A taste of home

Contemporary Jewish eateries abroad have become outposts of Israeli culture, often in both menu and style.

By
March 18, 2011 15:45
Jewish restaurant

Jewish restaurant 521. (photo credit: Reuters)

I’m fascinated by nuances of Jewish life while traveling, and so it was on a recent speaking tour to the western US. Because my husband and I eat only kosher food, the ubiquity of certified products in American supermarket chains, even in states where years ago kosher symbols were once scarce, makes paper-bag dining easier than ever.

And while it’s true that the cockpit was locked down this week by the frightened crew on Alaska Air unfamiliar with tefillin (I did say my morning prayers on one Alaska Air flight, but more circumspectly, and my husband made sure to put on tefillin on the ground), Jet Blue Airlines offers one of its five purchasable “hand-selected boxed meals” marked “kosher” with the appropriate kosher symbol printed by each ingredient.

The certified kosher sun-dried tomato humous turned out to be made in Jordan.

The “zesty snack mix” made by a company called “Sheffa, The Best Earth Can Offer,” was packaged with a legend explaining sheffa as “an ancient word for abundance” as well as the sublime energy that moves through all creation. Sheffa is indeed an ancient word, a Hebrew ancient word.

Wherever possible, kind hosts insisted on upgrading our picnic-style eating and taking us out to eat. More than places to eat, contemporary Jewish eateries abroad have become outposts of Israeli culture, often in both menu and style. The lingua franca is Hebrew and you’re apt to meet someone you know. The waitress in Agoura Hills, California, turns out to live on a familiar moshav near Ashkelon. In Seattle, at a home for retirees which features a kosher café, the large circle of talented knitters are fashioning warm caps for IDF soldiers on the icy Hermon. In Dallas, the menu offers pargiot. Others feature Israeli pizza and the eggplant-egg-humous combo we call sabbich. A taste of home.

IN HOUSTON, Texas I find myself speaking for Hadassah in a new kosher restaurant, actually called Aroma Classique, and featuring Israeli sandwiches like halloumi cheese and fried egg and matbucha. Compulsory entry to the event is wearing the slender golden key necklace that marks the 2012 organization centennial and dedication of the new Hadassah Hospital Tower back in my hometown. But when I sit down after lunch with Michal Ravid, the owner, for cappuccino, the sense of familiarity becomes overwhelming.

Ravid is from Jerusalem, too, and she is a terror survivor.

No, she’s not related to Efrat Ravid, the waitress blown up in the Moment Café on March 9, 2002. Her terror attack in Kikar Zion happened a long time ago, she begins.

I assure her that I remember the day well.

July 4, 1975. Ravid was a schoolgirl with dark hair to her waist. She lived in the German Colony, and took the 18 bus downtown on the Friday morning. Summer vacation had just begun. She was playing a lot of basketball and reading, and she was determined to change her book at the school library before Shabbat. She was a student in laboratory science at the popular Seligsberg School, then located on Rehov Hanevi’im.

She got off the bus at Kikar Zion.

She heard the boom and then lost consciousness.

Ahmed Jabara, a Palestinian also known as Abu Sukar, had packed a refrigerator with five kilograms of explosives and placed it at the entrance of the Ron Hotel. While Esther Landner was reporting the abandoned appliance to the police, it blew up. Fourteen people were killed, 77 wounded.

Among them was Ravid, then 15.

She remembers fading in and out of consciousness, the doctors telling her parents that she would be okay, having her long hair shaved for brain surgery, telling the doctor that she didn’t mind losing the hair, that she wanted to live.

“Your life changes forever,” she said. No more basketball, no more class trips, no military service. “Your parents are always watching you, worried about you. You’re no longer focused on school. Hospitals become part of your life.”

Indeed, many head operations followed.

She was allowed to do National Service. She grew up to become producer of a TV health program, a mother of two. In the restaurant she pushes aside bangs now streaked with gray to show the golf-ball sized bump on her forehead. “I have a metal plate in my head,” she says. “Any change in weather still makes me miserable.”

She and her second husband, for whom she moved to America half a dozen years ago, left Michigan because of the weather. She opened the restaurant which features Tunisian fish in addition to the sandwiches because she was so nostalgic for the taste of home.

I remember well the morning of July 4, 1975. I was newly married and my husband had gone to Kikar Zion to buy me earrings as a surprise for our first Shabbat. We had even considered splurging and staying at the modest Ron Hotel, but changed our minds. I heard the blast and the sirens. In those days before cellphones we didn’t even have a land line. It was the first of so many long waits to find out if your loved ones are okay that mark our lives in Israel.

I remembered, also, that among those killed in Kikar Zion were a couple, Rivka Soifer Ben-Yitzhak and Michael Ben-Yitzhak, parents of two small children. Reports of them growing up appeared in this paper, and each year the Israel Museum presents an award in the Ben-Yitzhaks’ memory to illustrators of children’s books. Rivka’s parents, whose name is the same as mine in Hebrew, stepped in to bring up the orphaned children, as will the grandparents of the surviving Fogel children in Itamar.

We returned home to news of the appalling massacre. Terrorist Jabara was apprehended and imprisoned. But in 2003, he was pardoned as a gesture to Yasser Arafat before the Aqaba Summit to endorse the road map. At that meeting Mahmoud Abbas denounced terror against “Israelis wherever they may be.”

Jabara returned home to a hero’s welcome.

Among his first acts was a public speech endorsing terrorism. He was reported released because he was the “oldest terrorist in Israel’s prisons.”

He was only 67, the age of grandparents young enough to bring up orphans.

The writer lives in Jerusalem and focuses on the wondrous stories of modern Israel. She serves as the Israel director of public relations for Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America.

The views in her columns are her own.


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