Let me start by wishing that you be blessed with good health, peace and prosperity. May you continue to enjoy abundant energy, vitality and growth.
May you be blessed with strength.
The kind of strength that enables you to stay strong in your values and principles and integrity. May your physical strength and might protect and defend you through danger, strife and seemingly insurmountable obstacles. May your emotional strength continue to drive your passion, chutzpah and keep you real, unpredictable, awesome and authentic. May your spiritual strength guard and protect you always and allow you the resilience and fortitude to keep the faith in often terribly turbulent trials.
May your unparalleled creativity and innovation pioneer new paths that continue to bring advancement, brilliance and unprecedented masterpieces into the universe benefiting the entire planet.
May you always have the capacity to welcome new and old friends from all over the world and embrace everyone, with love and kindness.
May your goodness continue to be a tremendous source of inspiration near and far and may you always share your gifts by making a meaningful difference and contribution to everyone who you touch with your magic.
May your light shine bright.
May your size keep you humble.
May your enemies turn into friends.
May your natural beauty bring you so much delight and pleasure and joy.
And may your miraculous being in existence always be a message of never-ending hope, optimism and the promise of a better and brighter tomorrow to all the world.
Your life isn’t always easy, I know.
You are often abused, criticized, ridiculed and attacked. You are the center of so many fights and I feel your aching pains. I see your scars, wounds and broken bones. I can’t imagine how many sleepless nights you endure and how much suffering you overcome. And above all, you sacrifice so much every single day to defend your right to just be. So we can be here together with you.
You are the only home my children know.
On your special day, I want to let you know that my love and appreciation for you is unconditional always.
May all your birthday dreams and wishes come true.
May Hashem shower His greatest blessings over you always.
I feel so deeply privileged, thankful and blessed to share this time with you.
About the writer:
A certified Life Coach from the esteemed Adler Institute as well as a member of the International Coaching Federation and a Global Lumina Practitioner, Andi Saitowitz has an Honors Degree in Organizational Psychology from Bar Ilan University and a MA in Organizational Communication, Research and Practice from the University of South Africa. Fifteen years’ experience in international fundraising and donor relations in the non-profit sector, Andi is also the author of the ‘Rise and Shine Personal Development Journal’ available worldwide in English and Hebrew. She is currently completing her Master Practitioner Qualification in NLP. Andi fulfilled her Zionist dream and lives with her husband and three children in Ra’anana, Israel.
Four Hotels Full of Foreigners; Three Churches Full of Christians – a setup for mass murder
ByDavid E. Kaplan
From fallen masonry in Paris to fallen lives in Sri Lanka it has been a devastating week.
While an electric fault may explain the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris blaze, few were quick to speculate who exactly was behind the mass murder in Sri Lanka that so far has taken 260 lives and inflicted 500 seriously injured.
While predictably some of the initial ‘Security Sherlocks’ were expressing “these attacks cannot be predicted”, “the facts don’t reveal why it happened” or “by whom,’ there was a palpable reluctance – notably from world leaders – to publicly identity the category of the victims!
Yes, they would say “foreigners” – a safe and nebulous depiction and unlikely to solicit a rebuke – but hesitant to go beyond a whisper that they were mostly Christians.
There was no such verbal hesitancy from Israel’s state President, Reuven Rivlin, who got it spot-on expressing on Twitter:
“We are all children of God; an attack on one religion is an attack on us all.”
In other words, whether the victims are Jews in Pittsburg or Muslims in Christchurch, Rivlin was identifying and publicly proclaiming that the victims in Sri Lanka were Christians.
The targeting of crowded churches on Easter Sunday hardly necessitated the detective talents of a Hercule Poirot to draw the necessary conclusions.
Christians In The Crosshairs
Given that three of the blasts occurred at churches and were timed for Easter services, at least a major part of the attack was aimed at the country’s 1.5 million Christians. The almost simultaneous blasts left no time to warn other churchgoers.
Reuters cited the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka – representing more than 200 churches – as having recorded 86 incidents of discrimination, threats, and violence against Christians last year.
The signs were evident – and were either ignored or hardly taken seriously.
Staying in the Far East, nearly 1000 churches in Indonesia, have been closed since 2006 when the nation passed a “Religious Harmony” law which requires churches to obtain several signatures from Muslims before they can obtain a permit. Nearly 85 percent of Indonesia’s 255 million population are Muslims. Only seven percent are Christians. Not surprising, many churches failed to garner the requisite signatures and were promptly shut down. Even the few that obtained the necessary endorsement have since been torched by radical Islamist groups.
Does anyone even remember or was even aware when these Christian churches were deliberately set ablaze?
Because to talk of Christians being persecuted, logically leads one to address who is persecuting them – and we are staring at the three proverbial monkeys: “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”.
Reticence is not a remedy!
Facing The Facts
The Middle East is even more threatening to Christians, which led the head of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to write last year in The Sunday Telegraph that millions of Middle East Christians are on the verge of “imminent extinction.”
He lamented that “In the birthplace of our faith, the community faces extinction,” calling it, “the worst situation since the Mongol invasions of the 13th century.”
In the early 20th century, Christians made up to 20% of the population in the Middle East; that figure has now dwindled to around 5%. It’s easy to understand why and see that Israel – despite lies to the contrary – has nothing to do with this exodus.
Before the ‘Arab Spring’, Christians in Syria were businessmen, engineers, lawyers and pharmacists, now there are leaving the country in their droves. In Iraq, 300,000 Christians have fled persecution since the downfall of Saddam Hussein and in Egypt, Christians face harassment leading them to emigrate in record numbers.
In 2017, more than 200 Copts were driven out of their homes and 128 were killed because of their faith.
Should we be surprised if what happened in Sri Lanka this week, will happen next week in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia or even Turkey, where President Tayyip Erdogan is stirring up Christian fear of Muslims by announcing his plan to change the status of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia -a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and once the foremost cathedral in Christendom for 900 years – from a museum to a mosque!
Looking at this tragedy from Israel, one could not escape the hypocrisy of the Palestinian leadership with President Mahmoud Abbas condemning from Ramallah the terror in Sri Lanka while rewarding monthly Palestinian terror against Jews.
Calling the tragedy in Sri Lanka “criminal and gruesome”, Abbas falsely called on the world to combat terror together:
“Terrorism is spreading as an epidemic across the world. I call on the countries of the world to cooperate to eradicate terrorism and not to tolerate with racist groups that incite violence and hatred.”
[WAFA, official PA news agency (English edition), April 21, 2019]
Abbas’ call to combat terror abroad, stands in stark contrast to his repeated vows at home to continue his financial support for imprisoned terrorists and the families of dead terrorists.
A selection of opinions and analysis from the Arab media
To enable readers across the world to freely make up their minds based on accurate and broad-based coverage on the Middle East, LOTL provides a platform to what Arab journalists – in their own words – are writing about the region.
Palestinians: The Other Peace Deal
by Khaled Abu Toameh • March 21, 2019 at 5:00 am
Hamas is now accusing the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah of exploiting the economic crisis in the Gaza Strip to call on Palestinians to overthrow the Hamas regime. Fatah, for its part, is accusing the “dark forces” of Hamas of acting on orders from outside parties to establish a separate Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip.
The US administration says it will publish its long-awaited plan for peace in the Middle East, known as the “Deal of the Century,” after the general elections in Israel on April 9. Perhaps it would be a good idea if the US administration came up with a plan to make peace between Palestinians and Palestinians before attempting to make peace between the Palestinians and Israel.
What is clear, meanwhile, is that the Fatah and Hamas leaders are more interested in warring with each other than improving the living conditions of their people. The two groups have already rejected the upcoming “Deal of the Century”: for now, that is the only deal they seem ready to make.
Hamas and Fatah, the two major Palestinian parties ruling the Gaza Strip and West Bank respectively, have been at war with each other for the past 12 years. They disagree on many things, but when it comes to repressing and violating the human rights of their people, Hamas and Fatah have proven that they are comrades-in-arms.
In the past week, Fatah has been launching scathing attacks on Hamas for using excessive force to suppress Palestinians protesting economic hardship in the Gaza Strip. Fatah says that hundreds of Palestinians, including political activists and journalists, have been arrested or severely beaten by Hamas security forces.
The charges against Hamas are not baseless. Photos of wounded Palestinians have surfaced on social media. Some had black eyes and bruises over different parts of their bodies, while others appeared to have had their legs and arms broken by Hamas security officers.
What Happened To The Yazidis Is A Shame On All Of Us
“They are not taken into serious consideration by the international community,” writes Abdul Basit Sidama in Al-Arab,UK, March 10
Cecilia Oden, a veteran Swedish journalist, has focused her media and research efforts on the Middle East, where she lives almost permanently, moving between many capitals and places there. It was a few days ago in Qamishli and the Hull camp, where she interviewed a wide host of Yazidi girls and women who were victims of a sadistic torture campaign at the hands of the Islamic State (ISIS). Many of those Oden spoke with recounted their stories in painful details. One woman witnessed her father and husband slaughtered in front of her and her young children. She then began to recount the details of her journey of suffering with slavery and sexual exploitation, and the cruelty she was subjected to. Sadly, this is not the only story. There are hundreds of accounts just like this one.
These stories once again call into attention the horrendous crimes perpetuated by the ISIS, not only physically but also psychological. It destroyed a legitimate Syrian revolution that sought to bring down a regime of tyranny and create a democratic and pluralistic state that guaranteed all Syrians—without exception—freedom, justice and a decent life. The tragedy of the Yazidis is painful. Its horrific details evoke all the anger and reveal the savage side of the human being who is stripped of all values, while hiding behind the veil of religion. The Yazidi community is a peaceful society by nature, devoted to the affairs of its daily life without interference in the affairs of others. Their suffering continues to unfold. Their territory is still occupied by various militias. The Yazidis continue to live in the most difficult conditions, in camps that are not suitable for daily living. Most sadly, they are not taken into serious consideration by the international community. Nobody is fighting for their right to return to their homes and to pursue their normal life in a peaceful manner as they have always done. This is a shame on all of us.
Abdul Basit Sidama
Palestinians: “No Place for the Zionist Entity in Palestine”
Hamas and Islamic Jihad should be given credit for their clarity and honesty regarding their ambitions. The two groups are clearly saying that their ultimate goal is to see Israel removed from the region and replaced with an Islamic state. As far as they are concerned, the conflict with Israel is not about a settlement, a checkpoint or even Jerusalem. Instead, it is about the presence of Jews in what they regard as their own state and homeland.
What will happen the day after a Palestinian state is established?
The answer, according to Hamas and Islamic Jihad (and other Palestinians) is that they will use it to continue the “armed struggle” until the liberation of the supposedly occupied cities of Tel Aviv, Nazareth, Tiberias, Haifa and Ashdod. Under these current circumstances, a Palestinian state will pose an immediate existential danger to Israel.
The Islamic Jihad threat to turn Israeli cities into “hell” by firing missiles at them needs to be taken seriously by those who are working on the upcoming US peace plan. Any land that is given to Abbas and his Palestinian Authority in the West Bank will be used in the future by Hamas and Islamic Jihad as a base for launching rockets and missiles at Israeli cities. Then, the terror groups will not need accurate, long-range rockets to achieve their plan to destroy Israel’s population centers: they will be sitting right across the street from them.
A Palestinian terror group says that its engineers have developed “accurate and destructive” missiles that can reach the “occupied” cities of Tel Aviv, Netanya and Jerusalem. Abu Hamza, spokesman for the Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Iranian-funded Islamic Jihad organization in the Gaza Strip, threatened that his group’s “rocket unit” would turn Israeli cities into “hell.”
“There is no place for the Zionist enemy on the land of Palestine,” Abu Hamzasaid. “Either they leave this blessed land, or they will be dealt one painful strike after the other.”
Islamic Jihad is the second-largest Palestinian terror group in the Gaza Strip, after Hamas. Neither group recognizes Israel’s right to exist. Both say they are committed to the “armed struggle until the liberation of all Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.”
The leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad see Israel as one big settlement to be uprooted from the Middle East.
For them, there is no difference between a Jewish settlement in the West Bank and any other city inside Israel. As far as they are concerned, Tel Aviv, Ashdod, Haifa and Nazareth are all “occupied” cities. Palestinian weather forecast bulletins often publish names of cities inside Israel on a map that does not mention the word Israel.
The Palestinian leaders say that the conflict with Israel will end only when Israel is annihilated.
“We won’t give upon one inch of the land of Palestine,” said Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. “We will continue to fight until all the refugees return to their homes” — meaning areas in Israel within the “green line” 1949 armistice borders.
In 2017, Hamas published a document of “General Principles and Policies,” in which it claimed that it was ready to accept a Palestinian state on the pre-1967 lines (West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem) — but without Hamas recognizing Israel’s right to exist or Hamas “giving up all of Palestine.”
In other words, Hamas is saying that it would not oppose the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem; it would use these territories as a launching pad to “liberate the rest of Palestine.”
The Hamas document clearly states that “no part of the land of Palestine shall be compromised or conceded, irrespective of the causes, the circumstances, and the pressures, and no matter how long the occupation lasts.” It affirms that Hamas “rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.” The document also states that Hamas will never recognize the “Zionist entity” or relinquish any Palestinian rights.
Although Hamas says in the document that it is ready, for now, to accept a Palestinian state alongside Israel, it nevertheless considers “Palestine, which extends from the River Jordan in the east to the Mediterranean in the west, and from Ras Al-Naqurah in the north to Umm Al-Rashrash [Eilat] in the south, an integral territorial unit. It is the land and the home of the Palestinian people.”
The Hamas document has been misinterpreted by some Westerners as a sign of moderation and pragmatism on the part of the terrorist group. Reuters, for example, claimed in a May 1, 2017 dispatch that Hamas has “dropped its long-standing call for Israel’s destruction.”
This claim is completely false. Reuters, like several other Western media outlets, ignored those parts of the Hamas document that mentions the need to eliminate Israel. Here are other parts of the document that reveal Hamas‘s true intentions:
“The Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas is a Palestinian national liberation resistance movement. Its goal is to liberate Palestine and confront the Zionist project. Palestine is an Arab Islamic land. It is a blessed sacred land that has a special place in the heart of every Arab and every Muslim. There shall be no recognition of the legitimacy of the Zionist entity. Whatever has befallen the land of Palestine in terms of occupation, settlement building, Judaization or changes to its features or falsification of facts is illegitimate. Rights never lapse.”
Worse, some Westerners have gone so far as describing the document as the “new Hamas charter.” Again, that claim is false.
The Hamas charter, which was published in 1988, continues to exist; it has never been changed or amended. This charter states :
“… the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Muslim generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to do that…
“Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious. It needs all sincere efforts. It is a step that inevitably should be followed by other steps. The Movement is but one squadronthat should be supported by more and more squadrons from this vast Arab and Islamic world, until the enemy is vanquished and Allah’s victory is realised.“
For the past three decades, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have been major players in the Palestinian arena. They are not splinter factions than can be dismissed as irrelevant. The two groups control nearly two million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. Each group has its own political leadership, as well as militias that possess various types of weapons, including rockets and missiles. The two groups also have thousands of militiamen in the Gaza Strip who consider themselves “soldiers” and “freedom fighters” in the war to eliminate Israel and kill Jews.
Those who think that Hamas and Islamic Jihad will vanish one day are living in an illusion. The two groups continue to pose a real threat, not only to Israel, but also to Mahmoud Abbas‘s Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. Were it not for Israel’s security presence in the West Bank, Hamas and Islamic Jihad would have toppled Abbas’s regime long ago. Hamas and Islamic Jihad despise Abbas and consider him a traitor because of his purported support for a two-state solution.
Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar was recently quoted as saying that when his movement “liberates Palestine,” it will bring Abbas to trial for betraying the Palestinians.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad should be given credit for their clarity and honesty regarding their ambitions. The two groups are clearly saying that their ultimate goal is to see Israel removed from the region and replaced with an Islamic state. As far as they are concerned, the conflict with Israel is not about a settlement or a checkpoint or even Jerusalem. Instead, it is about the presence of Jews in what they regard as their own homeland and State.
Any Middle East peace plan that ignores what Hamas and Islamic Jihad are saying is doomed to fail. Moreover, ignoring the two groups will pose a massive threat to security and stability in the region. The US administration, which says it will unveil its plan for peace in the Middle East after the Israeli elections in April, ought to think and think again about the plan’s possible repercussions.
This is what members of the US administration needs to ask themselves: What will happen the day after a Palestinian state is established? The answer, according to Hamas and Islamic Jihad (and other Palestinians) is that the Palestinians will use this state to continue the “armed struggle” until the liberation of the occupied cities of Tel Aviv, Nazareth, Tiberias, Jaffa and Haifa. Under the current circumstances, a Palestinian state will pose a clear and present existential danger to Israel.
The Islamic Jihad threat of turning Israeli cities into “hell” by firing missiles at them needs to be taken seriously by those who are working on the upcoming US peace plan. Any land that is given to Abbas and his Palestinian Authority in the West Bank will be used in the future by Hamas and Islamic Jihad as a base for launching rockets and missiles into Israeli cities. Then, the terror groups will not need accurate, long-range rockets to achieve their plan to destroy Israel’s population centers: they will be sitting right across the street from them.
Bassam Tawil is an Arab Muslim based in the Middle East.
When the call comes in, they are prepared. Often dispatched to the furthest corners of the world, wherever disaster strikes, this team of Orthodox Jewish men who all volunteer their time to do the sacred task of returning the remains of those who have died, are ready for this most solemn duty.
This is ZAKA.
The name ZAKA is derived from the Hebrew: זק”א, abbreviation for Zihuy Korbanot Ason, Hebrew: זיהוי קורבנות אסון, literally: “Disaster Victim Identification”. The full name is “ZAKA – Identification, Extraction and Rescue – True Kindness” (Hebrew: זק”א – איתור חילוץ והצלה – חסד של אמת). The Jerusalem-based organisation operates with a specially trained team of volunteer paramedics and search and rescue professionals who are on call 24/7, ready to respond in the fastest possible time to major international mass casualty incidents, wherever they may occur.
ZAKA‘s extraordinary assistance at major international terror attacks such as those in Mombasa, Istanbul and Taba as well as numerous natural disasters like the 2004 tsunami and Hurricane Katrina have resulted in official recognition from the United Nations. In 2005, the UN officially recognized ZAKA as an international volunteer humanitarian organization, one of only three from Israel that enjoy this status.
This official recognition enables ZAKA to offer emergency assistance even before the official delegation has left Israel, or the host country has formally asked for help. ZAKA assists countries that have no formal diplomatic ties with the Jewish State. When a plane crashed in Namibia in 2014, ZAKA helped with recovery efforts and trained the local forensic police – this despite no formal ties between the two countries.
ZAKA also trains emergency response teams in local communities worldwide, including South Africa and this was evident recently in Ethiopia.
On March 10, 2019 just six minutes after take-off from the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopian Airline flight ET302 crashed, killing all 157 crew and passengers from 35 different countries.
When the team of highly trained volunteers in South Africa got the call, they mobilized immediately. The close proximity to Ethiopia meant they were able to assist their colleagues from Israel in doing the unimaginable – finding and identifying human remains. ZAKA will go to the ends of the earth – literally- to help recover the remains of Israelis and bring them home for burial. They also assist in the recovery of victims from other countries, bringing relief to anxious families.
In Judaism, death just like is sacred. For the volunteers of ZAKA, there is no more holy task than returning the remains of loved ones to their devastated families to ensure that they are buried with dignity.
For the families of the late Shimon Reem and Avraham Matzliah, the Israelis who were on board the tragic flight, the wait has been excruciating. The endless waiting for news adds to their trauma. Every second counts and each detail will carry a critical clue about what happened to their loved ones. The importance of cooperation with officials is crucial – families deserve answers and the opportunity to begin the painful process of grieving. Jewish religious law dictates that when a person dies, they need to be buried as soon as possible.
These highly trained ZAKA teams who are equipped not only with the necessary skills to do this often grisly task but also with empathy for the families and the souls of the departed. Members of ZAKA South Africa, who were on site, spoke movingly about how the teams gathered at the crash site and along with the local Chabad Rabbi, intoned prayers for the dead.
The situation on the ground in Ethiopia has been particularly complicated. Delays in access to the crash site have created tremendous frustration with those responsible for recovery who is working against the clock.
The ability of ZAKA to navigate tragedy – as a disaster, the trauma to the families affected and the delicate political nuances – are part of what has gained them international attention – and support.
The extraordinary efforts of this humble team have also garnered the support of Christians around the world who have started their own organization called Christian Friends of ZAKA.
In a quiet and modest way, this exceptional global network of volunteers with their heart situated in Jerusalem, prove time and time again that whatever the situation and whenever the call comes in, they are prepared for anything that tomorrow may bring.
If you had to let your nose lead you during an early morning walk in Jerusalem you would likely end up at the nearest bakery. The smell of freshly baked bread can drive one crazy diverting one’s senses in this most alluring city from the visual to the culinary.
Walk down Old Jaffa Street or many of the city’s side streets and you cannot escape the all-too-familiar aroma. Nor would you care to, and with the variety of breads today – particularly the health brands – there is little reason to resist temptation.
Such a treat would not have been possible until the late 19th century. There were no bakeries then in the Jewish communities of the Old Yishuv – all bread was baked at home. One of the earliest was Berman’s Bakery, established in 1875 and its history is not
only a story of a bakery but the birth of a nation. The ‘yeast’ in this story began when Reb Todrus Halevi Berman, a great Torah scholar and his wife Kreshe, and their two sons Yehoshua and Eliyahu, left Russia to make the long and arduous journey to Palestine.
From Dough to Doe
Times were tough and when their savings ran out, fate and foresight intervened when the family – literally – grabbed a ‘window of opportunity’. From her window in the Jewish Quarter in the Old City, Kreshe observed the passing show – but what she saw more than just the daily visit of Christian Pilgrims was the potential to turn their presence into profit. Soon she was baking honey cakes and black bread and years later it was her son Yehoshua who would later move the bakery outside the walls of the Old City to Jaffa Street. He was the first Jerusalemite to open a store outside the Old City, a risky venture considering that the area from Jaffa Gate to Nachalat Shiva was still desolate.
For a bakery located well-away from the coast it may seem odd to have a ship’s anchor on its logo today – however there is a sound explanation imbedded in history. The horse or mule-drawn wagons that transported the first breads were bought from an Austrian army surplus depot and these wagons sported an anchor representing the insignia of an Austrian military unit. In time, Berman’s adopted the anchor as its own business logo.
In 1886, Yehoshua built the first flourmill for Ashkenazi Jews, close to Mishkenot Shenanim, (the site of the arts and craft center today) and over 120 years later, the original two milestones remain firmly in place. Thousands of kilos of wheat were finely ground in the family mill until the eve of the War of Independence in 1948, when the area became no-man’s land.
With the increase in the local Jewish population, the Berman family moved to Meah Shearim, building a house and bakery side by side. Not only was it the largest bakery in Palestine but also in the entire Middle East. It was no wonder that it was a major tourist attraction at the time.
No loafing about
With the siege of Jerusalem in 1948, flour and gasoline rationing led to shortages and even starvation.
Due to its proximity to the Jordanian border, and since it was the main supply source for the besieged population, the bakery became the target of numerous bombing attempts. Despite this, the bakery never ceased production, and the residents of Jerusalem received a daily supply of bread.
Today Berman’s Bakery is in the growing and thriving commercial center of Gival Shaul, and when in 2001 it acquired Vadash Bakery in Ramat Hasharon and the Lechem HaAretz Bakery, a bakery specializing in health bread and special cookies, it became the second largest bakery in the country, producing 3000 fresh loaves every hour, much of which is transported across the country in over sixty trucks – a far cry from the mules and horses over 100 years ago!
‘Anchored’ in history, it all began with a vision from a window in the Old City!
Modern Israelis of all religious and ethnic background love bread, and eat a large variety of it. This is never more evident than on Friday mornings when Israelis, irrespective of their degree in religiosity, cram into bakeries selecting their different size and shape of their Sabbath bread, known as Challah. Made with eggs, this Jewish Sabbath‑and‑holiday bread is immersed in folklore and tradition and is loaded with symbolism as much as it is with ingredients. On festive occasions a blessing is said over two loaves, symbolizing the two portions of the manna that was distributed on Fridays to the children of Israel during their Exodus from Egypt. The breads are covered on the table by a decorative challah cover, representing the dew that collected on the manna in the morning. Poppy and sesame seeds sprinkled on the bread also symbolize the manna that fell from heaven.
Challah is made in various sizes and shapes, all of which have a meaning. Braided ones, which may have three, four, or six strands, are the most common, and because they look like arms intertwined, symbolize love. Three braids symbolize truth, peace, and justice. Twelve humps from two small or one large braided bread, recalls the miracle of the twelve loaves for the twelve tribes of Israel. Round loaves, “where there is no beginning and no end,” are baked for Rosh Hashanah to symbolize continuity, while ladder shaped ones served at the meal before the fast of Yom Kippur, reminds Jews that God decides who will ascend and descend the ladder of life. Sweet challahs with honey or raisins are baked during the festive season to bring joy and happiness.
The Sabbath and festival breads of the Yemenite Jews have become popular in Israel and can be bought frozen in supermarkets. Jachnun is thinly rolled dough, brushed with oil and baked overnight at a low heat. It is traditionally served with a crushed tomato dip, hard boiled eggs and skhug (Middle East hot sauce).
Malawach is a thin circle of dough toasted in a frying pan, while Kubaneh is a yeast dough baked overnight and traditionally served on Shabbat mornings. Lahoh is spongy, pancake-like bread made of fermented flour and water and fried in a pan. Jews from Ethiopia make a similar yeast-risen flatbread called Injera from millet flour.
And of course, the most common bread is Pita, created by steam, which puffs up the dough. In both Israeli and Palestinian cuisine, it is the custom to eat almost anything with pita, from falafel, lamb, turkey or chicken shwarma, kebab, omelets, shakshouka (dish of eggspoached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, and onions) and most common, hummus and salads.
The South African ‘Ingredient’
Away from the giants of bread manufactures in Israel, are several boutique bakeries who pride themselves in baking mainly health breads. One such is Saidels Bakery – name recently changed to Saidel’s Artisan Baking Institute – located in the village of Ginot Shomron. Nestled in the shade of weeping willows, with the tranquil trickle of a babbling brook to delight the senses, this family bakery is run by husband and wife team, Les and Sheryl Saidel, immigrants from Johannesburg, South Africa. Modeled on the time-honored family “village bakery”, Saidels is a far cry from the high volume, industrialized operations of modern bakeries.
Les, a student of world renowned pastry chef Michel Suas (San Francisco Baking Institute) and “an artisan bread baker” with over 30 years of baking experience, laments that “our global health is declining and the food we put in our mouths has a lot to do with it.” He refers back to an age where there “were no major bakery chains and no E-something chemical list. Bread was baked in a local village by the baker from scratch.” Furthermore, he continues, “The mills of those early days could not grind the flour too fine so it retained all the components of the wheat grain, including the wheat germ. This was real bread.”
All this Saidels proudly emulates.
“We mill the whole wheat flour ourselves and use it immediately in the bread dough so no refrigeration of wheat germ is necessary and the wheat germ has no time to go rancid.” As Saidels bake their bread and sell it fresh out of the oven, there is no need for “stabilizers, preservatives and dough enhancers. We are artisan bakers and when we say 100% whole wheat that is exactly what it is – direct from nature, organically grown and no tampering.”
Their masonry oven was built by Les himself according to strict guidelines and is one of only two such ovens in the entire Middle East. Constructed with century old bricks imported from Belgium and with its Tudor-like facade, “our oven is not only the tool of our trade, it is a wonder to behold and attracts tourists and baking enthusiasts from all over the country.”
Les says he finds it enriching watching “the flames lick the brick interior of our oven, in the knowledge that our ancestors baked this way and that we are continuing their fine tradition”
Les says, “we have shifted our focus and allocate 70% of our time to running workshops across the country instructing in challah, artisan, healthy, French, Italian, Donut and flatbread baking. Once we even did a workshop on a large boat on the Sea of Galilee.”
Interesting new additions to the Saidels ‘repertoire’ is Rambam Bread, named after the Middle Ages Jewish philosopher and Rabbi, Maimonides, who advocated a healthy lifestyle and of special interest to their South African customers – Biltong Bread.
Chew on This
“After many years of experimentation, carefully manipulating the sourdough process and using a secret blend of spices,” says Les, “we finally hit upon the secret formula. There is NO MEAT in this bread. The Biltong taste comes from the combination of sourdough and spices and you taste it, you will react the same way we did after the eureka moment – “OMG this actually tastes like Biltong!”
Like real Biltong, this bread is meant to be nibbled, as a snack. The flavor is very dominant and may be overpowering in a sandwich. “People buy it sliced, ready for munching, or chop it up further into sticks or croutons for use in soups and salads.
Adhering to their health philosophy, Les says, “Our Biltong Bread is organic, has 80% whole grain flour, is high in fiber, low in gluten (over 60% is rye flour), has a low glycemic index, contains no preservatives, chemicals or dough improvers. It is all natural – flour, water, salt, malt, molasses, sourdough yeast and all natural spices (no MSG – that is a swear word in our bakery). Only 55 calories a slice – one slice is very filling, you won’t need more than one.”
Finally, says Les, “It is the perfect, delicious snack to nibble on that is actually GOOD for you!
Eating healthily today means enjoying a hearty, healthy breakfast and this includes enjoying Israel’s hearty breads.
In the sixties, ‘bread’ was hippy slang for ‘money’. As food, the doughy stuff has long been considered “the staff of life” and in Isaiah 55:10 we read:
“For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater.”
As the ‘Joburg’ ladies might say: “This bread is divine!”