Sunday, July 19, 2009

*NOW* I Understand....

...why, when my students and I were studying about Israeli diversity several years ago, Morah Val had the cooking chug make "shakshuka"... and why the Rabbi paused in his departure from the building that evening to enjoy a small taste of the leftovers....and why the dish brought back such pleasant memories of trips each had taken to Israel in the past.

Today, within two hours of arriving in Tel Aviv (after checking into our hotel, visiting the roof-top terrace for a view of the Mediterranean, and walking down to Ben Yehuda street -- this time in Tel Aviv, instead of Jerusalem), we found what I'm sure will be our favorite Tel Aviv restaurant, Benedict.

I have a new favorite food... actually two new... no! make that three new favorite foods.

To describe shakshuka as "fried vegetables and eggs in a tomato sauce" doesn't do justice to the combination of herbs used to flavor the sauce. I suspect the sauce may also have been fresh, instead of canned or from a jar - the tomato flavor was much more robust than preserved tomatoes usually are. The meal was accompanied by a huge Israeli salad, with a wonderful touch of lemon (it's all too easy to have too much lemon or not enough). The "bread basket" was a basket of six freshly made, hot-from-the-oven, rolls .... and I learned about chocolate syrup to spread on the rolls. My formerly favorite spread for rolls (apricot preserves) doesn't hold a candle to chocolate syrup. And the fruit salad - a complimentary gift as a result of showing our hotel ID - was to die for. I'm not sure exactly what fruits were in it, but they were fresh, not mushy and with a slight orange taste. My guess is orange juice to prevent the oxidation - but if so, this was orange juice like I've never had before. (That may be more than 3 foods, but at this point, I've lost count!)

::sigh:: Pure, unadulterated bliss.....

So next time (if there is one) that Morah Val teaches the kids how to make "shakshuksa," I'm gonna be right there, in the kitchen, breathing deeply!


This morning, before we left Jerusalem, Neal took a walk down to the Artists' Colony near our hotel (the Eldan - they were lovely and we recommend them highly); and Steve and I met for one last time this trip to discuss the Mitzvah heroes we'd seen earlier in our visit; our individual "transformative" experiences (more about those later); and to sketch out some of the tasks ahead of us in the next couple of months. I treasure the opportunity to share these experiences this past week.

We left Jerusalem at 2:00 - our wonderful guide/driver Taki had many insights on some of the issues shared by Americans and Israelis - the inflation of real estate values; the issue of illegal immigration; education that's inadequate to prepare kids for the world ahead of them. He talked a little about his own army service, and some of his concerns for his son, who's now in the army. After the slightly more than two hours we spent with him, I think it's fair to say that we have a better idea of what some of the issues are that Israelis grapple with - at least what this individual Israeli grapples with. It's certainly a deeper understanding... and a more nuanced one than the media is able to provide.

As we drove down Rehov Hayarkon (the street that our hotel is on) in Tel Aviv, Neal and I looked at each other and grinned. After we got out of the cab, he said to me, "This reminds me of Collins Avenue in North Miami Beach, a block or so over from where Grandma Fannie lived."

Although I don't know Collins Avenue, this area does remind of me places in Florida that we've visited together - the palm trees; the beach, the humidity in the air; the sun umbrellas wherever you look - and the high rises along the beach front.

The next few days offer opportunities for different experiences than we had in Jerusalem - and all I can say is "Bring 'em on!"

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