Home after 6 months of wandering… It’s finally time to unload! My closet shelves seem wider and your kitchen appliances shinier and I am SO done with my freakin humongous backpack.
I still need to process it all as I recover from the exhaustion that comes with the bag-lady package, and I can’t stop thinking about Israel. My role as birthright staff was a success and I enjoyed the days with our distant but familiar family in Israel after the trip.
My group watching the sunrise from Masada
During my first few days in Israel, I laughed a lot in my head. A simple “Shalom” slammed me back to the pit of my childhood… Hebrew words were throwbacks that roped chants from the Jewish Day School back into my brain. Every Israeli situation was a novelty.
I know that a visit to the Western Wall is supposed to be emotional and that I’m supposed to cry when I touch it and blablabla. But during our visit to the Old City, all I could think of was my 4th grade art project, when my classmates and I each reported on one of the city’s landmarks. I was in charge of Sha’ar Ha’ashpot, the Dung Gate, where Jersulamites chucked their trash. I presented it with an intricate drawing of an old relic surrounded by diapers, banana peels and flies.
prayers shoved into cracks of the wall
And when I opened my mouth to speak Hebrew, I only thought of Carl’s made-up song to the tune of Kool and the Gang’s Celebration, which helped me remember Hebrew grammar rules… “Conjugate the verbs, come on!” followed by a quick rap of the actual conjugations, ani ahavti, ata ahavta, hoo ahav, etc…
Most embarrassing was my response to Sivan (our group’s medic and my roomate) when she introduced herself to me. Instead of introducing myself back like a normal person, I sang to her. The chant that Mrs. Posner sang to help us remember the months of the Jewish calendar just slipped off my tongue… Sivan, Iyar, Tamuz, Av…
Sharing a camel with our bus driver, David
From that moment on, Sivan made a rule that I couldn’t call her name unless I sang it.
My American Jewish education prepared me for a visit to my homeland with Israeli songs, folk dances and silly games that seemed irrelevant to any real situation. And as I toured ancient sites and tested memories in my head, the nostalgia for Israel that I was trained to feel possessed me… it was creepy.
But after ten days of touring ancient sites with other American Jews (Jewish Americans?), I relocated to the homes of our Israeli family members. I met Chana for the first time, your Israeli replica. After showing off each room in her home (including a whole room just for kitchen appliances), she force fed me for hours… Israeli salads and hummus and a spongy orange cake that tasted exactly like one Bubbe used to make I couldn’t believe it. I observed personalities so clearly unique to our family’s gene pool… the force feeding, the loud talking all at once… that at times I thought I was back in Birmingham.
Chana with her cake and cool glasses
I heard stories of how Zayde’s brothers and sisters landed in Israel, and how we have cousins in Russia who are rediscovering their Jewish heritage right now preparing to make Aliyah. Sitting around a table of aunts and uncles, baby cousins and plates and plates of food, I saw, firsthand, the joyous outcome of a country that prioritizes the provision of a safe haven for Jews seeking refuge. The songs and dances that I learned at summer camp and school provided the initial backdrop of familiarity… but with the family, the sense of belonging that I learned about at summer camp and youth group and Jewish Day School finally unfurled.
I know it’s all a cliche and I’m surprised by my reaction to Israel… it wasn’t my first time there but it was the first time I’ve felt this way.
I think my emotional experience was shaped by the juxtaposition of my itinerary: I headed to Israel from India. In India, my outsider perspective was extreme and the “welcome” limited. The religious and societal structures create a barrier that makes integration into Indian culture impossible for a white American like me. The newness, surprise and unfamiliarity of everything around me in India was acutely opposite of the nostalgic comforts in Israel. So of course the “welcome home” from the Israeli customs officer in the airport elicited a heightened reaction.
I don’t really know… I have a lot to unload.
In Israel, the breakfast spread is glorious: dozens of fresh salads, salty cheeses, creamy tahini and thick yogurt. The participants on my trip stared at my plates piled high with crunchy veggies at 7 AM each day, How can you eat vegetables so early in the morning?
Post breakfast bliss with Naomi!
The Zucchini and Tomato Salad recipe below is adapted from my favorite cookbook right now, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem, and the carrot salad is one that I made up to commemorate my moment of glory as a Birthright staff, which happened in the morning of our last day of the trip. I complimented the quantity of veggies on a participant’s breakfast plate and his response to my comment was, “ You know I started eating vegetables in the morning because you told me to.”
Wow. I’m not sure I’ve ever had such a positive influence on a young person’s life. Salads in the morning are where it’s at.
I also included a recipe for hummus because it’s just so basic… I’m shocked that we don’t have it in our recipe index yet!
Chunky Zucchini and Tomato Salad
Serves 8-12 people as a side dish
Prep time: 30 minutes
- 8 green zucchini
- 5 large tomatoes
- 3 tbs olive oil
- 2 cups greek yogurt
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 red chiles, crushed or 1 tsp red chili flakes
- grated zest of 1 lemon
- juice from 1 lemon
- 2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 1 handful of fresh mint, chopped
- 1/2 C chopped parsley
- black pepper
- 1 tbs date syrup, agave or honey
*Note that I modified the original recipe for this dish for American convenience and ease. So if you want the real thing, pick up a copy of Jerusalem. You won’t be disappointed!
Preheat the oven to 425 F and cover two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Trim the zucchini and cut lengthwise into thin 3/4 inch pieces. Halve the tomatoes. Brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Place zucchini and tomatoes cut side down on separate pans. Cook for 15 – 20 minutes until browned on the tops and edges. The veggies should be tender in the middle and crisp on the edges.
Remove from oven and allow to cool. Meanwhile, mix all remaining ingredients (except for honey/date syrup) together and hold some parsley for garnish. Once cool, chop zucchini and tomatoes coarsely. Gently fold into mixture and spread over large, shallow bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and date syrup/honey, and garnish with parsley. Serve with warm pita, couscous or your favorite bread.
Chopped Carrot, Beet and Tahini salad
Serves 10 – 12 people as side dish
15 – 20 minutes
- 1 lb of carrots
- 2 medium beets
- 2/3 c walnuts
- 6 medium dates
- 4 tbs tahini paste
- 1 tbs olive oil
- 1 tbs water
- 2 tbs lemon zest
- juice of one lemon
- 1 tbs sesame seeds
- 4 tbs zatar
To roast beets and walnuts, preheat the oven to 350. Wrap the beets in foil, place them on a pan, and keep them in the oven for 15-25 minutes until soft. Place walnuts on a pan and keep them in the oven for 7-10 minutes until brown and fragrant. Allow to cool. *This can be done the night/day before.
*You can also opt to leave the beets and walnuts raw for a crunchier, earthier dish.
Chop raw carrots, roasted beets, walnuts and dates into small 1/4 inch chunks (you can do this in a food processor for ease, but make sure that you don’t pulverize too much) and mix. In a separate bowl, mix tahini paste, olive oil, water, lemon zest, lemon juice and sesame seeds into a fluid paste. Combine all ingredients and add zatar and salt to taste. Eat as a crunchy, healthy breakfast salad on its own, top with plain yogurt, or use as an accompaniment in sandwiches and pitas. The possibilities are endless.
- 4 C chickpeas (canned will work, but it’s much better if you cook them yourself)
- 5 cloves garlic
- 1/3 c tahini
- juice from 2 lemons
- 1/3 c water
- 3 tbs olive oil
- salt to taste
- roasted red pepper
- more garlic
- chili powder/hot sauce
- black pepper
- olive oil, zatar, parsley, cilantro, tahini for garnish
Puree all ingredients in food processor until smooth and creamy. Play around with optional additions and garishes. Serve with warm pita, french fries :), roasted veggies, salads, chips… anything!
See what I did:
Sivan and I always held up the caboose… I the sheep herder and she the body guard. Here, we rest at Masada while waiting for kids in the bathroom. Always in the freakin bathroom.
Rugelach yum… even the foods were familiar and comforting
Herzliya with Ron, Nurit and the kids
In the mornings Hanoch showed me the agriculture fields near his house. He rode his bike and I jogged after him.
Reunited with a long lost friend in Tel Aviv with shakshuka yum!
So much grafitti in Tel Aviv… the most colorful Bubbe I’ve seen