My husband and I just returned from a glorious 5 weeks in the United States. From all the horrendous news, we just didn’t know what to expect. And we were absolutely shocked!!! To see all the tremendous displays of unabashedly proud American patriotism. Everywhere we traveled-
It was all so beautiful. We saw all different races and cultures getting along well together. In towns, parks, university campuses, bed and breakfasts. Everyone was quite friendly and respectful. I think for the most part, people want to get along and enjoy their lives.
Seeing family again after three and a half years was the best thing ever! We got to meet our oldest daughter’s new husband. Three of our daughters met us in Florida for a beachy, family reunion. Unfortunately our son was still in school in Israel, and my third daughter and her fiancé are. In Scotland, where travel is closed. We visited my husband’s family in Florida. John’s dad is now 94. All John’s siblings and their children were there. And meeting our new granddaughter who is 7months old was a special treat. Highlights included a day trip to St. Augustine; a backyard barbecue/wedding reception for Katie and Tim; a sunset boat trip around the islands off the coast of Florida; and a hunt for alligators in the local wetlands (a nice way to say swamp). Our youngest daughter convinced my husband and me to get up before the crack of dawn one morning to see the sunrise over the Atlantic: she, her husband and daughter had done it the day before. We are definitely not morning people, but John and I took a blanket and thermos of hot coffee with some sweet rolls. What an amazing (and romantic) experience!
From Florida, we traveled to Southern California, visiting our #2 daughter. Our 3 year old grandson was getting over a cold, so he and his dad, Steven missed the great Florida/Georgia adventure. Can I tell you how marvelous it was to finally truly meet Logan – endless superhero costumes,parks, a farm, funny faces, and nighttime stories? And the baby is just the sweetest!!! Emma’s organic vegetable garden was huge and incredibly productive with tomatoes, pumpkin, squash, cucumbers, carrots, beets, greens. One day I made a spiced tomato jam, and Emma made the most delicious pasta sauce. Yum! Reuniting with many of our oldest and dearest friends was a time we will treasure, but the week was all too short…
It was on to the Pacific Northwest where my youngest daughter lives. We’d always wanted to travel “up the coast” towards Canada but never did in the 32 years we lived in California. It was gorgeous!!! The mountains and volcanoes, Puget Sound, the forests and the lakes. Now I know why Tessa and Mike love it so much. We hiked a lot. We visited old fur trapper forts. The sal on runs had just started, so watched the fisherman shoulder to shoulder in the rivers. One Sunday we packed up and headed to the lake with their friends. Babies, toddlers, inflatable boats and paddle boards and a lovely picnic made for a fantastic time. And the best part was playing with our 3 year old granddaughter. She’s so cute and a real whippersnapper!
While we were in Washington it was also blackberry season. Thick bushes filled with the ripe purple gems grew wild EVERYWHERE!!!! So I spent hours picking until my fingers and lips were stained and our big buckets were full. In the week I was there, I spent an entire day making endless jars of blackberry lavender preserves. I strained out some of the berry juice and mixed it with balsamic vinegar, crushed shallots, salt, pepper, a splash of white wine vinegar and some water. Not only is it delicious on a spinach salad, but I marinated a large filet of salmon in the sauce. We put it on a cedar plank and Mike grilled it. Heavenly! It broke our hearts to leave them –
The next few days were spent back in Southern California. We spent the time with Katie and really getting to know Tim. Because of the pandemic, we’d missed their courtship and wedding. But I’m absolutely thrilled with the gentlemen our daughters have chosen as life partners. They are great husbands and fathers. We were able to spend a couple days with Logan aka Spider-Man, aka Batman, aka CatBoy, aka The Geko. And John and I shopped for things we can’t find in Israel, filling up another huge suitcase and two carry-ons. The last day was spent with Katie and Tim at the Getty, our favorite place.
It was the most fabulous trip! However, it was waaaaaay too short. We want them all to come spend time together with us here in Israel. We had so many California friends we weren’t able to connect with. Maybe next time. The flight back was a long one and we have been quarantined at home for 14 days. 14days! And three negative PCR tests for each person. Our son, who lives an hour and a half away, was able to come and air out the house and stock up on groceries before we arrived.
Since then, I’ve been cleaning and dong a lot of cooking for the upcoming Jewish high holy days. I have developed a whole slew of delicious recipes using the symbolic foods of the season. I can’t wait to share the, with you in a couple days. Rosh haShonnah is tonight and it’s coming all too quickly. So all those yummy foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner will be posted very soon. Until then, I leave you with a parting shot from our last evening in Long Beach, California –
Perched high atop a hill in the Northern Israeli village of Mi’ilya were the vestiges of an old castle. For decades families had used the outer towers, building their homes over and inside the walls. But time had long ago taken its toll, and the structure had fallen into such disrepair that it was structurally unsafe.
Labib Assad (of blessed memory) lived in one of those houses since his childhood. He had many childhood stories to pass down of life in the village. Labib, a policeman, and his wife, Salma, owner of the village gas station, gradually bought up the other existing houses one by one until they owned a large part of the complex. It had been Salma’s dream for years and years to bring to life the existing skeleton. In 2012 the Assafs received a letter telling them the castle needed to be restored or destroyed. It could no longer safely stand on its own with its crumbling walls and arches. There was an existential dilemma. What to do? The cost of a rebuild would be absolutely exorbitant, but this could be their one opportunity to make Salma’s dream come true, while at the same time preserving an important part of the local heritage.
Flash back to the 12th century: Baldwin Bourcq led a Crusade from France to the Holy Land with his cousins Godfrey de Bouillon and Baldwin du Boulogne in 1096. On the way, he became Count of Edessa (in present-day Turkey), marrying and setting up a fiefdom there. He rode into Jerusalem in 1100, winning many battles, and was crowned King Baldwin II of Jerusalem in 1118, expanding the reach of his empire to as far as Damascus. He was aided by the Knights Templars and the Knights Hospitallers. King Baldwin had four daughters by his Armenian Christian wife, Morphia. The eldest daughter, Mellisande, became his successor.
Mellisande married and had a son, Baldwin III, in 1129. He was crowned King Baldwin III of the Crusader State of Jerusalem when he was 14 years old. Eventually wresting power from his mother during a familial civil war, he ceded Jerusalem, Judaea and Samaria to her. Keeping his title, King Baldwin set up his home in the mountains of the Galilee. His reign extended from the Jezreel Valley in the south to Beirut in the north and as far as Damascus in the east. On a mountaintop in Mi’ilya, midway between the coastal cities of Acre and Tyre, with sweeping views to the Mediterranean and the Galilee, he built “Castellum Regis,” the King’s Castle. It would serve as the capital of his Frankish Lordship in the Galilee. It was a massive, walled stone compound with four square guard towers, one at each corner.
The property was first mentioned in 1166 after the death of Baldwin III in a land transfer to a Jean d’Khayfa (John of Haifa). It was, in turn, sold along with the surrounding houses, gardens and vineyards to Count Jocelyn III, uncle of Baldwin IV in 1179 under the name Castellum Novo. A sizable Byzantine church adjacent to the castle was also part of the property. It all fell to the Muslim conqueror Saladin in 1187 during the Third Crusade. However, in 1192, with the signing of the Treaty of Jaffa by Saladin, Richard the Lionhearted and Phillipe of France, it was returned to the Crusaders, along with the Western Galilee and the city of Acre, six miles to the west.
By the mid-1200s, the castle had been superseded by the newly-built Starkenberg Castle (Castle Montfort) just three mountaintops away. Starkenberg was built by German Teutonic Knights, who also bought the Castellum Novo property for 7000 silver marks. It was a short-lived investment, as Baybars, the Mamluk Turk known infamously as the “Father of Conquest” swept in and took everything, levying a 25% dhimmi tax on the barley, olives, wheat, dates, figs, goats, and beehives owned by the resident Christians. There are no existing records after that. The castle and its inhabitants were wiped out in the 15th century. Was it the result of the Ottoman invasion? An earthquake? Black Plague brought to the area by the Europeans? It remains a mystery.
Melkite (Greek Orthodox Catholic) Christians returned to the area in the mid 1700s, with the Assaf, Shufani, Abo-Oksa and Arraf families among the first residents. They rebuilt a little village in and around the old castle, and resurrected a church near the site of the original Crusader era one that had been completely destroyed. Upon digging the foundations for their Ottoman-era houses, they began to uncover treasures from the past – mosaic tiled floors, burial chambers and an underground water reservoir. The finds were covered up, but stories of riches in the ground were passed down through the generations.
Salma Assaf had heard the rumors of hidden treasure from her childhood. She was passionate about history. When the letter threatening possible demolition was received, Salma and her husband made the decision to restore the houses, starting a project that took over a decade and a half to complete. It was her life’s dream. Unfortunately, Labib passed away in 2012 before seeing the project to its fruition.
When reaching the final stages of restoration of the buildings, on a whim and out of curiosity, the Assaf family decided to put spade to the ground below. Would stories of the past be revealed or were they all just legend? Salma reached out to her neighbor, Rabei Khamisy, Doctor of Archaeology at the University of Haifa. He, too, a lifelong resident of Mi’ilya, had been brought up with these stories from the past. Together they sprang into action. In a short time, something extraordinary came to light: the largest winepresses and two treading floors from the Latin East (the correct term for the Crusader period in the Levant) had been discovered. Further digging 2 meters from the winepresses revealed a stone dome which covered a 6-meter deep Roman period cistern from the first century. The Crusaders had repurposed the ancient cistern to hold barrels of wine for aging in the cool deep cavity below. For Salma, it was a good omen. It was upon this historical foundation that she would build her restaurant, Chateau du Roi, the King’s Castle. Salma enlisted her son, Khalil, a successful accountant, to be the CFO.
The whole project – the restoration of the above-ground building as well as the excavation – were privately funded by the Assaf family. A greatly appreciated contribution of the local community helped finance the shoring up of the crumbling north wall of the castle adjacent to the restaurant.
They worked tirelessly for four years in tandem with the Israeli Antiquities Authority to complete the excavation. Much more treasure was unearthed: ancient coins; the seal of the archbishop of Acre, who also lived there at one time; cooking tools, trenchers, and plates from the Crusader kitchen. As to the buildings above ground (where the restaurant, bar and boutique hotel rooms stand today), architects and contractors carefully conserved much of the traditional structure. The winepresses have been preserved in the basement of Chateau du Roi, and are open for viewing. Plexiglass windows have been thoughtfully and strategically placed in the floor of the restaurant’s main dining room so guests can view the winepresses below.
The restaurant is composed of many spaces, each with stone walls, high arches, balconies accessible by winding staircases, cozy inglenooks and fireplaces. A large outdoor patio offers a sweeping panorama of the picturesque Northern Galilee mountains. Chateau du Roi has the ambiance of the finest European restaurant. No detail is overlooked from the china, silver and crystal on the beautifully set tables to the antiques throughout.
In the cozy and comfortable pub, a large wooden bar stands along one wall. The room is flanked by niches and pillowed window seats built into the arched windows. Luxurious leather chairs invite a person to relax and cast aside all cares. All the culinary equipment and accoutrements throughout the restaurant including the pizza oven in the bar are of the finest quality imported from Italy. Live jazz and acoustic music is featured regularly. Other dining options include a spacious covered patio courtyard with full service, and private dining niches under the castle’s stone arches. It doesn’t get more romantic than this!
Salma called in an old family friend, Elian Layousse, originally from Mi’ilya, who was working as a chef in Padua, Italy. He was more than happy to oblige and quickly assembled an award-winning team. The menu at this five-star restaurant is a fusion of Northern-Italian and Israeli. The dishes are traditional, yet unique. Everything is prepared from the freshest seasonal ingredients: Golan beef, Mediterranean seafood, homemade pasta, locally grown fruits and vegetables. Elian’s passion for detail is evident in every bite. The wine list is impressive. As an added bonus, Salma is able to provide jobs for many of the locals. The staff is warm and welcoming, and not only is Hebrew spoken, but Arabic, English, French and Italian, so guests should feel at home. It is one of Israel’s top gourmet destinations.
In addition to the restaurant, the Assafs have opened two guest rooms on the property. Khalil, speaking lovingly about how his mother pampers all the guests as if they were her own family, says she serves “the grandest local breakfast. Wow!” Work has already started on converting the west wing of the castle into seven additional luxury guest rooms and suites. No expense will be spared and the fully-appointed rooms will be a blend of ancient architecture and antiques with top-of-the-line modern conveniences. A stay in the castle will make you feel like as if you were living like kings.
Currently, the Assafs are correlating with the Israel Antiquities Authority to open a museum on site. All of the finds from the excavations, which have been catalogued and stored in the Institute of Archaeology at Haifa University, would be returned so visitors can see the town’s history from Roman times onward.
In addition to Chateau du Roi, the villagers have begun unearthing treasures on their ownproperties. The Arraf family, for instance, are sitting atop a Byzantine church and adjoining monastery. Beautifully colored geometric mosaic floors are once again coming to light. The recent excavations are exposing a complete Frankish rural settlement in what was once known as the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Today, Mi’ilya has grown to about 750 homes with a population of about 3000. It is one of two exclusively Christian villages in Israel (the other being Fassuta, about 4km to the east). All of the land and the excavations are privately funded by each villager. The Israeli government has commiserated, but has done nothing to help financially. All of the funds for the digs have been raised privately by the village and through donations. Each year during the Christmas season, they hold a Christmas market. The village is festooned with lights and decorations. It is a grand celebration and thousands of people from miles around come to enjoy the festivities. In addition to this religious festival, the municipality holds a social/cultural Spring Festival with musical shows and local products for sale.
A trip to Mi’ilya is a trip back in time, and a stay at Chateau du Roi will make you feel pampered like royalty. Their website is https://chateauduroi.co/
I love that everywhere we go in Israel, there is a biblical or historical site. They are everywhere. For the past month, we have been on the trail of the prophet Elijah. Our balcony overlooks Carmel Ridge, where much of the Biblical story takes place. It’s about 40 minutes from our house, so when friends offered to take us to Mukhraka (‘the place of the fire’ in Arabic) last month, we jumped at the opportunity. They were going for the sweeping panoramas. We were hunting Elijah, Eliyahu in Hebrew.
On the southeastern slope of Mount Carmel, the prophet had his famous showdown with King Ahab and the prophets of the god Baal. In this encounter, described in 1 Kings 18:1-40, Elijah issued a challenge to 450 pagan priests over whose god could make it rain. Before an assembly on the summit of Carmel, he called on the priests to seek fire from Baal to light their sacrifice. When Baal failed to respond to their pleading, Elijah built an altar to the L-rd, pouring mega-gallons of water (this was during an extreme drought!!!!!) on top of his own sacrifice. Immediately, fire from heaven consumed his waterlogged offering. Directly down the steep slope of this mountain runs the Kishon Stream, just as it was written in the Bible attesting to us the fact this was the correct location. Elijah tells his servant to go look out to sea to see if there is any sign of rain. From this spot, one can look far off in the distance to see the Mediterranean(another verification of the site). Soon after, the storm began and Elijah outran the chariot and horses of King Ahab down Mt. Carmel to the Jezreel Valley below. When I was a kid, we used to think Elijah was the fastest man alive because he could outrun Ahab’s chariot. Today, now that I’ve been to Mukhraka, I think he was smart. As we stood atop the mountain looking down, we could not even begin to imagine what it must have been like to drive horses and chariot down a steep, very rocky slope. Avoiding trees. Flash flooding. Mudslides. It must have taken endless hours. So much faster and much more direct to just make one’s way by foot!!
Mukhraka today is a Carmelite monastery open to the public. The gardens are well-kept and peaceful. In the center courtyard a monument to Elijah stands. Inside the small chapel is an altar with 12 stones from the site, just like the 12 stones the prophet erected for his altar on this spot. But the prize is climbing to the rooftop for the panorama. You can see for miles and miles in all directions. In the North, you can see all the way to the mountains of the Lebanese border. To the west is the Mediterranean Sea. To the east, the view encompasses the Jezreel Valley, Mount Tabor, Nazareth and the surrounding areas, and to the South one can see Megiddo, Ceasaria, Netanyahu and all the way to Tel Aviv!!! It’s absolutely breathtaking!!!
Elijah the prophet was known to hide out in a cave on the Carmel ridge because King Ahab and Queen Jezebel were both seeking out the prophets of G-d to kill them – and for Elijah in particular. This is where the story gets even more interesting. Here in Israel, you will often find different locations for each Bible story. Because the Roman Catholics, the Greek Orthodox, the Protestants, the Jews, the Druze and the Muslims will not worship at the same site together, there are multiple locations (i.e. The Holy Sepulchre vs the Garden Tomb; three sites of Capernaum; three sites for the Sermon on the Mountain; the Western Wall for Jews and the Temple Mount for Muslims, different sites of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary). After researching and asking many people and tour guides, we found four different caves of Elijah. Each religion swears theirs is the correct one. So, here goes-
The Jewish Cave of Elijah is at the very base of Mount Carmel near Bat Galim Beach in Haifa. It’s not terribly well known. To find it, you must go up a flight of steep steps to a person’s private residence. The old stone home is built right atop the entrance to a cave. Finding it is not so easy as it’s not well marked and the cave is behind a large set of wooden double doors. Once inside, there is a divided cavern – one side for the women and one side for men, as prayer is segregated by sexes in Judaism. At the back of this cavern is a smaller chamber in the rock where the Holy Ark containing the Torah scrolls are kept. All in all, the cavern is spacious, dimly lit and musty. Could this be the place?
The next Cave of Elijah is a story unto itself. We were equally unprepared for this one. My husband and I heard that there was another cave at the top of the western cliff of Mt Carmel in Haifa, just 140 meters up the hill above the Jewish cave. Literally surrounding the cave is the Roman Catholic Church of Stella Maris, run by the Carmelite order. The Carmelites were founded upon Mount Carmel during the Crusades by hermit monks who lived in caves like the prophet Elijah had done. Many of the monks here were killed by the Muslims in the 1400s, but resettled the mountain in 1631, purchasing the land outright from Emir Jorabay with mediation from the French. They erected the monastery, but were expelled by Al Omar in 1767. Not daunted, the Carmelite monks received patronage from the Turkish Sultan and the French and were allowed to return and expand their building. During Napoleon’s siege of Akko eight miles to the north, the building was converted to a French hospital for the wounded soldiers. In 1821, Abdullah Pasha, the governor of Akko tore down the church, but it was rebuilt in 1836. It became an influential institution to the city of Haifa, attracting a large Arab Christian population. Furthermore, the ‘rediscovery’ of the Holy Land in the late 1880s (Mark Twain) brought more visitors and pilgrims to the area. In 1887, a hostel was built around the cave and church. Many brought their sick who came for the chance the spirit of Elijah would heal them. The large complex of monastery, basilica, lighthouse (which we see from our balcony every night), and surrounding gardens stand to this day.
Before I get back to Elijah, there’s another thread I want to share (that happens all the time here. I’ll go for one story and find three other fascinating ones as well!!). A mysterious, invisible straight line links seven monasteries from Ireland to Israel. They were built independently of one another from the sixth to the sixteenth centuries and are all very far apart from each other, yet all in a line. As the story goes, the archangel Michael fought a great battle in heaven with Lucifer/Satan, eventually hurling him from heaven to earth. It is said that the line of churches follows the path of Michael’s sword, the tip landing in Haifa on Mt Carmel. The first monastery is located on the island of Skellig Michael in Ireland…on to St. Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, UK…Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy, France…Sacra di San Michele in Turin, Italy…Monte Santangelo, Italy….Simi Monastery, Greece… and Stella Maris. And all were supposedly built by direct request from an apparition of St. Michael, Archangel.
We made it up the mountain to Stella Maris Church just in time for the Mass. The church was reminiscent of many I’d seen in France or Italy. It was astoundingly beautiful, but strikingly different, because the raised altar was built over top of Elijah’s Cave. The walls were marble imported from Italy, as was the mosaic floor. Stained glass panels told the story of Elijah, and overhead was a stunning cupola with frescoed panels depicting Elijah, King David, other prophets, and Mary. Just beyond the pews were three steps down into the grotto, where pilgrims go to pray and light candles, much as in the Jewish cave. Above the altar was a large statue of the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus. Suspended from her hand is a large scapular. Mary, patroness of the Carmelites, gave this scapular to one of the monks in the 1200s. Many Catholic faithful today wear it. A tiny bit like a talit kattan worn by Jewish men or a mezuzah, the scapular is a prayer placard suspended around the neck by cords or fringes. It rests over the heart and between the scapula bones at the back. Of all the Elijah caves we visited, this was certainly the most impressive.
At the southwestern face of the Carmel Ridge is the site that Protestant Christians claim is the true cave of Elijah. There are no fancy churches, no places for prayer or lighting of candles, no holy books or gardens….just a lonely walk to a cave in the side of the mountain. It was roped off and quite inaccessible to humans – except for a couple of creepy life-sized dolls. Were they supposed to be representations of the famous prophet? The site certainly had that desolate feel of a place a hermit would live or a place one would go to seek escape. But those dolls!!! What were the people that put them there thinking???
The last cave of Elijah was not on Mount Carmel at all. It was adjacent to the city in which we live! A five minute drive across the highway and a twenty minute hike on a narrow trail. Located between the Arab towns of Nahef and Deir al Assad, we could see the structure high up in the mountain cliffs. John and I had always wondered what it could be? It looked like an ancient Egyptian temple or some type of mausoleum. It was the Muslim site of Elijah’s cave. In Arabic Elijah is known as “El Khader”. During the Byzantine period the Beit ha Kerem (House of Vineyards) Valley was a major center of Christian monasteries. The caves in the hills were used as burial sites for local Jewish residents and also for the early Hebrew Christians of the Galilee. Monks secluded themselves in these numerous caves as well. When the Muslims invaded the land, they took over many of these sites. They built their own shrine at the entrance to one of the larger caverns for their El Khader. Today, Bedouins still go up to the heights to offer sacrifices of sheep and goats… seeing the remnants of a recent Eid sacrifice near the entrance was just a little weird for us.
2 Kings, chapter 2 recounts the famous Bible story of Elijah being taken bodily to heaven in a whirlwind. He had traveled with his disciple Elisha down to the Judaean desert at the Jordan River crossing. There, Elijah instructed Elisha to wait on the western side of the river and not to take his eyes off him as he crossed over and ascended in the whirlwind when a fiery chariot split the sky (but Elisha’s attention was not diverted!!!) and he saw his mentor go up into the heavens. He then received a double portion of Elijah’s anointing – and his mantle.
Last month, our good friend, Marc, wanted to visit that spot at the Jordan River – to see how high the water was after two years of heavy winter rains. The Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) was still full and feeding the Jordan, which down near the Dead Sea is usually just a slimy trickle a couple inches deep. This year, it was supposed to be freely flowing and quite deep. I was dying to go because not only was it where Elijah was taken up, but it was also the exact spot where the Children of Israel crossed into the Promised Land of Israel at Gilgal (near Jericho)after their forty year desert wanderings – Joshua 3. Once we got down there, I learned it was also the site where John the Baptist was immersing his disciples – and where he immersed Jesus. Also, it marks the spot where the leprous Syrian general Naaman dipped seven times in the river at the directive of Elisha. He was reticent to do something so simple, but was immediately cured of his disease (2 Kings 5). So it was quite the holy place!!!
In the Samarian (Shomron) desert, also known as the West Bank, on the border with Jordan, is Qaser Al-Yahud, also known as ‘the baptismal site.’ It had been completely closed since the 1967 War. Following Jordan’s defeat in the war, and their loss of control of the West Bank, the Palestine Liberation Organization under Yasser Arafat began to launch attacks on Israel from the Jordanian territory. The fighting lasted until Black September in 1970 when the troops of King Hussein routed the Palestinians (being supported by Haze Assad of Syria) into Lebanon. The area they left behind had been heavily mined. The old church that stood at the site is still pockmarked with bullet holes. Over the past decade, the IDF has been working to clear the landmines in the immediate vicinity so the Catholic Church and Franciscan monastery there could be used again. Today, it’s under the protection of the Israeli Parks Service and the Franciscans and can now be used for baptisms…once tourists are allowed back after the pandemic closures.
Because there were so few tourists on the Israeli side, we had a fun time to ourselves. Being careful to stay within the confines of the designated paths, we made our way down to the Jordan River. Unlike the crystal clear waters in the North, the Jordan was quite muddy by the time it reached Qaser al Yahud. The Israeli side was quite sparse, but there were an assortment of beautiful churches on the Jordanian side: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Russian Orthodox. There were steps leading down to the river for baptisms, and a large chain dividing line that signified the border between Israel and Jordan. It was crazy being so close to the border!
As I was dipping my foot in (I just HAD to do it!) the murky waters, we heard singing coming from the Jordanian side. English voices! Americans!!!! Escorted by an armed guard, an American Evangelical pastor from California had taken some of his congregation on a pilgrimage. I yelled to them from the Israeli side. He was there to baptize them. How lucky for us to be there to see them!!
In total, he baptized six people. Tears were flowing, songs were being lifted heavenward, and you could just tell it was a moment that would forever be sealed in the hearts of those people. By the time we left, the one armed guard was joined by four other Jordanian military. And so we found ourselves at the last point in Elijah’s earthly life. It had been a most interesting journey for us.
In this week’s post, I’m sharing an article I recently had published in the Jewish Journal –
The most recent conflict revealed the mettle and elasticity of Israelis and brought some of the country’s funniest citizens to the forefront. By Tamar Dunbar
Uri Cohen (left) and Benji Lovitt
Being able to find humor in the worst of situations has been key to Jewish survival. No matter where we settled, the Jewish people have been persecuted. Now we have our homeland back, but it’s in a pretty bad neighborhood. When you’re used to a life of terror, you can either become hardened and cynical or you can find comedy in everything.
The latest conflict with Hamas was the first war in Israel since I made aliyah from Los Angeles six years ago. I’ve found that the Israeli persona is truthful, forthright, and direct. Nothing is sacred. There is no running away from political incorrectness. What you see is what you get. While sometimes brutal, it’s also refreshing. This most recent conflict in particular revealed the mettle and elasticity of Israelis and brought some of the country’s funniest citizens to the forefront.
I first ran across Uri Cohen on Instagram as I scrolled through my feed. I saw an Israeli guy in an IDF uniform ranting about being called up for reserve duty for the fourth time this year, and I thought it was hilarious. We were leaving behind our pandemic lockdowns and facing yet another political election, but his posts about his life in Israel were uproarious. I had to get to know Uri.
Uri is a rising comedian and online social influencer. This 28-year old gever is sometimes brash, totally authentic, and has a huge heart. When not working as a security guard for Birthright visitors, tour groups and school groups, or doing reserve duty, Uri is posting on Instagram and TikTok and increasing his fan base with his unique style of comedy.
Who would have thought a young guy could also become a shadchen, or matchmaker? In response to the meetup, dating and hookup app, Tinder, Uri created his own dating site on Instagram: Jewuri (aka Tinduri), where young Jewish singles from all over the world can post photos and brief descriptions of themselves in hopes of finding a match. What started as a joke soon became a way of meeting one’s soulmate. Uri sees this as a way of perpetuating the Jewish people. Nothing pleases him more than “getting people together: sometimes they get married and that leads to making more and more Jewish babies. That’s just wonderful!” He hosts social events once a month in locations throughout Israel—and, yes, it’s all legal and done in a spirit of fun.
This past May, things got real as Hamas started their massive rocket barrage into the heart of Israel. It’s said that there are no atheists in foxholes, but what about comedians in bomb shelters?
IT’S SAID THAT THERE ARE NO ATHEISTS IN FOXHOLES, BUT WHAT ABOUT COMEDIANS IN BOMB SHELTERS?
Uri was called up yet again for reserve duty as a medic. But he also became a kind of lead sapper for the IDF. A real sapper goes to the site of an unexploded bomb, something that has incredibly lethal potential, and bravely diffuses it. But instead of taking apart physical bombs in the field, Uri worked from stairwells and bomb shelters, bravely fighting antisemites and anti-Zionists who call for the destruction of Israel with his unique brand of online humor.
He responded nightly to Hamas’s threats of incessant bombs with his signature swagger: “Yo! Jihadists! You know you promised to send rockets tonight at 9 pm. But listen. I have a date with hot IDF girl. Believe me. She is bigger bomb than all the rockets you send. So please. Make it 12 tonight.”
“YO! JIHADISTS! YOU KNOW YOU PROMISED TO SEND ROCKETS TONIGHT AT 9 PM. BUT LISTEN. I HAVE DATE WITH A HOT IDF GIRL. BELIEVE ME. SHE IS BIGGER BOMB THAN ALL THE ROCKETS YOU SEND. SO PLEASE. MAKE IT 12 TONIGHT.”
When the missiles did not let up for days and it was Uri’s birthday, he created a post thanking Hamas for sending up fireworks in his honor. “Hey. It’s a celebration! They are celebrating me! Gee thanks for the fireworks, guys!!” He took the footage of bombs exploding over the Tel Aviv skyline and choreographed it to the “Star Wars” theme.
His fan base began to grow exponentially, along with his haters. Humor turned into hasbara, diffusing hate bombs with education, explanation, and reproachment, Uri Cohen-style.
Underneath one of his video clips, we see an Instagram comment calling Uri a colonizer and a baby-killer, telling him to get the f–k out of Palestine. In the video, there are tears streaming down Uri’s face. “Wow,” he says. “That hit me so hard.” He continues, as he wipes the tears from his cheeks, “I don’t think I can take it.” Then the camera pans down to the knife in his hand, cutting an onion. “That’s a huge piece of onion. Wow.”
Uri knows that he has haters, but he never shows anger. “That’s what they want. They want to expand the fight. And most of the times these people are not even from Gaza or Palestinian, and they don’t know the facts. So you have to find a way to turn it around. I make them laugh. I make the best of a difficult situation.”
One commenter wrote, “Go back to your countries and leave the rest of Palestine immediately, you thieves. We will liberate Palestine soon,” to which Uri posted a video response. “Yo, bro. I’m truly sorry,” he says in the video. “It was misunderstanding.” He throws up his hands. “I’m immediately leaving. Just please. I only need 5 minutes. To pack a suitcase—and have sex with my girlfriend. And I’m leaving.” He walks out the door, muttering, “And they say Israelis have no patience.”
The bomb is once again diffused, with even the original commenter admitting that Uri is actually funny and suggesting that perhaps Israelis are cool after all. So Uri invited him to his next social event.
Of course, Uri couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make fun of the army rations he was served for Shabbat dinner. Cold schnitzel, limp chips, and a dollop of hummus. He invented the saying that went viral: “More Hummus. Less Hamas.” Within a week, the words could be seen on posters as far away as Paris, New York and Los Angeles.
Uri’s humor is a mixture of seriousness and sarcasm. He became outspoken about the anti-Israel posts by his former fantasy girls, pop icons Bella and Gigi Hadid, Dua Lipa and Mia Khalifa. It was truly a sad day for Uri when he deleted Dua Lipa from his playlist.
What makes his videos and posts so much fun is that they are interactive. Offering quizzes, ways to respond to his posts, and opportunities to ask him questions makes his site personal—and he responds to all of his messages. He pokes fun at himself: “My IDF service is 1% protecting the country; 99% Instagram pictures.”
Uri was not the only one diffusing bombs with humor during the most recent conflict. Countless memes, all darkly humorous, were posted on social media platforms. There were charts on what to do when you hear the Red Alert siren going off, signifying an incoming volley. The conflict also saw the emergence of drinking games for every time you hear a rocket or every time you have to unfollow a former friend for posting an antisemitic comment.
After a year in isolation, meet-ups with strangers in the bomb shelters were a good reason to laugh. Some played games in which each person had to guess what others had been doing prior to arriving at the shelter by noting their attire. Others created online gambling pools to speculate on how long the conflict would last and what the terms of ceasefire would be. Being able to laugh in the heat of an intense conflict was helpful. We laughed at ourselves, our situation, and our enemies. And as a result, we came out of it stronger and more resilient.
Liel Eli, another Instagram and TikTok influencer, made a humorous video of young California socialites trying to be trendy. It was filmed poolside against the backdrop of a Beverly Hills villa, where Liel played the roles of multiple silly, American Israel-haters who had absolutely no idea about any of the facts behind the propaganda. It was so funny that it landed her spots on the local news stations.
“The Daily Freier” is an online Tel Aviv publication that showcases biting satire. There is absolutely nothing off limits to these Anglo-Israeli jokesters. In Hebrew, a frier is a naïve shlemiel who constantly gets taken advantage of. Sample headlines include: “Three of Ilhan Omar’s Ex-Husbands/Brothers Feared Missing in Gaza Tunnel Collapse,” “Victory: IDF Weaponizes its Inability to Write a Proper English Sentence,” and “Anything Happen in Israel This Week? by Chuck Schumer” All of these headlines suggest that there is no political correctness in Israel, and that’s part of what makes it so funny.
Benji Lovitt is an American-Israeli author, comedian and hasbara expert who tours the U.S. regularly to educate groups with his unique blend of humor and encourage aliyah. In 2006, Benji made aliyah from Dallas, Texas during the Second War with Lebanon, so he has racked up points as a conflict survivor. He’s written for Times of Israel and The Jerusalem Post among others. Reading his annual “Things I Love About Israel” column helped us make the decision to move to Israel, so when we heard he’d be performing in Tel Aviv recently, we just had to go.I was able to speak to Benji after the show.
“There’s so much happening all the time here,” he said, “that there’s never a shortage of material. And the great thing about this country is that there are no taboos. And during wartime, that’s when the country is most in need of laughter. It dispels the stress everyone is under.” As a result, he created a chart on what to do when the emergency siren sounds—poking fun at Israelis who put their cars in cruise control and start filming the sky on Facebook Live.
Benji kept us in stitches with his latest news updates on the conflict. “A rocket just fell next to the IKEA in Rishon L’Tzion. At least the furniture is already in parts – KÄSSÁM Kitchen Storage Unit….hmmm I wonder if Sweden will retaliate?” And a day later: “Rockets and Iron Dome shrapnel are said to strike several Israeli cities. Just what the economy needs, another strike!” And toward the end of the conflict: “85 year-old Mahmoud Abbas and 78-year-old Joe Biden spoke on the phone this weekend for the first time since Biden took office. Topics discussed include a ceasefire, diplomacy and prune juice.”
One of the greatest experiences we’ve had during our time in Israel has been witnessing the strength and determination of the Jewish people. We have fallen even more deeply in love with this country. Still, I’ve asked everyone—do we get a special pin or at least a certificate to say we’ve survived our first official conflict? And the answer I’ve gotten from everyone: No. Not this time. But the third time: ice cream!
Tamar Dunbar made aliyah from Los Angeles to northern Israel six years ago where she works as a freelance journalist and blogger at israeldreams.com.
It amazes me how schizophrenic this place can be. Just last week, people were living in bomb shelters, glued to the news, and praying that the shelling would cease. The next week, everyone is back to business, schools are open, the stores and cafes are full, and it seems life is mostly back to normal, whatever that is anymore. Israelis are a resilient bunch. I can attest to this by the video clip a friend sent me of young Israelis on a Tel Aviv Beach last Sunday morning. The beach was packed. When the sirens went off, they grabbed their towels and ran for the shelters. Ten minutes later, they’re back on the beach until the next siren. Un-be-leeeeeve-able!
I had planned to write this article a few weeks ago before war got in the way. We were just about to celebrate the extremely joyous holiday of Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks for the Jews and Pentecost for the Christians. Along with Pesach(Passover/the Feast of Unleavened Bread) and Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) it is one of three pilgrimage festivals. This holiday has its roots in the Bible and can be found in the first five books, the Torah. Starting after Pesach, a counting of the days is made… fifty days (hence the Greek word Pentecost) of the wheat and barley harvest. It marks the time when the Jewish people were obligated to go up to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer thanks for their harvest. In Christian tradition, it commemorates the day when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples of Jesus (who were also in Jerusalem for Shavuot) and marked the birth of the Church.
Today in Israel the fields are harvested much as they were millennia ago, except with modern farm equipment. Everywhere we travel, we see the fields being reaped and the bundles laying in the fields ready to go to the granaries and mills.
Shavuot goes by several names. Besides being the official beginning of the summer season, it is the Biblical Feast of Firstfruits. At the time of the Temple, besides the grain offerings being brought, the firstborn of the animals were brought, and the firstborn children of that year were brought for a special blessing by the priests. Today, in Israel, the Temple Mount has been replaced by the Al Aqsa Mosque, but the mostly agricultural holiday is still celebrated in grand fashion. People stay up all night reading and studying the Torah, as it also marks the giving of the Law to Moses by G-d on Mount Sinai. It is also a tradition to read the book of Ruth, as that story takes place during the barley harvest.
On the farms and kibbutzim, people dress in white and wear floral wreaths on their heads, men and women alike. There is much singing and dancing, and dads dance around holding their little babies high above their heads. There are parades throughout the towns with tractors and floats piled high with fruits and veggies and fresh flowers and with children holding the baby farm animals they helped raise. It has the feeling of a rural American county fair.
This year, however, things were a bit different. I’d like to share with you a wonderful video clip from Hananya Naftali:
Because the mother sheep, cows and goats have an abundance of milk at this time, Shavuot is also a huge celebration of the dairy industry here. Also, from a Biblical viewpoint, the Torah is compared to mother’s milk, and Israel is the Land of Milk and Honey, so it is a custom to visit local dairies and to eat plenty of dairy products. Cheesecake is ubiquitous here during the Shavuot holiday. Everyone seems to have an opinion on how it should taste, mostly based on where you are from. The heavier, creamier, cold American style topped with fruit; a light and sweet French version; a savory crustless cheesecake served by the Mizrachi Jews of the Middle East; some people even serve it warm! Usually. cheesecake is eaten with breakfast here, as that’s the main dairy meal of the day in Israel. Most Jewish people (those who keep the Kosher dietary laws) do not consume dairy products at the same meal with meat.
This year we ventured up to Kibbutz Rosh haNikra, an idyllic village/kibbutz tucked into the foot of the mountain that literally butts up against the Lebanese border. It’s an interesting juxtaposition. In the picture below, you’ll see the kibbutz. At the top of the mountain, you can see the border fence. To live here knowing that just a few yards away is the Hizbullah army with estimates of upwards of 150,000 missiles pointed towards you… it’s just about as interesting as us living a mere 12 miles from the border. Still, life goes on – you can also see the banana plants they grow here (foreground):
We visited the kibbutz on a lazy, early Friday morning. The kibbutz has beautiful vistas of the Mediterranean Sea to the West, and as is typical of kibbutz living, has a central community area with shops, post office, clinic, schools, cafe and community center in the middle with homes radiating outward from the main hub. People were having picnics on the main lawn, there was music streaming out of the coffee house, and Galili Dairy had a cheese tasting, which is why we were here. Standing as a stark reminder were the bomb shelters every few hundred yards. It’s only a 14 second warning to drop everything you are doing and run for cover in the event of an emergency here.
We were here to visit Galili Dairy, owned and operated by the Regev Family. They live in the neighboring farming village of Abirim, raising about 200 goats there. The goats are not allowed to graze in Rosh HaNikra Kibbutz because they are too messy, so the fresh goat milk is trucked into the kibbutz daily. The Regev’s have turned the old community kitchen that was no longer in use into their dairy. Even though, the place is still called a kibbutz, the residents no longer share meals as a community together. Today, there are individual family housing and living units. So the facilities are rented out, a win-win situation for both parties.
TAbout seven years ago, the matriarch, Sarit Regev, took a course in artisanal cheese-making in Provence, France. She came back to Israel, applying what she learned and adding her own regional twists to make some of the best Israeli cheeses on the market.
Galili Dairy offers a wide range of products from yogurt; flavored kefir (liquid yogurt) drinks – think passionfruit, date, blueberry and strawberry; labaneh,the creamy white cheese staple here that’s served at every breakfast; feta, and specialty cheeses. Their bouche with its creamy center is a best seller. My favorites were the Tomme rubbed with the dregs from cabernet barrels and their Tomme with truffles. They offer several Camamberts and Bries, including one with nuts that was just heavenly. The Camembert rubbed with Herbes de Provence was another favorite. There were also two types of Morbier, a hard cheese covered in volcanic ash, which was quite delicious and a cream cheese with mushroom bits – great for spreading on crackers. All cheeses are certified Kosher with a completely organic line as well. They can be found in health food stores as well as TivTams throughout Israel. There is also home delivery available. Again, this is one of the best independent smalls dairies I’ve visited here. Needless to say, we left laden with several varieties of cheese and kefir. Their website (only in Hebrew) is galilee-cheese.com, so for those of you in Israel, you can place your order for delivery directly from the website. They also offer gift baskets and picnic baskets to-go. Take it with you on your mountain hike or to the beach, both of which are a ten minute drive from the kibbutz.
So now for the moments some of you dear readers have been waiting so patiently for: the recipes!!! I’ve been on a quinoa kick here for the past month. This powerhouse of a seed/grain is just loaded with vitamins, minerals, protein, and antioxidants, and is so versatile. The following dairy recipes use quinoa. The first is a cheese puff, that is great as a breakfast or a snack. Take it on a picnic or store it in a freezer bag in your freezer. I made several huge batches, and packed up a box for my son to take back to school. Everyone absolutely loves them – and they are so easy to throw together. The quinoa cooks up in ten minutes, so it’s a quick recipe as well as nutritious.
QUINOA CHEESE PUFFS (makes 6 large muffin-sized or 18 small bite-sized)
3/4 cup quinoa cooked in 1 1/2 cup water according to package directions
Preheat oven to 350* F/170* C. Grease your muffin tin. Cook the quinoa according to directions on package. In a large mixing bowl, add the zucchini, eggs, baking powder, shredded cheese, spices and quinoa and stir until well combined. Drop by spoonfuls into the wells of the muffin tin. You can top with a bit of shredded cheese. Bake in oven about 18 minutes or until the bites are puffy and golden brown. Remove from oven. Let cool – and try not to eat them all in one sitting!
The next recipe is for quinoa patties, Israeli style. You can either fry them in a few tablespoons of oil or bake them as a healthier alternative. These make a nice side dish or a vegetarian entree paired with a salad and some fresh fruit. They are very tasty, make great leftovers and freeze well, too. I serve them with a dollop of tsatsiki – recipes below:
QUINOA PATTIES AND TSATSIKI ISRAELI-STYLE (makes 6 large patties)
2 cups quinoa, cooked according to package directions
4 eggs, beaten
6 cloves garlic
1 lemon, grated rind, juice squeezed, pips removed
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
1 cup cooked greens (spinach, chard, mangold, beet greens or orach)
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground (it does make a difference)
1/2 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, rough chopped
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, julienned
IF NEEDED to firm up a bit, 1/4 cup bread crumbs (Italian seasoned are good)
Combine the above items in a large bowl. the mixture should be think and gloppy and hold together well. If it seems too loose, add some bread crumbs until it comes together. Form patties. Place on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet sprayed with oil. Refrigerate for about an hour before cooking. You can place directly into a preheated to 350* F/170*C oven for about 30 minutes or until nicely browned and releasing a mouth-watering smell. Or you can fry the individual patties in 2-4 TBSP olive oil for a crispier outside. Serve plain, hot or cold or with a dollop of tsatsiki
ISRAELI TSATSIKI DIP
1 cup goat yogurt or goat labaneh
1 cucumber, chopped, peel and all
2 TBSP fresh dill, chopped
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 large clove garlic, crushed
2 TBSP fresh chives, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil, good quality
In a medium bowl, add the yogurt or labaneh, and the chopped cucumber – no need to peel. Mix together. Add the chopped herbs, garlic, salt and pepper. Mix well. Drizzle over the top with the olive oil. Serve chilled.
The next recipe served my husband and myself as an entire meal. We were so stuffed, there was no need for anything else, and we still had half a squash leftover. We ate the leftovers as a side dish with the next couple dairy meals. I had bought what I thought was a spaghetti squash at the market, but it didn’t act like one when I roasted it. It was some sort of very rich, flavorful and nutty squash – there are just so many different heirloom varieties of gourds here! The end result was still amazing, but I’m calling for a spaghetti squash in this recipe. Butternut would probably work well, too. Also, the word KHOO-moos (spelled humus, is the whole garbanzo bean, not just the spread).
STUFFED SQUASH, MIDDLE EASTERN STYLE
1 large spaghetti (or butternut squash)
2 shallots, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup greens (spinach, chard, beet greens, mangold or orach)
1 medium lemon, rind grated and set aside; squeezed, pips removed
1 can (1 cup) humus (chickpeas), drained
1 tsp dried chili flakes
1 cup crumbled feta or bulgarit cheese
Preheat oven to 400*F/200*C. Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Drizzle some olive oil and sprinkle a little salt and pepper over the top. Place on a foil lined baking sheet, and cover lightly with foil. roast in oven for about a half an hour or until the squash is fork tender. Remove from oven.
Take out the seeds and discard. Remove the pulp, placing it in a large bowl. Keep the squash shells to the side. Fluff up the pulp or break into small pieces using a fork. Meanwhile peel and slice the shallots. Heat a TBSP olive oil in a pan and when oil is shimmery, add the shallot and garlic. When they become translucent, add in the greens and cook over medium heat until just wilted. Stir in the chili flakes. Pour mixture into the bowl with the squash. Add the drained chickpeas and the crumbled cheese bits, Salt and pepper. Mix gently. Spoon the mixture back into the shells of the squash. Reheat in a 350* F/170* C oven for 15 minutes to melt the cheese slightly. You can add a bit of chopped Italian parsley or celery leaf as a garnish-
The last recipe is for a breakfast or dessert cake. We all love coffee cake, but this is a bit different. I wanted something healthier, something that paid homage to the diversity of the people of Israel. The Ashkenaz coffee cake with a streusel topping takes on a new life with some surprising additions. I decided to use the sweet Middle Eastern sesame candy, Halva, and some surprising spice combinations. Because Turkish coffee is a staple here, I added in some of that too. Give it a try and let me know how it turns out. Seriously. I’m really interested in how you like it!
Tamar’s Israeli Coffee Cake (dairy, serves 12)
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill 1:1 gluten free mix and loved it!!!!)
1 tsp baking soda
2 heaping tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
230 grams (1 cup) room temperature butter (it should be very, very soft)
1 cup coconut sugar (you can use white cane sugar, but the coconut sugar is low-glycemic and adds a more “Israeli” taste)
1 cup silan (date syrup) or 1 cup light brown sugar if you can’t find silan
4 large eggs
2 cups (goat) yogurt
1 cup milk (I used fresh goat milk, but you can use regular cow milk)
Ingredients: Streusel for swirl and topping
1 cup chopped walnut pieces
1 cup chopped pecan pieces
2 cups crumbled halva candy
2/3 cup coconut sugar (or light brown sugar)
2 TBSP espresso powder (or Turkish coffee powder with cardamom)
1/4 tsp salt
Baharat Spice Blend…. I use this a lot in many dishes. Here it’s used to flavor ground meat (kabobim) and in veggies and soups; but I use it in baking and also mixed in with my coffee grounds to make a flavorful brew. You’ll need 2 heaping TBSP for this recipe, but save some for other dishes. Baharat is a very common spice here found in Syrian, Lebanese and Turkish dishes. It’s versatile and adds a depth of flavor that is unparalleled.
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp smoked paprika
First make the streusel by chopping the nuts in a food processor until you have small bits (it should NOT be powdery). In a medium bowl, mix together the nuts, the crumbled halva, coffee powder, sugar, salt and 2 TBSP of the Baharat spice blend. Mix together well. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350*F/170*C. Grease a large pyrex baking pan. Place baking parchment to cover so that the edges overhang the sides of the pan. Grease the parchment with a cooking oil spray. Set aside. Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Gradually add eggs, one at a time, beating the mixture. Add in the yogurt and the silan, mixing well and scraping down sides of bowl as you go. (I use a hand mixer). Alternately add about a third of the flour mixture, continually beating the batter, and the milk. Then more flour, and more milk. Keep beating until the batter is smooth and thick. Drop the batter by spoonfuls into the parchment lined baking dish. spoon about half the streusel mixture onto the top. Then with a fork or a butter knife, swirl the streusel into the batter. Spoon the rest of the streusel over the batter and spread out to cover. Bake the cake about 40 minutes or until your cake tester comes out clean. Remove and let cool 15 minutes before slicing into squares. My husband puts a small slab of butter on the top, and microwaves his cake for 12 seconds so the butter melts into the streusel. He then sprinkles a little cinnamon sugar on the top. I dollop a spoonful of yogurt over the top of mine for a creamy contrast. It’s so so yummy!
I really wanted to write the post I’ve had in reserve for over two weeks now. It’s on the dairies of Northern Israel, with lots of delicious recipes I’ve developed. It’s definitely more fun than writing about the current state of affairs here. But I feel compelled to get the news out: the facts which I am sure you don’t hear outside this country. For some reason they are just not being reported correctly. Or at all, for that matter. And there’s way too much misinformation which is leading to acts of violence against Jewish people. It’s happening at an alarming rate worldwide.
Ten days before Hamas’ opening of the latest war by firing a barrage of rockets at Israel, Yaya Sinwar, the head of the terror organization contacted the Biden Administration with a list of demands to pass on to Netanyahu. They demanded that Israel remove all Jews and security forces from the Temple Mount Complex in Jerusalem. As tensions were heating up during Ramadan, Sinwar demanded that evictions of Arabs from the four homes in question in the Sheikh Jarrah/Shimon haTzaddik neighborhood be cancelled. Also that the annual celebratory flag parade on Jerusalem Day be cancelled as it would be inciting violence. A spokesperson for Hamas stated in Newsweek Magazine that their goal was “to have the Israeli occupation authorities accept our demands or they would face the bombing of Jerusalem.”
To quote the Axios News Agency: “With tensions escalating fast, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan had called his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat, while Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman spoke to the director general of the Israeli foreign ministry, Alan Ushpiz. The Biden administration had three immediate demands of Israel: stop the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, lower tensions on the Temple Mount and cancel the Flag Day parade.
To appease all sides and deescalate, Netanyahu asked Israel’s Supreme Court to postpone its verdict on the evictions. Jews had already been barred from going on the Temple Mount during the month of Ramadan, but even the Jewish security forces were replaced by Arab Christian, Bedouin, and Druze members. And the parade was re-routed so that it would not pass through the Old City or any part of East Jerusalem.
Did any of this matter one bit? Which side kept up their side of the bargain? And I must say I, as an American Israeli, am so so disappointed in both of the current administrations for bowing to the demands of terrorists.
There have been several falsehoods promulgated by Hamas that have since circulated in the global media. They served their purpose to capture the hearts and emotions of the viewer. We all know pictures speak volumes. It’s just that these were completely false. For the first one: a photo taken in 2013 of Palestinian children staging a funeral was repurposed to seem as if the small child they carried was a casualty of the IDF bombing.
The next photo of a gorgeous young child purportedly killed by the IDF was actually the picture of a 4-year old Russian girl, Sophia. When her mother saw her daughter’s picture splashed across the news, she came forward to say that her daughter was alive and well and living in Moscow. She even submitted a recent picture of Sophia, but most news outlets failed to make the correction. Even the Ayatollah in Iran posted the lie on his official webpage. And outrage was spewed forth against Israel for killing innocent children. Geraldo Rivera???? These libels were another factor fanning the flames of today’s anti-Semitism.
Once again, to debunk the myth of the Israelis launching a genocide of the Palestinian peoples. The Jewish population in majority Arab countries has steadily declined to almost zero since the 1940s. In the past decade, the Arab population in Israel has more than tripled… also in Gaza. Just by looking at official census bureau statistics, you can see there is no genocide of Muslims taking place.
So, where do we stand as of today? Anthony Blinken, U.S. Secretary of State, is here in Israel currently on behalf of the Biden-Harris administration. He is holding talks with the leaders of Israel and with Mahmoud Abbas, head of the PA/Fatah. He will again proposed a (failed) two-state solution, which comes during a surge in Hamas’ popularity in the West Bank and an extreme decrease in support of the PA. However, Abbas has told Blinken that if he thinks that they would accept any “so-called peaceful solution or renounce any part of Palestine or recognize the Yahoods” then he is sorely mistaken. A recent poll showed 57% of Palestinians are opposed to a two-state solution, and that they would rather support an armed struggle against Israel.
Blinken today pledged to “rally international support to aid Gaza while keeping assistance out of the hands of its militant Hamas rulers. That begins with tackling the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza and starting to rebuild…We’re going to be working in partnership with the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority to channel aid there in a manner that does its best to go to the people of Gaza. As we all know in life, there are no guarantees, but we’re going to do everything we can to ensure that this assistance reaches the people who need it most.”
Since 2007, the PA has subsidized terrorism with their “Pay for Slay Program.” From a report released in 2019, when the PA publicized its monthly financial expenditures for the first 5 months of that year: the PA paid out an average of over $65million USD per MONTH despite its self-imposed financial crisis .This amounts to an average income for a person convicted of man act of terrorism in prison in Israel of $580/month if he has a 3-5 year sentence. If that person is serving a sentence of over 20 years for killing an Israeli, he receives $3200/month for life. If the terrorist is an Israeli citizen, he gets a $145 bonus (the average Israeli citizen makes an average of $2700/month). I am not making this up…
During the Trump Administration, the US Taylor Force Act was signed in honor of the slain American victim of that name. It halted all aid to the PA if they continued with their Pay For Slay initiative, so they stopped the heinous program. Unfortunately, this policy was reversed in the first hundred days of the Biden-Harris Admin, and has since been reinstitute. As of today, there has been an uptick in Islamic terrorist activity: car ramming, drive-by shootings of 3 Israeli boys at a bus stop; attempted stabbings and just yesterday, a 17 year old Muslim boy from East Jerusalem armed with a knife stabbed two 20 year old soldiers before he was eliminated. This was yesterday’s headline. Welcome to an Israel that your admin has helped promulgate, Mr. Blinken-
In addition, Islamic Jihad and Hamas have vowed not to help its civilian population or rebuild apartments and infrastructure, but to carry on the fight and build up its military capabilities. The photo of the day was that of Yaya Sinwar (great name, I must say) holding up a small child with a rocket launcher. These are the people calling for genocide and much of the world seems to be caught up in following them.
Now is the time to speak up. If you’ve ever said “I’m an honorary Jew” or “I’m with the Jewish people,” now is the time to speak up for Jewish people across the world. If you are Christian, walk with your Jewish friends to synagogue on Friday evening or Saturday morning for protection. If you hear an antiSemitic remark, debunk it. Fight fables with facts. If you are Jewish, attend rallies, politely educate others, join groups supporting Jews and Israel, make Aliyah. If we don’t stand together now, it will soon be too late.
Hopefully, next time, I can go back to writing about happier things-
Two days ago, when I last wrote, we were at war. So much has happened and there are endless café-side opinions and posturing today. For the last two nights – all night long- and into today, late Friday afternoon, IDF jets have been strafing the sky. We’ve had at least 4 info-getting drones up over just our immediate area. And for the person that asked on Wednesday if I was worried or afraid – I had my two big meltdowns since this started. After I realized we had 4 rockets launched over our heads (in my last post, I was able to video one being intercepted about 9 miles from our upstairs balcony), I got a little nervous. It’s late at night, lying in bed, unable to sleep as the red alert app is going off signaling rocket barrages down South, jets racing through the sky to let our neighbors know we are alert and ready for anything, and the flashing white light of a buzzing drone shining through my window that I lost it. For about 20 minutes. I was really apprehensive. OK. I admit. I was scared. And tearful.
This morning we awoke to the news that a ceasefire had been called. A unilateral ceasefire. And Joe Biden was taking the credit. Promising unlimited aid to the Palestinians to rebuild and to help them in any way possible. That the US had denied an arms package to Israel in Congress. And Hamas was celebrating. And the Palestinians were calling it their victory. Candy was being handed out in the Palestinian towns in celebration of their victory. Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan said that he had received guarantees from the US mediators that, “the occupation will remove its hand from al Aqsa and Sheik Jarrah.” We still have not gotten back the bodies of Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Oren Shaul or captive, Avera Mengistu, who have been held in Gaza since 2014.
At the announcement of the truce, there were immediate clashes – in the middle of the night, mind you – at the Damascus Gate outside the holy Old City of Jerusalem. Video was circulated by Palestinian media this morning showing the Islamic militant mobs armed with fireworks, rocks, wood, and sound grenades. The police responded with tear gas. “We have prepared a serious missile attack that will hit Israel from Haifa in North to Ramon Airport in South, ” Khalil al-Hayya, a Hamas senior operative threatened. For some reason thousands of Arab men were already assembled last night at the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. They were waving flags and chanting “Death to all Jews. The soldiers of Allah are victorious. Praise to Allah.” Video showed them throwing bottles at Israeli police who seemed to be standing aside.
All Israel remains on high alert. The reservists are still called up. The Jerusalem District Police have increased their forces and patrol of all neighborhoods. A number of police vehicles have been damaged. There have been reports of unrest in several towns and cities in the West Bank including Nablus, Tayibe, and Jenin. Hizbullah sent their congratulations to Hamas today for what it called a “heroic round, establishing a new set of rules that will pave the way for the next and greatest victory” and for their “heroic and sacrificial effort to restore life to the holy cause of total Jihad.” They are gloating that now “we have showed Israel is as weak as a spider’s web.” Today there was widespread rioting on the Temple Mount again today after Friday prayers, although nothing was done to stop the perpetrators.
As of this morning, another large caravan of trucks with aid from both Israel and Jordan was headed into Gaza. Two days ago, the aid had to be halted because of rocket fire. Yesterday two Jordanian aid workers trying to bring relief were killed by Hamas rocket fire at the checkpoint. Things are relatively quiet, but very shaky. There’s a lot of rebuilding to be done both in Gaza and here in Israel. Buildings destroyed. Roads and field that have incurred direct hits. Lots of injured. And of course, the psychological trauma. Bur these Israelis are a determined and tough lot.
So what is new? This was the first time over 4500 rockets have been fired into Israel. We’ve seen the accuracy and effectiveness of the Iron Dome and the resilience of the Israeli people. For the first time, Israel has had to deal with insurgents within our own cities, waging a progrom against the Jewish people of Israel, burning synagogues and houses, lynching civilians, torching cars. We’ve seen over 1000 Palestinian sympathizers at the Jordanian and the Syrian borders trying to gain entrance into Israel… and not with good intentions, I’m afraid. We’ve had Iranian drones filled with explosives launched into Israel from Syria and Iraq. We’ve had roque Palestinian missile barrages into the North of Israel from Lebanon. We’ve had Islamic attacks on Christians in towns in the North.
But the most upsetting and egregious war, I believe, is the one being fought on social media. From the celebs and super-models to sports figures, talk-show hosts and even politicians, we’ve heard the call for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people. We’ve heard that the fight was disproportional. We’ve heard that Israel was, is, and remains the aggressor. That Israel is a White Supremist, Colonial, Apartheid State. even though the majority of the Israelis are brown people – Sephardic and Mizrachi Jewish refugees, Arabs and Druze, Ethiopian and Ugandan. The most distressing take-away is the complicity of the media to uphold and disseminate such hatred against Jewish people. We’ve been incredulous at the feeds coming in from CNN, NPR, Sky News, and various newspapers. In London, Spain, Paris, Los Angeles and New York City there have been attacks upon Jewish people; parades of Muslim Brotherhood, Black Lives Matter and Palestinian sympathizers marching in the streets and driving in caravans throwing rocks and firecrackers and chanting “Death to Israel. Death to the Jews.” I’ve never seen anything like this uptick in anti-Semitism. It’s terrifying.
For the most part, it seems to be advancing unchecked and without too much opposition. When will it all end? I pray the people of Gaza can somehow get free of the yoke of their Hamas/Islamic Jihad oppressors. I pray that citizens of the world will wake up to the rise in anti-Semitism; that people will stop this inflammatory rhetoric of hatred, especially when they are lacking in facts; that there will be some sort of dialogue leading to a better understanding of each side; and that we will all be able to pick up our lives and start the long, hard process of healing.
I hope we all can enjoy a peaceful Shabbat and quiet weekend…
We are fine. We are safe. No worries. Really. But things just got a little more real up here in Northern Israel a couple hours ago. Hundreds of rockets continue to rain down on central Israel every day. We’re now close to 4000 total rockets sent across from Gaza. And there have been “ticklers” elsewhere. What is a “tickler?” It’s when another country or group decides to test the area to see if the targeted country is watching and will engage. In the past 5 days, we’ve had 4 instances of lone rockets (or small clusters) and a drone fired into Northern Israel from Lebanon; 1 incursion from Syria into the Golan Heights and a drone and lone wolf Palestinian from Jordan armed with knives try to cross the border. It was determined that these were rogue Palestinian operatives based in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. It was determined that the drones were of Iranian origin. Both Hizbullah and the Lebanese army were quick to state that it didn’t come from them. The question remains are they trying to escalate the conflict and bring it to other fronts? One Israeli/American news outlet that is infamous for pumping out fake news came out with this headline two days ago:
So, once again, you cannot believe everything you read. For now, it appears that Lebanon/Hizbullah is turning a willful, blind eye. They are supporting Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and their backers Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood without getting directly involved. It seems to be their way of sympathizing – or so we hope. After tracking, the IDF has shot down the drones once they crossed into Israeli territory. They have responded with their own warning shots, sending volleys across to Lebanon and Syria. Supposedly, the Lebanese army arrested the perpetrators on their side. They know that tensions are running high. The other neighboring countries have a clear understanding of who Hamas is, what is at stake, and the risk of destabilizing the entire region. Noone, thankfully, wants that. At least not yet. But they are carefully watching us. Our response to Hamas. Our response time with the Iron Dome Defensive Shield. Whether we can be overwhelmed with rocket barrages. What Israel will do.
So, just this afternoon, I was up on our rooftop terrace watering my garden when the red alert siren went off again – as it does every few minutes round the clock. No Exaggertion. Read my other blogposts. I’ve learned to ignore every single buzz, but this time I felt the need to see where the rockets were headed. Shefaram and Ibillin, two Arab villages, which I can see off in the horizon to my left. I know them well. They are only about 7 miles as the crow flies. We buy our gas in Ibillin because it’s a few shekel cheaper per liter. Yikes! Then the next buzz goes off. Kiryat Bialik/Kiryat Motzkin/Haifa/Acco just about 7-18 miles to my right on the Mediterranean coast. I hear no warning siren in our immediate area. So I decided to try to film it. I thought they were strays from Gaza. It happens occasionally. The video of the actual moment of impact was obscured in the first video by the palm tree on the right, so it’s quite difficult to see unless you do a freeze frame. But here’s the second video clip I took where you can see the puff of cloud from where Iron Dome intercepted the rocket.
We quickly learned that at 4:13 pm, 4 rockets were fired at Israel from Lebanon. One landed back in Lebanon. Two fell into the Mediterranean. One was intercepted over Kiryat Bialik by the Iron Dome. And one landed in a field just outside Shefaram. The IDF fired back, and that was that. For now there is no escalation or involvement of another front.
As a side-note, I’m getting quite the education. My Hebrew vocabulary expanded quite a bit during the COVID lockdowns. Now I’m learning the words for ‘missile’ and ‘rocket’ and ‘barrage’ and ‘cease-fire’ and ‘siren’ and the like. Not only that, I’m learning the difference between rockets, which are just pipe-type bombs with exploding tips and shrapnel fill. Once they are launched, there is no control over where they go. A missile can be guided and is much more precise in its trajectory and focused target. Last weekend we were guests at the home of a native Israeli who had much knowledge militarily and in history. Sunday, we were guests at another home of native Israelis, and a couple of the men there not only had military experience, but were retired officers or reserve officers. It’s been fascinating.
I will now try to answer some of the questions I’ve received: just last night I was speaking on the phone with a close friend in the States. No. We are not afraid. Really and truly. I tried to explain that, as of now, we are far from the “action.” I’ve taken the pictures off the walls and the breakables off the shelves as a (now regular) precaution. Our underground shelter is fully stocked for us to last a good two weeks. I pray we never have to use it, but we are not afraid. We just watch the latest developments as they come in and pray a lot.
As I wrote in my last blogpost – No. Israel does NOT control Gaza. It was a lush and fertile farmland with some of the most beautiful beaches in the country and inhabited by both Israelis and Arabs. In 2005, the land was given to the Palestinian Authority in return for peace. The Israelis were forced out of their towns and homes by the IDF. In 2006, Hamas won legislative elections and took over rule in 2007 by defeating the PA in a violent coup. They now rule the strip with a violent fist. The PA and later, Hamas, have been receiving humanitarian aid since 1948. According to the World Bank data, between 1993 and 2013, they have received $27.1 billion worth of aid. They are also funded by Iran. Hamas has chosen to use much of this money to fund their terror campaign rather than on their own infrastructure. It’s more than tragic. (read that past blogpost)
Still, just yesterday, Israel packed up 38 large flat-bed semis with relief food, water, diapers and medical supplies bound for Gaza. They were met with rocket fire at the Keren Shalom crossing – Hamas obviously does not care about its own civilian population. Only three trucks made it in. 21 trucks were met with the same type of fire at the Erez checkpoint. Again, it’s heartbreaking.
To note, the Gaza Strip also shares a border with Egypt. This border is also closed with a large wall, electric fencing and razor wire. It is needed for the defense of Egypt. They do not want terror exported into their country. Still weapons are smuggled by underground tunnels from Egypt into Gaza, which the Egyptians repeatedly find and collapse. It is unfortunately necessary for both Israel and Egypt to maintain tightly secured borders. And to answer your question, Andrea, the people from Gaza are not “trapped” inside their small compound. They can and do make request for visas into Israel. The Gaza’s are regularly allowed in and out for jobs and medical care in Israel. If they are not deemed to be a terrorist, they can travel out of the country through Ben Gurion Airport. They can go to other neighboring Arab countries with their permission. However, due to Gaza’s tendency to import weapons parts, which are in turn used on Israel’s citizens, Israel carefully inspects all imports at the border. Hanan was telling us Sunday of the time remote control devices were attempted to be smuggled by way of a truckload of watermelons. He was inspecting the truck when he and another border patrol soldier noticed a few of the melons leaking. Holes had been bored into the melons which were filled with contraband and then shoddily plugged back up. Now, as Israeli citizens, John and I are absolutely not allowed into Gaza or much of the West Bank territories. When we have visitors from abroad, they are allowed to go into Bethlehem or Nablus. They can travel to other Muslim countries that we cannot. We stay behind. If I were to try to walk into Gaza, I wouldn’t come back out alive.
In response to Julie’s statement that the war is unfair and lopsided against the Gazans – I’d like to quote IDF Major in the the Reserves unit, Dan Pfefferman. “There are many armchair commentators outside of Israel right now. they speak with an ignorance about how militaries work and how wars are waged. Many people are protesting what they perceive to be disproportionate levels of force and unfair advantages and disadvantages. This is not some sort of football match where the score stays fairly even until the end. We need to be talking about disproportionality of intentions, not capabilities. Then it should become very clear who is the oppressor and who is the defender in this case. We need to ask, “O.K. So what would YOU do differently? What would you do if another country was bombarding your civilian population centers?” You can’t talk disproportionality in war. You can’t tell one side to ‘use no more force than you need to achieve your goals.’ It’s completely unrealistic. It’s a complete disconnect and a misunderstanding of how militaries operate.”
Retired Tel Nof Air Force Base commander, Brigadier General (Ret.) Israel “Relik” Shafir states, ” Most people are completely unaware of how the IDF operates. It’s a whole complex process before we make a strike. First we need to see clear, hard intelligence to be assured of the exact terror target to strike. It’s definitely not indiscriminate. We have a group of military commanders, strategists, international law experts and our intel meeting together to discuss the operational worth of a strike. There are legal and moral aspects to consider as well as ‘strike windows’ of when we can and cannot strike. Everything is discussed, vetted and validated before a decision is made. We must consider the efficacy of the strike versus the risk before proceeding. We do not want to hit civilian or non-terror related targets. I know of no other army that goes through such a process. And you have seen film of where at the last second, a strike has been called off because we see children or innocents in the area. “
I’m constantly listening to the news for further updates. As I was writing this post, a senior United Arab Emirates official said, “If Hamas does not commit to complete calm, it is dooming the residents of the Strip to a life of suffering. Its leaders must understand that their policies are first and foremost hurting the people of Gaza.” Powerful words from someone how truly understands. Just a short while ago US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and President Joe Biden called Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu to order a “significant deescalation today on the path of ceasefire.” I do not believe any Hamas operatives were also called. It seems one sided to me. Bibi Netanyahu just released his response. ( I will translate from the Hebrew) “…I greatly appreciate the support of these governments and I especially appreciate the support of the President of the United States our friend Joe Biden for the Israel state self-defense. I am determined to continue this operation until its goal is achieved – to bring complete peace and security back to the citizens of Israel.”
In the meantime, what are some things you can do to help? Thank all of you who offered to send us care packages. Firstly, we have everything we need at present. Also, shipping from the States or Europe is prohibitively expensive. Lastly, our airport is still closed, so shipments will probably be held up until who knows when. Still, many many thanks!!!! I can’t tell you how much your support is appreciated. So what can you do?
Do your own research. Ask questions. If something seems exaggerated, exclamatory, propagandized, or fake, it probably is. Do not take the word of celebrities, sports figures, supermodels, late night talk show hosts, musicians or other self-defined experts.
If you wish to make a donation, but don’t know who to support, there are a few non-profit organizations that we, ourselves, donate too. They are reputable and have offices both in Israel and in the US. The first is United Hatzalah. These are paramedics on motorbikes, volunteer medics from both Jewish, Christian and Muslim sectors. They are risking their lives to help provide first-responder care to those who have been injured. They are often the first to arrive on the scene, but with the conditions today, they are desperately in need of bulletproof/shrapnelproof vests and kevlar helmets. I can’t speak of these fine men and women highly enough. Go to @israelrescue.org
The next organization was a tremendous blessing helping out those affected by the COVID lockdowns. They provide groceries and boxed, Kosher meal to anyone in need no questions asked. They have been taxed to the limit the past week, delivering food boxes to the fallout shelters. They deliver children’s care packages, staff counseling centers to help with the PTSD that everyone down South seem to be experiencing. The good folks, all volunteers, at Meir Panim are true heroes. They can be reached @give.meirpanim.org
Israel is the only standing army I know that has volunteer soldiers join from foreign countries. Fine young men and women from 81 different countries are currently serving in the IDF – and no. Not all of them are Jewish either. Most come in from the US, but we have soldiers from the UK, Switzerland, South Africa, India, the Philippines, Mexico, Brazil … from all over the world. It’s pretty amazing. They must learn the Hebrew language, then go through boot camp and advanced training. We’ve been privileged to meet many of them. Some of them have to find their own apartments for the times they are off duty. Many later go on to become full citizens. And “TheBase: The Lone Soldier Center in Memory of Michael Levin” is right there to help. They offer housing to the soldiers; provide meals; counseling; social activities; support in everything from finding the right medical care to helping read bills, fill ourt paperwork and understand important mail. They are the lone soldiers’ life line and are truly a home away from home. You can contact them at lonesoldiercenter.com
Again, we know that we live in a lovely country filled with beautiful, caring people. It’s just that the real estate is in a really crappy neighborhood for the most part. So again, it’s wonderful hearing from all of you! Please keep the questions coming. I’ll do maybes to find out the answers. Thank you for all your outpourings of support. Keep the prayers rising up. If you like what you read and find it helpful/informative/entertaining, then please hit the subscribe button and also SHARE THESE ARTICLES with as many other as might be interested. You can follow my Instagram feed @eemahleh. I will try to do another update in a couple days. Hopefully there will be good news to report.
In the meantime, here’s a map for you of response times. It’s the time we have to run to a shelter from anywhere in the country when we hear a siren go off. It’s kind of interesting. If a missile were to be fired towards our home and a siren were to sound, we would have between 45 seconds and one minute to stop what we’re doing and take cover. Wow-
It’s been a most difficult week both for my Israeli brothers and sisters and also for the innocent civilians in Gaza. And it’s been an overwhelming week for anyone who has been bombarded with insane disinformation by the mainstream media, social media, and well-intentioned but misinformed celebrities who are not living this nightmare. First of all, I want to thank all those who have written, called, and reached out to check on us, find out our situation and express concern about our well-being and the well-being of those around us. For all those who are praying for an end to the violence. For all those who have requested information. For those who have asked questions (based on what they have been hearing) and for those who have sent us articles and videos. I can’t begin to tell you how much it means to John, Max and me.
I will try to answer as many of the questions as I can with history and facts so you will have a better understanding of what is going on here. First of all – it’s more than extremely complicated. Secondly – I posted an article on Monday, 10 May, when this whole mess exploded (literally). In it, I gave a timeline of events leading up to this “Perfect Storm,” which was the title of my article. Please read that first, if you haven’t already.
So, what’s going on with the Gaza Strip? It’s one of the most frequently asked questions I’ve gotten. Let’s go back to 1993, the time of the Oslow Accords. In a nutshell, after years of violence and territorial disputes between Israel’s Jewish and Arab population, talks were held between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, US President Bill Clinton and Yassar Arafat, head of the Palestinian Authority. In 1994, a document was signed to create “a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.” The Palestinian Authority was officially recognized as the leading political party of Judea and Samaria, a huge swath of Israel better known as the West Bank (it actually is a third the size of Israel – please look at a map). The PA was given “wide legislative, executive and judicial powers and responsibility over their own internal security, health, education and social welfare.” Free elections were to be held and a Parliament established.
On 13 May, 1994, Israel formally pulled out of much of the area, ceding Jericho to the PA. By the end of the summer, the cities of Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus, and Jenin were completely under the PA control. It also marked the establishment of the terror organization, Hamas, and the beginning of the First Intifada against the Jewish citizens of Israel. It was a bloody summer, and by the end of 1994, 120 Israeli citizens had been murdered by suicide bombers and random attacks at cafes in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem bus stations, on city buses and in malls and grocery stores. Prime Minister Rabin continually called for calm and peace. Israel was completely divided as to whether to continue negotiations, peace talks and withdrawal from its own territory. Each time there was a greater escalation of terror, but negotiations continued.
4 November, 1995 Rabin was assassinated by an angry Israeli man, Yigal Amir, plunging the nation into even greater despair and division. Shimon Peres of the Labor Party stepped in as the next Prime Minister and the peace talks continued with Arafat. Each time, the Palestinian suicide bombers continued to try to derail the peace process. Arafat refused to control the terrorists. So Peres stopped the negotiations.
Benjamin Netanyahu, head of the Likud Party, was elected by a very narrow margin as the next PM in 1996. Like Peres, he pressed Arafat to act against the suicide bombers, but still Arafat did not do so. Despite all this, Netanyahu continued with the peace process, transferring 80% of the city of Hebron to the PA. The Jews retained control of the small neighborhood surrounding the Cave of the Patriarchs, the burial place of Abraham, Sara, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. Jewish settlements were established in the West Bank, leading to further conflict.
Skipping ahead to 1999, Ehud Barak succeeds Netanyahu as the next leader of Israel. His first act as Prime minister was to withdraw IDF forces from a small 2-mile-wide strip along Northern Israel that formed a safety barrier against Lebanon. More acts of terror, this time from the North. Then, in 2000, Barak and Arafat met at Camp David with President Clinton. Prime Minister Barak was ready to give up 90% of the West Bank to Palestinian control. Arafat had to agree to recognize Israel as a sovereign Jewish state, but he refused and the Second Intifada began. Over 1000 Israelis were killed in acts of terrorism within four years.
In 2001, Ariel Sharon was elected Prime Minister of Israel. By now, Arafat had become old and infirm. He was powerless to stop the Islamic terror. In 2004, Sharon ordered construction on a high wall to be built on much of the border between the West Bank and Israel to try to hedge in the terrorists. Checkpoints and IDF guard stations were installed as a deterrent to constant threat of attack. Arafat dies, and Abu Mazen, better known as Mahmoud Abbas, is elected to a four year term as Prime Minister of the PA. He is currently in year 16 of this “four-year term.”
In August of 2005, there is a unilateral evacuation of all Jews living in the Gaza Strip, a 141 square mile strip of land that is bordered by Egypt to the South, the Mediterranean to the West, and Israel to the East and North. 10,000 Jewish residents left, many forcibly evicted from their homes by the Israeli Defense Forces. They left behind their beautiful homes, schools, synagogues, hospitals, parks and irrigated agricultural lands. Newly formed Islamic terrorist group, Hamas, quickly stepped in to vie for control with the PA. Israel gave this land up voluntarily because they thought it would finally bring about peace. The Palestinians immediately set to work destroying all the existing infrastructure. They razed the synagogues, schools and hospitals.
This area, the Gaza Strip, could have been a living paradise with its beautiful beaches, arable lands and existing infrastructure. Instead, it’s been turned into a nightmare of Jihadi terrorism. Hamas, and now the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a militant arm of Iran, hold the innocent civilians of Gaza hostage to their dictatorial regime. They feed the people a diet of fear of the Jews. It’s so sad, that they have educated their young children to hate and to become soldiers of the Jihad. 63% of their population live in abject poverty. The terrorist organizations have siphoned off the billions of dollars in humanitarian aid to fund building of terror tunnels, procuring of weapons, and lining their own pockets. It is truly tragic. Abbas and the PA, who had official control of the Strip until recently, instituted a program called ‘Pay to Slay’ where families of their ‘martyrs’ (those that have been killed while trying to commit acts of violence against Jews) are given a lifelong pension. Trump cut off funding. Biden re-instituted it. What can I say???? It gave them the green light to continue the terrorism, which picked up in March of this year with car ramming and stabbings.
So, to the woman in CA who expressed concern for the suffering Gazans: YES!!! The poor Gazans ARE suffering. But it is not because of Israel. As I write this now, I’m listening to the morning report online from NPR. I know you mentioned that’s where you get much of your information. Their narrative is very interesting, but not necessarily complete. I’ve been taking notes from their broadcast- and this is a direct quote:
“Israeli attacks on Gaza are become more intense every night, greater than the night before. These strikes are keeping Palestinians up all night terrified. They are not getting any sleep at all. Their water supply is short and they only have about five hours of electricity per day. There is no place for them to go. They have no escape.”
There was absolutely no mention of what is happening here in Israel. Since exactly this time last week, with a joint effort between Hamas and PIJ, over 3,150 rockets/missiles have been fired at Israel. The barrages have been incessant, 24 hours a day for seven days now. Over 2 million people have been forced into bomb shelters. In those sorties, 463 Hamas rockets have misfired, falling back into Gaza. 21 of these have taken down electrical power lines in the Strip, causing widespread outages to their already limited power. Hamas is so unfortunately creating its own humanitarian disaster. As of Saturday, they shut down the water purification plant in order to siphon off power to their command centers. Densely packed Gazan residential areas are being used as military strongholds, sites for mobile rocket launches (see my Instagram video post @eemahleh), weapons storage facilities and entrance into their underground tunnel network. In the meantime, Israeli civilians have been forced into their bomb shelters. all hours of the day and night.
Why are there more casualties in Gaza than in Israel? There are several reasons. Israel is committed to the protection of its citizens. We have the Iron Dome System, which sends guided missiles up to intercept the Hamas rockets before they reach Israel’s population centers. We have sirens everywhere, blaring as soon as a rocket’s trajectory is known. This warning system alerts Israelis so they have time (sometimes as little as 15-18 seconds) to get into a bomb shelter before impact. Most individual homes and newer apartments have a safe room, with 10-inch thick rebar enforced concrete walls and metal door. All apartments and public buildings are equipped with underground bomb shelters, however, sometimes there’s only enough time to crowd into an internal stairwell. There are public concrete bunkers on many blocks and in parks. In edition, each person with a smart phone has the Red Alert App. Every time a rocket is launched into Israel, an alarm goes off with a buzz, a vibration, and an expected impact range. My phone has been buzzing incessantly 24/7 for the past week. All day. All night. There is not more than a half hour when a new barrage is announced. It’s a hell of a way to live, but thank goodness we have it. It saves lives.
Tragically, as stated previously, Hamas and PIJ are using their civilian population as human shields. Since last Monday, the IDF has struck over 820 terror targets. As of today, there are an unknown number of Palestinian civilian casualties among the estimated 140 deaths. Before the IDF strikes a target, they follow a set protocol: first leaflets are dropped and SMS messages are sent to residents of a building 40 minutes before the strike. It warns people to evacuate the premises due to an imminent attack. Phone calls are made to those inside. See the video where the security guard is called by the IDF 10 minutes before the AP/Al Jazeera building was taken down. There were no casualties. 5 minutes before an IDF bombing of a building, a “knock bomb” is dropped. This blunt metal pipe knocks on the roof to let those inside the attack is forthcoming. Evacuate now.
In the meantime, both countries have been extremely hard hit. This past weekend, despite a 90% success rate, there have been many direct hits on apartments, homes, synagogues and cars. Thankfully, this war has claimed only 11 Israeli lives. I leave you with a post from Israeli soldier:
IDF Cpl. Zoharya, Liaison to Platoon Commander in the Search and Rescue Brigade shares:
“Last night there were sirens and rockets falling everywhere. We were told to put on our gear and be ready in five minutes. We left our bomb shelters and went as fast as we could to a building that was hit in Petach Tikvah.
The cars were exploded and melting. we entered a half-collapsed building and saw tons of broken and shattered glass. Our mission on the ground is to help as many civilians as possible. We went to every single door, to see that everyone managed to get out, and that if they needed help or medical assistance they got it.
I drafted five months ago. I’m 19 years old; I’m actually still training. These past few days we’ve been on call 24/7. You go to eat, and you eat in 10 minutes because you have no idea what’s going to happen.
I think people just don’t understand the situation we’re living in here. However, we are helping people and giving them a sense of safety, and that makes everything worth it. In three hours on the ground we helped them so much.”
One last thing: in answer to the three people who have sent video clips from their pastors and rabbis in America:
No. This is not G-d’s judgement on Israel because Bibi Netanyahu entreated into a contract with Pfizer to have the population vaccinated. No. I do no believe G-d is judging Israel for baseless hatred. You are not living here. Israel now is more unified than ever. Everyone is helping everyone else out. We will hopefully be hosting two families that are caught in the bombings of Ashdod for as long as they need it (where we are, it is quiet). Everyone is praying for everyone else. Parents are making relief boxes and treat packs for the soldiers. Restaurant owners are sending boxes of pizza and sodas to the front. It doesn’t matter whether a person is secular are religious – or what religion, for that matter. The mixed community of Abu Ghosh in the Jerusalem suburbs has been having a Jewish-Arab solidarity and friendship rally. Up here, groups of grandmas are making hand-made dolls to give the children of the south. There is no baseless hatred. No. Netanyahu did not fabricate this mess to hold onto power. That is absolutely ridiculous.
Again, thank you for your readership, support and prayer. In my next post, I will outline ways to help. In the meantime, you have my permission to share this post.
It’s been 5 days now. Everyone, I’m sure, is exhausted. The bombing salvos from Hamas in the Gaza Strip into central Israel have been incessant. Many homes, apartments, cars, busss, schools, hospitals have incurred direct hits. thank goodness, more people haven’t been killed. Our government, army, first-responders, and Iron Dome have been working overtime. We went to bed around 2am last night. There had been 3 missiles fired into the Galilee here from Lebanon around 10pm. We braced ourselves for more, possibly an all-out push by Hizbullah. We are about 12 lies from the border. Thankfully, Lebanon was quick to report that their government “had nothing to do with the missile fire. It was a lone wolf Palestinian.” Whaaaaaat? This made no sense, but we waited. Was this for real? Were they afraid of facing the Israeli army? Was it a ruse to make us think they were keeping out of the situation, only to surprise attack later? When we woke up this morning, we were still alive, but it had been another night of non-stop bombing down south:
When we were going to bed, we were already hearing of an IDF troop build-up on the front, ready to engage on the ground for an incursion into Gaza. BRILLIANT TACTIC! Last night the IDF advertised this on the news and through social media, a rare pre-show teaser. This, in turn made Hamas send many of their terrorists into their elaborate underground tunnel system called “The Metro of Gaza.” There they would lay in wait for a surprise attack on Israeli soldiers. Only there never was a ground attack. Instead, once Israel had intel that many Hamas terrorists were in the tunnel system, they started to carpet bomb the area of the tunnels. Wise move.
Still, overnight, many people in the Beersheva, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Tel Aviv area took refuge in stairwells and in shelters. There was a horrible rumor going around that some Tel Aviv public shelters were turning away people that did not have proof of vaccination. It didn’t sound like something Israelis would do, so I started doing some sleuthing yesterday, calling scores of people I knew in the area including a reporter and a member of Knesset. It was unequivocably fake news. Announcements were made that if this was even attempted, the violators would be arrested. Many babies have been born, some in bomb shelters. There were two weddings that were moved underground because they were interrupted by sirens.
In the meantime, there’s been lots of humor, some dark. And of course, people have come up with drinking games, songs, memes, and videos. Because humor goes a long way to dispel fear. Because sometimes, when all you want to do is cry or scream, it’s good to laugh. Why not? Things could be a lot worse….
I got a little teary when I read my son’s Instagram post…
As of today… the funeral for 5 year old Ido Avigal was held in the Petach Tikvah area. It was interrupted several times by red alert sirens, making the mourners run for cover. I went shopping today. It is a holiday weekend (Shavuot starts Sunday evening). the stores were more crowded than usual. Every one was lined up (patiently – no hoarding) to buy essentials ‘just in case.’ There were signs everywhere with arrows pointing to the nearest shelter. It’s a surreal world. Our mammad (safe room is ready to go-
It’s a couple hours before Shabbat starts. I have to make dinner for tonight and finish up tomorrow’s meals. (I was unable to upload other photos of our shelter. You’ll have to wait for those-) How will the people down south be able to have Shabbat? I’m pretty sure every single Israeli Jew will be lighting candles and saying the blessings over the bread and wine and praying for peace. I’m praying that by Saturday night/Sunday I’ll have good news to post. Please join me in sending up pleas for peace to reign and cool heads to rule on both sides.