphill was quite the engineering problem. In the Nazareth mountains nearby flowed underground springs. These springs were channeled in six separate aqueducts which converged outside Tzippori into an enormous hand-hewn cistern or reservoir. This huge underground storage chamber is 260 meters long and 12 meters deep with a volume of 4300 cubic meters. It was in use from the first through the seventh centuries. From the reservoir, the water then ran into a sedimentation chamber, and filtered into another reservoir or holding tank. Enormous amounts of water then exited via a large lead pipe with a filtering sluice at one end. It is truly a marvel to see this sophisticated system! From the reservoir the fresh water was carried by aqueduct into Tzippori. The tremendous build up of water pressure from the reservoir to the small viaducts propelled the water uphill. The remarkable engineering feat actually carried running water through the town and into each house, providing fresh water for drinking, cooking, washing, sanitation, and the ritual Jewish purification baths called mikvaot as well as to the Roman bathhouse in the lower city.


There are just so many interesting things to see here. Let’s head back to the cardo: we were smitten with the actual tracks made by the heavy wagon wheels on the stone streets. A representation of an ancient cart built upon wheels and axels found there is on display. Seeing this really brings the place to life as we could envision a bustling city teaming with life and wagons laden with building materials.

Back in 2011, Max and I got most excited over our tremendous ‘discovery.’ As soon as we saw this graffiti etched into the paving stones on the wide city street, we knew exactly what they were. We had read about this in our Rome studies, so to see it up close for reals: WOW!!! Before I explain, I’ll let you look at the photos and you can try to guess what they were-

So what are all these odd markings? They are street games. During times of boredom, children, merchants, and soldiers alike used to throw knucklebones. Small bones or cubiyot, like dice would be rolled into a designated area etched into the street and points would be racked up. For the adults (and street punks?) it was a game of great skill and often involved placing bets. Sometimes, as in the photo uppermost right, the grids would be stacked in a line and the game resembled cribbage or backgammon as the player would move their pieces from grid to grid. Is this super cool or what???

Now we make our way up the mountain to the upper part of Tzippori. Again, we can see the influence of Rome. Every metropolis needs entertainment, and as one would expect, there is a nice sized amphitheater carved into the north side of the mountain. It was built in the late first or second century AD and had seating for 4000. On ground level in front was the orchestra (the place for the chorus during the Greek period, reserved for honored guests during Roman times. The elevated stage or scena was made of marble and wood. Behind would be large scaffolding for the backdrops with costuming below and balconies for soliloquies above. At this particular site, metal scaffolding has been added so one can get a general idea of the design. Rows of seating were hewn out of the bedrock and covered with marble slabs. Most have been raided and repurposed for building by other civilizations, a very common occurrence. The bottom rows remain intact.

The remains of a spectacular Roman residence built at the beginning of the third century AD were found towards the mountain’s plateau. This villa, along with most of the other structures in Tzippori, was destroyed in the great earthquake of 363 AD. The villa would have had most spectacular views, and because of its proximity to the theatre, indicates a high status of the owner. It has now been enclosed to preserve what is left including Israel’s finest mosaic, the Mona Lisa of the Middle East. The mansion was built according to a popular Roman floor plan. The main room of the sprawling villa was the triclinium, or dining room walled on three sides open to spectacular views and a colonnaded portico facing the Mount Carmel Ridge of Haifa. Cubiculum, or bedrooms, were located off the main hall. Also, just off the dining room, was an indoor bathroom (picture below) with running water below the latrine hole. The walls of the villa were once covered in beautiful frescoes as evidenced by the remains of paint on the existing walls. Many of the rooms had mosaic floors with colorful patterns, the most ornate in the dining salon contains scenes from the life of Dionysus, god of wine. The mosaic is comprised of 1.5 million stones in 23 colors.

Now for a bit of interesting history. The Romans finally decided to subjugate these living in Israel. Why after so many years? The Jews paid taxes at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The taxes exacted by the Romans were exorbitant and bleeding them dry (hence the “render unto Caesar…” speech). Many refused or just could not pay, which oftentimes led to enslavement. The Romans worked seven days a week except for State/religious festivals. The Jewish people insisted on keeping the Sabbath: every Saturday was a day of complete rest in which no work at all was done. When in the early 30s-70 AD, this new cult of Jewish believers in Yeshua (Jesus) as their promised Messiah started springing up, not only was Shabbat kept, but now Sunday was held by these nascent Christians as the Lord’s Day. The Romans were losing a day’s labor from the Jews and two days labor from the Messianics. It was going too far! Plus bands of Jewish zealots were springing up trying to shake off their hoke of bondage to Rome.

In 66-68 AD, the Roman legions led by Vespasian and his son, Titus, landed on the shores of Akko in Israel. They spent the next two years routing out all the Jewish people living in the towns and countryside of the Galilee region. It was during this time the Jewish general Mattityahu Ben Joseph was captured (later becoming Josephus Flavius, the historian to Rome). Many Jews were expelled. Many were taken as slaves. Many killed. Many traveled south towards Jerusalem. By 70 AD, the Romans captured their prize jewel, the eternal capital of the Jewish people: the city of Jerusalem. The walls were breached after a long siege and after a bloodbath, the Roman army seized the city and razed the holy Temple (see Arch of Titus in Rome). This marked the beginning of the great diaspora in which most of the Jewish people were either taken into captivity or were dispersed throughout the world.

Jerusalem, the Holy City since King David, had always been the spiritual or religious center for the Jewish people. It was where the Sanhedrin (the main body of the court of law) assembled. Home to the great priests, rabbis and Torah scholars of the day. it was a major center of learning in the ancient world. Many of these great sages of old (khazal) escaped Jerusalem and went south to Yavne (south of modern day Tel Aviv) or north toward Tzippori. For the first part of the new millennium, the Oral Law or Mishnah (companion to the Torah), which had been handed down from generation to generation, was codified, much of it in Tzippori. Great sages of Judaism, Yehuda haNasi and Rebbe Eliezer lived in this city arguing, discussing and writing the heart of the Talmud. The remains of a large synagogue from the first century are here, but the structure was mostly destroyed in the great earthquake.

Early Christianity/Catholicism also had their own Oral Traditions that had been handed down from generation to generation (Dormition and Assumption of Mary; home of the Holy Family; sites of miracles). One of these traditions states that Mary’s parents (grandparents of Jesus), Joaquin and Anna, were originally from the city of Tzippori. During the times of the Crusaders, a large church and monastery were erected at the site of their purported home. It was called Deir Anna or the Monastery of St Anna.

There is a Crusader fortress at the very top of the mountain. It was destroyed by the Mamaluks under Baybars, then rebuilt in the 18th century by Daher Al Omar, the Bedouin ruler of the Galilee. During this time period, Tzippori, called Sephoris by the Romans, was now renamed Safouriyeh thus Arabizing the Hebrew.

Last, are the ruins of a large synagogue from the second century. It was a center of activity for the sprawling city, and reflected not only its Jewish heritage and connection (commemoration of) the destroyed Second Temple, but also has Greek, Roman and Eastern influence as seen in the mosaics. There is a large central medallion of the zodiac with both Hebrew and Greek writing. Side panels depict the accoutrements of the Temple worship: shofarim (trumpets), menorah (lamp stand), incense table, showbread table, bulls for sacrifice, jars of olive oil, baskets of fruit containing the seven species of plants native to Israel. At the other end of the synagogue floor are mosaic representations of the Biblical story of Abraham: Abraham feeding the angels, Abraham and Sarah, and Father Abraham’s ascent up Mt Moriah with his son, Isaac on the donkey. A side band in Hebrew reads that the floor was “donated with generous funds by ….. in memory of their son, …. “ So it keeps the tradition of a memorial plaque. The geometric design is more Eastern than Western. Even though the synagogue is now a museum, pre-arranged weddings and Bar Mitzvahs can take place on the site. When we were there, a group was gathering for a Bar Mitzvah. A portable ark with Torah was being wheeled onto the main floor and a bima was being set up. It’s another example of living connection to the past.

Israel’s Got Talent

When we moved from the greater Los Angeles area to Israel, we really felt we’d be giving up a lot. We were pretty spoiled, because LA/Hollywood is supported by “The [Entertainment] Industry” and so many of our friends and neighbors were connected in some way… stunt men, costume designers, editors, composers, musicians. We had so many musical genres represented from pop to hip hop and rap to Broadway, jazz and the best in classical with the Los Angeles Opera, Los Angeles Philharmonic, LA Master Chorale and smaller opera companies, choruses, and conservatories. We were never at a loss for entertainment from rock concerts to childrens’ choirs and loved our summers at the Hollywood Bowl and season tickets to the opera.

I really didn’t know what to expect culturally when we first moved, but I was told that each large city had its own first-rate music conservatory. This was important, as our son was a trumpet player, and I wanted to afford him the opportunity to continue his lessons and have performance venues as well. In addition, throughout the year different cities and kibbutzim host all types of concerts and festivals featuring both local Israeli talent as well as talent brought in from abroad.

Music speaks to the soul and as such, is so important across cultures. We’ve had the chance to experience firsthand the local flavor of the Arabic music and have visited some of their music schools. We’ve enjoyed Yemenite bazooki concerts and French café style entertainment. The Ethiopians have brought with them their own heritage in liturgy and contemporary music and the immigrants from the former Soviet bloc countries are known for their early training in the classical arts. We’ve found Arab Christian bagpipe bands in Nazareth, a hold-over from when Scottish missionaries came to the Holy Land in the 1800s. And we even have a good friend who is the promoter of heavy metal concerts coming to Israel.

Each year, our local music conservatory hosts a fundraising concert with all the proceeds going back into community programs. At first, we were reticent to go, but now look forward to this event as the range of musical talent is representative of the diverse fabric of our society. There is a beautiful women’s chorus made up of religious Jewish, Arab Christian and Druze and secular young ledies. They sing liturgical, folk and classical chorale pieces.

There are several sopranos, who sing the standard art song repertoire in Italian, French, German and even Arabic:

Our mid-sized city has so much talent, including a young woman cellist who has won several international competitions and will go on to study music after her army service; Russian siblings, ages 11 and 13, pianists who both perform solo and duets; a flutist from Canada and a Ukrainian balalaika player who has been performing professionally since he was six and now serves in the IDF, but made the time to play at this concert.

Karmi’el is one of several cities that prides itself on its Children’s Village. There are 200 children from grades 1-12 who live on the spacious and well-manicured campus. Some are orphans, but many come from broken, abusive or disfunctional families. Separated into 16 “mishpachtim” or family groups, they live in large, specially designed homes with sponsor parents and their families. All the kids attend the public schools, but return to the village for afternoon activities, clubs, music and dance lessons, therapy and sports. In this well-rounded program, the older children help with volunteer service projects within the city. Their success rate in academic excellence, reintegration into society, military service, sports and entertainment is unparalleled. One of the young men recently won Israel’s version of The Voice, Junior. Each year, they put on an amazing show for the community at our local theatre arts complex.

Just before the first wave of lockdowns due to the pandemic, John and I went to a hands-on drumming workshop in Nazareth. It was tremendous fun learning about the darbouka, made of wood or aluminum and covered with leather from donkey, goat, camel or skin, each having a different sound. Demonstrations even included a fish-skin covered tambourine, a bandir, based on the ancient models. The last clip in this series was an ancient Aramaic song from the book of the prophet Jonah: the prayer he made from the belly of the fish. The melody itself is centuries old.

During the summer, neighboring Tsfat hosts a three day Klezmer music festival. At Kfar Blum, a kibbutz in the Upper Galilee, there is a weeklong classical music festival. The kibbutz operates a first class hotel and the venues, for both indoor and outdoor concerts are said to be quite pleasant. The festival features vocal and instrumental music with world class guest artists from throughout the world. Jerusalem hosts an international oud festival (an ancient stringed instrument), and the Red Sea resort city of Eilat is famous for its international jazz festival.

In years past, in the Galilee, there was the twice annual Jacob’s Ladder Festival with the best in bluegrass, Celtic, and blues. Most festivals here are very family friendly with activities and workshops for even the youngest. In the early summer, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee at Ein GeV kibbutz, there is an choral music festival of mostly Hebrew and European choirs. It also includes a competition.

Speaking of competitions, Israel has been placing first in the Eurovision Competition, a huge international “Who’s Got Talent?” show broadcast throughout Europe. Israel hosted last year in Tel Aviv. The Abu Ghosh Music Festival (just south of Jerusalem) is home to a classical vocal competition in the Spring. Vocalists come from all over the globe. Performances are held in ancient churches and cultural arts centers in the area. Master classes are open to the public.

We had tickets to the Liturgical Festival, but because it was during the pandemic, the events were all livestreamed.

There’s something here for everyone. If you’re into indie, the InDNegev Festival each October is the place to be. The event has grown each year since 2007, and now includes art exhibitions, poetry readings, movies, and huge parties lasting all night. As with several of these types of festivals, camping is strongly encouraged. Every winter, there is also a Grateful Dead festival with live music cover bands as well as dance tents and hippie art shows. If raves are your thing, then there’s the Minus 424 (meters below sea level) Dead Sea Rave. Electronica, lots of DJs and laser light shows have festival goers dancing from sunset to sunrise with the red desert mountains as part of the surreal backdrop. And not to be outdone by America’s Burning Man Festival, there is the infamous Midburn Festival in the Negev Desert each October. A combination Woodstock, Coachella and Burning Man, the participants themselves are the ones who create the performances. They set up an entire weeklong installation in the desert. It has become so popular, that you need to know someone who is part of the event in order to get a ticket.

Israel is truly a crossroad of the world. Because of its proximity to Africa, and due to the influence of our Ethiopian, Eritrean, Nigerian and Ugandan immigrants and visa holders, there are several AfroBeat, AfroJazz, heritage and Reggae concerts throughout the year. Every city has multiple entertainment venues, and most events are free to the public, like the Nuite Francaise which even included a wine and cheese bar and ballroom dancers!


And of course, we have our own mega stars singing pop, hip hop, and indie folk. All during the summer, our Israeli entertainment icons perform concerts in amphitheaters all over the country, many are free, sponsored by the municipality.

(Warning: the next two video clips include bright, flashing lights-)

The very popular Hatikvah 6
Static & BenEl, a high energy boy band, is extremely popular here

Saving our favorite Israeli performer for last: John & I first heard the music of Idan Raichel in Los Angeles in 2010. We saw him at different locations in California and we haven’t missed one of his concerts here (which always sell out in hours). Idan first started performing (accordion) at age 12. He’d play for the dancers at the Karmi’el Dance Festival every year. Last year he, most deservedly, received an honorary PhD in philosophy from BarIlan University and has been named Israel’s Poet Laureate. His music is not only beautiful, but the words! About the beauty of life, of love and friendship, of peace and unity. Many international recording stars have teamed up with Raichel to form the world-beat Idan Raichel Project. It truly is peace through music. So I leave you with this- Enjoy!

Solo performance at the Elmaa Arts Center, Zichron Yaakov

The Three Weeks: The Latest Conflict

The past three weeks have marked a period of collective fasting, prayer, charity or alms-giving and mitzvot, or doing good deeds for the Jewish people of Israel. It comes at the hottest, driest time of year when all a person wants to do is sit in front of a fan and eat ice cold watermelon. The period starts on the 17th of Tammuz, the Hebrew month. On this day, thousands of years ago Moses came down from Mt Sinai to see drunken orgies and the people worshipping an idol, the golden calf, so in anger, he smashed the tablets with the Ten Commandments. A year later (1313 BCE) 12 spies were sent out into the Promised Land to scout out the lay of the land. On the 9th of Av, 10 spies came back with a bad report. Instead of proclaiming a land filled with natural goodness – super huge fruits, date honey, goats, cows, milk, rich soil, a land with which they were bequeathed, they spoke of walled cities. They spoke of appearing to be like tiny grasshoppers in the eyes of giants. They said it was untamable. Wild. Dangerous. Instead of relying on the L-rd, they fell into despair. And they took an entire nation into absolute hopelessness and despair with them. Instead of being filled with gratitude and strength and optimism, they were defeatist. So the entirety of the Children of Israel were made to wander in the desert for forty years.

From that time on, it seem those three weeks would be an infamous swamp of bad karma for the Jewish people. Biblically, the 10 Northern tribes were taken by the Assyrians during this time. Then the Babylonians swept in, breaching the walls of Jerusalem on the 17th Tammuz and taking the city. On the 9th of Av, Solomon’s Temple, the First Temple, was razed and the tribes of Judah and Benjamin were led into captivity for 70 years. The Temple was rebuilt under Cyrus and lasted until 70AD, when it was leveled by the Romans. Most of the Jews were scattered throughout the world in the Great Diaspora. Fifty two years later, the walled fortress of Beitar, held down by the last Zealots against the Roman regime was breached on 17 Tammuz. Again, after a three week siege, the Romans killed the thousands of remaining Jews and destroyed the city (just outside Jerusalem near Bethlehem) on 9 Av. It marked the end of a Jewish homeland for almost 2000 years.

The tragedies of Tisha b’Av ( Hebrew for 9 Av) and the three weeks continued throughout history. European Jews were burned alive in synagogues in Italy, Germany & France in the 1100s-1200s; the Jews of England were expelled by King Edward “Longshanks” in 1290; King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled the Jews of Spain in 1492; on Tisha b’Av in 1914, Germany declared war on Russia thus beginning World War l; in 1942 Hitler’s Final Solution was announced; on that same day, the deportations of the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to the death camps commenced. In more “modern times,” the deadly bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires by Iranian-backed terrorists killed 86, seriously wounding over 300. And in 2005, on Tisha B’Av, in the name of “land for peace” Israel forcibly and permanently removed the remaining Jewish residents of Gaza (they had until then been living relatively peaceable lives with their Arab neighbors), in essence handing the territory over to Islamic militants like Hamas (the word actually means VIOLENCE!!!) and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. There has been no peace ever since.

With that brief history, we’ve been watching events unfold over the past few weeks. Israel had been seeing a sharp uptick in Palestinian violence recently. There were car-rammings, stabbing, shootings, the throwing of projectiles onto the windshields of cars, and other incidents of violence. Hotbeds of illegal weapons, cash and drug smuggling were uncovered in the cities of Nablus, Um-Al-Fahmm and Jenin. In an IDF raid, on which I reported several weeks ago, the journalist Abu Ahkleh was shot. Despite video that showed evidence to the contrary, TikTok clips released by the Islamists in real time, her death was blamed on Israel’s attempt to assassinate an Arab reporter. Things were heating up again as the summer sun blazed on.

During this years’ Three Weeks period, several more surprise raids were made by the IDF to try to curb the violence. Entire terror cells were taken into custody. We were closely following the news, as friends of mine in Tekoa and Gush Etzion in Judaea (West Bank near Jerusalem) had their gate guarded communities breached by men wielding guns. Last Tuesday, 2 August, in Jenin ( the West Bank) the IDF arrested Bassam al-Shaadi, the head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Founded in 1982, the PIJ is an internationally recognized terrorist organization which has direct backing by the Iranian and Syrian regimes. After Hamas, it is the second largest terror group in the region, ruling over much of Gaza. Its sole purpose of existence is to destroy Israel and make it free of Jews. Al-Shaadi had been directly involved in planning and executing several deadly attacks against Israeli civilians. Bags of cash and illegal weapons were found upon his arrest and the arrest of two other wanted terrorists.

Marches of protest and cries of revenge sprang up immediately in the Arab towns and cities. The PIJ, in return, threatened to commence the bombing of Southern and Central Israel where 70% of the Israeli population lives. As a precaution, all the roads leading up to and within the Gaza envelope were closed off to any traffic. Roadblocks were set up. The citizens living within the area were all told to remain inside and lock down, staying close to the nearest bomb shelters. The following day, a senior PIJ military leader announced, “We have every right to bomb Israel with our most advanced weapons.” They threatened to attack the most populous areas including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, 80 km or 50 miles away. The rhetoric intensified on Thursday, as many residents remained hunkered down, not going to work, not going to the market, not sending their children to summer activities.


Special cabinet meetings were held. Israel was attempting to appease the PIJ, to stop their threats to now carry out attacks across the country. Later it was reported that there was actionable intelligence of an imminent attack by the PIJ using an anti-tank missile to blow up a bus. The chatter was recorded. The launcher was found along with the ten terrorists headed to the border to instigate the attack. In a well-coordinated, heavily-planned preemptive strike, Israel entered into its latest conflict, Operation Breaking Dawn, on Friday afternoon just before the Sabbath. Also struck with absolute surgical precision, was the apartment of PIJ senior commander in Gaza, Taysir al-Jabari. Al-Jabari was killed and in return, the PIJ immediately started their missile barrage against the citizens of Israel. The missiles rained down on Central Israel continuously for over 50 hours. In all, over 1,100 were fired. Just stop for a second or two and think of that. Over 1100 missiles in just over 2 days!!

Although heavily inconvenienced, many in shock from the trauma as the bombs whistled overhead and shook the ground upon impact, the Israelis stayed resolute. All were united behind the IDF efforts to take down this most recent threat. In an almost supernatural answer to the prayers and fasting of the people, and much thanks to Iron Dome, there was not one Israeli casualty. Several cars and a couple buildings were hit and a few people were treated for falling while on the way to shelters and for shock. But there were no major injuries. This was a Tisha B’Av miracle. Still, sirens wailed throughout the center of Israel nonstop. Another huge miracle, not to be underestimated, is that Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, decided to sit this one out. Perhaps it was because the knew that the IDF was only targeting PIJ. Maybe it was because they were pummeled last conflict and did not want a repeat performance. A miracle, nonetheless.

We were completely unaffected by this in the North, but still, the people were all on edge. Last year, many of the surrounding Arab villages and mixed cities experienced uprisings and violent riots which saw the destruction of Jewish property and resulted in several deaths. The government had well-prepared for this scenario, and this year made sure the police were out in advance to quell any disturbances before they could take hold. Simultaneously, the IDF was making military incursions into places like Nablus and Jenin arresting terror cells and confiscating stolen and homemade illegal weapons. It was a well-coordinated effort.

The Israeli army has a policy to go out of their way to avoid incurring civilian damages. Both PIJ and Hamas go out of their way to hide their bomb and rocket launchers behind their own people: in schools, hospitals, mosques and inside high-density housing units. Israel has every right to defend its people. What would you do if a neighboring state started attacking your city? There is a popular narrative that is being spread by many mainstream news outlets and by members of the US government: that there is an imbalance of power. That the Iron Dome affords Israel a unique advantage. This narrative is both misleading and dangerous. Iron Dome definitely saves countless lives and property. It is because of the strength and accuracy of Israel’s army that Hamas, Hezbollah, PIJ and other terror organizations that have genocidal racism as their epithet have not proliferated and taken over in the region. Their goal is not to “resist the occupation.” Their goal is to make the entire MidEast, especially Israel free of Jews, free or Christians, free of homosexuals and free of any other group they do not approve of. Their goal is to make the entire Mideast a vast wasteland of their religious intolerance and supremacy as can be seen in countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Yemen. They have no desire in making life better for their own people, who live in abhorrent conditions under a militaristic religious dictatorship.

All the violence could be stopped in a single instant if the Islamist terrorists would just put down their weapons to live in peace. We all want peace here. We do not seek conflict. We just want to live normal lives. All they have to do is accept our existence, something they all have been given the opportunity to recognize officially on many occasions, but refuse. There is no easy answer. Usually the blame falls on Israel. For example,, early on in the conflict, Gaza reported that 7 civilians including 5 children were killed in the Jabalia refugee complex when an Israeli bomb struck the tenement housing. They even released footage of the strike. Upon inspection, it can be seen that their own missile completely backfired, making a slowly arching u-turn before crashing down and hitting the Jabalia site. The news, first broadcast by AlJezeera then picked up by international mainstream media was debunked as fake news within the hour. More footage released shows that not only did this bomb fail to reach its target, but that over 20% of the launches misfired, falling back into Gaza.

Late Sunday evening, a ceasefire, brokered by Egypt, was announced. So far, it has held, but things are tenuous at best. The PIJ has called for the release of al-Saadi and other “political hostages.” As of this morning, Tuesday, 9 August, Israel special ops were in Nablus encountering extreme and wild fire power. So far 11 terrorists including the head of the AlAqsa Martyrs’ Brigade have been killed with zero IDF casualties with the exception of a counterterrorism dog. A large number of explosives and additional weapons have been located at the site. Hopefully this will deter the terrorists and help break the wave of recent violence. We pray for peace and security and for the wisdom of our government. We pray for truthful reporting. And we thank G-d that this Ninth of Av we were spared.

Diversity in Israel: Meet the Circassians

Circassian Cultural Heritage Center in Kfar Kama, Galilee

Adding to the rich cultural diversity in Israel, we have the Circassians. Mainly living in two communities in the North and numbering approximately 4,000, the Circassians’ history goes way back to pre-4th century. Originally from what is present-day Russia – from between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, they were the indigenous people of the Caucasus Mountains. They lived from Sochi to Baku: their capital city was Nalchik and they were known as the Adyghe (Adiga) people. In their language Ady means highlander and ghe means sea. Between the 4th and the 9th centuries, many of them converted to Christianity. When the Tartars and Ottoman Turks conquered their territory, many were forcibly converted to Islam. The Turks called them Cherkess which was Latinized to Circassian. After many years as dhimmie under the Ottomans, most adopted the Muslim religion voluntarily. 1763 marked the 100 year war between the Circassians and the Russians for access to the Black Sea. Eventually, in 1864, Russia launched a genocidal campaign. 90% of their population were exiled from their land – put on ships bound for the Balkans, Anatolia, Bulgaria and Turkey. From there they were taken to the Middle East and can be found throughout the Levant. Their population is about 1.5 million.

Because they were such good fighters, the Ottomans took them in as brother Muslims; and it was the Turks who scattered them throughout the Lebanon/Syria/Israel/Jordan region as a counterweight tothe non-Muslim Jewish, Christian and Druze populations as well as to the Bedouin. Even though they are Sunni Muslim, they are not Arabs. They were brought here in the 1870s as tax collectors for all the other Arab villages in the surrounding area (today, this practice no longer exists).Here in Israel, they maintain excellent relations with the Jewish and Arab populations. The Circassians, although very separate with their own language and educational system, all serve in the IDF. They have kept their ancient phonetic language, Adyghebza, but are fluent in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Their educational levels are very high, their communities, impeccably clean with flowers blooming in every windowbox and garden. There are only 26 family groups or clans within the Israeli Circassian community.

We visited the two Circassian towns recently. Kfar Kama (pronounce Comma) is a thriving village on the upper slope of Har Tavor (Mt. Tabor) in the lower Galilee. The mountain village is walled in, an old form of defense. All of the stone houses are interconnected, sharing a back or side wall. The only way through into the village is from a guardpost/ gate, like a fort. The mosque stands in the very center of the town. And it is the location of the Circassian Heritage Center. Every day, the center welcomes Israeli school groups as part of their educational enrichment program. We were greeted graciously by our docent, Ibek, dressed in a black costume and high fur hat.

After sharing their history with the large group, several members of the village put on a dance exhibition in their native noble costumes. Red and black are their battle colors, turquoise symbolizes the sea and green, the land from which they came.

All Circassians are taught the traditional dances from the time they are young, and all can play at least one musical instrument. The women have much power in their society, and are free to make their own decisions. When a young man comes of age, it is traditional for the Circassian man not to ask permission of the girl’s parents to marry. He asks the girl to marry him directly. This is where the story gets good. Without her parent’s knowledge, the bridegroom and his male attendants, kidnap the beloved at an agreed upon time and place. Two of the bridegroom’s attendants, then go to her family’s home to inform the parents (after she has not shown up). The family must then go out in search of their daughter, but it is the girl’s decision entirely to marry. The parents have no say in the matter. The bride is taken into the groom’s family’s home, and it is they who pay for the entire wedding feast. The families marry within their clans. Sometimes the men travel to Eastern Europe or Turkey where other clan member reside to find their betrothed.

Circassian young woman in native dress

Much of their labor today is agricultural. Olive growing has played a large role in their subsistence . They follow the Muslim dietary laws (refraining from pork, Hallal slaughter) with the exception of fish. Because so many of their people were killed in the Black Sea War, fish and seafood are off the menu in homage to their brethren. They are fairly famous for their smoked meats and hard smoked cheeses. The cheese shop in Kfar Kama boasts of the oldest cheese in Israel: this hard, smoked cheese is shaped like an enormous dagger and is 43 years old!

Today in Israel, about half of the Circassians are devout, the other half fairly secular. There is no pressure to be traditional, although all intimately know the culture and traditions. Observant women wear a white headscarf, like Druze women, but the Circassian style for every day is more like a hijab. Colorful clothes as well as pants are worn by the younger women.

The other Circassian village is Rechaniya, near the Lebanese border, established in 1878 by 66 families. It too is built in the fortified walled village style with a central mosque as in Kfar Kama. Because of their location, the village maintained active ties with their Lebanese and Syrian relations across the border. This proved problematic for the Israeli authorities during the 1967 and Lebanese Wars. Frequent home searches were conducted by the IDF for security reasons. Smuggled weapons were confiscated and some of the Rechaniya townsfolk were temporarily moved to Kfar Kana, 30 miles to the south. Mostly, they preferred to remain neutral during the wars Israel faced. Today, friendly relations have been restored. They pride themselves as being full Israeli citizens and part of the fabric of society. Many Circassians today serve in the police and border patrol units. Several are noted Israeli football stars.

Hani Madaji is the owner of the Rechaniya restaurant, Nalchik. There you can eat like a local, feating on lots of carbs, some baked, some fried, all with different fillings. One of the favorites is Haliva, a fried dough dumpling filled with Circassian cheese, potatoes and herbs. Some variations use beef and leeks.

There are Kalkata, dumplings filled with sheep milk yogurt and paprika; memjak, a savory lentil dish and an interesting type of chicken salad. The shredded, cooked chicken is dressed with a rich, garlicky tehineh and is served at room temperature. Before eating a red olive oil that has been infused with spicy Aleppo pepper and paprika, is drizzled over top. Walnuts, also are sprinkled over (Note: for those visitors keeping Kashrut, this food is definitely not Kosher! Still, interesting to see and learn). Also in Rechaniya is a specialized cheese dairy that has been in the same family for generations. It is an art that has been passed down from mother to daughter for hundreds of years.

Nadi explained to us when we asked how the Circassians fit into society in Israel today that it is a matter of tolerance. They see other people and other cultures as having tremendous dignity and worth as human beings. We are all brothers and sisters, she said. We seek to live peaceably among our own people and alongside the other Israeli citizens. However every Circassian carries deep within him the desire to go back to their original homeland that is today part of Russia. They are all a part of the Great Circassian Diaspora. For them, May 21 is their Genocide Remembrance Day. In both Kfar Kama and Rechaniya there are parades, special services and speeches made. All are welcome to attend.

A Twisted Narrative (Political Explanation)

Usually my blogposts are about culture, archaeological finds, interesting places to visit, and entertaining feature articles. I purposely avoid anything political or potentially inflammatory. In the past month there has been much misinformation and information that has been conveniently hidden or deleted about the events surrounding the death of Palestinian-American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh. As of this morning there are reports out by CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera and other mainstream news outlets – all completely defamatory to Israel. I have followed this story carefully from the beginning, detail by detail. I can no longer be silent about the tragic (and it was utterly tragic) death and funeral of the reporter Shireen Abu-Akleh. I will start at the beginning to set the stage.

The Lead-Up:

Jenin, population 41,000 is the northernmost city in the West Bank and has become a symbol of Palestinian resistance. It has been in existence since the late 1800s when its recorded population was below 1,000, all Muslim. Because of its location at the southern end of the fertile Jezreel Valley, it became an outpost of the Turkish & German forces united against the Allied powers in WWI for their forays into northern Israel. Jenin was captured by the British in 1918 and came under the the rule of British Mandated Palestine. By the 1930s, the town was the northern spearhead for raids and ambushes of the Jewish villages in the Jezreel Valley. After the British left, and during the newly-formed State of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence (in which the nascent country was attacked from all sides by the neighboring Arab countries), the town was reinforced by Iraqi forces entering through Jordan. The strategic town fell into Israeli hands in 1967 during the Six Day War, but was then promptly transferred by Israel to the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority according to the Tabah Agreement.

Since coming under the full control of the PA in 1996, Jenin has become a hotbed of terror-organizing, smuggling, and illegal activity. The surrounding area is very agricultural and the surrounding small villages have about 256,000 population, all but 3% Muslim in this area. It is the regional center of government for the PA. It is also known as a militant stronghold exporting terror. Jenin is a heavily armed city. At least 23 of the suicide bombers during the 2002-2005 Second Intifada were from Jenin. Over 1,000 people in Israel, both citizens and international tourists, were murdered in these bombings, shootings and stabbings.

This year, from March 21 – May 5, during Ramadan, a new wave of terror broke out in Israel. In seven separate terror attacks on citizens, 19 people were murdered, 36 injured. Three of these attackers were from Jenin and two were from a town 7.2 miles to the east. Following the attacks, the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Security Forces conducted counterterrorism operations in Jenin and the immediate vicinity with the clear objective ”to uncover and prevent any future terrorist attacks based on reliable and actionable intelligence. We have already thwarted dozens of pre-planned attacks, thereby saving the lives of civilians. The IDF in no way targets non-militants in any of its activities.”

The IDF had entered the refugee camp on the outskirts of the city in prior days to raid a cache of illegal weapons. Most were home manufactured or smuggled in through Jordan. They arrested several known terrorists and suspected accomplices.

The Fateful Day: A Tale of Two Narratives

On the morning of May 11, IDF soldiers entered Jenin Camp on the outskirts of the city and apprehended eight suspected terrorists. During this planned counterterrorism operation, dozens of Palestinian gunmen ambushed the soldiers from the buildings and alleyways above, from all directions. Very shortly afterwards, videos of the ambush were posted to Facebook, Tiktok and Instagram by the Palestinians. The gunmen were recklessly firing pot-shots around corners and hurling improvised explosives at the troops. The Israeli soldiers responded with gunfire. At the time of the activity, hundreds of bullets were volleyed and the AlJazeera journalist, Shireen Abu-Akleh, was caught in the middle and killed. In the uploaded video, you can hear the Palestinian gunmen yelling in Arabic, ”We got one. We killed a soldier. An IDF soldier is down.” However, no Israeli soldier was reported killed or injured.

This is where the two different narratives begin. It is essential we get to the truth, because the truth matters and facts matter. And now 57 U.S. legislators have called on the United States FBI and the U.S. State Department to investigate the journalist’s death, to sanction Israel and to condemn Israel for acts of aggression and humanitarian violence because the reporter was a dual Palestinian and American citizen.

The IDF Chief General of Staff Aviv Kochavi stated, ”During the operation in Jenin, suspects indiscriminately fired an enormous amount of gunfire at IDF soldiers and hurled improvised explosive devices. Forces fired back with live fire. Our soldiers in Jenin acted under fire, as in many cases, demonstrating courage and determination to protect the citizens of our State. As in many other events, the Palestinians launched extensive fire at our forces and indiscriminately wild fire in every direction. Unlike the Palestinians, IDF soldiers carry out trained and selective shooting. At this point it is not possible to determine what shooting the reporter who was killed [sic] and we are very sorry for her death. In order to reach the investigation of the truth, we have set up a special team that will find out the facts and present them as fully and as soon as possible.” Initially Israeli officials stated that Abu-Akleh was likely killed by an errant Palestinian bullet. Later that evening, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said, ”It could have been Palestinians who shot her – or erratic fire from our side.” This opened up an entirely new narrative.

Shireen’s lifeless body was immediately taken to a Palestinian coroner who removed and kept the bullet. The officials conducting the autopsy said they were unable to determine the bullet’s origin. The Palestinians have refused Israeli requests for a joint investigation into her unfortunate and untimely death. Without the bullet, the Israeli government cannot accurately determine what happened. The Israeli government wants a full investigation to happen in order to find out as much information as possible.

The Palestinian narrative has been spread throughout the mainstream media and has gained considerable traction. “Not only was Abu-Akleh shot by Israeli troops, rather than hit by indiscriminate Palestinian gunfire, but she was deliberately targeted by Israel in order to silence the voice of Palestine (David Horovitz, left of center, Times of Israel).” Al Jazeera comments on that day: ”We condemn this heinous crime, intended to prevent the media from carrying out its message, and we hold the Israeli government and the occupational forces responsible for her death. We hereby call on the international community to condemn and hold Israel occupational forces accountable for the deliberate killing of our colleague Shireen Abu-Akleh.”

The head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of “execution” and said, “We vow to bring the matter before the Hague to the International Criminal Court to punish the criminals. We have rejected a joint investigation with the Israeli authorities because they are the ones who committed the crime.” This was said without full evidence. Senior PA official Jibril Rajoub, called Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett a Nazi, accusing him of giving the direct orders to hunt down and assassinate the journalist. This was a spurious comment and outright lie that has been disseminated throughout the world by the mainstream media.

The Funeral of Shireen Abu-Akleh

By now, many of you have seen the (heavily edited) video clip of the funeral procession of Abu-Akleh. It was floated first on social media then picked up by legacy news outlets. It is very misleading. The images of Israeli police shoving, pushing and hitting away the pall-bearers burns an indelible image into one’s psyche. It is a very tiny portion of a much larger story. The clipped video was disseminated throughout the world to make it seem as if the Israeli Police interfered with the procession, when in fact, it was the exact opposite. The various videos are shown and explained below:

This is the heavily edited version

Jerusalem is a political and religious hotbed waiting to boil over. In the days leading up to the death of Ms. Abu-Akleh, throughout the Ramadan period, gangs of roving youth from East Jerusalem were going into (the main city of) Jerusalem tearing down Israeli flags that lined the streets for Memorial Day, Independence Day and Jerusalem Day. For many Israeli Arabs, the formation of Israel as the Jewish State, their ancient and ancestral homeland, marks ”The Nakba” or The Great Catastrophe. There were riots on the Temple Mount with young men barricading themselves into the iconic gold-domed Al Aqsa Mosque, using it as a fortress from which to throw rocks and explosives.

Shireen Abu-Akleh was a Melkite Christian born in Jerusalem in 1971. Her immediate family was originally from Bethlehem. Orphaned at an early age, she went to live with her mother’s family in New Jersey receiving a Catholic education both there and on her return to Israel for high school. She graduated from Yarmouk University in Jordan with a degree in journalism. Fluent in Hebrew, Arabic, English, and Greek, she was hired by Al Jazeera in 1997. Her career, reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, women’s issues, and global dialogue made her a leading journalist and an inspiration to many young Palestinian girls. She resided in East Jerusalem at the time of her death.

After her death, Abu-Akleh’s shrouded body was carried on a stretcher draped with a Palestinian flag from Jenin through Nablus, then Ramallah for the residents of the West Bank to pay their respects before it reached Jerusalem, where the Christian funeral was scheduled to take place. Her family made arrangements for her coffin to be taken by hearse from the hospital to the church, not paraded through the streets of East Jerusalem. The following is the direct account of the notes written by the Israeli Police Force on the events of May 13:

– Plans for the funeral procession of Shireen Abu-Akleh were coordinated in advance by the Israel Police together with the family. – On Friday, about 300 rioters arrived at St. Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem and prevented the family members from loading the coffin onto the hearse to travel to the cemetery as had been planned and coordinated with the family in advance. – Instead the mob threatened the driver of the hearse and then proceeded to carry the coffin in an unplanned processional route to the cemetery by foot. – This went against the wishes of the Abu-Aklah family and the security coordinations that had been planned to safeguard the large number of mourners. – Israel Police instructed that the coffin be returned to the hearse, as did the EU ambassador, and Abu-Akleh’s own family, but the mob refused. – Molotov cocktails and fireworks were thrown by the mob at the police. Israel Police intervened to disperse the mob and prevent them from taking the coffin, so that the funeral could proceed as planned in accordance with the wishes of the family. – During the riot that was instituted by the mob, glass bottles, Molotov cocktails, fireworks, rocks and other objects were thrown, resulting in the injury of both mourners and police officers.

Incidentally, the Israel Police is made up of a vey diverse force of Arab Christians, Muslims and Druze as well as Jews, both secular and religious. Full, uncut footage of the procession shows the throwing of rocks by the mob on the sidelines. After an explosive device is hurled towards the pallbearers and rolls under the coffin, an Israel Police officer shoves the pallbearer and kicks the explosive, causing a melee to ensue and the coffin to almost be dropped. This was what was only partially shown in the edited video above.

The mob that gathered in front of the hospital tried to prevent the coffin from ever getting to the hearse. They were chanting anti-Israeli slogans, waving Palestinian flags, blocked the hearse and snatched the coffin. A Palestinian flag was attempted to be laid over the coffin in order to cover up the crucifix. When the police stepped in to try to disperse the rioters, flash bangs were hurled from the roof by the mob and objects hurled at the police. Amjad Abu Asbeh of the PA explained that the Palestinians wanted to carry the coffin on their shoulders through East Jerusalem ”so that it would not seem like a Christian funeral with a church car.” The men of the mob wrestled the coffin away so they could carry it as the tradition is for shahids, Islamic martyrs killed in battle.


Shireen’s brother told the BBC, ”We were leaving the hospital towards Church and Israel Police came and bombarded us without the family knowing why.” It must be understood that the family is in an extremely difficult position. As Christians, who have been heavily persecuted by the Muslim contingent, telling the fullness of what actually happened, they will surely face persecution, including real death threats from the PA and Hamas. A question that begs answering is who has more interest in the funeral processing peaceably as planned, the Israeli authorities and the family of Abu-Akkeh or the mob, the PA and Hamas?

In the United States, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stated, ”You know…Shireen Abu-Akleh. We need to have eyes on what happened. She was killed by Israeli forces in Palestine. Hmmmm… and you know, aahh…we can’t allow this. A lot of people will say you’re treating this differently and ….. mmmm… you’re, you’re, you’re picking them out and you’re treating them differently. Our, our, our tax dollars are a part of this. Our resources are a part of this. We can’t even get healthcare in the U.S. and like our taxes are funding thiiiiiiiissss (throws hands up). Shireen Abu-Akleh was murdered by a government that receives unconditional funding by our country with zero accountability.” AOC has over 8 million Twitter followers, over 8.5 million Instagram followers as well as a commanding Youtube presence.

U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib attended Nakba Day rallies in Dearborn, Michigan May 15. Accusing Israel of her deliberate and targeted murder, Tlaib also called for a moment of silence on the House floor in honor of Ms. Abu-Akleh, later tweeting, ” When will the world and those who stand by Apartheid Israel that continues to murder, torture and commit war crimes finally say ’Enough’? Shireen Abu Akleh was murdered by a government that receives unconditional funding by our country with zero accountability.” She called for immediate boycott, sanctioning and divestment from all Israeli products as well as co-introducing legislation to have Nakba Day declared an official American holiday.

These false narratives, the misrepresenting of the truth, the failure to cooperate in an unbiased full investigation all help to destabilize the already fragile Middle East. Just last year, Israel was normalizing relations with several of its Arab neighbors as part of the historic Abraham Accords. Last week Israeli delegates from the high-tech sector and cultural entrepreneurs flew to Morocco to visit the Parliament and participate in several pre-arranged meetings throughout the country. Many of the talks and scheduled events were canceled as the rumor spread that Israel had assassinated the journalist to ”hide the truth about her reporting on Apartheid atrocities.” In those meetings that did take place, extra security was required for the protection of the attendees.

Using this latest twisting of truth to their advantage, Palestinian youth throughout the Western world organized protests, marches and parades. In particular, American youth, recruited mostly on campuses, took to the city streets, flags in hand. Their chants include ”From the River to the Sea, Palestine must be free!” Do they understand that they are saying from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea (the entirety of Israel, not just a small part), the Land must be completely free of Jews? What happened to peace, love and tolerance. Also chanted was the Arabic ”Khybar, Khybar yo Yahud…” I’m pretty sure they do not know their chant is a reference to the complete massacre of the entire Jewish town of Khayybar and the expulsion of all the Jews of Saudi Arabia by Mohammad in 628 CE. The disseminated false narratives have ripple effects throughout the world and are not just isolated within Israel. It has the potential to lead to anti-Semitic violence and to the destabilization of power in the Middle East.

Old Hollywood Glamour in Israel

I love Israel for its absolute randomness. There are just so many amazingly unexpected places to discover here. I had first heard of the old Dolphin House Hotel years ago, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that I had the opportunity to visit the site and learn about its history. A friend of ours took us to brunch at The Breakfast House in the little village of Shave Zion (pronounced SHAH-vay Tsee-YONE in Hebrew).

Shave Zion (Return to Zion) population 1209, is located exactly 2 miles between Akko (Acre) and Nahariyya, 5.5 miles south of the Lebanese border. It sits right on the Mediterranean Sea and is one of the most beautiful places to relax and enjoy the sun and sea breezes. It was established in 1938 by a small group of German Jews who were escaping the Nazis. In its early days, the moshav was primarily an agricultural one, growing carrots, wheat, dates and citrus fruits. Fighting off armed bands of Bedouin raiders was not uncommon in the days of the British Palestinian Mandate.

Joshua Malka (1920-2005), was born in Egypt, one of seven children born into an upper-class Jewish family. Speaking Arabic, French, English and Hebrew, he served in the hospitality sector as a manager at the Luxor Hotel in Alexandria waiting on the elites of Egypt including King Farouk. Egypt, however, was becoming increasingly hostile to its Jewish population. Joshua and three of his brothers escaped persecution, immigrating to Israel in 1948, just in time to serve in the IDF during the War of Independence. He was 28 years old.

Afte the war, Joshua, now known as ”Shua,” returned to the hotel industry. He became head of reception at the famous King David Hotel in Jerusalem. At the time, it was Israel’s only luxury hotel serving foreign dignitaries, businessmen and celebrities of the highest order. In the late 1940s, immediately after World War II, Israel saw a huge wave of new immigrants: they were Jewish refugees rising like Lazarus from the concentration camps of Europe, arriving on the shores of the newly-reborn nation with nothing but the clothes on their backs. It was an interesting time for Israel, impoverished from the war with few resources, food rationing and in most places, third world living conditions. Despite all the hardships, the people came with hopes and dreams. It was around this time that the South African movie producer, Norman Lurie started to build a beachfront hotel in Shave Zion.

The new Beit Dolfin, The Dolphin House Resort Hotel and Country Club needed a manager. Someone used to working with VIPs, serving them and catering to their unique needs. None other was more suited for this job than Shua Malka. Shua and his gorgeous wife Eva (Chava), herself a Czech refugee who had survived Auschwitz, moved to Shave Zion in 1951. They lived a charmed life. In the winter they would travel to Europe with their young daughter. At night they would scout the hottest Parisian clubs and Berlin coffeehouses for singers and dancers to entertain at Beit Dolfin. While Shua made business connections, Chava would shop for high fashion in London and Milan. They brought back the highest quality furnishings for the new hotel as well as European chefs and entertainers.

By the mid-1950s, Dolphin House had earned a reputation among royalty, diplomats and Hollywood movie stars. With ”unbeatable scenery and impeccable service,” the luxury hotel had an Olympic-size swimming pool, tennis courts, shuffleboard, library, theatre, synagogue, and activities center. Tsimmerim, private suite cabins on the beach were always in high demand year round. Besides a Kosher dining room, there was a cafe and five-star gourmet chef restaurant. There was a house orchestra, jazz band, and celebrity entertainment. It was not unusual for there to be ballroom dancing one evening, jitterbugging on the terrace the next and Israeli folk-dancing around a huge bonfire on the beach another night. Peter Sellars, Danny Kaye, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra and Sofia Lauren were among the most prominent regular guests. Leon Uris wrote his novel, Exodus, from a beach chair on the sand there. Later, during the filming of the major motion picture by the same name, Pat Boone, Eva Saint Marie, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward would stay at Dolphin House. Kirk Douglas first stayed at the hotel while filming ”The Juggler,” the first full-length Hollywood movie to be filmed in Israel. It was there that he ‘discovered’ the young Dalia Lavie who lived on the moshav. She told him she wanted to be a dancer, and Douglas convinced her parents to let her study ballet in Sweden. Dalia Lavie would go on to become a top model and Hollywood starlet, often playing the role of femme fatale. She is best known for her performance in the James Bond film, Casino Royale.

Beit Dolfin didn’t just bring Beverly Hills style living to Shave Zion, it raised the entire quality of life of the moshav. The resort complex employed round-the clock workers from chefs, waiters and waitresses, cleaning crews, entertainers, valets and chauffeurs, activities leaders, lifeguards, tennis instructors and managerial staff. Private tour guides would escort the guests on hikes and to historical sites throughout the land. The Malkas built a waterfront villa and were the first in Shave Zion (outside the hotel) to own a telephone, television and private car. By the mid-1960s, Shave Zion had one of the highest standards of living in Israel.

I heard the stories over what is arguably, the best brunch in Israel…The Breakfast Club cafe. We sipped mimosas on the patio – the place is always packed and reservations are an absolute must! It’s a bit out-of- the-way, but easy to find as the village only has one main street, lined with shade trees, boutiques, cafes and pubs. Their scrambled eggs on brioche served with creme fraiche and lox was to die for. My husband ordered the chavita, an omelette topped with asparagus, basil, Mediterranean vegetables and feta, equally delicious.

After brunch, we were in desperate need of a walk, so we made our way down the street to see the hotel I had heard so much about. Unfortunate is not the word. Today it is completely abandoned, fenced off, and in absolute disrepair. Sad. Sad. Sad. The bones oof the building are still there, but it is hard to imagine the glory days. We pray someone will buy and restore it to its former self, abuzz with VIPs and alive with activity. Until then, ghosts of the past haunt it halls and memories of music and laughter waft from the balconies of Beit Dolfin.

It’s a Wrap! The Art of Headcovering

Recently a good friend of mine in the States who is Catholic asked me to buy her a beautiful Israeli chapel veil for when she goes to Mass. After all, I’m sure that she thought it’s the Holy Land, so they must be sold everywhere. In all my touring the country and visiting holy sites of many different religions I have only once seen chapel veils – actually mantillas worn by a group of Mexican ladies on a pilgrimage to the Annunciation Basilica in Nazareth.

Israel is a unique place in that there are a majority of people who do cover their heads. Just by looking, one can tell which religious or ethnic group a person belongs to. Religious Jewish men wear different styles of kippah – knit, black velvet, small, large- and different styles of hats depending upon their sect. Druze men wear white knit caps or maroon fez-type turbans, depending upon their rank. And some of the Muslim men wear tight-fitting knit caps. Sometimes you will be lucky enough to see a Bedouin shepherd sporting his kaffiyeh tied around his head with black rope.

But it’s the women who really take head covering to a whole new fashion level in Israel. The married women are the ones who cover their heads here. So if the woman is religious, right away you know her marital status (secular people or hiloni as well as Christians keep their heads bare). Druze ladies are the plainest, wearing long black robes and white veils. Muslim women cover their entire heads and the neck and throat with a hijab, which gives them a very distinct look.

Orthodox Jewish women also keep their heads covered all the time. Whereas there are no Biblical or Scriptural injunctions that are given, it is a tradition rooted in ancient times. It is both a sign of respect to G-d, that one is under His authority; a sign of one’s marital status; a beautiful crown for a queen; and for some, a sign of modesty in reserving the most beautiful parts of herself for her husband only. It is NOT a sign of feminine subjugation, as the man also covers his head in the religious household.

That said, let’s move to the fun part… the fashion. The headwrap is a creative and beautiful extension of a typical Israeli look. Called a mitpachat, meet-PAH-khat, in Hebrew or tichel, TIH-khel in Yiddish, it is a single or multiple layers of scarves wrapped around the head. Sometimes a bobo is used, which is a padded pouff used to add extra volume and a wig band is essential for keeping the mitpachat in place.

Although married women of all ages wrap their heads in scarves and laces, some of the older women and women who don’t like that look for them, opt for hats. Sometimes berets in felt wool or fluffy knit are worn, others sport jaunty little caps which range from extremely casual to very dressy (weddings, Shabbat, holidays).

Not up here in the periphery where things are more casual, but in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the center you can see amazing fashion statements. I think it’s the influence of French and British Jewish women, but I’ve been recently seeing the most gorgeous fascinator hats worn by young married ladies of style. There are entire shops which just sell hair accessories… and some of the selections are very, very expensive!

The next look, worn by many ladies in the Chabad sect, is the sheitel, SHAY-tl. Be very, very fooled. These are wigs. Not yo momma’s wigs either. Beautiful, long full, silky, luscious locks which cover the head, but feel and look incredibly natural. I remember pointing out women in sheitels to my husband when we first got here and he was pretty incredulous. If you didn’t know, there’s no way you could tell. It’s now become a fun ”game” for us, especially in the larger cities. And of course, they come in all lengths, colors, textures – and price ranges from expensive to exorbitant!

So there you have it, the diverse world of Israeli fashion. One of the most popular items to buy at the shuk, the markets, here in Israel are pashminas. They are huge scarves made of lamb’s wool and woven in the most gorgeous variety of patterns and colors. Many tourists buy them to wear as shawls for cool evenings. Some use them for table coverings or even wall hangings. Jewish women collect them to use as mitpachat. I have a large basket full of them, yet I have never once seen a chapel veil for sale. Not in the Christian quarter of Jerusalem, nor in Nazareth or any other shop selling to pilgrims here. Although it is a rule that one must dress modestly upon entering a church here(no shorts, bare legs or arms), head coverings are not required. I leave you with a few more samples-

Ancient Mysteries

The last day of our three day desert adventure this past December was incredible in several ways: it was midweek and there was no one else for miles so we were alone in the desert – a special experience; we were able to cover a tremendous amount of territory and make it to three amazing and different archaeological sites; we were trying to do it all before the predicted high winds, sandstorm and first major storm of the winter hit.

Our adventure started early in the morning at the ruins of Susya, an ancient city that was excavated from 1985-2000. On the eastern fringe of Mount Hebron, southeast of BeerSheva in the area once walked by Abraham and the Patriarchs of monotheism, settled by the tribe of Yehuda (Judah), a large town was built by Jews after the Roman destruction of Yerushalayim. It is one of the most unusual ancient towns we’ve ever visited, a town filled with mystery. Sometimes there is only so much that archaeologists and anthropologists can put together from their findings. Stones are uncovered which tell only part of a story. Without first-hand written records or documents much is left to speculation.

Susya was a fortified city built on a high plateau, excellent for defense. As in most ancient towns, it was surrounded by a high stone wall at one time. It was built after 70AD and lasted until the end of the Byzantine or beginning of the early Arabic period. After that, it seemed to have been abandoned. Why? A mystery. The town had homes separated by streets and alleys, but most of the homes and businesses (potter, forge, olive production, wine production) took place underground! Homes were connected by subterranean passageways. Many of the ”buildings” were carved out caverns. Huge underground chambers, many linked together. Why? Was it for defense? If so, from who? Perhaps because it was cooler underground in the summer and warmer in the winter? Without written documents, it’s difficult to piece together the whole story.

More than 70 of these underground spaces have been uncovered at Susya. What is known is that it was a Jewish city. Both private and public mikvaot (ritual baths used for purification purposes) were found. Such a large number of these purification baths testifies to the great importance of their adherence to Torah law.

The crown of the city is its spectacular synagogue, which is still fairly well preserved, considering its age. The entrance to the synagogue can be approached through a large arched portico surrounding a central congregating area. An enormous round stone, which can be rolled by many strong men along an outer track, can block the main entrance to the courtyard. From the portico, there are high steps and Doric columns leading into the large worship/study area.

The floor of the synagogue is covered with a well-preserved mosaic floor. The mosaics include two menorah/lampstands, a shofar, lulav branches and etrog, and an immense zodiac calendar. There are many blessings written in Aramaic including one that reads, ”remembered be for good the comforter Yeshu’ the witness and the comforter that [……]”. What does this mean? Was it an early Messianic community? Was that why they were so concerned with defense? Was it part of another group?The rest of the inscriptions are all typically Jewish. There is a raised platform or bima and a space where the ark containing the Torah scrolls would have been kept. The synagogue also had an upstairs gallery for women. But here, too, in the synagogue are escape tunnels and stones to roll across doorways to block the ebterances and exits. From whom were they hiding and trying to escape? So far, archaeology gives us no clues….Today the synagogue is used for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs.

The next stop on our desert adventure was at an overlook along the high cliffs of the Maktesh Kattan. A maktesh is a geological formation that only occurs in the Negev. There are three of them here, kattan meaning the smallest. It’s s a completely sunken hole, a huge round crater that was naturally formed as the ground there collapsed millennia ago. We were beginning our descent onto the desert floor. I got out of the car to take photos and John got out… well… to be John.

I really shouldn’t have been nervous at all when he scurried down to the edge of the ledge. He’s done it at the Grand Canyon. He did this at Maktesh Ramon years ago. I think he’s part mountain goat. Truly. Still, I just about had a heart attack and he got some pretty great pics: the Thelma & Louise remnants of an old car crash; the white and blue stripes signifying the Israel Trail (seriously, who would hike down this cliff into the desert?); a hidden party terrace.

The road we traveled was tortuous… a real snake path. No safety barricades on some of the cliff edges. Hair-raising! The panoramas absolutely gorgeous! Once on the desert floor, we quickly headed for the painted desert. Mineral deposits left not only lots of iron, but also copper, magnesium, manganese, sulfur. I forgot to mention that this was in the area of Biblical Gomorra….hmmm…. There were huge chunks of iron ore in the sands – and tons of white snails! In the desert sands!! Snails! Still, my first reaction when I saw the beautiful palette of colors? Make-up!!! The shades of pink, rose, purple, yellow, red, brown, orange, ochre. Nothing short of magnificent!!

We still had two places to visit. No time to dally! Back in the car and on to Tamar Fortress in the Arava part of the desert, about 30 miles or so south of the Dead Sea. Tamar was once just an oasis, a desert watering hole where the Moabites and Edomites used to frequent. Mayaanot, underground springs surrounded by date palms, or tamar in Hebrew (yes, my Hebrew name means date palm). The place was well known to the ancient Israelites. It is mentioned in the Scriptures. During the reign of King David, it was the southernmost outpostfor the tribe of Judah. King Solomon built a fortress here, serving not only defensive purposes, but it was strategically positioned to monitor caravans traveling to and from distant places in the east, and to protect the southern copper mines. We read in the book of Kings that King Josiah destroyed the pagan idols that had been set up there. Archaeological remains are always confirming the words of the Bible. It is an irrefutable claim that the Jews inhabited the land of Israel from ancient times. Tamar Fortress (excavated by archaeologist and adventurer, T.E. Lawrence ”of Arabia”) is an incredible fortified walled city. Strata upon strata of different civilizations have built layer upon layer. Ancient Israelites, Greeks, Romans, Mamelukes, Ottomans. And at the top of the hill, the offices for the generals of Great Britain during the period of the British Mandate in the early 1900s. Today it serves as a museum to the history of the area.

It was getting on in the afternoon, one of the shortest days of the year. The trip had been an incredibly hard one for me, as I was still in the process recovering from an extensive spinal surgery. I was exhausted. My legs stiff and heavy. The wind was picking up and a dusty haze was limiting visibility. We had one more stop: the Nabatean city of Mamshit (pronounced MomSHEET). So we pressed on.

Mamshit was a Nabatean city. The Nabateans were spice traders. Their caravans of camels traveled from what is now Saudi Arabia, through Jordan, through Israel to the Mediterranean laden with frankincense, mhyrr, spices and jewels. Mamshit sits at a crossroads on the spice route. A permanent settlement was established here in the first century BC. It consisted of villas for its wealthy inhabitants as well as khans, or inns for travelers!and large and extravagant stables. It is believed that they were also breeders of stallions from the stables and implements they found in situ. By the second century AD Mamshit had been annexed by the Romans. The extravagant building projects continued.

The Nabateans were converted from their polytheistic idol-worshipping religion to Christianity by the third century. At the beginning of the fifth century, two magnificent churches were built here: the Western Church and the Eastern Church (named for their locations in the city). They were in use until the Arab conquest in 636AD. After that time, Mamshit ceased to exist. The Western Church was a basilica shaped church, built at a high point in the city. It was entered through a colonnaded courtyard or atrium. The main part of the church was divided into three parts: a central nave and two side aisles. At the front was a semicircular apse marking the sire of the altar and the direction of prayer. The floor was paved in mosaics featuring geometric patterns, birds, two peacocks and inscriptions.

The day was growing short. The wind was whipping sand through the air. I was most exhausted, but we wanted to see the other church and the ”Nabatu house.” John and I (foolishly) split up. He was more able to make the long haul and climb the stepped ruins up to the Eastern church – and he was able to get some great photos of the frescoed walls and mosaics. He said there was also an incredibly deep baptismal pool there as well and that the mosaics here were incomparably beautiful and really well preserved.

Iwent to visit the largest villa, known as the Nabatu house as well as a three room bathhouse next to it. The public bathhouse ( because you know – Romans!) was made of three rooms: the caldarium, a forced air steam sauna and hot pools; a frigidarium, a cold water pool from the reservoir for a quick plunge after the sauna; and a forum or dressing/social room. The furnace room consisted of red bricks heated by a massive fire and clay pipes through which the hot air flowed. It was all very interesting.

I really don’t know what happened next. I was walking with two crutches. The pavement was really quite uneven. Theres a metal pole sticking up from the ground about three inches. It was very windy and getting very cold. My legs were very heavy and my body aching. My back was screaming at me. I was trying to take pictures… and I went down. Really hard. I felt whatever surgery corrected in my back completely shift. I screamed, but there was no one else around. And that marked a dramatic end to our Negev adventure. The drive home was dusty with limited visibility. We made it just in time- through a sandstorm and before the rains hit. Since then I’ve been laying low, literally, and have been enjoying our rainy season. The winter has finally arrived with storm after storm. We made our trip just in time. It was totally worth it. Until the next adventure –

It’s All About the ”Red Stuff!”

Middle Eastern Red Lentil Stew (vegan!)

Yaakov (Jacob) simmered a stew, and Esav (Esau) came in from the field, and he was exhausted. Esav said to Yaakov, ‘Pour into me now some of that very red stuff for I am exhausted.’(From then on they called him Edom) Yaakov said, ’Sell me today your birthright.’ And Esav said, ’ ’Look, I am going to die, so of what use to me is a birthright?’ Yaakov said, ’ Swear to me this day;’ he swore to him and sold his entire inheritance to Yaakov. Yaakov gave Esav bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and got up and left; thus, Esav spurned the birthright.

Each year we read through the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. I have always loved the story of the two brothers, Jacob and Esau, on so many levels. It’s so descriptive. And I’m a real foodie, so I appreciate that it centers around food – but to sell off my entire inheritance (Esav, the oldest brother was a son of Yitzhak (Isaac), and grandson of Father Abraham, the Patriarch: two incredibly wealthy men). He had to be mighty hangry!!! And that must have been some mighty delish stew!! Each year I try to test a new recipe for that ’red stuff,’ so now I’m going to share three of my favorites. So glad I had this blogpost in reserve to pull out for you all. This year’s trio is decidedly MiddleEastern, as I’m trying to be more authentic and historical. Next year, I’ll actually be up and able to make them… in the meantime, somebody bring some of that mejaddra!!

– Genesis 25:29-33

The first recipe is true Middle Eastern comfort food. I think my tastes are changing a bit from strictly Western to other things. I first had this on my pilot trip to Israel in 2014. I hadn’t really eaten much in a couple of days because I was so on the go, and I was starving. Like Esau. In the ancient city of Tsfat in the Upper Galilee, I met a native Israeli family who invited me in to their home for lunch. They served the most delicious dish: simple home cooking. The perfect, satisfying, filling, comfort food, and so easy to make. It’s not red stew, but a combination of rice, lentils and fried onions. We feasted on freshly-made cheeses, mejaddra, and yogurt. And afterwards the father brought out a carafe of strong Turkish coffee infused with cardamom, which we sipped from tiny demitasse cups while eating a little piece of halvah. It was the best, just an unforgettable moment of Israeli hospitality. So glad I snapped photos of it back then. What I wouldn’t give for this plate of mejaddra now…. I hope you enjoy!

Mejaddra

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 3 large brown onions (the onions are the star of the show here)
  • 1 cup dried brown lentils (or 1 can lentils, liquid reserved)
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 cup Basmati rice
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp powdered cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 3 cups of water or vegetable stock, or if you are using dried lentils, the boiled lentil water)

In separate bowls, soak the rice and the lentils for a couple hours, straining out and changing the water twice. Next, drain off the lentil water and place the lentils in a medium sized pot. Cover the lentils completely with water with a good inch more over the top of the lentils. Add about a tsp salt and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to simmer and cook about 20-30 minutes until the lentils are tender. NOT MUSHY! Drain off the lentils SAVING THE LENTIL WATER! (If you are opting for the quicker, canned lentils, drain, reserving the liquid.)

Thinly slice the onion. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with salt and flour. Toss to coat the onion in the flour. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan or medium sized pot. When glistening, add the onion slices and fry up for 10-12 minutes until the onions are a crispy brown. DO NOT BURN!! Transfer out the crispy onions to a paper-towel lined plate. In the same heavy saucepan in which the onions were cooked, add the cumin and coriander seeds. It should become quite fragrant after heating for about a minute. Now add in the drained rice and the remaining powdered spices. Stir to coat the rice in the oil and spice. Add in the lentils and reserved lentil water. The liquid should measure 3 cups. If necessary, add in more water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to low and cover. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Uncover and fluff rice. season with salt to taste.

Spoon the rice-lentil mixture onto a large plate or bowl and top with the crispy fried onions. If you’d like, you can top it off with a small handful of chopped parsley or cilantro.

This next soup is more of an accurately Biblical lentil dish. the spices and the red lentils really bring out that glorious color:

Red Lentil Soup vegan

Now this red lentil soup is the real deal. The Red Stuff. Esav’s Bane. True flavors of the Levant. Israeli cooking, whatever that is. It’s fragrant, filling, flavorsome, fantastic. I think once Esav got a whiff of this soup, he was justified in saying, “Just pour it right down my throat, Bro!” Not only a lovely soup, but the lentils are just full of protein, so it is quite life-sustaining.

Jacob’s Big Boilin’ Pot of Red Stuff, aka Red Lentil Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups red lentils
  • 5 cups vegetable broth (or water or a combo of both)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne or chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt
  • 1 lemon, cut up
  • optional garnishes: chopped parsley or cilantro; yogurt; crumbled feta cheese bits (we’re keeping it Israeli)

In a large bowl, soak the lentils for about two hours, straining out and replacing the water at least once. Heat olive oil in a medium/large pot. When glistening, add in the garlic, onion, and bay leaf until the onion is soft and fragrant. Add in carrot slices and cook, stirring about 2-3 minutes. Mix in all the spices with about 1/4 cup of the veggie broth or water. It will be very rich in color and very fragrant. Add in drained lentils and 5 cups of veggie broth or water. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to a simmer and let gently cook on low heat for 20 minutes. The lentils should be tender/ slightly chewy, but not mushy.

I keep the soup chunky. It’s more rustic and has more of a Biblical feel to it that way, but feel free to puree it with an immersion blender. Add salt to taste, and garnish with the chopped herbs. Serve with a wedge of lemon on the side, which can be squeezed into the soup at table. You can also add crumbled (goat) on top. This is great served with light, fluffy Israeli pita and humus (NOT the American cardboard that passes as pita!!) or pieces of crusty, wholegrain bread.

But I like the idea of a red stew. A stick to your ribs kind of meal. Hearty and healthy.

Hearty Red Lentil Stew with Chickpeas and Pumpkin vegan

This is the one! The lentil stew to sell a birthright for …. almost … not quite. But still, this is the one I was making all last winter that is, quite frankly, one of my favorites. It can be made in a crockpot for a Shabbat lunch (perfect for this weekend!). Great lefovers. Freezes well.

We have lots of pumpkin here. Big, huge, light brown monsters that are cut into wedges and sold fresh at the market. Our dlaat is a staple food here. As is the lentil. As is the humus. Not the paste, but the bean. The Hebrew and Arabic word for chickpea is actually humus, pronounced KHOO- moose. I’ve tried to keep this stew as authentically Biblical, using foods indigenous to this region. If you are a geeky homeschool mom (ME!!), then this is a perfect food to cook with the kids as a historical re-creation. Enjoy!!

HEARTY RED LENTIL STEW WITH CHICKPEAS AND PUMPKIN


Ingredients:

  • 1 1/5 cups red lentils
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained (15 ounce/ 425 g)
  • 1 kg/ 2 pounds of peeled, chopped pumpkin cubes or butternut squash cubes
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 28 ounce/794 g can chopped tomatoes, with the liquid
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne or chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp paprrika
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • salt, to taste
  • garnishes: lemon wedges; chopped herbs (parsley, cilantro, zaatar), grated nutmeg, (goat) yogurt

In a medium bowl, soak lentils in water for about two hours, changing the water at least once in the process. Heat olive oil on medium high heat until shimmering, then add the garlic and onion, sautéing until soft. Add in the spices and 1/2 cup of the broth to form a red, fragrant paste with the onions. Cook about 2 minutes. Now add the rest of the broth. Mix in uncooked squash or pumpkin cubes, the undrained canned tomatoes, and the drained lentils. Pour the chickpeas into a strainer, drain, and rinse under cold water. Let drain and add to pot. Stir until well mixed. Bring to a slight boil, then turn down heat to low and let simmer at least an hour. Add salt to taste. Cook low and slow, the longer the better, stirring the bottom and sides every half hour to prevent sticking.

Garnish with lemon wedges, chopped herbs, yogurt, or sour cream. Serve with soft, fluffy pita, or a hearty whole grain sourdough. Makes great leftovers. Freezes well. This is also a fantastic crockpot meal for Shabbat.

A Diversity of Cultures

When last I wrote, I think I was still in the hospital – I can’t even remember any more. So much has been happening both globally and domestically in just the past couple months that it makes my head spin! I’m home, post a very extensive back surgery. After putting out a call for meals, I got a few real winners – one, a whole Indian dinner from a Mumbai immigrant that was so surprising and so phenomenal that I promise to devote an entire blog just to her story and her food. She’s in Austria now, but as soon as she returns I hope to be up to spending a day in the kitchen with her, learning her secrets.

This was the BEST Indian food ever!!!! The red at 7 o’clock on the plate is a roasted Tandoori cabbage slice!!!

The diversity of cultures here always astounds me. Israel is truly a melting pot in every sense of the word. Claudia’s family came from from Damascus in 1949. The dishes she brought us are very typical of the cuisine of the region. I found her Makhloubeh , a very simple chicken and rice dish to be entirely flavorsome and entirely satisfying. It’s economical and nicely spiced. She also brought us kishou (KEY-shoo) squash, cored, stuffed with a spiced meat, rice and tomato, swimming in a tomato sauce.

Before I start with recipes, I’d like to share our conversaton. She came up to my bedroom to find out how I was doing. I find Israelis to be much more forward than we Americans. “What did the doctor do? Who was the doctor? Which hospital?”Then, “How was I doing now? Was I swelling? Did I run a fever? (Do you have heat? was how she put it-) Was I going to the bathroom regularly? What was I drinking and eating? Was I getting up and walking?” She’s not a nurse. She’s a tour guide, a beautiful woman in her forties. When she found out I was eating lots of salads and raw fruits, she was horrified (I was trying to keep food prep as simple as possible for my husband, who was lacking in culinary skills). “After surgery, you must only eat hot foods! Cooked foods. Soups. Never anything raw. Certainly never raw vegetables!” I had never heard this before, and she thought I was completely off my rocker for not knowing this fact, although I never did find out why this was. And never, ever, ever, under any circumstances drink cold drinks!!

Anyway, it was so nice of her. And the Makhloubeh was lovely. John was quite impressed and took a picture of it before serving.

MAKHLOUBEH (meat/basari)

The dish is an all-in-one meat, veggie and rice “cake.” The word makhloob means upside down in Arabic. It’s a Middle Eastern comfort food. Many of these recipes are found throughout the Levant, from Iraq to Egypt, with lots of family or ethnic variations: differences in vegetables, meats or spices used. The following recipes were not tested by me, but Claudia assured me they are very easy to assemble. Some of the instructions are from her memory and taste and not measured. Both serve about 6 generous portions.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large potato, peeled and sliced in 1/2 inch/ 1 cm rounds
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced in 1/2 in/ 1cm coins
  • 1 medium brown onion, peeled and sliced
  • 1 small purple eggplant, sliced
  • 1 small head of cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 small can or package tomato paste
  • 1kg/ 2 pounds chicken, cut up: 2 legs, 4 thighs, cut up, skin on.
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 cups rice
  • 2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1TBSP salt
  • 1 TBSP black pepper
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cumin

Slice the veggies. Sprinkle salt on the eggplant and potato; let stand for 5 minutes and then rinse. Soak the rice in a bowl of very warm salted water. In a large pot, add extra virgin olive oil to generously coat the bottom. Heat the oil, then add the onion, potato, carrot and cauliflower. Cook, stirring until slightly soft. Now add the spices. Continue to cook, stirring to coat the veggies. The vegetables will be soft. Add the tomato paste, a heaping serving spoon and stir in. Next add in the eggplant. When all is nice and soft, remove the veggies to a paper-lined platter, leaving the sauce behind. Place the cut up chicken pieces over into the pot. Stir to brown. Add 6 cups of water. Place the lid on the pot and cook on medium heat about 30 minutes. Remove chicken to a plate. Reserve the stock/soup to a bowl.

To assemble the makhloubeh, in the same large pot, add a little more olive oil, layer the vegetables in your desired circular pattern covering the bottom. Then add the layer of chicken pieces (bones and all!) and finally the strained, uncooked rice on top.

To the reserved stock, add another 1/2 tsp salt and some additional cumin, about a teaspoon. Pour it slowly over the vegetable, chicken, rice pot. The stock should cover the rice. If it does not, add a little extra water. Place pot on medium high heat on the stove until just before boiling, about five minutes. Cover pot and let simmer another 40 minutes to let the rice fully absorb the liquid. Remove from heat and let cool about 10 minutes.

Very carefully place a plate over the pot of makhloubeh and turn upside down. It can be sprinkled with pistachio or almond and and freshly- chopped parsley.

RICE-STUFFED SQUASH (meat/basari)

This reminded me so much of the stuffed vegetables my mother used to make. I haven’t had this in years. I guess it’s Jewish comfort food. But this had a decidedly Mizrachi (Middle Eastern) flavor. The secret here is hollowing out the palm-Sized squash. There is a special coring tool Claudia uses. It cores out the center of the squash, but could also be used on apples, pears, potatoes…In Hebrew the word for squash is kishu, in Arabic, kusa.

Ingredients:

  • 8-10 palm-sized green squash
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 large serving spoon of tomato paste
  • 1/2 kg or 1 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 cup white rice, rinsed welland drained
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons mint, chopped
  • 2 Tbspparsley, chopped
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • lemon juice

Wash and cut ends off the squash. Use the coring tool to remove the inside, hollowing out the meat of the squash so it looks like a tube. Set squashes aside.

In a bowl, mix the rice and onion in with the ground beef. Both will be raw. Add half of the mint, half of the parsley and the salt and pepper. Mix gently with hands to combine. In a large pot, pour in the water and stir in the tomato paste until it resembles tomato juice. Heat until it comes to a boil. While tomato liquid heats up, stuff each squash leaving a little at the ends (an inch/2cm to allow for expansion. Add parsley, mint, a pinch of salt to the liquid. Squeeze the lemon into the tomato broth. You can also add a pinch of sugar. place the stuffed squash into the pot. Cover and reduce heat. Let simmer for 35minutes.

My good friend, Ronnie, is an American, but is married to an Israeli man. She brought over one of his favorite salads -and our too. This one is really quick and easy to make. Perfect for any meal, breakfast, lunch or dinner, and is so healthy! It’s a powerhouse in a bowl. The quinoa and humus ( that’s the actual Hebrew word for garbanzo beans!!) add protein and are filling. The veggies are tomato, red onion and cucumber. Top it off with tiny cubes of bulgarit cheese or its saltier cousin, feta crumbles. And add a simple dressing. It’s absolutely wonderful! I had John do some photos of this one, too.

RONNIE’S QUINOA SALAD (dairy)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 cup small Persian cucumbers, sliced OR 1 English cucumber, chopped
  • 16-20 small cherry tomatoes, halved
  • lemon juice
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh mint or parsley, optional
  • 1/2 cup feta crumbles or bulgarit cubes

Put the water and quinoa with a dash of salt into a pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer. While quinoa is cooking 12-15 minutes, uncovered, chop the veggies and add to a bowl. Fluff the quinoa. Let cool. Add to bowl and mix with the vegetables and drained chickpeas. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Drizzle with olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the cheese bits. Combine gently. Top off with the mint and/ or parsley, if desired.

Over the past few weeks, my progress has been very slow, but very much forward. I tire very easily, and realize I’m not as young as I used to be. My husband, John, has been an absolute tsaddik, righteous person, in his care for me and the house. He’s trying so hard, G-d bless him, caring for me, shopping, cleaning, fixing meals and snacks. He has salads and snack down, and has mastered marinated, grilled salmon fillets (one day he will ‘get’ rice, but that’s a tricky one). I gave him instructions for a simple zucchini soup. It was delicious!

So, I’m pretty exhausted now. John is following my instructions for a potato leek soup. At the rate he’s going, Master Chef is soon to come. I’m getting totally spoiled…. he will soon need a break. Can’t wait to get back to fun day-tripping and cooking! Until next time-