Header Photo Credit

*The stunning photo in the header of my blog is all thanks to Ron Shoshani. Visit his facebook page for more of his amazing photographs of Tel Aviv!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Travel in Israel: Mount Tavor (Har Tavor)

If you are looking to travel in Israel, I suggest a day trip to Har Tavor (Mount Tavor). Located in the Lower Galile Region and just overlooking the wide pastoral expanses of Emek Izrael (Jezreel Valley), Har Tavor is a round bushy mountain with a turtle-shell curve and a soft fur of leafy trees. 

Har Tavor is well known among Jews and Christians alike for being both the site of the Biblical battle between Barak and the army of Jabin (Canaanites) during the reign of Deborah the Prophet as well as the site of Jesus' transfiguration.

Church of the Transfiguration
The top of the mountain, accessible by car, is home to a stunning Church of the Transfiguration erected in the early 20th century. The church boasts some spectacular murals, beautiful mosaics,exquisite architecture and various artifacts from the thousands of years of visitors who came on pilgrimage. The church itself was constructed atop layers of ruins of what was once a Byzantine church, and before a Crusader church. 

Har Tavor actually a stop on the "Jesus Trail" for those of you who are interested in "walking in the footsteps of Jesus" on your travels in Israel .  (Either way, you should take a look at the site: their header picture of a big comfy yellow couch in the middle of the desert on a Jesus trail does make the hike seem pretty miraculous.)

If you're planning on hitting up the Church of Transfiguration as you travel in Israel, here are their visitors hours:  8:00-12:00, 2:00-6:00.  Closed Saturdays.  Modest dress required (no shorts or sleeveless).

The Hike
There are a number of nice hikes in the area. Hiking up the actual Mount Tavor is part of the Israel National Trail, Shvil Yisrael (שביל ישראל) which runs the entire length of Israel from top to bottom, (or bottom to top, whichever way you look at it).  This means that the trails are well marked and well traveled.

Hikinh the mountain should take about 4 hours up and down, or you can choose to simply hike around the mountain in Beit Keshet Forrest.

Here's a map of the area:

For those readers who are not Hebrew Literate, the large white blob in the center of the map is the Beit Keshet forest. Mount Tavor is the small white splotch just by the bottom of the map. We started where the big red hand is pointing. We parked a bit further, by the blue "Park" symbol where there are restrooms and a parking area and walked towards south. Then we continued on towards that red arrow on the far right, before wandering back through the forest straight towards the car. 

Entrance map

We really pottered through the forest, trying to find the best views of Har Tavor, and following the bike path, despite the fact that we were traveling on foot. The bike path is highlighted below in yellow.

 We eventually made it to a beautiful view point overlooking Har Tavor where we inhaled an entire package of cookies with dark black coffee.  It's a great look out point to stop at if you want a bit to eat, but I just don't recommend consuming an entire package of whatever it is you brought.  Trust me.  It makes the next leg of hiking., well, uncomfortable. So stick to the coffee and a sandwich or one/two cookies and you're good to continue on your way.

It's the perfect place for a  cheesy photo.

We then continued our wandering down and around the forest, slowly making our way back to our parked car. Our somewhat disorganized wandering hike took us approximately 5 hours including two snack breaks and several moments when I was certain we'd completely lost the way.

All in all it's a great day trip for anyone who happens to be traveling in Israel.
For more information, visit the following sites:


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Religious vs. Secular: Segregated Housing Endorsed by Minister

Housing and Construction Minister,
Ariel Atias
The Haredim are looking for new ways of isolating themselves and dividing the country.  This time, they it's segregated housing that they want.

According to a recent article by Ynet news, Housing and Construction Minister, Ariel Atias, is fervently endorsing haredi-designated cities.  

The segregated housing issue was discussed by Israeli officials and haradi and secular community representatives at a conference organized by the Gesher Foundation, an organization ironically founded to promote dialogue between the religious and the secular. 

In Hebrew, Gesher (גשר) means bridge, although from reports on their most recent housing conference, it sounds like they are having a tough time trying to meet their goals of " strengthening the fabric of Israeli society through the appreciation of our shared Jewish heritage and common destiny."

The conference, held on Tuesday, October 26th, was held in Jerusalem and titled "Segregated Country".  

Most of the religious in attendance, including Minister Atias himself, made it very clear that they are happy to remain isolated and would prefer living in an area where they would not have to have any interaction with secular Jews.

"I am in favor of separate housing in separate neighborhoods for haredim," said Atias. "I would not let my children meet with secular youth."  

Atias continued by implying that even without a city-backed plan, the haredim would eventually grow to become the majority in many communities and would seize control organically. "Haredim will take over secular neighborhoods if ultra-Orthodox cities or neighborhoods are not planned," Atias said. 

I was particularly confused by remarks made the director of the Gesher foundation regarding the conference. According to Ynet's report, Gal-Dor said he welcomes the Minister Atias' willingness to "take responsibility for building apartments for haredim" and added, "We must find bridges to break the divides and streotypes that exist among the populations."

When did segregation become a "bridge that breaks divides"?  I mean, did I miss something here?

Also in attendance was former Housing Minister Yosef Paritzky and Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Yitzhak Pindrus, who exchanged some harsh words regarding housing segregation: 

"I don't care about haredim. We're all minorities and the country has to instate equality both in duties and privileges," Paritzky said. Pindrus, a haredi, responded to Paritzky's remark by saying: "Don't try and educate us. We're 700,000 people who want to live separately according to our own lifestyle."

Apparently Atias already has a haradi city plan in the works.  He's been promoting planning for an ultra-orthodox city in the community of Harish in Wadi Ara since the spring despite opposition from local Jews and Arabs. He has also been criticized in the past for advancing the establishment of a haradi city in Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem, which lead to massive legal battles between himself and the city council.

Atias has also been criticized for arguing that Jewish and Arab populations, like secular and religious ones, should also be kept separate from one another. 

I always thought that the best way to promote dialogue and build bridges was through interaction and coexistence, but it seems that the religious communities see things quite differently.

Recipe: The Perfect Pita

Another one of my friends, Roni, turned 30 last weekend (yep- another one) and to celebrate, a group of us friends and most of his family family somehow managed to lure him to a surprise camping adventure in Beit Hananya near Ceasarea.  It was a near perfect surprise....and it's always fun to jump out at someone from behind the bushes. 

Roni was thrilled, and we all enjoyed ourselves. There was music, food and festivities. |What made the entire event especially enjoyable was the high quality of the camp site. The camp grounds in Beit Hananya are the nicest I've seen in Israel: There was a shack with refrigerators open to public use, lights, electricity outlets, sinks, bathrooms and even showers. 

Aside from the fantastic facilities, Beit Hananya also offers activities to parties camping at their site. Our party of maybe 40 or more happily partook in pita making!
Here's a snapshot at how we made some plain dough into delicious pitot.

3 Cups of All Purpose Flour (we used white flour but you can mix it up with wheat flour too.)
2 Teaspoons instant yeast 
2 Teaspoons Kosher Salt (regular salt is fine, 
1 Teaspoon sugar (or honey)
3 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 1/4-1/12 cups of warm water (not too warm, room temperature is good)

Place all the dry ingredients into a bowl, mix, and then add the olive oil and 1 1/4 cups of water.  Stir mixture well till it turns into a big lump of dough, or in Hebrew, a "gush batzek" (גוש בצק).  Then knead knead and knead.  You'll have to do this for about 5-10 minutes.  Knead till the dough is sticky, but not dry, and all the flour sticks to the lump.  If it doesn't add more water and knead a bit more.

Once the lump of dough looks good, place it in a greased bowl, cover the bowl, and let the dough sit for about 2 hours.  The dough should double in size. It should also be a bit stickier than before. 

Now coat your hands with flour, dust the dough ball with flour and dust your working surface with flour.  You're now ready to start making pita doughballs! 

Roni works the dough into dough balls

Notice the iphone.  It has nothing to do with making pitas.

Roni gets moral support from friends and family.
 Apparently dough-ball making can make  you feel like less of a man. I had no idea. 

Dough-ball making is so easy, even little people can do it. 

Now, once you have your dough into a nicely sized ball, you must flatten it.  You can do this in a variety of ways. 
1. With a stick that acts as a rolling pin

(don't forget to dust the ball, stick and surface with flour)

2. Pat it flat in your hands
Nice and patted
3. Or you can roll it with a stick on your hand.
As you can see from the picture above, Roni prefers this method,
although it's by far the least practical. 
Now, the traditional way of making flat pitas Bedouin-style is to cook them quickly on a large heated pan.  If you're making pitas at home, you can either bake your pitas in the oven, or you can fry them on a skillet.

Baked Pitas:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees (let the flattened dough sit for about 15 minutes while you do this) and then place your flattened dough-balls on a cookie sheet or pizza stone.  Bake for 5 minutes max for soft, fluffy pitas.  Remove and let cool.  Then eat! yum!

Fried Pitas:
Coat your skillet (frying pan, whatever) with a very light coating of olive oil.  These come out chewy, and I think they taste the best when the dough is especially flat.  Place the flattened dough-balls in the skillet for 1-2 minutes on either side so that each side is seared by the pan. Then remove and eat!

Bedouin Style:
Build a fire beneath a large metal pan.  Once the entire pan is heated, coat it in a bit of olive oil and start cooking.  Place the flattened pita dough-balls on the large pan and sear either side of the bread.  If the pan is sufficiently hot, and the dough sufficiently flat, the pita should cook for less than 1 minute per side.  Our pitas took a bit longer since out flattening methods were not the most efficient.

A nice garnish is Zaatar in Olive Oil, T'china, Hummus or Labane cheese (soft soury cheese). If you can get your hands on Zaatar, a staple Middle Eastern spice, I definitely recommend it with a fresh pita. 

Here I am below, enjoying a fresh pita with a garnish of Zaatar in Olive Oil. 

Zaatar in Olive Oil

Tasty bread!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Chilean Delegation at Western Wall Gives Thanks for Miners' Rescue

Courtesy of IsraelNationalNews.com
During difficult times and after miraculous events, people tend to strengthen their faith in God. And what better place to engage with the G-to-the-O-to-the-D, but Jerusalem, the holy city? Marriage troubles brought Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore to Israel , but a miracle brought the Chileans.

After 33 Chilean miners were miraculously rescued last week, having been trapped underground for over two months, on Sunday, October 17th, five delegates from the Chilean Parliament flew to Israel to give thanks at the Western Wall for the phenomenal rescue.

The five Chilean parliamentary delegates were accompanied by a number of prominent figures in the Chilean Jewish community.

As reported by IsraelNationalNews.com, the official rabbi of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, greeted the entire group offering his congratulations and emphasizing the magnitude of the rescue that took place. Rabbi Rabinovich remarked how the Jewish people stood watching along with the rest of the world during the rescue mission and rejoiced as each and every one of the miners surfaced alive and well. He then, appropriately, led the group in prayer.

The delegation arrived in Israel only days after Leonardo Farkas, a Jewish Chilean mining executive and well known philanthropist, generously gifted each one of the 33 miners $10,000.According to the Associated Press report, Farkas gave the checks, each written out to the individual miner, to their families and also set up a fund to collect additional donations. Ten thousand dollars is more than some of the miners make in an entire year.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hike Near Haifa: Little Switzerland, Nahal Kelach and Nachal Galim

If you're ever near Haifa and you're itching for a nice hike, here's a good 6 hour hike that promises shade, challenge, gorgeous views, and in the winter, spring, or autumn...water!

I've taken the liberty of doing a quick translation of detailed information about the hike from www.tiuli.com, a great website for hikers with information about various hikes and trails all over the country.

The trail sits right in the heart of the Carmel, and the Kelach (כלח) and Galim(גלים) springs in "Little Switzerland"(שווצריה הקטנה) are considered to be some of the most beautiful in the area. The region is green year round with fantastic views of the Mediterranean, limestone caves, and a peaceful serenity in the air.

It's important to remember to bring a flashlight and a bathing suit for bathing in the cool tunneled waters of Kedem Spring (עין קדם).

The hike that Yotam and I chose to do takes about 6 hours (if you decide to take a dip) and isn't circular.  It's recommended you have someone drop you off at the beginning and pick you up at the end- although you're almost sure to find someone willing to give you a ride to the center of town, and its only a 5 minute walk from the end of the trail to the nearest service taxi route. The entire hike is down-hill, but be aware that some down-hill sections are quite challenging and isn't generally recommended for families.

The trail begins just before Haifa University near Dimon Intersection off of Rte 721.  Just before you reach Dimon Intersection you'll notice a number of gravel lots  off to the side of the road where you can pull off to park. Look for a blue trail marking to begin your decent down Kelach stream (the stream is dry).  We had difficulty finding the blue markings and had to ask other hikers we ran into to point us in the right direction. But eventually we found it.

After you find the trail, you'll make a quick decent into a deep forresty area filled with gnarly oak trees (אלון), the red eastern strawberry trees (קטלב), and Judas trees, also known as Red bud trees or love trees (כליל אלון) which are folled with beautiful pink flowers in the springtime.

About 1.5 kilometers into the hike, the blue trail intersects with a red trail that also arrives at the caves, but we remained on the blue trail and continued down hill for about another kilometer till we reached an intersection with a green trail. This green trail is the beginning of Nachal Galim.  We noted the green, marking the beginning of Nachal Galim and remained on the blue trail, continuing another 2.5 kilometers through the foliage and over the dried river stones.

Our next stopping point was Nahal Nadar (נחל נדר) with a black trail marking.  We turned right following Nahal Nadar which introduced us to a bit of sun and a bit of upward climbing till we reached Ein Kedem.  Sadly we hiked the trail at the very end of the summer (Oct 1st) and the water outside of the cave was already dried up.  Typically the waters are cool and clean, streaming from narrow tunnels that you can walk through if you have a flashlight. When we arrived, there was still a bit of water deeper inside the cave, but we hadn't brought a flashlight, so we decided to continue onwards.

We followed the blue trail a few more meters till we saw the mountain with the limestone caves to our left call the Oranit Caves.  At this point one can either continue on the blue trail below and follow Nahal Galim all the way down, or one can turn left and climb up the mountain into the caves. It's a steep climb, but its doo-able for anyone - and I highly recommend it. The caves are unbelievable and offer by far the best views on the hike.When you get up there, take your time wandering around, and don't miss the blatant photo=op.  With the green mountains and the sea in the background, no one can look that bad.

(Note: According to tiyuli.com, the Oranit Caves site is an important winter home to a large number of bats and entrance into the cave is technically forbidden between the months of May and October when they hibernate. However, we saw no signs and no rangers, and until I read this post thoroughly, I had no idea. )

When you're ready, continue through the narrow passages of the caves along the red trail.  Climb down from the caves, and follow the red markings. Make sure you descend in the direction of the sea (veer "right" down the mountain and then straight toward the Pais Center which is easily visible).  We had a bit of difficulty following the red marks immediately after we climbed down from the caves, but we wandered along in the right direction and ran into it quickly.

This last leg of the trail is very easy and very short.

Here's a snapshot of some of the highlights of the hike.  I hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Last Supper: Israeli Havurah Style

The big 30. This was the year that I started feeling it. No,  I'm not quite there yet, but many of my chaverim (חברים, friends) have reached that nice ripe age of no longer young, but not quite old. You'd think that after about ten 30th birthdays this year we'd start running out of ideas of presents for friends. But, we somehow managed to squeeze out another creation.

In honor of my friend Noa's 30th year of life and in light of the fact that she, her husband Nir and their little girl Tom will be moving this winter to Hong Kong for two years, our branja (ברנג'ה, group of friends) got together to do something really special.  We decided that she needed to take with her something that would remind her of us day in and day out, and ensure she never forget how awesome she was to us. Irony becomes us so we took the old clichéd "Last Supper" painting and made it our own. Of course, Noa had to be Jesus. That went without saying.

So, I know that today's post is a bit of a digression from my typical Tel Aviv ramblings and Israeli political posts, but I thought you might enjoy this evolution of a 30th birthday present by my Israeli Havurah.

The paintings on the wall are gone!

Photoshop is Unearthly

Nearly Complete.

Final verion. Printed on canvass and then painted on top with acrylic.  Noa looks at her gift and says  "This is good. "

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Mizrachi Music Lesson With Moshe Peretz

Moshe Peretz
While I've been pretty diligent in my Aliyah experience about soaking up as much Israeli culture as possible, my Israeli music education has been a bit lacking. Maybe it's because the Israelis I've befriended are into indie American music and international rock music and maybe it's because of my own laziness. Whatever the case may be, there is a whole world of Israeli music out there that I'm slowly but surely learning about.  Here's a snapshot of my first real encounter with the musical genre known as "Mizrachi".

This week I attended the wedding of one of my many Israeli cousins just overlooking the sea on Herzliya beach, a wealthy suburb north of Tel Aviv. The wedding was a very typical Israeli wedding with drinks, a short ceremony, and buffet style food in an outdoor venue.  When the dance music started up, I realized how truly Israeli the wedding really was.

Sure, I'd nibbled my fare share of falafel balls and techina and had downed a good three or four champagne cocktails before I noticed the dance floor filling up with lights, party smoke and people, but I was aware enough to feel an excitement in the air.

Now, before I continue, let me describe the venue first so you can get an idea of the event in its entirety. The venue itself was an outdoor venue- a large wooden deck overlooking the sea- the dance floor was actually a space off to the side with a separate bar, a stage, and a hallway to the kitchen and bathrooms-- that was enclosed entirely in glass. So, when the lights turned on, the smoke began filling the floor and the band started setting up, the entire production could be seen through the glass from our tables on the deck as we noshed on sushi and asked the waiters to fill our wine cups. It was like watching some anthropological experiment.  Fascinating.

As soon as waiters came to clear our dinner plates, the music started up and the tables of young guests- late twenties to early thirties- rushed into the glass-enclosed dance floor.  There seemed to be quite a stir, and a murmur ran through the crowd of guests when the singer took to the stage and started singing.  It didn't take long before someone turned to me and said, "Can you believe it? They got Moshe Peretz to play at their wedding!"

Without realizing the height of my ignorance, I blurted out  "Who's Moshe Peretz?"

My question was met by expressions of both shock and sympathy- shocked that i live under a rock and sympathetic to the fact that I a) I don't realize the expense the family must have gone through to have him sing at the wedding and b)haven't been fortunate enough to familiarize myself with such a star. Turns out that Moshe Peretz is an extremely famous Israeli singer. Extremely. Google him in English and you'll find picture upon picture, disc upon disc, article upon article by him and about him. Google him in Hebrew and you'll find even more.  Moshe Peretz is an Israeli celebrity, a member of the rich an famous: a true pop-rock star who is known for his Mizrachi voice and dark Middle Eastern good looks. So how is it that I've never heard of him?

To really answer this question, let me take you back a few decades to Israel's earliest national cultural movement.

Israeli Cultural History 101 (in a few paragraphs or less): Most of the early Israeli immigrants were European and Eastern European.  This lead to the establishment of Westernized national institutions.  Israeli education was Western, with an emphasis on subjects that had been revered in countries like Russia and Germany.  Israeli dance resembled a mix of European and Eastern European folk dance and the music was quite similar. You know- violins, accordions, clarinets, etc. This was the music that played on the radio and the Western aesthetic was perpetuated in all cultural areas of life.

Fun fact: you may be surprised to hear that the guttural "r" of today's modern Hebrew was actually thought to be ugly and improper in the days of Israel's infancy. If you pick up a popular music CD from the 50s,60s or even 70s, you'll notice that the singers prononce their "r"s with a flipped tongue, like a Russian "r".  Only in the mid to late 70s did it slowly become acceptable for singers radio news casters and other official public speakers to pronounce the popular gluttoral "r". In short, Eastern pronounciation = no-no and Eastern European pronounciation = yes-yes.

But, lets get back to Israeli history. Despite the fact that most early immigrants were European, by the 1950s, thousands of immigrants poured in from Greece, Turkey, Yemen, Morocco, Iran, Iraq, and other Eastern and Middle Eastern countries.  They began performing their genre of folk music in Hebrew- they began singing Hebrew lyrics to Eastern tunes played with Eastern instruments, and sung in an "Arabian" way with trills and guttoral consonants, creating a new form of Israeli folk music called Mizrachi music, which literally translates to "Eastern music".

Shoshana Gabay, co-creator of a documentary on Mizrachi music called "Yam Shel D'Maot" (Sea of Tears) was interviewed about the genre by Jewish Federation of North America in  June 2010.  In their article, "Once Considered an Oriental Sound, Mizrachi Music Now Pervades Mainstream", Gabay explained the Mizrachi music phenomenon as a new interpretive mix of music:

"They had all these parties, and at those parties they took what they had learned in school -- Russian-inspired Israeli songs, some Chasidic songs -- and made them Oriental sounding. They blended these songs with popular Arabic songs and traditional Yemenite songs and made a mix out of them. They were making an interpretation, their own interpretation."

But, just as the gluttural "r" was initially met with antagonism, so was Mizrachi music. It wasn't played on the radio, nor was it taught in music school. Only in the 1970s when the cassette tape emerged did some Mizrachi songs make it into the radio with "Perach B'Gani" (פרח בגני, Flower in My Garden) dubbed as the first major Mizrachi hit.

Hits like these became more and more popular among the younger generations of Israelis who began buying Mizrachi cassettes, but it took nearly another decade before Mizrachi music hit the mainstream radio stations, night clubs and bars.  Today, Mizrachi music is extremely popular in Israel.  Extremely. I head it in the streets, and I imagine it's especially popular in my neighborhood- Hatikvah- an area that is filled with Moroccan and Yemenite families.

So, how don't  I know who Moshe Peretz is?

Well, as I said before, I haven't been diligent enough with my Israeli music education. I don't really listen to popular radio. I don't have a car so I don't listen to radio on long drives, and at home our music is saved on our computer. Second, I don't go to pick up bars. I'm  just not a fan of tightly pack spaces infused with the smell of ten different colognes and perfumes and then topped off by air conditioned cigarette smoke. Plus, I have a boyfriend :).

Finally, as much as I appreciate the Eastern singing and Eastern musical beats and instruments, most of the popular Mizrachi music is syrupy pop-music, which I have a very small palate for.  The most popular songs are pretty cheesy, with similar themes as those found in American country music or R&B- the man is sad about his woman leaving, or the woman is mad at her man for leaving, or the two are just so in love with one another that they have to sing about it.  I don't hate it, but I don't love it either.

Now, Mizrachi fans have fought long and hard to be accepted by music critics, and are still fighting the fight. All I can say is, Mizrachi music is a hugely popular genre that is already big with the young'ns.  They way i see it, it will be accepted sooner or later by the critics and academics. But it's still a touchy subject.  In fact, I happened to find a 2009 ynet article about the crappiest Mizrachi songs and I thought it was pretty funny, but many took it hard.

Whatever the case may be, I now feel lucky to have had the opportunity to see Moshe Peretz, if not up close, then through nearby glass walls that enclosed the smoke-filled dance floor at my cousin's wedding, and to see how many Israelis my age have opened their arms to Arabic-style, Eastern culture and music.

Moshe Peretz on Stage with the bride and groom

Dancing To Mizrachi music usually involves waving your hands in the air either in a motion that seems to signal that the rest of the crowd get up out of their seats to dance with you.

Hands in the air- all the pretty ladies that like Mizrachi Music :)