While man is frequently at war with the environment, not so for Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan whose work is harmoniously in sync with its surroundings
By David E. Kaplan
Back on welcome “grandparent” duty following our release on parole from lockdown, meant a return to one of my favourite parks – the Edith Wolfson Park on the eastern edge of the city of Tel Aviv. If its Tuesday, “we, the grandparents”, are usually there with our grandson. Perched high, the park offers a magnificent view of the city from its most iconic vantage – a massive sculpture by famed Israeli artist Dani Karavan. Called “The White Square”, the monumental work overlooks “The White City” as Tel Aviv is famously known because of its white Bauhaus architecture and is a complex geometric work that is an ode to the city itself.
If Tel Aviv is a city not so much to see but to experience then so to is Karavan’s sculpture where it is less viewed than it is walked, climbed, roller-skated and rollerbladed upon. I invariably join the “kids” in sliding down the sculpture’s colossal “sundial” on carboard as well as scampering up the large “pyramid”. The sculpture exudes physicality – it is a metaphor for Tel Aviv of open-ended action befitting its reputation as “the city that never sleeps.” If you are generally “into art”, then visiting The White Square you literally, “get into” this art as you climb in, over, upon and through it!
My first encounter with this monumental sculpture was of complete surprise. I came upon it with my first visit to the park in 2018 when my grandson, Yali, was only a few months old. I stared at the structure and thought, “Déjà vu – I have never been here before! Why is this massive sculpture so familiar?” And then I remembered that nearly a decade earlier, I co-wrote an interview with this sculpture’s creator – Dani Karavan, where he described this renowned work and I wrote about it including providing captions for photographs of what I now weekly ‘experience’.
Dominating the sculpture is a 65-foot cement tower that can be see from afar as well as providing from the top, a majestic vista of the city. The tower symbolizes both the steel siren that once stood there and its function – security – watching over the city. The “migdal” or watchtower, is an enduring image that so characterized early settlement life in Israel as a state-in-the-making, providing security to its people working in the fields.
Beside the tower, is a large geometric piece composed of east-west facing shapes representing the surrounding urban neighborhood, much of it built in the Bauhaus style of architecture that has recognised Tel Aviv as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Next to this is the pyramid-like structure symbolizing the tents lived in by those who built the city well over a century earlier, and then there is a dome-like structure with an olive tree at its center, depicting the orchards that surround Tel Aviv.
Lastly, there is the sun dial, possibly the most popular attraction as I can every Tuesday attest to, noting that it is used as much for skateboarding as it is for any other intended purpose.
‘Time’ for Fun. Karavan’s Sun Dial (above) enjoyed most by skateboarders (below)
Portrait Of An Artist
So who is this internationally acclaimed sculptor and Israel Prize recipient who lives in the same house in Tel Aviv, that “I grew up in” and whose work can be seen across Israel, Europe, and Asia?
Karavan credits being most influenced by his father when “I turned from painting to sculpture.” His father, Avraham Karavan, was the chief landscape designer for Tel Aviv from the 1940s through the 1960s. “My father grew up in Manchester and I think he was very inspired by the English gardens. He always wanted to recreate nature – gardens as nature. I understand now that I am following in his footsteps: When I approach a site, I often develop the project in a similar way to his way of creating gardens.”
It is hard to escape his distinct style, which blends sculpture, architecture, and the landscape into unique and monumental pieces. Putting the question to Karavan that his work appears “as if you are sculpting the landscape”, he replied:
“That’s correct. This is what characterizes my work, which is rooted to a physical environment and not to an atelier [an artist’s workshop]. I was once privileged to meet the distinguished sculptor Henry Moore and observe him work in his environment – how he molded a model the size of a suitcase handle and enlarged it ninety-nine times its size. For me it is the opposite, because the large environment where I work emerges as part of my composition.”
One example the artist cites is the large sculptured wall of the Plenum Hall at the Knesset (Israel’s parliament). Called Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem, the wall depicts an abstract Jerusalem landscape, the surrounding hills, and the Judean desert. It is one of the most recognised works of art in Israel as it appears almost daily on TV screens as a backdrop as the people’s elected representatives take to the podium to address the Knesset.
Another example Karavan cites “was my first big piece as a sculptor,” the Negev Brigade Memorial. Although a monument to commemorate those who fought in the Palmach Negev Brigade in 1948, the artist is quick to add:
“I am not an artist who creates memorials. I create homages.”
The late Uzi Narkiss, a commander of the Negev Brigade’s Seventh Battalion, had suggested to Karavan to build a lookout so that visitors could climb up and physically experience the landscape. Observing the surrounding hills leading down to the valley, the views of the rolling landscape, the folds of the ground, the rocks and the bushes, all emerged as the material of the final work.
“I had to integrate the landscape of the desert, its particularities, in order to tell the story of this brigade. My father helped me to plant acacia trees, indigenous to the Negev desert. As water was scarce, he knew which trees should be used. He always kept in mind the water. The line of water I created as part of the monument is not only a symbol of life, but also a tribute to the Palmach Brigade who had the mission of insuring the water supply to the kibbutzim in the desert.”
It was a groundbreaking project. “Up until then,” continued Karavan, “site-specific environmental sculpture did not exist. To some degree, it is similar to architecture, where the architect designs specifically for a particular environment.”
Further explaining, he adds:
“I am not a sculptor that seeks a place, but rather the place seeks me. Michelangelo said that the statue already exists within the stone; I say that the sculpture already exists within the environment. I just unearth it. This is essentially my contribution to the evolution of sculpture. I wanted that sculpture be something people can climb and children play on – that it will be full of life and not pieces where people visit once a year to lay flowers.”
Looking at the children playing all over The White Square, he has succeeded.
“My works could not exist without people. I want them to experience the work and feel like it is embracing them. At the same time, I never try to impose the way people should interact with my work. The work itself inspires people and leads them to explore the different forms and spaces. The fact that children engage with my works is not because I designed it for that purpose, but because my works give them a sense of freedom to use them in any way they would like to, without aggression, without violence—in a peaceful way.”
While Karavan can mold material to articulate his dreams and visions, he laments “an inability to influence better relations with our Arab neighbors. My father arrived in Israel in the 1920s. He came as an idealist and I inherited that idealism. What better vision to work for than the pursuit of regional peace and happiness? If you ask what I still want to do, yes, I need to finish my autobiography, but also to collaborate with a Palestinian artist on a project toward peace.”
From time immemorial, the olive tree is a symbol of peace and I thought of this quote of the artist again when I saw last Tuesday perched in the middle of The White Square the olive tree – the sole vertical living organism amongst the concrete. It was the right milieu to reflect on the artist’s 2019 response to the question “What is his hope for humanity?” from famed landscape designer Lily S. Kwong:
Karavan replied: “I hope people will be more tolerant of others and to each other. I hope for more education all around the world. I hope that in most countries, art will have a key role in people’s daily lives.”
I felt assuredly of the artist’s hope of art playing “a key role in people’s daily lives,” when watching my grandchild with all the other children ‘explore, engage and encounter’ at the Edith Wolfson Park in Tel Aviv.
Some of Karavan’s most important works:
Negev Brigade Memorial, Beersheva, Israel
Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem – Knesset wall relief, Jerusalem, Israel
Kikar Levana, Tel Aviv, Israel
Culture Square, Tel Aviv, Israel
The “Path of Peace” sculpture by artist Dani Caravan. An environmental sculpture which is one of the attractions of Nitzana
UNESCO Square of Tolerance – Homage to Yitzhak Rabin, Paris, France
Susan’s House in Jerusalem inspires youth through art
By Stephen Schulman
Most of the buildings in the industrial zone of Jerusalem do not greatly differ from those in many other parts of the country. In their functionality, they tend to be rather uniformly drab and dreary. One building in particular with its wide external corridors lined with doors of many workshops is no different from the rest. Nevertheless, what makes it so special is that opening one of the doors leads you into a very special workplace – Susan’s House.
I was fortunate enough to be part of a group that visited, toured, saw this magnificent project in action and learned of its history.
Started in 2002, Susan’s House is a living memorial to Susan Kaplansky, a gifted artist who had prematurely passed away at the age of 38 leaving her husband Eyal and four young children behind her. Susan, a gifted artist, fervently believing in the healing powers of art, had used her talents to work with disadvantaged children. After her death, Eyal started this workshop and artists’ studio to continue her work and perpetuate her memory.
The workshop produces and sells a wide range of arts and crafts ranging from special glassware, jewelry and ceramics to unique stationery and greeting cards made from recycled paper. All of these products have two things in common: they are carefully crafted, and they are made by a dedicated group of thirty youngsters whose ages range from fifteen to eighteen. Each of these young people comes from a difficult background both Jew and Arab. Most are school dropouts and currently unemployed, socially marginalized and at risk – a sad reminder of problems that exist in both communities.
At the beginning of the tour, we listened to an introductory talk by Avital Goel, the workshop supervisor who explained that Susan’s House gives them employment and a wage. He went on to explain that under the guidance of a team of social workers and volunteer artists, the teenagers are given vocational rehabilitation, guidance and real life work experience that enables them to become contributing members of society.
They gain self-esteem and the ability to respect others. They not only learn a trade but become part of a working community that is also a home where they learn social skills and in so doing, gain self empowerment. “They work together as a team learning how to manufacture and sell. They also learn the value of money, how to spend it correctly and be a wise consumer. All the youngsters not only eat a wholesome lunch together every day but are also, in turn, given the responsibility to buy the provisions and help prepare the meal.”
The real highlight was a talk by two seventeen year olds – Aviva from a poor Jewish neighborhood and Ahmed, a Muslim Arab from East Jerusalem. Both of them, with complete self-assurance, spoke about themselves, their lives, backgrounds and their work at Susan’s House. Their honesty, openness and sincerity was palpable, their enthusiasm for their workplace was genuine and infectious and there was not one of us sitting and listening to them who was not moved!
During our stay, production continued, and it was business as usual. We walked around, watched work in progress and then visited the aesthetically arranged shop, which was staffed entirely by the youngsters, to purchase items to take home both as presents and as memoirs of a most illuminating and rewarding visit.
Susan’s House is proud of the fact that its five hundred or more graduates have acquired life skills and gone on to become functioning and positive members of society with more than sixty percent serving in the army or doing national service. As a result of its success, another branch has opened in Eilat.
Coincidentally, Susan’s House is located on 31Wings of Eagles Street (31 Canfei Nesharim – 31 כנפי נשרים). A most appropriate address for a noble institution that has been giving so many young people the means to soar!
*For more information: Phone: 02-6725069 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the writer:
Stephen Schulman, is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist Youth Movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. Stephen, who has a master’s degree in Education, was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.
Stuck at home this Independence Day because of Corona? Take a virtual journey of Israel’s Independent Trail. From Hebrew city to Hebrew state, the trail begins with the founding of Tel Aviv in 1909 and ends with the Establishment of Israel in 1948.
By David. E. Kaplan
Walks these days are mostly to the supermarket or pharmacy. While hardly fun, adventurous or cerebrally challenging they are essential. However, no less “essential” is to ensure the mind remains active even if our legs are taking ‘a back seat’!
Prior to Corona, Lay Of The Land toured Independence Trail that was inaugurated in 2018 in honour of Israel’s 70th Independence Day. Only one kilometre (0.6 miles) long, it is rich in 40 years of intense nation-building history. Opting to use a guide rather than the free Municipality of Tel Aviv’s Independence Trail App, our guide began:
“It was 40 years of wandering before the Biblical Hebrews entering the Promised Land of ancient Israel, today you will be exposed to those 40 tumultuous years of establishing modern Israel during the first half of the twentieth century.”
How better to begin this hike of 10 stops with a cup of coffee and where better to enjoy it than where the hike officially begins – The First Kiosk Of Tel Aviv at the intersection of Rothschild Boulevard and Herzl Street, one of the most central spots in Israel.
Kickoff at the Kiosk
The aroma of coffee was irresistible and adhering to the adage “When in Rome”, we all ordered “café hafuch” – Israel’s famous “upside down coffee”.
Frequently compared with a latte, it is creamier and is also made in reverse. If in a latte, the milk goes on top of the espresso, a café hafuch uses steamed milk on the bottom, and then a shot of espresso is carefully poured on top of the steamed milk and finally topped with milk froth as well as nutmeg or cocoa powder. The most iconic aspect is the “reverse” – so typically Israeli of hitting the right button but ‘Israeli style”.
“Today, as you can see,” said our guide, “Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard is lined with restaurants and cafés but when the street was first established in 1909, not all the residents were in favour of any commercial activity. While some were agreeable about setting up shops in the neighborhood, others were against, but a year later a small kiosk opened where we are today.”
Situated in the exact same spot where the original once stood and modeled after the eclectic architectural style of the time, the small kiosk is today called Espresso Bar.
Next, we walked on to the Nahum Gutman Fountain.
Fountain of Knowledge
Gutman’s mosaic fountain reflects the simplicity of the early days of the “First Hebrew City” as it was once the fashion to call Tel Aviv. Israel’s famed artist, who was also an accomplished illustrator, photographer, and writer “went to school here, played in these streets, absorbed its sights, sounds and smells and projected them in his colorful exuberant art,’ informed our guide. “He was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize in 1978 and as you can see, the mosaics around the fountain tell the history of Jaffa – the ancient port city from which Tel Aviv was born.” In a kaleidoscope of color – the artist’s leitmotif – myths and stories from Jewish and Israeli history are emblazoned, from Jonah and the whale to Moses Montefiore and Theodore Herzl.
Our next stop was the personal home built in 1909 by Akiva Aryeh Weiss, whose name is literally cemented to the beginning of Tel Aviv.
Akiva Aryeh Weiss was one of the founders of the Ahuzat Bayit neighborhood, which later evolved into Tel Aviv. As President of the then newly established Building Society, Weiss presided over the famous 1909 lottery in which 66 Jewish families drew numbers written on seashells to determine the allocation of lots in the about-to-be established city of Tel Aviv.
Now restored, the cornerstone of Weiss’ Tel Aviv house located at 2 Herzl Street was laid in 1909. Originally a single-story structure, the upper floor was added in the 1920s.
Our third stop was the visitor’s center with its history of Tel Aviv in the Shalom Meir Tower in Herzl Street. Although once the tallest building in Tel Aviv – and when built in
1965 was the tallest building in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Oceania – far more historically significant is its prestigious predecessor – the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium. The country’s first Hebrew-speaking high school and originally known as HaGymnasia Ha’Ivrit (High School in Hebrew), the cornerstone laying for the school took place on July 28, 1909, the same year as the city’s founding. Designed by Joseph Barsky and inspired by descriptions of Solomon’s Temple, it was built by Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche, whose family founded Neve Tzedek (“Oasis of Justice”) in 1887 and were again among the founding settlers of Tel Aviv in 1909. These are the proud ancestors of Lay of the Land cofounder, Yair Chelouche who was too enjoying the tour and contributing to the history of the area.
“The school was a major Tel Aviv landmark until 1962 when the site was razed for the construction of the Shalom Meir Tower,” added Yair.
Some of the schools celebrated alumni include Prime Minister Moshe Sharett, the poet Nathan Alterman, the artist Nachum Gutman, the physicist Yuval Neeman, the present mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai and the journalist and chairman of the Yesh Atid party in the Knesset, Yair Lapid.
“Did Alterman write poetry about Tel Aviv?” asked a member of our group.
“Sure,’ replied our guide. “An immigrant from Warsaw, Alterman viewed Tel Aviv as the successor to the cities he had known in Europe. In contrast to the Hebrew poets who preceded him, who felt more connected to religion and biblical landscapes, Alterman was an urban poet who shaped an abstract theatrical world of music boxes, horse-drawn carriages and streetlights in Hebrew poetry.”
Looking up at the tall Shalom Tower, the guide told us a popular joke in Tel Aviv of the 1960s after the tower went up that encapsulates the trajectory of modern Israel.
“A Tel Aviv taxi picked up a New York tourist who was boasting about his city, how skyscrapers appear suddenly like wild mushrooms when suddenly the taxi turned into Hertzl street and the tourist, who was looking up at the tall Shalom Tower, bellowed:
“WOW! What building is that?”
To which the taxi driver replied:
“I don’t know; it wasn’t there yesterday!”
The imagery of Alterman’s Tel Aviv was a far cry from the city of today, but that vibrancy portrayed by the poet’s pen was all too evident as we proceeded along bustling Rothschild Boulevard to our next stop – the Great Synagogue.
The Great Synagogue on 110 Allenby Street, served as Tel Aviv’s spiritual and religious center long before Israel’s independence.
“People who attended services here included Tel Aviv’s first mayor Meir Dizengoff, prime ministers David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharett and Menachem Begin. It also hosted the inaugurations of Israel’s chief rabbis and the funerals of national icons such as the pioneer of modern Hebrew poetry Haim Nahman Bialik and the Zionist leader Haim Arlosorov, assassinated in 1933 while walking on the beach in Tel Aviv.”
We marveled at the building’s features, notably a huge dome, elaborate lighting fixtures, and magnificent stained-glass windows – replicas of synagogue windows that were destroyed in Europe during the Holocaust.
“Not widely known,” revealed our guide, “The Declaration of Independence was meant to be declared here on the 14 May 1948.”
“So why was it not?” I asked.
“Ben Gurion knew that the moment he made the announcement Israel would be under aerial attack and if the new State’s leadership were altogether under one so identifiable a roof as the Great Synagogue, it would make for an easy target for low-flying enemy planes. Instead, the Declaration took place around the corner at a much smaller building, which will be our last stop on the tour.”
Ben Gurion’s concern was “not unreasonable,” continued our guide. “Arab planes bombed Tel Aviv three times and one Egyptian pilot was taken prisoner when his plane was forced down nearby.”
Also “nearby” was our next stop: the Haganah Museum.
Located on Rothschild Boulevard, the Haganah Museum was once the home of Eliyahu Golomb the founder and first commander of the Haganah. A paramilitary organization, the Haganah was the forerunner of today’s Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and from1930 to 1945, this house was the Haganah’s secret headquarters.
Initially protecting the pioneers on kibbutzim (cooperative farming communities) from an attack in the 1920s and 1930s, the Haganah went on to facilitate the illegal entry of more than 100,000 Jews into Palestine after the British government’s 1939 ‘White Paper’ restricting immigration. “In this way,” explained the guide, “the Haganah paved the way in providing the essential manpower that proved so critical in the War of Independence.”
So tranquil is Golomb’s residential room and office on the ground floor today, it is hard to conceive that this was the nerve center of a war for the survival of the Jewish People in Palestine.
“It’s one thing to fight but without finance little can be achieved,” said the guide as he led us to our next stop – the historical headquarters of Israel’s national bank.
The Bank of Israel Visitor’s Center showcases the history of the Jewish State’s financial system. The historical headquarters of Israel’s national bank, the Centre’s exhibits reveal the country’s historical development of money with exhibits from ancient coins to banknotes, and coins issued from pre-State days to the present.
Particularly entertaining were the interactive activity stations that explain, by means of computer games, the functions of the Bank of Israel, the history of money, and the contribution of the central bank to the economy. No less fascinating were the short films on the essential role of the Bank of Israel in maintaining price stability, supporting economic growth, employment, and reducing social gaps in Israeli society. It is sure going to have “one job on its hand” in the immediate post-Corona era!
Back then, our next stop was the Tel Aviv Founders Monument.
The ‘Plot’ Thickens
The Founder’s Monument and Fountain is dedicated to the men and women who established Tel Aviv in the first half of the 19th century. Nestled into a green space on Rothschild Boulevard, it is a serene spot, dotted with benches, centered around a small pool and fountain, and located opposite the home of the first mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff, on 16 Rothschild Boulevard.
The historic lottery for the distribution of plots was held on April 11, 1909. As the families could not decide how to allocate the land, they held a lottery to ensure a fair division. Sixty-six grey seashells and sixty-six white seashells were gathered with the names of the participants written on the white shells and the plot numbers on the grey shells. A white and grey shell formed a pair, assigning each family a plot.
It was on this very site that the founders’ monument was planned 40 years later and established in 1951, on Dizengoff’s birthday.
Designed by Aaron Priver, on one side is a sculpture divided into three sections. The bottom shows sand dunes and wild animals that roamed the area before the establishment of Tel Aviv. The middle section depicts the first homes, mostly one-story, and the top represents the Tel Aviv of 1949, with specific landmarks, and the Tel Aviv of the future as envisioned at the time.
On the other side of the monument is the list of the sixty-six founding families of the city of which includes the Chelouche family that founded the quaint neighboring district of Neve Tzedek over twenty years earlier. Pointing out his family’s name on the monument, Lay of the Land co-founder Yair Chelouche related how his great-great-grandfather Aharon Chelouche acquired the plot of land that became part of Chelouche family folklore. “There were no land surveyors. The seller and the buyer would meet on the land to agree on the size of the land and the price. To measure the plot from one end to the other, the buyer took a stone and threw it, and where it landed was the end of the plot.” Smiling, Yair continued, “Aharon must have had a very strong arm because the family ended up with a huge chunk of land.”
Two decades later, representatives of the Chelouche family would join other family members in 1909, this time not throwing stones but picking up shells with their plot numbers on it.
The genesis of Tel Aviv was brought “home” to us when passing 9 Rothschild Boulevard. “Stop,” bellowed Yair, and then revealed, “here was the house of my great-grandparents, the first house that my great-grandfather, Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche built for them when they left Neve Tzedek for the “new” city of Tel Aviv.”
And so began the saga of “the city that never sleeps” – Tel Aviv.
Our second last stop was at a statue. While most cities in Europe and the Americas are replete with leaders and warriors perched defiantly on horses, such artistic depictions are rare in Israel. So, it is with some curiosity that we looked upon the bronze statue opposite the Founders Monument of a man riding a tired-looking horse. The rider is not a general but a civil servant – Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff. He may not have made his mark on a battlefield, but he left a far more enduring legacy.
For miles and miles in every direction from this small statue, the rich urban development that is Tel Aviv today, can be traced to the superlative efforts of Tel Aviv’s first mayor who encouraged its rapid expansion and conducted daily inspections, paying attention to details. How did this indefatigable mayor travel each day to inspect the progress of the projects throughout his growing city?
By horse of course!
No wonder both rider and horse look exhausted.
Created by the artist David Zondolovitz, the statue was unveiled in front of the mayor’s historic residence, our final and tenth stop and the most important of all.
What was the end of our trail, was the beginning of the modern State of Israel!
On May 14, 1948, the house on 16 Rothchild Boulevard – then serving as the Tel Aviv Museum of Art – hosted the historic ceremony of the Declaration of Independence.
Our guide related the events and atmosphere of that day.
Crowds began to swell in the afternoon at cafés and balconies along the boulevard. People were waving little flags and singing and then at three o’clock, journalists from around the world started filing into the Tel Aviv Art Museum. They were joined by dignitaries to the rapturous applause of the crowd.
At exactly four o’clock, David Ben-Gurion started the ceremony by banging the gavel.
Outside and around the country, people were listening to the ceremony in the first broadcast of Israel Radio.
Ben-Gurion read the declaration, which opened with a historic prologue on the Jewish connection to the land and then it went on to assert that:
“We hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel, named the State of Israel.”
He was followed by Rabbi Yehuda Leib Maimon who with a cracked voice, read the ancient prayer:
“Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.”
The crowd shouted “Amen!”
Ben-Gurion signed the declaration, then the members of the People’s Council were invited one by one to come up to the stage and sign the declaration alphabetically. The ceremony ended with the singing of “Hatikva,” the national anthem.
As we finished the tour of Independence Hall, we came out and saw again the Espresso Bar formally The First Kiosk Of Tel Aviv where it had all begun.
The pretty village of Jish is situated on a picturesque hillside in the Upper Galilee. However, unlike most others in the Arab sector, its skyline is not dominated by the ubiquitous minaret of the village mosque; instead, the cross stands proud, for Jish is home to 10,000 Maronite Christians who constitute 65% of the village’s population.
In the afternoon of the 24th December, I was one of a group that was graciously hosted at the family home of Shadi Khaloul, a leading member of the Maronite community. In his 40’s, affable, articulate and outspoken, Shadi filled us in on its history, its contemporary status and regaled us with his own story.
The Maronite Catholic Church, although having formal communion with Rome, maintains its own rites and canon law is unique in having its own liturgical language: Aramaic, spoken in Israel in the time of Jesus and shared with Judaism. The church was founded by Saint Maron, whose followers moved from Syria to Lebanon where many of them live today while the rest are dispersed around the globe.
Whilst being Arabic speaking, they see themselves as Aramean Maronite Christians with their own distinct identity and in 2014 they officially gained the status of a national minority. They are not required to do military service but most of them prefer to serve. Shadi is no exception, having done his stint as an officer in the paratroopers.
After completing his army service, Shadi, like so many other post-service young people decided to see the world and seek his fortune. He worked for some years in Las Vegas and with the passing of time found his true ‘pot of gold’. “I was studying at a comparative religion course where I discovered that the lecturer and students were completely ignorant of my religion and its vernacular, so I was asked to prepare a presentation. I then felt that more important to me than material wealth was to return home and devote myself to the cultivation and learning of Aramaic in my community.”
He has been true to his word and his tireless efforts have borne fruit. Aramaic studies in the Jish schools have been given an official status and the Ministry of Education approves and funds their study. While it is not compulsory, the great majority of students opt to learn it. Children who never understood the prayers now not only take delight in understanding the words but in also speaking the language!
Concerning the present situation, Shadi sees the Maronite community as an integral, contributing part of Israeli society where they have security, equality and freedom to freely worship and perpetuate their culture. “The Maronites have always felt an affinity with the Jews. After all, we have a common language. In 1948 in the War of Independence, we did not side with the Arabs.”
He does not mince his words.
“In 1860 in Lebanon under Turkish rule, we sought a measure of autonomy where we could live peacefully side by side with our neighbors. The result was a massacre of our community where approximately 20,000 were killed. Learn from our bitter experience. Here in the Middle East, the reality is that you must be the majority to ensure your safety!”
Leaving Shadi’s home, our group strolled through the village to savor the festive atmosphere. Many of the homes were gaily decorated and festooned with lights. Before leaving, we congregated next to the beautiful new church with a tall Christmas tree in its courtyard.
Our final stop was Mi’ilya, a small village north of Nahayaria whose approximately 4,000 residents are Melkhite Greek Catholics. A distinguishing feature is the King’s Castle: the ruins of a Crusader fortress upon which a church has been built. Walking up to the ruins to visit the church, we were met by the local inhabitants, many of whom were dressed in their red Santa Claus costumes. The atmosphere was festive and as Chanukkah and Christmas coincided, our greetings of Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday), as in Jish, were happily returned.
Leaving the fortress, our group visited the village community centre that was humming with activity. The village has a special pre-Christmas custom when families bring their Christmas presents to the centre for safe keeping. The Scouts then store them in separate rooms according to the neighborhoods before being fetched on Christmas Eve. We arrived as the presents, with the aid of many happy young volunteers, were being loaded on light vehicles on their way to their happy recipients!
On the way home towards Tel Aviv, there was much time for reflection. Here we were, on Christmas Eve, returning from a visit to two Christian villages whose residents, living within the Jewish state, enjoyed complete freedom of worship. I remembered the words of Shadi Khalloul and of a fellow Maronite Brigitte Gabriel of the sad plight of Christian communities in the Middle East. How distressing those basic rights that we take for granted in our country and about which much of the world remains silent, are not accorded in many of our neighboring states.
About the writer:
Stephen Schulman, is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist Youth Movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. Stephen, who has a master’s degree in Education, was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.
Israel’s burgeoning boutique beer industry is foaming at the brim.
By David E. Kaplan
Just think of it – twenty years ago in Israel, there were the two stalwarts of Maccabi Beer and Goldstar with few imports from abroad. The soft drink was king; beer the lowly pawn.
Today, it has all changed.
While ancient Israel may well have been known as “The land of milk and honey”, 21st century Israel could well be on the way to becoming “the land of hops and barley”.
In the land that gave the civilized world wine in the era of our Patriarchs – evinced by the many ancient presses found all over the country – it was only a question of time for a thriving beer industry to emerge. If the choice of beers was once limited, today it is difficult keeping up with the new labels as an ever-increasing number of enterprising brewmasters are entering the market.
The writer invites you to join him on a pub crawl and get a taste of what’s brewing in Israel.
A ‘Jem’ Of A Beer
I enter the Jem’s Beer Factory – a pub restaurant – in the heart of a courtyard in the center of Kfar Saba, north of Tel Aviv, situated in the city’s outdoor food market which has been partially renovated and restored to a boutique food court. At night, the courtyard is buzzing, and Jem’s is packed. I meet as arranged the owner who is normally at the headquarters in Petach Tikva. There are ten Jem’s Beer Factory pubs located mostly in the center of the country.
“All our advertising is by word of mouth,” says Jeremy (“Jem”) Welfeld – or as likely – word of lips!
The name ‘Jem’ is derived from the name “my younger sister coined for me when we were kids.” That’s the simple part of a long journey that began when Jem gave up a lucrative job as an event planner at the While House, “during the Clinton and Bush administrations” for brewing beer in Israel.
Quickly discovering that his new vision would require a variety of skills “beyond drinking a lot”, Jem studied Microbiology and The Advanced Sciences of Brewing and arrived in Israel armed with a battery of diplomas and a wife and their two kids.
Many hops later, Jem’s Beer Factory churns out many thousands of litres a month. “About a third of our production goes out in bottles, the rest out on tap”, says Jeremy. The range includes an American Pale Ale, an American Indian Ale which he describes as “deep color gold like the city of Jerusalem, with more hops and of course, more date honey,” and a Midnight Stout, “black as coal with a creamy tan head, thick as the afternoon haze over Tel Aviv.”
If Jem is poetic in describing his beer, he is no less philosophical why he enjoys the business. “Beer is a catalyst to play with people.”
Puzzled, I enquired, “What do you mean?”
“Israel is a very intense country on a lot of different levels and beer is the perfect equalizer; it lets everyone calm down at the end of their day. It is perfect for the Israeli climate and with only 5% alcohol, it is the beverage of friendship.”
Rich In History
“Our goal”, says brewmaster David Cohen, an immigrant from the USA and founder of Dancing Camel brewery, “is to brew an exciting beer that makes people think and smile. Sure, we make traditional styles, but they are nuanced in a way that is distinctly Israeli. This country is rich in herbs, fruits and spices that belong in beer but have never been tried before. I want to help define what Israeli beer means. You know when I’ll be satisfied? When I hear people in London, Brussels and Seattle talking about how exciting Israeli beers are.”
The market may be competitive but what this writer found most refreshing – apart from tasting the various chilled beers – was the camaraderie amongst the various brewmasters. This is evident at the annual Beer Festivals in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, where the various brewmasters have little hesitation praising their competitors and their beers. “We are a rare club,” continues Cohen whose passion for beer began in 1987, “at a time when the American microbrewery scene was first hitting the East Coast,” and decided to brew his own. “It was the thrill of tapping into a craft that’s as old as time itself and for most, as mysterious. Suddenly, I was connected to the Babylonians of 4,000 years ago, the Trappist Monks of Belgium, the pilgrims that landed on Plymouth Rock, the brewers of medieval London. I began to study different beer styles and flavors – to learn what ingredients and processes impact flavors and how. What I discovered was how complex beer really is and how much each reflects the unique cultures, climates and tastes of different civilizations.”
Once the hobby got under Cohen’s skin, there was no turning back, nor to bringing to ‘fruition’ his other passion – Aliyah (Immigrating to Israel).
The combination of these two passions is Dancing Camels and as to the derivation of the name, “that’s a long story that goes back 500 years.” In the meantime, Cohen’s customers are ‘dancing’ the nights away downing his beer.
Alexander the Great
Back at the 2013 European Beer Star competition in Munich, judges swigged 1,512 beers from 40 countries to find the best beer. Israeli boutique brewery Alexander located in the Hefer Valley won the gold medal in the English Style Porter category.
Alexander’s ecstatic CEO, Ori Sagy, a former pilot who plotted the course for his brewery’s trajectory, told local media, “Our vision is to make Alexander Israeli beer fresh, excellent and as good as the best breweries in Europe and the USA. After a series of blind tastings, the jury, composed of professionals in the field of breweries from across Europe, selected our beer as the best English Porter Beer. We therefore received recognition in the beer capital of the world that ours is indeed up to par with the best breweries in Europe and the USA. For us, this is a great joy and honour.”
This was followed in 2014 by another gold medal at the prestigious World Beer Cup in Denver, Colorado.
Established in 2008 the brewery takes the name of the nearby Alexander River. However, in case one is confused over “Which Alexander?” – particularly after a few pints – the river is named not after the conquering Macedonian but after Alexander Yannai, once king of Judea. “This beer is historically kosher,” assures an employee with a wide grin.
With the Alexander River home to the country’s largest habitation of soft-shelled turtles it was only ‘natural’ that the turtle featured on the brewery’s logo. The added inclusion of wings on the turtle’s shell is a nod to Sagy’s previous career as a pilot.
Beer and humour go hand in hand, so it was quite fitting to see written high on the wall in the brewery bar the quote from the legendary rock musician Frank Zappa:
“You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline”.
This brewery with a pilot in the cockpit is flying high.
In Israel’s dry desert sits Negev Brewery, “ready to quench the thirst of any passerby who steps inside,” as the invitation to the public reads. With a backyard bar, Israel’s sole southern brewery is a popular ‘waterhole’. With a relaxed southern desert vibe, visitors come to sample the boutique beer that now distributes to 450 clients throughout Israel.
Negev Brewery started out as a home-brewing project dreamed up by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev graduate Yochai Kudler. Returning home to Kibbutz Orim in the Negev Desert, he continued brewing but mostly for friends. Wanting to expand and build a modern facility, Yochai found an empty building in the industrial zone of Kiryat Gat where he opened Negev Breweries in 2010. In the summer of 2011, Norman Premium, an Israeli importer and distributor of premium beers purchased Negev Brewery.
Today Negev Brewery is run by CEO Sagiv Karlboim, Gilad Dror and Tomer Ronen.
Like the purity of the desert, there is a purity in the philosophy behind Negev Brewery. The desert brewery is environmentally conscious with the wastewater collected used to irrigate the garden which is being developed to host tastings of their array of beers namely: Amber Ale, Porter Alon and Passion Fruit. Like most microbreweries, Negev Brewery does not filter their beers or add preservatives. This means that the beer is best when fresh and as they say, “don’t think that sediment in the bottom of your glass is anything but a positive indication of unfiltered beer.”
Says Tomer, “the company is very particular about the ingredients that go into its beers,” and refutes that beer is fattening. Setting the record straight, “It’s the peanuts you eat with your beer that make you fat!”
The Booze Brothers
The story of Shapiro Beer begins with two brothers Itzik and Danny Shapiro in their parents’ basement in the German Colony neighborhood in Jerusalem with plastic bowls and improvised tubes. Toying with flavours and recipes, they soon had a following for their brews, but it wasn’t until Itzik spent a summer working at a microbrewery in Colorado that they began giving some serious thought to turning their hobby into a business.
What a difference a few years makes!
Today, their state-of-the-art brewery is in Beit Shemesh, however “it’s a Jerusalem beer,” asserts Itzik.
Known as Shapira in Hebrew and Shabeera in Arabic it is most popular in the nation’s capital.
Offering eight beers, there first – Pale Ale – remains there most popular beer. Based on their first home brew recipe, it is a classic golden coloured, American style pale ale, dry hopped with Cascade giving aromas of citrus and grapefruit.
Their label is the Lion of Judea swigging down ale. At the annual Jerusalem Beer Festival, the local brew customarily receives a ROAR of approval from the crowd.
“The cool thing about a microbrewery is that it’s flexible,” said Dani. “You can make a test batch and if it’s good, you sell it. If it’s not good, you drink it!”
Clearly no downside!
“In our family, we always spoke about ambition and reaching your dreams through hard work,” said Denny Neilson the founder of Buster’s Cider Factory located in Beit Shemesh.
Denny is another fascinating personality blending into the environment like the ingredients in his beer. Formally in the telecommunication business for 30 years before immigrating with his family to Israel in 2003 from Tennessee in the USA, Californian native Denny says, “I started making wine and brewing beer at home. We are kind of “do-it-yourselfers” and when the local folk expressed how much they liked it, we opened up a store, called Winemaker.” Soon afterwards, he had an award-winning beer under his belt called Isra-Ale. Thereafter, he began making alcoholic apple cider, and once the recipe was perfected, he introduced it to the Israeli market as Buster’s Cider. It became so popular that mass production followed, and in the summer of 2014, he introduced Israel’s first alcoholic lemonade named Buster’s Hard Lemonade. Today the Buster brand of alcoholic beverages is available at retail outlets throughout the country.
To the question I put to Denny a few years ago as to how he came up with the name ‘Buster’, Denny replied,
“Well, you can probably hear him barking. Buster is our family dog, a Golden Retriever we love so much that we decided to name our beers after him. So when people ask about the recipes for our drinks, we always joke only Buster knows – and he’s not talk’in.”
Sadly, today Buster has passed on but not his legacy that lives on with satisfied beer drinkers across the country.
Denny’s wife Pamela runs the Visitor’s Center while Matt their son is, “the main man today,” says his proud Dad.
“I’m the science guy,” asserts Matt with his hand on the tap.
We were a large group that sat, danced on the pub’s patio and listened to Pamela present the history of the brewery ‘From Tennessee to Beit Shemesh’, all the while sampling the frothy fruitful delights of the warm Neilson family.
Beit Shemesh is first mentioned in the Hebrew Bible in the Book of Joshua. After Moses, it was Joshua who gave direction to the Jewish People. Many Busters later, I reflected on this “direction” and was thankful I was not driving home!
Having ‘done the rounds’, I was indebted to the brewer from Negev Breweries’, Tomer Ronen, who assured: “You won’t put on weight from beer; it’s the peanuts that is fattening.”
Staying clear of the peanuts and having ‘weighed’ all aspects of these boutique beers across much of the country, the only thing left to say is:
He had plenty of positive things to say about the Holy Land but concluded with one negative – its cuisine. “OMG where am I to go for dinner after this lecture. Your country may have plenty to offer, but good food is not one them!”
The audience laughed.
A quarter of a century ago, Archer was dead right.
Today he would be dead wrong!
Affirming this transformation is none other than that esteemed writer’s country’s public service broadcaster – the BBC. Its ‘Good Food’ ranked Tel Aviv in the Top 10 Destinations For Foodies In 2020. Israel’s “City that never sleeps” came in seventh following Galway in Ireland, Lyon in France, Los Cabos in Mexico, Holland, Malta and Marrakesh in Morocco. In ranking Tel Aviv so highly, the BBC’s Good Food spotlighted the city’s well-deserved moniker as “the vegan capital of the world.”
Writes BBC Good Food:
“With vegan dishes at the heart of Tel Aviv’s culinary tradition, it’s always been a great destination for lovers of plant-based food. Backed by vast agricultural land, this seaside city serves up veggies that often travel farm-to-fork in the same day. In recent years, Tel Aviv has upped its game to become the world’s self-designated vegan capital, with slick vegan coffee shops, and local chains such as Domino’s offering animal product-free pizza. This young, LGBT-friendly beach buzzy city has boutique Bauhaus-style hotel hangouts with cool cocktail bars, and a burgeoning crop of cheffy restaurants, but the budget-eats steal the show. For stellar street food, there’s nothing like Tel Aviv’s hummus, falafel and shakshuka, served at hole-in-the-wall joints, street stands, and stalls lining local markets such as the sprawling Shuk Hacarmel. Just four-five hours’ flight from the UK, this is an exotic break that doesn’t require a long-haul schlep.”
BBC’s Good Food picked up on Israel being in the vanguard of healthy eating, focusing on what grows in the field rather than what dwells on it. For one Israeli company, Aleph Farms, its philosophy is that man’s eating experience should not be at the expense of the life of an animal. In October, Lay Of The Land published an article “Israel leading A Slaughter-Free Revolution For A Healthier World” revealing this company served the world’s first lab-grown steak.
However, not only is Israel looking to ‘cultivate’ meat involving no slaughtering of animals but is catering to the ever-increasing appetite of VEGANS which was glowingly acknowledged by BBC Good Food. It highlighted that the country has in recent years “upped its game,” offering “slick vegan coffee shops, and local chains such as Domino’s offering animal product-free pizza.”
Tel Aviv is home to at least 400 vegan and vegan-friendly kitchens and hosts annual vegan festivals.
Viva La Vegan
So, with 400 vegan and vegan-friendly kitchens serving most of Israel’s 200,000 vegans, going meat-free isn’t only easy, it’s a chance to chew on the best chow in town.
As one food critic noted:
“Thanks to the sun-kissed climate, high quality fruit and veg is never too far – you can see it in the colour, taste it in the flavour and smell it in the aroma of what’s on your plate.”
In Tel Aviv, “there is a real emphasis on freshness of produce,” says vegan restaurant owner Merav Barzilay. Though he founded Meshek Barzilay on an organic farm 15 years ago, he says it was an easy move to the city. Tel Aviv’s proximity to fresh vegetables “means a customer can eat a tomato the same day it was picked in the field”.
For Tel Aviv’s green chefs, preparation for the day ahead, starts with a stroll through the kaleidoscope of colour and chaos of its “shuks” (markets) selecting fresh produce.
“That’s the beauty of the marketplace – everyone is feeding each other,” says Cafe Kaymak’sJo Cohen, one of the first vegetarian coffee shop owners in Tel Aviv. Sourcing for his multicultural kitchen from the nearby Carmel Market, “We draw from many different wells,” he says, “Turkey and Greece as well as Japan, Morocco, Tunisia and, of course, the Middle East.” His signature vegan dish, galean mjadra, is a spicy hot-pot of lentils, paprika, almonds and berries cooked and presented on a bed of bulgur wheat and topped with salsa and tahini.
In the past seven years, the explosion of plant-based restaurants has transformed Israel’s population of just eight million into the largest vegan nation, per capita, in the world. Israel’s Tourism Ministry now promotes the country as a “vegan nation” – and Tel Aviv is at the heart of this culinary movement.
Nothing surprising in this phenomenon, explains Sharon Berger in the Forward:
“Unless you have been living under a rock you will probably already know that Israel has become the leading vegan country in the world, with 5.2% of the population eschewing all animal goods in their daily diet. This number has more than doubled since only 2010 when 2.6% of the population was vegan or vegetarian.”
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Israeli staples naturally includes a large amount of vegetables, fruit, grains and legumes already, including hummus and falafel, the country’s best-known dishes.
“The fresh produce is top quality and the Mediterranean diet has lots of flavours in its naturally vegan dishes,” says Ruthie Rousso, a Tel Aviv-based food historian and critic. “The Israeli diet is based on the meze (the little salads you eat before the meal). So giving up on meat is not the biggest sacrifice.”
Inbal Baum, a former attorney and founder of Delicious Israel, a company that offers culinary tours, sees veganism’s popularity as a natural evolution of Israelis’ relationship with the land.
“Veganism makes so much sense historically in the Israeli diet because eating from the land has always been significant,” she explains. “Eating vegetables was a way of survival. We don’t call it ‘farm to table’ here, but this style of local-produce-based eating is how my grandfather was able to live when he arrived at the kibbutz back in the 1930s – they ate what they grew.”
Times They Are A-Changin’
You must know that change is about when even ‘the one and only’ shawarma – that Middle Eastern sliced-meat sandwich beloved by all the world over – is being popularised in its vegan form – most notably at Sultana, a completely vegan eatery in Tel Aviv.
Sultana uses ‘forest mushrooms that have a texture reminiscent of chicken’ and promises to be ‘the original shawarma experience, only 100 percent vegan. Chef Harel Zakaim is bent on changing the rules of the game regarding everything we knew about vegetarian-vegan shawarmas.
Weighing in on why veganism is so increasingly popular in Israel,
Israeli-based international promoter of vegan culture, Ori Shavit, believes there are a number of unique reasons why Israelis are leading this global trend. Over and above the sensitivity to animals, she adds “the country is very young and still evolving so people here are less attached to traditional eating and are used to trying new things, love innovations and not scared to making changes in their diet.”
Shavit points out that when in 2013 Domino’s Pizza launched its first vegan pizza with non-dairy cheese, it was ‘pioneering’ and “only now just becoming available in other countries.” Israel is also the first country outside of the USA to offer Ben and Jerry’s VEGEN ice cream flavours. “As Israel has a relatively small population,” writes Shavit, “it’s interesting that these two major international chains both chose to launch their dairy-free products in the holy land.”
Interesting but not surprising.
With Israel in the vanguard of the global vegan trend, it was little wonder that the Holy Land came in the BBC’s Good Food Top 10.
It’s indicative of who we are and how we would want to live.
“No matter where you live,” says Shavit, “the greatest effect an individual can have on the world starts on his or her plate — so no wonder that people who understand that will try to make a better choice for their food.”
*Feature Picture:From The Field To The Fork. Each day, Tel Aviv’s top vegan chefs shop for fresh produce at the ‘shuks’ like the famous Carmel Market
Arriving in the Holy land from South Africa in early April of 2019 was surreal – my long awaited dream come true. We were floating somewhere between holiday vibes, newbies and tourists for a while until the dust settled and slowly, we began the descend back down to earth.
To go into detail about the emotional rollercoaster from our arrival to this point is another article in itself – entitled “the all you could feel Aliya buffet”. There is great learning and hardship, to say the least and potential is forever being reached and stretched. The struggle, as they say, is real. But for some, myself included, humour is the metaphorical sugar to help the medicine go down. A policy to live by is when all else fails – laugh! On that note, I would like to share with you some key observations I have about my new life in the holy land.
Every Israeli owns a cat. Not every Israeli is aware of such ownership, in fact, the likelihood of the situation is that every cat owns an Israeli. These cats are so well fed by the begrudging Jewish mama (who complains all the way to put the bowl of leftovers out) that the odd mouse or rat strolls around on its back feet, chest out and inspects the would-be left over’s from the cats!
Not all Israelis working at kupot (check-out counters) are limited to only the Hebrew language. Some of them do speak English but will only let you in on that bit of information after you’ve said something untoward whilst believing you’re safely hidden behind a language barrier.
The Mazgan (Air conditioner) becomes a sacred part of your structure. The reason for this is that when the moment of its inevitable hum begins, all people (including children) thank the good Lord above, perhaps likened to an informal prayer of techiat hametim (resurrection of the dead).
All roads, when traveling on foot are uphill. This is a phenomenon which, I recon, affects olim chadashim (new immigrants) in particular and can be taken metaphorically as well as literally. Meaning that if you walk uphill to a store, enter the store and then leave again, the very same store which was once at the top of the hill is now magically at the bottom of the hill and the walk home with all your purchased items is now uphill again. You have to live here to believe it.
Your level of emuna (faith) is at its peak when traveling by bus. The very fact that we get on another bus, or a connecting bus after just having survived countless near death experiences is the testimonial of truth to my statement.
The Hebrew language is one big exception to the rule. Every time I think I finally have an idea of how all the tenses are used, out pops the exception to the rule. It is this very inhibiting reality which makes me think they keep changing it to keep me on my toes!
The last thing is something that is not easy to explain but I’ll try my best.
Nothing is urgent but everything is urgent to Israelis. Meaning that there is casual approach to getting things done in Israel – everything takes time. Registering processes that could take one or two days drag on for two weeks. Everyone seems to be okay with this for the most part. But on the other hand, G-d help anyone who is slightly obstructed on the road which affects traffic flow – the line of cars instantly becomes a symphony of impatience as if every driver is racing against the clock to save the world.
I would like to add one more lesson which I think is the most valuable to any potential oleh. I have learnt to embrace whatever it is that comes your way and understanding the following:
We haven’t ‘made Aliyah’ – we make Aliyah. It is not something we did, it is something we do every day in all the challenges we face. But as long as we don’t mind walking up the hill all the time, we are good to go and G-d willing everything will be alright.
Gabi Crouse – Based in Israel, Gabi writes opinions in fields of politics, Judaism, life issues, current social observations aswell as creative fiction writing. Having contributed to educational set works and examinations, as well as interviews, Gabi will usually add in a splash of humour.
No matter the opposing odds and tough terrain, Aussies charge ahead. They did it over a 100 years ago in 1917 in Beersheba in helping to boot the Ottoman Turks out of Palestine and they will be doing it again in July 2020 when Australian singer/songwriter Nick Cave and his band, The Bad Seeds, will be returning to Tel Aviv.
“Bad Seeds” is a misnomer if ever there was one. We need more of these ‘seeds’!
And may they flourish.
The show will take place at Bloomfield Stadium, as part of a world tour promoting Cave’s album Ghosteen, which deals in part with the tragic death of his 15-year-old son in 2015; after a fall from a cliff.
When he takes to the stage in Tel Aviv – he will again be giving the finger to BDS.
When last appearing in Israel to a packed Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv in 2017, Cave defied pressure from the BDS movement and said he came to Israel “not despite of” but “because of BDS.”
What did he mean?
Calling a press conference, the rocker said “After a lot of thought and consideration, I rang up my people and said, ‘We’re doing a European tour and Israel.’ Because it suddenly became very important to make a stand against those people who are trying to shut down musicians; to bully musicians, to censor musicians, and to silence musicians.”
He went on to say that he “loves Israel,” and that he wanted to take “a principled stand against anyone who tries to censor and silence musicians.” He concluded by inferring the BDS Movement’s strategy is backfiring.
“So really, you could say, in a way, that the BDS made me play Israel.”
On his website last year, Cave slammed ongoing efforts to impose a boycott on Israel, calling them “cowardly and shameful.”
And this is not to say that he is a supporter of the government of Israel. He is clearly not.
“I do not support the current government in Israel, yet do not accept that my decision to play in the country is any kind of tacit support for that government’s policies. I am aware of the injustices suffered by the Palestinian population, and wish, with all people of good conscience, that their suffering is ended via a comprehensive and just solution, one that involves enormous political will on both sides of the equation.”
This kind of balanced understanding is a far cry from the venomous position of Roger Waters the most visibly public advocate and roving ambassador of BDS that openly promotes – not the “Two State Solution” – but the dissolution of the state of Israel. Cave would have none of it from the Pink Floyd cofounder with his giant-size inflated pig-shaped balloons emblazoned with a Star of David alongside fascist symbols customarily released during concerts.
If his ancestors took on the Ottoman Turks over a 100 years earlier, Roger Waters and hid BDS cohorts prove they are no match for this principled rocker.
Prior to his 2017 concert, Cave had previously performed in Israel ’93, ’95 and ’98 and enjoys reflecting that when “we came to Israel 20 years ago or so, did a couple tours of Israel, I felt a huge connection. Not just ‘people-talk’ of loving a country, but I just felt on some sort of level, a connection that I can’t actually really describe.”
“At the end of the day,” explained Cave in Tel Aviv in 2017, ‘there are two reasons why I’m here: one is that I love Israel and I love Israeli people, and two is to make a principled stand against anyone who tries to censor and silence musicians. So really, you could say, in a way, that the BDS made me play Israel.”
Waters can remain at the ‘Dark Side of his Moon’ as there has been no letup of artists touring Israel from pop queen Jennifer Lopez, to the 2019 Eurovision Song Competition held in Tel Aviv.
In keeping with the lyrics of Rhianna who has performed numerous times in Israel:’:
“Don’t Stop The Music”
*Feature picture: Australian musician and writer Nick Cave has elaborated on his stance regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict.https://www.irishtimes.com/ (Photograph: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images).
I saw him from across the road, his eyes darting towards the entrance to the Aden Jewish heritage museum in Tel-Aviv . I could tell he was thinking about coming in for a visit even before he stubbed out the cigarette he was smoking; and crossed the street.
From his unhurried gait he didn’t appear like a tourist, but neither did he look like a local. He greeted me in accented English – Australian, as it turned out to be. He told me that he is posted here for a year, working for an international organization. But I could tell his origins weren’t from Australia, as he confirmed, while I answered his questions about the history of the Jewish community in the region of Aden and Yemen; and he told me his family was from around that region.
“From Yemen?”, I asked.
“Nearby. My father is from Sudan and my mother from Egypt.”, he replied.
He grew up in Australia. One foot in the west, the other in the east – retaining something of the heritage and Islamic faith of his family, and speaking both English and Arabic. But he also surprised me with a few sentences in Hebrew which he’d learnt at university in Melbourne.
I took him around the museum, telling him about the exhibits. And I pointed out a couple of pictures that I thought would be of particular interest.
“That was the synagogue in Port Said, Egypt. There was once a large community there, many of whom came originally from Aden.”
‘What happened to them, did they eventually integrate into the rest of the population?’ he asked.
‘No,’ I whispered. ‘They were all forced to leave in 1956 – along with most of the Jews living in Egypt.’
The shock was evident on his face. And so he came to learn something of the history of the vanished communities all around the Middle East.
As we continued, he asked if he, as a Muslim, was allowed to visit a shul (synagogue). In all his time in Israel, he hasn’t yet done so. I told him of course he could and took him up to visit ours. He donned a kippa, and he gazed around in wonder, admiring everything. I explained the various features to him. For example, that the person who leads the services faces the same direction as the community.
‘Just like in a mosque,’ he replied.
The reason why you won’t find any depictions of our prophets or pictures of Rabbis there.
‘Just like in a mosque,’ he said.
We talked about how the problem isn’t all the different religions, but those who come and turn it to their advantage – and as something to use against others. There was no dispute, just agreement.
I pointed out the Aron Kodesh (the ark in a synagogue that contains the Torah scrolls) and explained to him, ‘Every synagogue around the whole world faces in the direction of Jerusalem. Just like every mosque faces Mecca.’
‘I never knew that,’ he replied.
He gazed up at the stained glass windows and to my surprise he then said a Hebrew phrase about God. Contemplating, we stood in silence for a few moments. Two people from different worlds, backgrounds, religions but who pray to the same God.
We stood there, facing Jerusalem.
Sarah Ansbacher is a writer and storyteller. She also works at the Aden Jewish Heritage Museum in Tel Aviv.
*Feature picture: Two faiths, one prayer: Muslims and Jews come together to pray. (Photo:Jewish Journal)
Looking at the best cities for travelers who love street food, the data for its Street Food Index 2019 drew from a survey conducted over three months – mid-July to mid-September – of 92,000 business travelers and 1,400 corporate travel agents in 86 countries.
Preceding Tel Aviv’s 7th’s lot was Singapore which took the top spot, followed by Bangkok, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, Mumbai and Rome.
The familiar proverb “When in Rome…” apples as much to Tel Aviv, so when in the coastal town ranked by Time Out as the N0. 1 city in the Middle East with “a notorious reputation as a wild non-stop city with a great nightlife and music scene”, tuck into its unique street cuisine.
Despite the availability today in Tel Aviv-Jaffa of cuisine from all over the world, what remains most popular is its signature ‘street food” that is definitively local and an ‘appetizing’ introduction into Israeli culture.
After exploring antiquities to art galleries and still have an ‘appetite’ for more, where better to sink your teeth deeper into Israeli culture, then trying its cuisine, and where better to take your first bite than on Tel Aviv’s bustling, pulsating streets.
Blaming the weather for all manner of things is fashionable the world over. Less so in Israel!
It may be that our tasty, popular street food is indebted to Israel’s perennial sunny and warm weather. The fact that one can walk outside and eat outdoors, has created an easy laidback cuisine that gels with the Israel temperament – open, candid and ‘catering’ for loud and boisterous conversation.
Most countries have some indigenous street food, so what’s Israel’s most popular and where best to look?
Some Like It Hot!
The one indisputable street food that has developed into a national dish is falafel. These are balls made of hummus and spices and fried in deep oil.
It is usually served in a fresh pita (round pocket bread) with a variety of salads, tahina (paste made from ground, hulled sesame seeds) and pickles, and if you enjoy fiery hot sauce then you must add skhug (a hot green or red Yemenite chili sauce). Folk with more sensitive palates might dismiss this relish more suitable for gas tanks than gullets, but for most seasoned falafel eaters, it’s a vital component.
“You don’t eat a hot dog without mustard. Same as falafel – you add skhug,” says Avi from Ramat Gan, who the writer met tucking into his falafel in pita at Dr. Shakshuka in Jaffa. “This is one of my favorite places for falafel and Shawarma,” says Avi. His wife Ruti was tucking into a shawarma, but without the skhug. “Not for me,” she says, with Avi adding, “she’s hot enough already!”
If in the typically Israeli family of street-food, falafel is the favourite son, then its favourite daughter is shawarma. It comprises cuts of meat (usually turkey, but originally shawarma was made of mutton) which is packed into a pita or laffa (a large Iraqi pitta, which one fills and rolls like a huge taco), with salads and French fries. And if you are wondering why the French fries, it’s a case of mid-east meets west.
One of the most popular ethnic eateries in Jaffa, Dr. Shakshuka takes its name from the dish Shakshuka, which is a pan-fried casserole of poached eggs and spicy tomato sauce, the restaurant’s most popular dish. Dr. Shakshuka’s many versions of this dish emanate from Libya and have solidly cemented a reputation in Jaffa over three family generations in the business.
Believing they are “specialists” in this cuisine, explains the “Dr” in the restaurant’s name. But there’s much more here to enjoy: Tripoli-style couscous with mafrum (potato stuffed with ground meat, served with stewed beef and vegetable soup); stuffed vegetables; kishke (North African-style intestine stuffed with meat and rice); grilled lamb patties; and fresh grilled or fried fish. Main courses come with a spread of fresh pita and eight Middle Eastern salads.
Best Kept Secret
While hummus, falafel, and even shawarma, are well-known outside the Middle East, sabich – described by one food critic as “the ultimate Israeli street food” – remains one of the country’s best-kept secrets.
Sabich is a pita stuffed with fried eggplant, hard-boiled eggs, hummus, tahina, and vegetable salad, while some versions contain boiled-potatoes as well. Pickled cucumbers, chopped parsley, and onions seasoned with purple sumac are usually added, as well as the sauces skhug oramba.
While making sabich may seem simple enough, true lovers of it say that preparing it “just right” is an art form that few truly master. One, who according to Tel Aviv folklore has earned this title of ‘master’, is Oved Daniel, referred to as the “Diego Maradona of Sabich”. Like the revered Argentinean who dominated football in his day, Oved, has been dominating Israel’s sabich scene from his little corner on Sirkin Street in Givatayim, adjacent to Tel Aviv, for nearly three decades. Customers are reputed to flock there from all over the country. Tel Avivians now no longer have to make the trek as Oved subsequently opened a branch in Tel Aviv on Karlebach Street.
Oved reveals that “People eat here from all over the world, and many ask about opening branches in the States. I tell ’em, “Forget it, it can’t be done!” They won’t be able to find the right ingredients and importing them will impair the quality.”
Oved offers a sound solution to their problem – “Visit Israel often
While some might assert that hummus and falafel are essentially Arab dishes ‘adopted’ by Israelis, sabich is unarguably a local Israeli concoction. The core ingredients can be found in the traditional Shabbat-breakfast of Iraqi Jews, but the idea of putting them into a pita and eating them as a sandwich is purely Israeli. Apparently, the credit for this culinary achievement rests with one Sabich Halabi, an Iraqi immigrant who opened what is believed to be the first sabich stand in Ramat Gan in 1961.
One central quality sabich eatery is on the corner of Dizengoff Street and Frieshman Street simply called – Sabich Frishman. It is reputed to be the first place that locals recommend, and as one food critic wrote:
“If lines and smell give any hint of quality, it’s hardly a surprise why.”
While many of these street food eateries are referred as “hole-in-the wall” establishments, one must not be put off – this is part of their charm, and often the less attractive on the outside, might be a cover-up for the best food in town. This is typical of Tel Aviv cuisine deception.
Another top Sabich establishment that comes highly recommended is Sabich Tchernichovsky whose food one food critic described, “rivals my grandmother’s.”
Could you ask for a better endorsement?
“From the moment you walk in, you know you’re in good hands. Despite the ever-existent line, the employees take their time constructing each and every sabich. Each ingredient is layered artfully in the perfect pita, providing the ideal combination of flavours in every bite. The delicious eggplant is thin and crispy, packing a flavourful kick with its unique and unidentifiable seasoning. It combines well with the soft creaminess of the boiled egg and pickled flavor of the amba.” There is also the option of ordering your sabich with a cheese that “is both gentle and tart, balancing the smoky eggplant and flavourful egg yolk.”
Yemen On The Yarkon
Included in the long list of tantalizing Israeli delights, dishes necessitating salivating overseas visitors to board a plane is Jachnun, described as “heavenly Yemen pastry.”
While Jachnun is available at eateries across Tel Aviv, you may want to enjoy it in an absolutely authentic setting – its Yemenite Quarter.
A charming, twisting enclave of cobblestone streets, low-slung buildings and some of the best home cooking, Tel Aviv’s Yemenite Quarter – also known as “Kerem HaTeimanim” or as locals call it “The Kerem” – is one of the world’s last thriving communities of Yemenite Jews.
Described poignantly; as well as poetically by Debra Kamin in Fodor’sTravel as “a community with a stopped clock…. where stout grandmothers stir rich, cartilage-thick soups and gossiping neighbors gather in courtyards under the hush of flowering pink mulberry trees,” where better that to savor Yemenite cuisine and in particular Jachnun.
Left in a slow oven overnight, Jachnun is prepared from dough which is rolled out thinly, brushed with shortening (traditionally, clarified butter or samneh), and rolled up, similar to puff pastry. turns a dark amber colour and has a slightly sweet taste. It is traditionally served with a crushed/grated tomato dip, hard boiled eggs, and the traditional hot sauce Zhug. The dough used for Jachnun is the same as that used for the Yemini flatbread – malawach.
Another delight, malawach resembles a thick pancake consisting of thin layers of puff pastry brushed with oil and cooked flat in a frying pan. It is traditionally served with hard-boiled eggs, Zhug – of course – and a crushed or grated tomato dip. For those who prefer a sweet taste, it is frequently served with honey.
A staple of Yemenite Jews in Israel, it has become a favourite “Street Food” for all Israelis irrespective of background or ethnic origin.
Best GPS – Your Nose!
No serious ‘explorer’ of Israeli street food can avoid a visit to Abulafia in Jaffa. It’s almost ‘universal’ popularity is best expressed by an overseas patron sounding more like a frequent ‘pilgrim’:
“Here are your directions. (1) Board plane for Tel Aviv, (2) Clear immigration and customs, (3) Ask taxi driver to take you to Abulafia. You could tell him that it is in Jaffa, but he already knows.”
Open 24-hours a day, this street-side bakery has been located at the same corner in Jaffa just south of the Jaffa clock tower since 1879, and there are always crowds ordering at the counter. It’s hard to walk past without stopping to order, the smells draw you in, and “once hooked, you’re an addict,” said one customer from Holon who was buying to take home a huge supply of fresh and flavored pitot, bagels, sambusak (stuffed pastry with mushrooms, egg and different cheeses), and a variety of sweet confectionary. “Was it for a party?” I curiously inquire.
“Nope, I have a big family with healthy appetites.”
And while in Jaffa, one must try the local bourekas, a puffed pastry introduced mainly by Jewish Bulgarian immigrants. Its filling is either white cheese, potato or mushrooms. While it’s as easy to find bourekas in Israel as it is to track down falafel, however, just like snowflakes, no two are alike. And like the quest for the best falafel, shwarma or sabich, bourekas-makers have their “to-die-for” customers.
‘Bourikas Leon’ on Oleh Zion Street is the oldest Bulgarian bakery in Jaffa. The owner Avi Cohen is a third-generation Bulgarian in Israel and the bakery, named after his father, was started by his ‘Grandma Julie’ who arrived in 1948 “and was the first to make the phyllo pastry that people would come from all over Israel to buy. This was even before she went into the bourekas business.”
Is bourekas still such a popular food today?
“Absolutely,” answers Avi. “Each year we have more and more new customers while still keeping our local, loyal customer base. It’s funny,” he says, “many of the young people who come today for a bourekas are the children of my father’s customers and the grandchildren of customers ‘Grandma Julie’ served.”
While street food is generally labeled ‘fast food’, and assumed unhealthy, this is not necessarily the case in Israel, where Israelis tend to eat more turkey than red meat, and always accompanied by mounds of fresh salad. It’s practically unheard of to have a meal in Israel – whether at a restaurant or a sidewalk eatery – without lots of salad.
This is why cities like Tel Aviv are vegetarian and vegan friendly.
Most people might not know but Tel Aviv is considered to be the world’s VEGAN capital! There are over 400 vegan-friendly places in Tel Aviv and new ones popping up every week or so that “vegan-friendly” means at least 25% of menu items are plant-based.
While the Tel Aviv’s ‘Street Food’ scene, cannot escape the big-name international chains such as the hamburger behemoths, they however, do not dominate the market. They may allure their customers by illuminating their presence with big, bright colorful lights; still, they are no match still for the small, unassuming sidewalk eateries attracting their loyal customers by offering quality, wholesome Israeli street cuisine.
People in Tel Aviv certainly love their side-walk food.