My Old Hometown

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I often have plans to write happy, uplifting, informative posts about my new home, Israel. About the places we visit, the people, the culture, the food. And then something unexpected happens that delays the planned posts. This past week was another of those times.

When we first told family and friends of our decision to uproot our home and our lives in Thousand Oaks, California and move to Israel, many people thought we were absolutely crazy. To give up a life of relative comfort and affluence and start all over in an entirely new country; to have to learn a whole new language and culture – but most importantly, to put ourselves in the line of danger with imminent wars and terror attacks. Add to that, our son would be serving in the IDF, and it was way over the top for some people. You see, Thousand Oaks was a beautiful, upscale, safe little city nestled in the Conejo Valley, surrounded by beautiful mountains and hiking trails. Close to the ocean, Between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. A little piece of heaven. A bubble of tranquility. Ours was a friendly, tightly knit community, with family friendly activities, hundreds of places of worship, great culture and shopping. It was the perfect place to raise a family because it was just so safe. (In many ways it looked a lot like Karmi’el, where we live now… see pictures below-)

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Karmi’el, Israel

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Karmi’el, Israel

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Thousand Oaks, C

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Thousand Oaks, CA

Just last Wednesday night (Thursday morning for us), all that was shattered. My son, home on leave, was Skyping with one of his TO buddies when the news came. His friend was thinking of going down to the Borderline for College Night. The Borderline is only about a mile or so from our old home. It’s one of the only Country Western dance places in the LA area – a place where the locals go, wholesome and all-American, and a favorite spot for the college kids from around the area. As they were talking, the sirens could be heard, and news would soon come of a mass shooting by a lone gunman. In the end 13 people were dead, including a local sheriff, the gunman, and three of my son’s acquaintances. Things like that are not supposed to happen there…

As we were reeling from the devastating news, glued to livestream news on our computer, and even before anyone could catch their breath from the massacre, we started getting news of a rapidly spreading brush fire. By Thursday night, the flames were on the ridge lines of the mountains above Thousand Oaks, Oak Park, and Agoura, our “stomping grounds.” Another fire was barreling down Newbury Park, where our daughter and her young family lives. I tried to stay connected via social media as scores of our friends were being evacuated from their homes in the middle of the night. As the fire, fanned by the intense Santa Anna winds engulfed whole neighborhoods, we were hearing from people who were moved 3-5 times from one evacuation center to another. It was heartbreaking to see the homes go up in the hellish inferno, embers being kicked up by the winds and fanned into neighborhoods blocks away. We knew people in every neighborhood affected.

Our daughter had her bags packed and ready to go (more on that later), and through the night we were mapping out escape routes viable to them. The major freeway had been closed down in both directions; the pathway to the Pacific Ocean and Malibu was blocked because the fires had spread across the 101 freeway. A couple of our neighbors, graciously offered to take them in in the event of evacuation. We were praying and fasting for all those affected, now Westlake Village, Lake Sherwood, Hidden Hills, West Hills, Bell Canyon area, Calabassas,  Malibu, parts of Camarillo and Simi Valley. Our home. Our lives for over 30 years. Our friends. We were praying for the firefighters. One of our friends is a battalion captain; another friend’s son a firefighter for LA. We were seeing images posted on Instagram and Facebook, and the live news coverage from all our local California TV stations. Horrific images.

Our kids are all safe and out of danger now, thank G-d. Most of my friends who had to leave the area I’ve heard from as I write this. We don’t know yet how their homes fared, just that they are safe. Then there are the others (if you are reading this, please just let us know how you’ve fared, if possible): 2 friends in the Bell Canyon/Santa Sue area; 4 friends in Agoura; 2 in Malibu near the high school; 3 friends in Oak Park. You are all being prayed for fervently. Still waiting for news on Westlake Village especially the ridge lines above St. Jude’s and around the lake. Yikes! I can’t even begin to imagine the horror you are living through!!!!

It is so important, no matter where you live, or how safe you think you are, to have a family emergency plan, and your “bug out” bags packed and ready to go. That is the absolute first thing we did when we moved to Israel. I am amazed at how many people don’t have this. It provides a cushion and a little peace of mind knowing you are ready when disaster strikes. I have a backpack ready-to-go for each member of the family. We keep one set in our car trunk and one set in the house. It contains(between the three of us here):

  • copies of important documents/papers

a change of clothes/a pair of heavy shoes and sweatshirt next to the bags

  • medications
  • first aid kit
  • hygiene items (toothbrush, toothpaste, wipes, deodorant, lip balm)in a plastic    baggie
  • flashlight
  • water bottles
  • rain poncho/emergency blanket (very small pouch)
  • snack foods/energy bars/instant foods
  • a bit of extra cash if the ATMs are down
  • a small Bible/prayerbook
  • contact list and phone/laptop chargers

These are just the basic things to grab and go. Learn basic emergency procedures so you can take care of yourself, family, and even be a help to others. One never knows, and it might be a while until help comes. Be prepared. (For those in Israel who read this, both my husband and I were certified in the States and can teach basic classes…)

Hopefully, the worst is behind us. Back home, it will be a long haul, but the rebuilding of homes and lives will come. I leave you with some photos of our beautiful hometown….

May G-d send comfort, bless and protect us all-

Living Bridges

As our peaceful Shabbat ended last weekend, the Jewish community of Pittsburgh was enduring hell on earth. A deranged gunman was bent on murdering as many Jews as he could at the Etz Chaim Synagogue. It’s unfortunately an age old history that my people share.

Yesterday evening my husband and I attended a memorial service for the victims here in Karmi’el. For over 20 years Pittsburgh has been a sister city to our community and the surrounding Misgav Regional Council under the Partners 2Gether program. In addition to the hundreds of local population, we were privileged to have in attendance, over 30 members of Beth Shalom and Etz Chaim Synagogues from Pittsburgh. Theirs was a pre-planned visit, the beginning of a weeklong tour of Israel. We were able to mourn and pray together side by side. Several of our own Olim were originally from Pittsburgh, making it all the more poignant.

The communities of Misgav and Karmi’el have connected through a close partnership and deep bonds have been forged over decades with the Jewish people of Pittsburgh. It is now a family relationship. Through the years, Pittsburgh has helped our Northern Israel communities, with donations to our local synagogues and in times of our crisis- when we were under a barrage of missiles launched from Lebanon in 2006- they provided much needed prayers and support.

Rabbi Amy Levin of Misgav who served as interim rabbi in Pittsburgh before moving back to her home in Israel in 2016, led the Kaddish. The El Malei Rachamim (G-d of Mercy) prayer was recited by Rabbi Gil Nativ, rabbi emeritus of the Kehillat HaKerem Conservative Synagogue in Karmi’el. Our mayor, Adi Eldar gave a moving speech emphasizing the need for Jewish unity. As his last act as sitting mayor, commissioned a memorial statue to be erected in Karmi’el.

As the eleven memorial candles were lit by members of Beth Shalom and Etz Chaim, a choir softly sang. Everyone was thinking of friends and family, sharing pictures. The couple sitting next to us showed us pictures of Daniel Stein (of blessed memory) dancing at their daughter’s wedding just three months prior. “Squirrel Hill was such a safe neighborhood. Everyone knew their neighbor. We left our doors unlocked. We walked the streets at night without fear. Anyone was welcome in our shul….”

We had a live stream video link with two members of the Etz Chaim community thanking us for their support. Rabbi Seth Adelson was officiating funerals, but is expected to join the Pennsylvania group later today in Israel. A video montage put together by our community – schoolchildren, soldiers, workers, family, government officials- was played for us. It will be taken back to Pittsburgh.

After the service, the busload of our “extended family” was taken to Kehillat HaKerem/Spitzer Center where the Conservative Congregation hosted a dinner in their honor. It was bittersweet as president of the Beth Shalom Congregation, Deborah Firestone, recounted the day’s events- “We were in shul saying our morning prayers when we heard the sirens. Our security officer, a retired FBI agent called for us to go into lockdown. Etz Chaim down the street was under attack. We usually don’t use our phones on Shabbat, but all at once everyones’ phones started buzzing, and we knew immediately something aweful was happening. We stationed guards at all our doors (they are glass) and tried to pray. Three separate congregations were housed at Tree of Life on separate floors. By 11:30, we received the all clear.”

Both Don Jacobson and Julie Landau of Kehillat HaKerem gave updates of all events at the Conservative Synagogue and a pledge of continued mutual support. “We reach out to you. If there is anything we can do- help you enhance your security, fight anti-Semitism, anything at all… let’s start a conversation of what we can further do together.”

Emails or notes of sympathy, support or encouragement can be sent directly to jewishpgh.org

In Our Own Neighborhood

The Galilee region in the North of Israel is a land of rolling mountains, olive tree filled valleys, deep wadis cleaving the mountain ridges, and hundreds of small villages scattered throughout. Since I’ve lived here, the government has been widening roads and putting in highways at a dizzying pace. Still, much of this ancient land is pristine, with a rugged wild beauty. Much of it still remote and hard to reach.

Perched atop each mountain is a small village. Most of them are tiny Jewish yishuvim, gate guarded communities of anywhere from 40 to 150 homes. In some , the buyer must apply for residence to keep the neighborhood homogeneous- some are more Orthodox in their keeping of the commandments; others agrarian, each household farming a small plot of land; Amirim is a vegetarian community with a lovely guesthouse overlooking Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee); Har Halutz and Hannaton were founded in the 1970s by mostly American Jews from the Conservative movement. They are not kibbutzim, or communal living settlements. Each homeowner remains private and independent.

Each yishuv has its own synagogue, community center, kindergarten, parks, a medical clinic, and makolet (a small, independently owned neighborhood convenience store selling basic groceries, hardware, household items) with a do’ar, a post office. The community is tightly knit. There are lots of shared activities… films, lectures, concerts and clubs for the children, as they are usually very family friendly. My husband is a sports coach, traveling between several of the surrounding villages to teach baseball and hockey.

At the base of the mountains and scattered throughout the valleys are larger Arab towns- some Christian, some Druze, some Bedouin, most Muslim. There towns are much more densely packed, with fewer green spaces, no set zoning laws, and no parks for their children to play… their choice… and they freely come to our city to use the parks, recreation facilities and malls. So far, we live peaceably side by side.

It’s really quite interesting – and for me, somewhat perturbing – that even though I can see many of these villages from my mirpesset (patio), and many of these places are within a mile or two as the crow flies, it takes forever to reach them. There are no direct roads leading from one village to the other. In order to get there, one must travel down through valleys and up winding mountain roads. Bus lines service each community, but still, they seem quite remote.

I’ve been here three years now, and finally, in the past few weeks, visited two of them, Rakefet and Yodfat, both visible from my house. Was I in for a treat! At Rakefet, I found a huge garden center/nursery, much like Armstrong’s back in California! We had been looking for a garden center since we got here, usually going to the neighboring Arab village of Madj al Krum or Deir al Assad to the tiny plant stores there. This one had everything we need from compost and organic soil to fertilizer, seeds, tools and the like. We were in gardening paradise !

Just down the road from Rakefet is the tiny little village of Yodfat. Yodfat is a moshav, a community a bit larger and more independent that a yishuv. Another surprise!!! Ancient history, a unique zoo, a goat farm, and modern boutique shopping experience all created the makings of a perfect day in the Galil! Yodfat, population 824, is built on the hill adjacent to ancient archaeological ruins. During the Roman occupation of Israel in the first century, a young general of the Israeli resistance fought off the Roman forces. After an unsuccessful routing in 68 AD, Mattityahu Josephus Flavius was captured after hiding out in the caves of Yodfat. He surrendered to them, proving useful to the Romans as historian (he was schooled in Classical Latin), and made governor of the Galil at Magdala. Some Israelis think of him as the Hebrew version of Benedict Arnold. You can walk around the remnants of the settlement and visit the cave still there today.

Yodfat is also home to the Monkey Forest, a popular spot for families and rather unique zoo. There are hundreds of monkeys of different varieties in huge enclosed natural spaces you can walk-through. Stroll beneath the canopy of trees and feed the cute animals who are not at all shy about eating from your hand. They had no qualms at all about hopping up on the shoulders of our madrichah.

From there, travel a few yards to Goats With the Wind, an organic, family run farm and dairy. The cattle and goats roam the mountainside grazing happily. There is a film and tour of the cheese production area as well as a restaurant where all sorts of freshly made dairy delights are served. You eat Bedouin style on large pillows set out on the terraces overlooking the valley and sip local wines. But their main shop is now in the village center itself.

Yodfat is now one of my favorite places for shopping. Small, but beautiful boutique stores,delis and cafes fill the square at the top of the mountain (visible from my bedroom patio!).

There is a lovely shop, Saffloul, that sells handcrafted gifts from nature.

Jemma is a home decor shop with beautiful hand printed rugs, pillows, duvets and a lovely array of ceramics, enamelware, and decorative items at reasonable prices.

In addition, there was a second hand store; an Italian style deli; a hand knitwear shop specializing in funky socks; and most wonderful general store that sells art supplies, and children’s books and educational (Waldorf) toys!!! I was in heaven! The school at Yodfat is a Waldorf school, I later found out. In addition, there is a bulb outlet in the center…. another hidden gem. Yodfat also seems to be the flower bulb capital of Israel. They produce many unique hybrids of flowering plants, which are shipped worldwide.

We bought several varieties of goat and sheep cheese from the Goats With the Wind Store. And then satisfied our ravenous appetite with delicious savory buckwheat crepes filled with wild onions, greens, mushrooms and local cheeses. Local wines were served, and the view of the surrounding countryside back to the city of Karmiel and in the other direction towards Nazareth was spectacular.

We really can’t figure out what took us so long in exploring our own neck of the woods. Surely, we shall have to go out on more tiyuulim more frequently – and you get to come with us, albeit vicariously-

Frailty

Frailty

My husband and son got up super early this morning to start the building of our sukkah before Max went back to base. Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Our next holiday is Sukkot, which begins at sundown on Sunday evening.

Sukkot is the feast of booths or tabernacles. Jews all over the world erect these temporary dwellings where for the next week, we spend much of our time, eating all our meals in this rather fragile structure. Some people sleep in their sukkah. Since moving to Israel, ours is about a third the size, only big enough for a large table. Still-

Dwelling in these tent-like booths, not only are we reminded of the nomadic wanderings of our forefathers in the desert, returning from a 400 year slavery in Egypt before they could return home to Israel, but we are reminded of the temporary nature and frailty of our own lives. When I lived on the East Coast of the US, Sukkot always fell at the peak of hurricane season. In California, Sukkot was usually marked by the beginning of the strong Santa Anna winds blowing in from the desert and the beginning of brushfire season with its choking fumes, ash and uncertainty. Many a year we would awaken to a downed tent, parts strewn over the backyard.

This year is especially difficult. A year in which the fragility of our lives here on earth is fully present. Two days before Yom Kippur we lost a dear friend and defender of Israel. Ari Fuld was a giant of a man. Immigrating to Israel from the US over 20 years ago, he proudly served in the IDF and remained a Commander in the Reserves. A proud American and a proud Israeli, Ari was running an errand to the grocery store for his wife, when a 17 year old terrorist stabbed him in the back. Being the selfless lion (Ari in Hebrew means lion) and defender of the people he so dearly loved, Ari ran after the terrorist, jumping over a wall, managing to fire off his gun to neutralize the punk before collapsing. The terrorist was already running after a young shopkeeper trying to stab her. Ari lived life to his last breath a hero.

Ari Fuld loved people. He loved the Lone Soldiers and was always making sure they were cared for and had all the material and spiritual support they needed. If I ever had a question about the army, I could ask Ari, as did many of the Anglo parents. He and his family would host big American style barbecues for the soldiers. Good memories.

A lover of the land, he delighted in taking people on tours, especially of Yerushalayim. He had so many insights and interesting stories. Each week, Ari would post a drash (homily/explanation) of the week’s Torah reading. It was almost prophetic that last week’s video clip was on the death of Moses. The unceremonious passing of the torch to Joshua. I went back to watch it again just a few minutes ago. I was crying as in the middle of his last post, he takes the time to bless his daughter as she leaves the house for Shabbat.

Ari was a faithful husband and father of four beautiful children. Thousands of people from all over the country showed up at midnight, the day before Erev Yom Kippur, to attend his funeral. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before.

Ari Fuld will be greatly missed. His passing is a testimony to the temporary nature of our existence. Our sukkot, like our bodies, no matter how strongly erected, how beautifully decorated are not here forever. Our spirits live on, and I just hope I can be a tiny bit as effective as Ari was in spreading the love and truth of this amazing country.

I leave you with lyrics from my favorite song for Sukkot, “Frailty”…. written by my dear friend in Los Angeles, Britta Kaye.

As I leave this wind blown room, I remember. That I do not leave it, Rather this is who I am. The room I build each year is merely an image. Of my perpetual existence In the state of Frailty.

As I leave this wind blown room, I remember. That You do not leave me, rather this is where You met me. I forget so easily, I was crafted in Your image. And to remind me, You joined me in the grip of Frailty.

As I leave this wind blown room, I remember. The shock of your arrival, the mystery of your life and flesh. In this flimsy box, you installed a treasure. And you lifted your face to me through the gift of Frailty.

Dedicated to Ari Fuld & Britta’s father, who also passed last week. May their memories forever be a blessing. G-d is a truthful and merciful judge….

Apples & Honey

It’s hard to believe the Fall Feasts, the Jewish High Holy Days, are already upon us. I’ve been trying to get into the mood despite the swelteringly hot weather – cleaning, putting away my summer things, planting a fall garden, and endlessly revising menus for each of the upcoming holiday meals.

As I clean my house from top to bottom (the dust that blows in from the desert and new construction projects is incredible!), it’s also a time of cleaning spiritually. As I mop the floors yet again, it’s a time of personal sleekhot, to see where I’ve failed both myself and others. It’s a time to clean up all the internal schmutz – resolutions broken, vows not kept, complaining, bad attitudes, being too critical, not forgiving perceived wrongs and injustices. As I wipe the accumulated grime off the windows, I get a clear view of the beautiful rolling mountains of the Galilee. Hopefully, with a firm and renewed resolve, I can face the year with a clearer purpose and a better attitude. It all works together beautifully, if you let it. And there’s always room for improvement… in my thoughts; in my words; in what I have done; in what I have failed to do…

Usually, we Ashkenazi Jews have special communal sleekhot services at synagogue the week before Rosh HaShannah. My son, who is now in the IDF, came home last week telling about the Sephardi services. The Sephardim are Jews who fled to North Africa, Spain and Portugal during the Diaspora. For them, the days of repentance start at the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul and go for 28 days. A little after midnight, the “kids” on his base gather in their beautiful synagogue (he showed me pictures. It’s really beautiful!!!!) to begin prayers. Every night!!! I’m amazed at the dedication of these youth. They end with the blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn.

So, we’ve decided to open our home to Lone Soldiers who come in to serve in the army from all over the world. Most have host parents, but some need a place to go for dinner. Max will be serving over the holidays, but a couple girls from his unit will be with us. I’m still waiting to hear how many others we’ll have at our table this year. It’s always exciting to have a group of fun, young people to celebrate with. We will be doing a Rosh HaShannah seder again this year before the meal. So I thought I’d share with you the rubrics. It’s really a fun family activity.

Rosh HaShannah Seder 

Today in Israel, many people celebrate the New Year with a Rosh HaShannah seder at home with family on the evening preceding the Holy Day. It comes from the Sepaharad tradition for over 2000 years, and has gained tremendous popularity among Jews of all traditions. The liturgy follows a set order, hence the Hebrew word, seder. The prayers are said in Hebrew (and outside Israel, in the vernacular as well).  It’s quite fun, taking place before the festive meal.

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Items needed:

2 white candles (or pure beeswax candles)

1 cup/glass red wine or grape juice

 1 round challah bread

  1 large round plate containing the following items:

  • a pomegranate
  • a piece of pumpkin
  • carrot coins
  • beets
  • green onions
  • dates
  • small, light colored beans
  • fish head (a paper cut out on a popsicle stick will do)
  • apple slices and a dish of honey
  1. Order (seder) of blessings: (in English)

Blessing over candle lighting:

Blessed are You, O Lord, our G-d, King of the universe, who sanctifies us by His commandments and ordains us to light the Holy Day lights.   Amen.

Thanks for the season:

Blessed are You, O Lord, our G-d, King of the universe, who has kept us in life and sustained us and enabled us to reach this season.   Amen.

Blessing over wine:

Blessed are You, O Lord, our G-d, King of the universe, who gives us the fruit of  the vine.   Amen.

Blessing before hand washing:

Blessed are You O Lord, our G-d, King of the universe who ordains us to wash our hands… forgive me my sins and wash away my iniquities.   Amen.

Blessing over bread:

Blessed are You, O Lord, our G-d, who brings forth bread from the earth.   Amen.

 

 Raise the pomegranate and say: May it be G-d’s will that our lives may be as full of good deeds as the pomegranate is with seeds. All respond: AMEN!!!  Everyone can eat a few arils….

Raise the green onions and say: May it be G-d’s will that we never serve under harsh taskmasters as our ancestors in Egypt. All say: Amen!!!!  (children love hitting each other with these fake ‘whips”

Raise the beans and say: May it be G-d’s will for this year that we experience fertility and multiplication.  May we be open to life and all creation.  All say: AMEN!!!

Raise the fish head and say: May it be your will, O Lord, that we be heads and not tails; leaders instead of followers.   All say: AMEN!!!

Raise the pumpkin and say: May it be G-d’s will that any evil decrees against us be torn up and our good merits be read out instead.  All say: AMEN!!! (Some of these make more sense in Hebrew as they involve a play on words or symbolism)

Raise the carrot coins and say: May it be within G-d’s will this year that we increase not only in good deeds, but in wealth. All say: AMEN!

Raise the dates and say: May it be Your will, O Lord, that we would have a year of peace.  All say: AMEN!!!

Raise the beets and say: May it be Your will, O G-d, that we may always live in freedom.  All say: AMEN!!

Dip the apple slices (or challah) into the honey. Distribute and say: May you renew us for a good year, a happy year, a healthy hear, a holy year, and may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.  All say: Amen!!!

 Say all together: Let the old year end with all its problems. Let the new year begin with all its blessings! AMEN!!!

During the year for the Sabbath, we eating challah, a sweet, light bread braided into three long strands to form the one golden loaf. Here, for Rosh HaShannah and all during the holidays, we eat a round challah. It symbolizes the eternal G-d, the cycle of the year, and because it is crownlike, the Kingship of G-d. And I will be using the special round, lace challah cover I bought in Budapest last year. It was made by a woman who survived the Holocaust and is quite beautiful.

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This year, to celebrate the diversity of the Jewish people in Israel, I will be making two new recipes. The first, a date roast, is a recipe from the mother of a Lone Soldier. Her family is of Persian (Iranian) decent. They now live in Los Angeles, and her daughter eats it every Rosh HaShannah, so in her honor….  The other recipe is from Morocco… a chicken and garbanzo bean mixture wrapped in phyllo that was heavenly on my first trial run. Plus, a traditional tsimmes, a carrot and dried fruit recipe from my mom that I do every fall, except this year I shall use the red, purple and yellow carrots from my garden for added color.

RECIPES:

                                                        DATE ROAST   serves 8         (Basari/meat dish)

There are Jews living all over the world. During the Babylonian and Assyrian exiles in the Old Testament, many of the Jewish people decided they would live in what is today Iran, Iraq, Syria and Yemen instead of returning to their homeland. Many Jewish people also fled to these areas after the Children of Israel were scattered into the world by the Romans in 70 AD. Today, most of these Jews have returned to Israel, bringing with them their culinary traditions. This date roast is from the Middle Eastern Jews, very different from the European Ashkenazi Jews. It is often served during the fall feasts.

INGREDIENTS:

      2 (2 ½ lb) boneless beef chuck roasts, each about 7x4x2 inches (18x10x5 cm)

      4 tsp brown sugar

      3 TBSP olive oil

      1 pound onions, thinly sliced

      6 TBSP red wine vinegar

      ½ tsp ground allspice (English pepper)

      ½ tsp ground cloves

      ½ tsp ground ginger

      ½ tsp cinnamon

       1 tsp salt & ½ tsp ground pepper

      2 cups chicken broth

      1 cup orange juice

      ½ cup tomato sauce

      2 cups pitted dates

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 (180C) degrees. Heat 2 TBSP oil in heavy, wide, ovenproof pot over medium high heat. Add roasts, one at a time, and brown, searing all edges, about 8 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. Add 1 TBSP oil and the onions to the pot. Sautee until dark brown, but not crispy, stirring constantly. Mix in vinegar and spices, boil until reduced to a glaze, scraping up browned bits. Add broth, OJ, and tomato sauce. Bring to a low boil.  Return roasts and their accumulated juices to the pot. Scatter dates around the roasts. Cover pot. Place in oven. Braise roasts for about one hour. Turn roasts over and braise again, about one more hour. Remove from oven and tilt pot, removing fat/grease from the top. Let roasts rest about 10 minutes and transfer to a platter. Cut into ½ inch slices along the diagonal. Spoon sauce over top. 

 

                    MOROCCAN B”STEEYA   Serves 6-8       (Basari/meat dish)

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Season the chicken the night before and keep in the fridge so the flavors fully absorb.

Ingredients:

1 whole roaster chicken about 2 kg (4.5 pounds), cut up

Course sea salt & freshly ground pepper

1 medium red onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/8 tsp crumbled saffron

1/2 tsp ground ginger

1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

1 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup coarsely chopped cuzbara (cilantro)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 cup cooked chickpeas (garbanzos) – can be canned

6 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 tsp freshly grated orange peel

1 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

1/4 cup canola oil

1 3/4 cup blanched whole almonds, toasted & coarsely chopped

3 Tbsp powdered sugar plus more for sprinkling

1/4 cup orange blossom water (available in many markets or Middle Eastern stores)

1 package phyllo dough, store bought (1 pound/ 454 grams)

Instructions:

Put chicken and 1/3 cup salt in large bowl. Toss to coat. Refrigerate 1 hour. Rinse chicken with cold water & pat dry. Mix chicken, onion, garlic, saffron, spices and 1/2 cup parsley and 1/4 cup cilantro in bowl. Cover and let sit overnight in fridge.

Transfer chicken mix to a large heavy pot. Add enough water to cover (4-6 cups). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium. Add 1/4 cup oil; cover, and simmer until chicken is falling off the bone. Keep broth in pot, but remove chicken to plate after about an hour of cooking. Let cool. Remove meat, discarding skin and bones. Shred chicken. Set aside.

Bring reserved broth to a boil over high heat. Cook until reduced to about 3/4 cup. Reduce heat to medium. Slowly, slowly, slowly!!!! drizzle in eggs while whisking briskly until mixture becomes quite thick, about 4 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped parsley, 1/4 cup cilantro, orange peel, juice and garbanzos. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Set aside to cool.

Stir together chopped, roasted almonds, sugar, 1/2 tsp cinnamon in a small bowl. set aside.

Preheat oven to 190*C/375*F. Brush a parchment lined baking dish with 2 Tbsp olive oil. Stir 1/4 cup canola oil oil with the orange blossom-water in a small bowl.

To Assemble:

Brush a sheet of phyllo dough with the oil/blossom mix, leaving a 4 inch overlay on each side. Repeat with phyllo and oil until you reach 8 layers, making sure not to let phyllo dough dry out. (I keep it wrapped in a very damp towel when not using). Spread chicken mixture out over the dough. Pour egg mixture overtop. Top with 5 layers phyllo brushed with oil/blossom mixture. Sprinkle the top with the ground almonds. Fold up the edges of the phyllo to enclose like an envelope. Top with 5 more phyllo/oil layers and tuck those sheets underneath like a blanket. Crimp edges with a fork. Brush top with the oil. Bake until golden brown on top, about 30-40 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand 15 minute sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar mix. You can add a few almonds the top for presentation. Slice to serve…

 

                                             TSIMMES     (vegetarian    serves 8)

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This is a typical Ashkenaz Jewish side dish, but is great served alongside a roast.  It, too, is often served at the holidays and for the Sabbath meal. 

INGREDIENTS:

     1 bunch carrots, peeled and sliced into 1 inch coins

     6 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large cubes 

     ½ cup pitted prunes

     2 apples, peeled and sliced thickly

     1 cup orange juice

     1 cup honey or silan (date honey, if vegan)

     ½ tsp salt

     ½ tsp cinnamon

     ¼ tsp cloves

     canola oil

INSTRUCTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 (180C). Wash and peel carrots and sweet potatoes. Cook carrots and sweet potatoes in boiling, salted water, until tender, but still firm.  Line a baking dish with foil greased with the canola oil. Drain carrots and potatoes and place in the pan with the prunes. Stir gently. Mix OJ, honey, salt, and spices. And pour evenly over veggies. Cover with more foil and bake for 30 minutes. Stir gently and bake for another 10 minutes.

So, it’s off to another store run for me. Have a happy, healthy, holy – and above all PEACEFUL New Year!!!!

 

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War & Peace; Wine & Chocolate

When I first moved to Israel I avoided going to the Syrian border of the Golan Heights in Northern Israel. I was afraid that somehow I’d be ambushed in the war or hit by a missile from the East. Today, it has become a favorite destination and I visit the area regularly.

The North of Israel is pristine in its beauty. Because of the upper elevation, it is cooler and more verdant, an area rich with orchards, vineyards, volcanic mountains, and sweeping savannahs where cattle graze and horses run free. There are waterfalls, great hiking trails, ancient ruins (Nimrod’s Fortress, Agrippa’s palace, Roman cities, old synagogues and monasteries).

A popular destination for both international tourism and Israelis escaping the cities and heat of the South, the Golan has abundant tsimmerim (resort cabins). There are day spas and wineries; fabulous meat restaurants; whiskey distilleries, boutique wineries and artisanal beer brewers and cheese makers.

Recently, I’ve been going to the Golan to pick fresh organic fruit for my business, Tamar Gourmet. Last month, we went to Kibbutz El Rom because they had fresh cherries to be picked. And were we in for a delightful surprise!!!

Kibbutz El Rom is quite tiny. It was founded in 1971 by a group of soldiers who had finished their army service and by families who moved from the center of Israel who wanted to enjoy more space and natural beauty. The 70 families who now live there are mostly farmers and ranchers, but their main subsistence is – wait for it – the movie industry! All the latest films from Hollywood are sent to El Rom to be dubbed or subtitled from English to Hebrew. They have a small theater there that shows films to the residents of the Golan in the evenings.

This hidden gem is also home to a museum commemorating the Battle of Emek HaBekaa, the Valley of Tears, which took place during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The Syrian army launched a surprise attack with fighter jets and 1270 tanks against less than 75 Israeli tanks. The bulk of the fighting was done in the fields adjacent to the kibbutz, with a valiant Israeli fighting force and a mere 6 tanks which held off the entire Syrian force quite miraculously. There is a film that is shown there during the day. Interviews with the surviving commanders, live footage, and computer generated maps of the battlefield bring the story to life.

After visiting the kibbutz, we trekked to the valley, and the precipice of Mount Hermonit overlooking Syria about a mile away. Besides the static tank displays, we were in disbelief to actually watch the Syrian army bombing the town of Quneitra below. We could see the smoke from the fires on the outskirts of the town and hear the gunfire and explosions. It was quite sobering, yet from our vantage point, we knew we were safe.

The guys were undaunted, having fun climbing on the old Israeli and Syrian tanks and watching the battle below us. It was all quite surreal. Later, we would hear that the rebel forces had been overrun and the area adjacent the Golan in Syria was under Assad’s control.

After picking our cherries nearby, we made our way to a couple local wine cellars. Driving through the Heights was a bit daunting when we first visited years back. On either side of the roads are signs to keep out of the fields which had been mined by the Syrians pre-1967. Mine fields sit relatively undisturbed next to fruit orchards and farmers plowing their fields. Occasionally a stray cattle will wander in and become tomorrow’s hamburger (true, but typical humor for us).

There are numerous army bases in the area, so we also have signs for tank crossing, something you’ll see in few other places.

It’s kind of exciting in a way… but on to the wines – Odem Mountain and Ortal are two good ones. And of course, a hearty steak at HaBokrim, a cowboy ranch and resort hotel right on the border at Merom ha Golan. It’s idyllic setting belies the reality only a couple miles to the East.

Last week, my girlfriend and I went back up to the Upper Golan for a special field trip. Another pleasant surprise, we decided to visit Kibbutz Ein Zivan, a mile from the Syrian border at the foot of Mount Avital. It was a peaceful day and perfect in every way. The kibbutz was started in 1968 by youths from other kibbutzim in the area, and Garinei Nahal, soldiers who lived on the kibbutz, lending a helping hand to build homes and who were there for protection. Today, the small kibbutz has about 45 families, but beautiful new single family homes are being built there.

Ein Zivan is set amid spreading oak and sycamore trees. There are orchards adjacent brimming with pears, apples and stone fruit; blackberry, gooseberry and raspberry brambles; sprawling vineyards; a riding stable; beautiful American-style guest cottages…. and the artisans!!!

Hadassah and I headed to de Karina Chocolate Factory, a boutique atelier started in 2006. Karina and Gyora Chepelinski immigrated to Ein Zivan from Argentina. Karina comes from a long line of world famous chocolatiers who moved from Vienna to Argentina before World War II. So, making confections runs in her blood.

We took a tour of the factory which included a film, a hands on workshop, a sample box and discounts to the store. Karina was there overseeing all the operations and speaking to the many guests. I was amazed at the crowds!

After our chocolate and brownies lunch, we went next door to Bahat Winery. In typical Israeli fashion, we were greeted by the vintner himself, Oder Bahat, who cheerfully took us on a tour of his processing room, barrel-lined wine cellar and distillery.

Such A treat… we got to taste ample pourings of each of his red wines and then sample his delicious liquors. The chocolate cherry liquor was amazing and I’ll be sure to use it on ice cream and in a reduction for sautéed livers.

Next on the agenda was the Mizze workshop and store selling hand crafted jewelry. All of the necklaces, bracelets and earrings are blessings and good luck charms. The artists also use ancient coins found in the area. Their work is unique and lovely, but pricey.

My favorite find of the day was the studio of the beautiful Yael Arnon. Yael immigrated with her family from France when she was a little girl. Her parents were French Algerians, and her mom was a seamstress. Yael never sewed until after her own daughters were grown and had moved on. She found her late mother’s sewing box, and a new journey began for her.

Today, Yael has her own studio filled to the brim with her marvelous and creative inventions. She and her husband spent several years in India where she fell in love with and collected fabrics. Yael sells pillows, handbags, wall hangings, toys and other fanciful whimsies using materials from all over the world.

I honestly don’t know what is more wonderful: visiting all of these interesting places or meeting the people ( Israelis can be the warmest, most hospitable folk) and making new friends.

The afternoon was spent blackberry picking and we took in a quick visit to the border. The afternoon was eerily quiet. All peaceful on the Eastern front. Which is a very, very good thing.

A Missing Link

A Missing Link

Israel is a land of great diversity: with people of different racial, ethnic, religious, cultural and political backgrounds trying to coexist within a small area. Some groups, albeit tiny, are able to lay unmistakable claim to the land from ancient times. Coexisting with the Jewish people since the time of the patriarchs are the Arameans, descendants of Aram, from the Biblical line of Shem in Genesis. In fact, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rebecca, and Laban were all directly descended from Aram.

The Arameans grew to become a large group, living throughout Israel and Syro-Phonecia (what is now Syria and Lebanon).  They were among the first to develop the proto-Hebrew language and script, which is incredibly similar in style and form to the modern Hebrew block script – completely different from Arabic and its precursors.  As the tribes of Israel were led into captivity in Babylonia in the late 500s BCE, Aramaic became the lingua franca of Assyria and Persia. After the Jewish exile, and well into the first century CE, Aramaic was the common language in Israel. Aramaic is found in all three parts of the Tanach (the Hebrew Bible consisting of the Torah, the Writings and the Prophets), including large sections of the books of Daniel and Ezra. A few of the traditional Jewish prayers are recited in Aramaic to this day, most notably, the Kaddish, which extols the glory and greatness of G-d. The Talmud and several translations of the Hebrew Bible were written in this ancient language, as Hebrew was reserved, even then, as the Holy Language, not the common, everyday tongue spoken in the home and marketplace.

From the latter centuries BCE to the present day, the Jews and the Arameans have lived side by side peacefully for the most part. During the time of the Roman occupation, at the time of Jesus of the Galilee region, many of the followers of this young, Jewish rabbi were Arameans as well as Jews. In  the Gospels, Jesus is seen traveling up to Tyre and Sidon (in Lebanon) to visit the Jewish communities there. It is on one of these journeys that he encounters the Syro-Phoenician woman and cures her daughter. Ultimately, a Jewish and Aramean Messianic movement in the early first century CE, Christianity was born amid great turbulence and persecution from the Jewish non-believers in Jesus as Messiah and from the Romans.

Today, the Aramean peoples survive as a missing link, direct descendants of these first Christians, complete with their own Tanach, Gospels, and liturgy still chanted in the ancient Aramaic tongue. They stem directly from the original church in Antioch in Syria, founded by the Jewish apostle, Peter. Following their spiritual leader, Saint Maroun (350-410 CE), contemporary and friend of St. John Chrysostom, Maroun was a deeply spiritual hermit who founded the first monastic system in the Middle East. His followers became known as the Maronites. The Maronites fall under the Eastern Catholic Rite of the Antiochene tradition. Faithful to the Holy See of Peter in Rome, they are incorporated into the Roman Catholic Church. Still, to this day, their Mass, their sacred liturgy, has its roots deep in the Jewish liturgy of the Holy Temple periods. Unlike the Byzantine, Greek, Coptic, Armenian or Roman Catholic rites, their heritage has preserved songs to Zion; the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem; and a strong connection to the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and to David and Solomon, all whom they see as sharing a common lineage.

In the 8th century, as the Arab Muslims rose to power and began to dominate the Middle East, the Jews and the Aramean Christians fell under tremendous persecution with forced taxation, slavery and genocide for those who refused to convert to Islam. The Maronites, who had strongholds throughout what is today Syria and Lebanon, fought against the Muslims, even hiding and protecting their Jewish brethren. They were strongly entrenched in the mountains of Southern Lebanon and Northern Israel in the region of the Galilee. They erected Maronite monasteries and churches throughout the area. Today, even though the monasteries have been destroyed and replaced by mosques, these predominately Arab towns in the Galilee region still hold Syriac/Aramaen names: Deir al Assad (the Monastery of the Lion); Deir Hanna (the Monastery of St. John); Toran; Deir al Naim (the Pleasant Monastery); and Mount Meron.

View into Lebanon from Northern Israel

The Maronites went on to form alliances with the Crusaders against the Islamic forces bent on a takeover of the Holy Land. Being Catholics, they eventually came under the protectorate of France in the 1630s. Educated under the Jesuit system, they became cultured in the ways of the West and rose to high positions in Lebanon both economically in business and politically. In the early 1900s the Middle East was carved up after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Countries which had never before existed were created and new border lines were set by the French, British and Russians under the 1916 Skyes-Picot Agreement. The French gained control of Lebanon; Britain got British Palestine, now Israel.  The Maronite Patriarch remained strongly committed to the Jewish people and to the Zionist cause. In 1937, on the threshhold of World War II, the Patriarch extended the invitation for Jews to settle in Northern Lebanon to escape Nazi persecution. The Jews and French-Lebanese Maronites started a Resistance Movement against the Nazis who were also united with the Muslims. Several Maronite communities still existed in Northern Israel at the time. They always believed in defending each other as allies in a free land. It is important to note that these Syriac/Aramaic Maronite Christians living in Israel for centuries, do not consider themselves as Arabs but as Arameans. They are Aramaic Christians, descendants of one of the first churches outside the Holy Land. They are not Muslim, a group originating from the Saudi peninsula.

As if the modern situation in Israel is not complicated enough, events get even more mixed up during the War of 1948 between the newly recognized State of Israel and the surrounding Arab nations. The Galilee region was a hotbed: it was a mix of Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and Circassians.  By this time,  Arabic was the spoken language of the local non-Jewish populations. For the Christians, Aramaic was reserved as the liturgical language only.  Spread throughout Northern Israel at the time, were members of the Arab Liberation Army, Muslims from Syria and Lebanon who desired the overthrow of the Jews and to expel them from their ancestral homeland in the North. They waged a full fledged military operation, going against the UN Resolution of 1947. In turn, the IDF retaliated full force to put down the Arab Muslim insurgents. The peaceful little border town of Kfar Biram/ Bar Am was caught in the middle. Bar Am was inhabited only by  Maronite Christians. In late October, 1948, the Israeli army took four rifles (the only weapons they had) from the Maronites of Kfar Biram (Bar Am), issuing them written receipts. There was no battle. On November 7, the Israeli Minister of the Interior issued the Maronite Christians Teudat Zehut (national identity cards) giving them full Israeli citizenship.  They were then (mistakenly?) ordered to temporarily leave Biram, and to take refuge in the southern Lebanese mountains until the war was over. They returned in early 1949 to the neighboring town of Gush Halav (Jish) as Bar Am had been cordoned off as a military zone. Those who tried to enter the town would be arrested. In 1951, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled to give the Maronites back their home town. Then for some unknown reason, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion gave direct orders for Bar Am to be completely razed. It stands as rubble to this day except for the small, stone Maronite

Catholic Church which dates back to the 1600s. The Maronites moved from Bar Am to the neighboring village of Gush Halav (Jish). That is what makes this a particularly unique case. These displaced persons forced off their land were full Israeli citizens with support from many different government leaders. Even so, they harbor no bitterness; only look to the future in which they hope to rebuild an  exclusively Aramaic Christian Maronite community on their old  property.

Ruins of BarAm

The old church has been restored

Resurrected to former glory, the Maronite Church in BarAm is still used for worship

Over the last two decades, the Middle East has been ground zero for the ethnic cleansing of minority populations by the Islamist extremists, most of whom are backed by Iran. Christian groups living in the Mid East have fallen from 40%  to 4%. Those refusing to submit to Muslim law have faced population displacement, and cultural genocide – absorption, acculturation and destruction of significant landmarks, documents and artifacts. Lebanese law now forbids its citizens from entering Israel or having any contact with Israeli authorities.  Ironically, this does not apply to the Druze, but only targets Christians, as Lebanon has become increasingly Islamicised.  In the past few months, Lebanon has arrested several Maronite Christians they label “activists” for trying to revive the ancient Syriac/Aramaic language (which had been widely used in the region of Southern Lebanon/Northern Israel until the early 1900s) just as the Jews resurrected ancient Hebrew into a modern conversational tongue.

Enter Shadi Khalloul. Khalloul, a resident of Gush Halav (Jish), is a full citizen of Israel. He is also a modern-day Aramean, a missing link, a bridge. In 1993, he became the first Christian officer in the Israeli Defense Forces, serving as a lieutenant in the paratrooper division. After his military service, he studied International Business and Finance in the United States. While at university, he took a course in Bible as Literature, where he proved that the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch was still in existence by displaying the several centuries old  Aramaic copy of the Gospel According to St. Mark that he had brought with him. With a renewed vision, Khalloul then decided to return to Israel to be an advocate for the Israeli Aramaic Christians. Still a Captain in the Reserve Units, he has gained much respect from his fellow Israeli Jews. His goals are to foster awareness and understanding for his people and to revive the Aramaic language, culture, and identity of the Aramaic peoples while encouraging them to integrate fully into Israeli society.

Centuries old Aramaic Gospel of St Mark

Aramaic Mass Lectionary

Captain Shadi Khalloul

Captain Khalloul hopes to achieve this in several ways. First, is lobbying to have their national classification changed from Arab to Israeli Aramaic Christian. He has seen firsthand, the dangers of anti-Zionist, anti-Semetic “Arabization” of many Israeli Christians, who usually live in mixed Muslim and Christian communities. In 2012, he started an Israeli Christian Officers’ Forum, to help meet the needs of his fellow Christians both as their advocate and  in their integration into the predominately Jewish Israeli Defense Forces. In 2014, Khalloul along with Major Ihav Shlayn, founded the first fully integrated gap-year pre-military program (Mechina) for both Jews and Christians entering the army. This way the two groups would understand each other; the importance of the Zionist movement and Jerusalem as central to both faiths; their shared histories and commonalities emphasized. These will be the future leaders and communicators in years to come.

In the Israeli Arab schools, with the majority of the students from Muslim backgrounds, classes are taught in Arabic. The Koran is taught exclusively. Muslim prayer times and holy periods are observed. The Arab version of history is taught, which is often a distorted version of actual events. Captain Khalloul would like to see the inclusion of the Aramaic Christian youth into the Israeli public school system – fully Israeli and fully integrated with the Jewish youth, as full partners. Not as “other.” At present, he is trying to raise money for shuttle services which would transport the fifty Maronite children from Jish to a school in a neighboring Jewish community 20 km (12 miles) away. As most of these Maronite children have grown up bi-lingual in Hebrew and Arabic, Khalloul is an advocate of after school programs in their home communities which also teach Aramaic as a spoken language. Recently, the Israeli government gave him permission to have Syriac/Aramaic taught in the Gush Halav/Jish elementary school through Khalloul’s lobbying efforts. It is a first step.

There are over 130,000 Eastern Rite Christians living in Israel – 10,000 are Maronite Catholics. All too frequently, they have had to escape their mixed Muslim/Christian communities – which are becoming dominated in demographics by Muslims leading to the persecution of Christians – to live in pluralistic Israeli cities that are predominately Jewish, like Haifa and Karmi’el. They want to be seen as fully Israeli, but this is often difficult, as the Jewish population sees them only as Arabic. Shadi Khalloul hopes to change this misconception. He is building bridges both within the non-Maronite Christian community and other Christians groups in Israel as well as across the Jewish population. Sealed by martyrdom for the sake of freedom, democracy and faith, a monument to the tewnty-two fallen Christian soldiers of the IDF is in the works to be erected in Northern Israel. Besides being a memorial to these Christian soldiers, Khalloul hopes it will promote awareness of the shared sacrifices of his brethren to the State of Israel.

Captain Shadi Khalloul is a busy man. Still an active commander in the Reserve Units of the IDF, he is also involved in many other projects. He is the chairman and founder of the Israeli Christian Aramaic Association. From July 31-August 7, he is organizing and raising funds to offset the costs of a summer camp for over 120 Israeli Catholic youth who will come from all parts of the country. The theme for this camp is what it means to be an Aramean-Israeli Christian- fully aware of and preserving their ancient roots, language and liturgy in the modern world; fully educated; and fully serving their country as model citizens. As if this was not enough, Khalloul is a fellow in the international Philos Project, promoting awareness of the plight of the Christians in the Middle East and fostering positive relationships between Christians and Jews throughout the world. He has worked with the Nazarean Project, a non-profit organization under Mercury 1, which has helped rescue and resettle Christian families facing persecution, trafficking or death in the most war-torn Islamic nations. He was the first Christian Aramean to run as a candidate for Knesset, the parliament of Israel, under the Jewish Zionist party.

In a time where the future seems uncertain at best for many of the Middle Eastern Christians, Shadi Khalloul is arduously trying to change that. Tirelessly working to build friendships and cooperation between Christians and Jews, both in Israel and abroad, he lectures throughout Israel and the world. Shadi is a proud Israeli citizen deserving of much honor.

There is a biblical passage from Deuteronomy 26, recited by the Jewish people every year at the Passover Seder: My father was a wandering Aramean. Hauntingly ancient and yet timely; rich in depth and meaning, it is a reflection for us today. It should serve as a humble reminder of our inter-connectedness. Being surrounded on all sides by enemies who want to see the Jews and Christians of Israel annihilated once and for all. It is time that we learn to work together in unity as part of the

free and democratic society of modern Israel. Captain Shadi Khalloul is one of those special persons dedicated to that cause. To support his work, or for more information he can be followed on Twitter @shadikhalloul; on Facebook under Shadi Khalloul Risho; and also through aramaic-center.com.

Village of Jish/Gush Halav