In the course of visits to Israel, many Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization missions have been taken to Hadassah College in downtown Jerusalem, where they are wined and dined by the students of the Culinary Arts department.
Appreciative reactions to the various menu items often have been followed by requests for recipes. Complimentary comments occasionally have been accompanied by suggestions that the recipes be compiled in book form.
Culinary Arts department head Avi Tofan used to take such suggestions with a grain of salt. He'd been hearing them for a decade, and nothing ever came of them. Until a little over a year ago, when Hadassah National Board member Sybil Kaplan, and her husband, Barry, were members of a mission that was hosted at the college.
Kaplan, in addition to her voluntary work for Hadassah, is a professional cookbook writer, editor and reviewer, most famous in Israel for her book, The Wonders of the Wonder Pot, which she wrote under her previous name, Sybil Kaufman, during the decade that she lived in Israel - from the late 1960s to the late 1970s.
At that time, few people had ovens, and sometimes there were as many as three families crowded into a two-bedroom apartment. The "wonder pot" served as an oven on the top of a two-burner stove, and good cooks used it to produce wonderful roasts and baked goods, including the lightest of sponge cakes.
Kaplan collected wonder-pot recipes from friends and acquaintances and made a book out of them, which was a best-seller for several years.
Soon after her return home to Kansas after sampling the Hadassah College fare, Kaplan initiated a plan of action for putting out a book of Hadassah College recipes.
She enlisted the help of: her friend, Marilyn Landes, a native of America and a long-time resident of Jerusalem, to translate the recipes; Judy Habani, the American-born personal assistant to college President Prof. Nava Ben-Zvi to act as a liaison; Bernard Blum, who heads the college's Hotel Management department; and, of course, Tofan.
Landes hadn't realized what she was getting herself into. She thought she would have to translate 10, maybe 20, recipes. She ended up translating a lot more than that. In fact, the finished product, called What's Cooking at Hadassah College?, contains 174 recipes.
Landes translated them from Hebrew to English, e-mailed them to Kaplan, who then adapted them to the American kitchen and rewrote them in cookbook style, and subsequently e-mailed Habani with queries such as: "How much is a little bit?" or "How long do you cook it?"
Often she wanted to know the background to a particular recipe, so as to "spice up" the information in the book, which was intended as more than a mere compilation of recipes.
THE PROJECT took nine months to complete.
"It was like having a baby," said Tofan.
"With a very difficult labor," chimed in Kaplan, who is in Israel as a member of the Hadassah delegation to the Zionist Congress.
"For experienced cooks like Sybil or like me," said Habani, "it was no big deal to estimate quantities, but for American cooks, we had to be specific. Sybil drove us crazy."
Neither Tofan nor Blum - nor any of their staff or students - had any previous experience in writing a cook book.
"We know what to tell a student about preparing a final project," said Tafan, "but Sybil wanted to give all the recipes a soul. She wanted to tell a story, and she asked so many questions that we asked ourselves, 'Who is this woman?'"
The amazing thing is that Kaplan never had a working meeting with the others involved in the book.
"I had the whole thing in my mind; the problem was I never told anyone," she confessed.
Yet, despite the communication gap, it didn't take too long for the people at the college to realize where Kaplan was heading.
"Every synagogue in the US has a cookbook of some kind. We wanted ours to be as different and as diverse as possible," explained Habani, who also consulted family and friends in the "old country" about the availability of certain products so that in case of difficulties, the book could suggest substitutes. For instance, a kosher cook in the US will not be able to readily obtain kosher goose breast, and may have to make do with duck. By the same token, kosher goose liver is a rare commodity and may have to be replaced by chicken liver.
"It had to reflect the diversity of the students in our department - Arabs, Jews, Ashkenazi, Sephardi," added Tofan, who recently accepted his first students from the Bnei Menashe immigrants, who will bring their own culinary traditions to the Hadassah College kitchen.
What makes both the book and the Culinary Arts Department unique is the mix of ethnic flavors.
"We teach cooking methods and techniques," said Tofan, "but everyone can add the spices from the tastes of home. We let them use their own imagination and traditions. We just give them the tools."
This includes visits to the nearby Mahane Yehuda market, where they are introduced to herbs, spices, vegetables and fruit. They are also taken to the fish market in Jaffa, and to meat and poultry slaughter houses.
Also in the course are visits to hotel and restaurant kitchens in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and practical workshops with professional chefs, some of whom are Hadassah graduates whose thumbnail biographies have been incorporated into the book.
All the graduates of the Culinary Arts Department find work, declared Habani, noting that some had become executive chefs or chief pastry chefs in leading establishments in Israel and abroad.
In addition to the recipes, the book contains highly informative texts by Blum about the work of the department and the many varieties of Israeli food that have evolved not only out of a diverse immigrant society but as a result of globalization.
"Anyone with satellite television who zaps from one channel to another will see cooking shows from all over the world," commented Tofan. "People are interested in other people's food traditions."
Illustrations in the book are by students from the college's Photography and Digital Media department..
The book, which is available through Hadassah College, 37 Hanevi'im Street, Jerusalem, is also peppered - albeit not on every page - with brief facts about the college, a clever means of disseminating data, without making it top-heavy.