Showcasing the 'Joy'

Cookbook author and ‘olah hadasha’ Jamie Geller presents a different side of Israel in her food and travel show.

Jamie Geller370 (photo credit: Courtesy, Jamie Geller)
Jamie Geller370
(photo credit: Courtesy, Jamie Geller)
In another lifetime, Jamie Geller worked as a producer for HBO, on shows like The Sopranos, The Wire and Entourage. Today – after a journey that saw her through becoming religiously observant, marriage and kids, and just last year, aliya – Geller has turned her talents toward showcasing Israel’s diversity and charm in her new web series, The Joy of Israel.
“This show is not about showing people Masada and the Kotel,” said Geller, “it’s about showing the beauty of Israel, the nooks and crannies, the individual stories - it’s such an incredibly beautiful patchwork of society.”
In the first episode – the videos are posted at the beginning of the month – Geller brings her family up North to sled down Mount Meron, visit with Israeli cowboys (complete with horseback ride) and cook a traditional poike (“pot food”) over a bonfire with them. The second episode shows the Gellers visiting the Bar Kochba caves just outside Beit Shemesh, cooking traditional Kurdish cuisine at the Srigim moshav and celebrating their first Lag Ba’omer in Israel.
“We’re totally dedicated to bringing the beauty of Israel to the world,” Geller told The Jerusalem Post at a Jerusalem cafe last month. “We know what the perception of Israel is in the media – it’s wars, it’s politics – and I just want to show a totally different side.”
Geller has partnered with Nefesh B’Nefesh and 12Tribe Films to produce the shows, and she’s aiming to do 10 episodes in the first season. She is already planning upcoming shows focusing on Ethiopian cuisine, the Indian Jewish community in Israel, exploring biblical culinary experiences at Neot Kedumim and preparing traditional Beduin dishes. The first episode has close to 25,000 views on YouTube.
THE COOKBOOK author, magazine editor and mom-of-five has plenty on her plate.
Her third cookbook, Joy of Kosher, is set to come out at the end of this year. Her magazine, The Joy of Kosher with Jamie Geller is still growing, and her website, joyofkosher.
com, boasts 300,000 hits a month, where Geller continues to post recipes, blog posts and cooking videos on a regular basis.
“I work around the clock because I work with people in both Israel and the States, so there’s never an off-time,” she said. “I started now recently not bringing my phone down when I’m with the kids, dinner, homework, bathtime etc., because otherwise I cannot disconnect.”
The Joy of Israel show launched about six months after the end of Geller’s last video web series, The Joy of Aliyah. That series showcased the journey she and her family took on their way to Israel from Monsey, New York last summer – from packing up her house to saying goodbye to friends and family, boarding the flight, arriving in Israel, adjusting her kids at school and adapting to her new home.
“It was so successful, I got hundreds of comments of people bawling their eyes out and stopping me in the street,” she said. “I get stopped everywhere I go here, in the zoo in the shuk everywhere, people are talking about what a difference it has made about how much they want to make aliya now, or they just made aliya and the hizuk (“strength”) it has given them.”
She has just signed a deal with Channel 97, Hidabroot, to add Hebrew captions to all of her shows – including The Joy of Israel, The Joy of Aliyah and all of her cooking shows – and air them on the channel for Israeli audiences. They also currently appear in the US on JLTV, the Jewish Life television channel.
Geller says the idea for The Joy of Israel came before she made The Joy of Aliyah series, and even before she announced to the world that she was moving to Israel.
“At the time there was a very popular show, The Kimchi Chronicles,” Geller recounts, “It was a Korean food and travel show, and it was so colorful and so vibrant – a combination of city life and traditional Korean garb and history and then the food! And I thought, oh my gosh, this is Israel, we could do this for Israel.”
Interspersed with Geller’s trips around the country in The Joy of Israel are her continued attempts to adjust as a new olah.
“Everyone has said aliya doesn’t end when you land, that’s just the beginning,” said Geller. Many immigrants can relate when she uses an iPhone app to help translate her daughter’s homework (and to write her shopping list and serve as a flashlight inside a cave), searches in the supermarket for graham crackers to make s’mores (they don’t exist here) and struggles to understand the new Hebrew words her kids are picking up in school.
Though Geller is now settled into her home and kitchen, she’s still getting used to working in a smaller space, and without some ingredients that were regulars in her repertoire. There are a few things she likes to back from her many work-related trips to the US, she says – like duck sauce, toasted sesame oil and plum vinegar.
The third episode of Joy of Israel, which will be posted online in early July, will showcase Tel Aviv, as Geller takes a boat tour of the harbor and learns how to make shakshuka (something she’s never even tasted) from the famed Dr. Shakshuka.
“People are so more than willing to share their food, their stories, their places, it’s been so wonderful,” she said. “We’ve had such a wonderful reception on both ends, both from people sharing and those watching.”