A new MasterChef rises to the top

The week's roundup, including the new master chef, Israel Festival news, Hol Hamoed tours and a lecture by the AP bureau chief

‘Master Chef Israel’ winner Nof Atamna-Ismaeel   (photo credit: COURTESY KESHET)
‘Master Chef Israel’ winner Nof Atamna-Ismaeel
(photo credit: COURTESY KESHET)
■Regular viewers of Master Chef were not all surprised at the final result. Almost from the very beginning, it was clear that Nof Atamna- Ismail, a 33-year-old mother of three from Baka al-Gharbiya with a PhD in microbiology from the Haifa Technion, would reach the finals.
The judges loved the way she added something of her own to traditional Arab foods, turning everything she made into a gourmet dish that each of the judges would be pleased to have on his or her table.
Now that she has proven herself, Nof, as she has been called throughout the show, wants to realize her dream of opening a cooking school that she hopes will contribute to the peace process by teaching both Arab and Jewish cuisine. If the two cuisines can live in harmony, the two peoples should also be able to achieve that aim, she reasons. Her win will certainly help to create greater interest in Arab cuisine and greater awareness of the fact that there are a lot of highly educated people in Israel’s Arab communities.
The other two finalists in Channel 2’s popular cooking competition were 54-year-old Ido Kronenberg from Savyon, who came second and who, before the last two votes were cast by the judges, looked as if he might emerge the winner. He said that Nof was certainly deserving of the title MasterChef. Coming second was also in the nature of a triumph, and the sponsors of the program will definitely make use of him, as they are likely to do with the third-place contestant, the charismatic, multilingual and well-traveled Ethiopian-born Meseret Woldimikhal, 42. She met her Israeli husband while traveling in Tanzania and came to Israel with him and their children five years ago. The judges, who were unfamiliar with Ethiopian cuisine, loved the Ethiopian delicacies that she prepared; but toward the end she fell slightly behind Nof and Ido.
Romanian-born Tzila Ofer, a 67-year-old feisty widowed grandmother of nine from Ramat Gan who has loads of personality, also impressed the judges for much of the contest but didn’t make it all the way. At the finale on Saturday night, which was attended by all the contestants of the show, she was the only one who brought a bouquet of flowers for the winner.
Of the show’s four judges, Yonatan Roshfeld, Haim Cohen, Michal Ansky and Eyal Shani, who are all food celebrities, Roshfeld will not be returning for the fifth season of the competition. He wants to spend more time doing what he does best, which is cooking in the various restaurants that he runs.
In the final showdown between Nof and Ido, the three male judges were kibbitzers who kept putting in their two cents. It took nerves of steel for the two contestants to keep smiling and to maintain some degree of equilibrium as they cooked to the finish.
■ This year's Israel Festival, which opens at the Sultan’s Pool, will be the swan song for Yossi Tal-Gan, who has directed the festival since 1992. Because the Israel Festival is so closely associated with Jerusalem, Tal-Gan wanted his final effort as director to focus on Jerusalem, which has been the birthplace of a number of very famous entertainers, not the least of whom was Israel Prize laureate Yossi Banai, who was born in Mahaneh Yehuda to a family that was poor in financial resources but rich in talent and the number of children. Banai, who succumbed to cancer in 2006, was an all-round entertainer. Extraordinarily creative, he was a singer, storyteller, actor, translator, director and scriptwriter. The Israel Festival will open with a tribute to Banai, with leading performers who worked with him at one stage or another presenting their personal Banai interpretations.
Another very famous native son of Jerusalem, and also an Israel Prize laureate, is Yehoram Gaon, who will host Esther Ofarim. The two will present a concert of the most famous of their classics.
■ Many tour guides take people through the neighborhood made famous by the Rabbi Aryeh Levin, known as the Rabbi of the Prisoners.
He was also admired for visiting the sick, especially those who had no family. His greatest attribute was seeing only the good in others. The tour guides do a reasonably good job of introducing visitors to the neighborhood adjacent to Mahaneh Yehuda and telling the story of Reb Aryeh, but no one does it better than his grandson Rabbi Benjie Levene, who, as a boy, lived with him for several months at time.
Had he not chosen to be a rabbi, Levene would have had a career in the entertainment industry. He is a great actor and a marvelous raconteur. He has a huge fund of stories not only about his grandfather but also about his grandfather’s neighbors and his grandfather’s many relatives, who include some of Israel’s most respected rabbinic authorities. Anyone who has had the good fortune to go on a tour with Levene can vouch for what a fascinating experience it is. During hol hamoed, he will be leading a tour on Wednesday afternoon.
Reservations can be made with the Israel Center.
■ There is a popular misconception that foreign journalists reporting on Israel are biased. Most journalists report on what they see and hear. Some of the things they see and hear are not in keeping with the image that Israel would want to convey, but that is not the fault of the journalists. On May 15, anyone who wants to get a better understanding of how the foreign press covers Israel can attend a lecture at the Har El Synagogue on Shmuel Hanagid Street to listen to AP Bureau Chief Joe Federman.