Born in Manchester to a traditional British-Jewish family meant I didn’t know much about the world outside the island on which I grew up. Apart from a JNF box in the kitchen, Israel hardly featured in my childhood. The only place we holidayed abroad with any frequency was Portugal, mainly because of the weather and the lovely beaches. (I never even visited the Holy Land until the age of 16, with a Jewish youth group tour.)
And so, when it came to shopping for myself as I got older, I’d usually “Buy British,” as the well-known slogan from the ‘70s and ‘80s goes.
Occasionally, I’d plump for something a bit fancy and exotic, like “continental” (Italian) shoes or Swiss chocolate, for a special occasion, but in the main, it was all “Made in Britain.”
Back then, imported produce wasn’t as readily available and Israeli products on supermarket shelves were few and far between. Apart from Passover, when we had Israeli chocolate, which was a real treat, such food never graced our table.
As I grew older, more Israeli products started to appear: kosher sections in supermarkets sprung up, for example, in which snacks like Bamba could be found. And of course, there were always the kosher shops and delis in North Manchester, which catered mainly to the more religious and ultra-Orthodox communities, but we rarely shopped there.
Things changed when I married, had kids, and moved to the heart of the “ghetto,” Broughton Park.
All of our children went to King David School, where they received an excellent general and Jewish education as well as an introduction to Israel – and that’s when Israel started to feature in my life, too.
For the first time, I celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut, the State of Israel’s birthday, along with my children – who always wore blue and white to school on that day.
Israeli produce also started to appear more often at home, too, whether it was a pack of sweets in one of the kids’ schoolbags, that they’d been given as a treat, or a bag of Bamba that I’d picked up for them in the supermarket as an after-school snack.
As time wore on, I began to make a point of browsing the kosher sections in the supermarket when I did our “big shop,” which invariably included Yarden hummus. I’d also get a slight frisson of excitement when I noticed the word “Israel” under “country of origin,” on a fresh produce label, often choosing it over all others, regardless of the price.
Finally, “Hatikvah” became more than just a song, the words over which I had stumbled embarrassingly whenever it was played, hoping no one would notice that I didn’t know them. Instead, it became my family’s national anthem in 2016, when we made Israel our home.
Had I remained in Manchester, I suspect I’d have continued in much the same vein, supporting Israel by buying Israeli products whenever possible and having the odd holiday there, if I was lucky.
And I wouldn’t have been alone.
RECENTLY, I asked a group of British Jews whether, given the option, they would rather buy Israeli products, even if they’re more expensive, as a way to support Israel – and the vast majority said yes, they most definitely would.
Michael Chissick went one step further, “Absolutely – I have a rule, when shopping, that if I see something made in Israel, I buy it,” he said.
Alan Harris gave his reason for choosing Israeli goods: “We can help Israel here – without going there – by buying its products.”
For others, it’s not so clear-cut. While it’s important for them to support Israel by buying its goods, other factors also come into play, with cost and quality being the most significant.
“These days, cost and quality are the main considerations, not country of origin,” proffered one of the group, who asked to remain anonymous.
Rachel (not her real name) was of a similar mind, “If I prefer the Israeli version of a product I will buy it, but it’s because I prefer it, not because it’s an Israeli product.”
When it comes to firm favorites, however, it would appear that for most, all principles go out the window: “If it’s a choice between Elite chocolate and Cadbury, I know which I would buy,” joked Howard Goldsmith.
Diaspora Jews in Israel crave the taste of home
Nostalgia follows much the same pattern.
While a large number of Diaspora Jews are drawn to Israeli produce, those who have made aliyah often long for a taste of “home.”
For many Brits, Cadbury chocolate is high on their list, along with crumpets, malt loaf, and Yorkshire tea.
“Some stuff can’t be replicated, in my case, crumpets,” laments Brian, a former Scot.
And from what I can gather, it’s not just Brits who struggle to give up their “home comforts.” Katharina from Germany misses super-sour, sourdough bread, along with the “huge selection of different full grain rolls.”
Canadian-Israeli Adina hankers after Tim Horton’s coffee as well as Baker’s unsweetened chocolate, among other delights.
Green and yellow plantain is sorely missed by many Latin American olim, together with refried beans, authentic corn tortillas, and Lizano salsa.
South African-born Israelis, on the other hand, have similar tastes to Brits when it comes to their much-missed snack, salt-and-vinegar flavored “crisps” (potato chips). Biltong, (if you know, you know; and if you don’t, it’s a South African delicacy) is another firm favorite of theirs that can’t easily be found in Israel.
Finally, Jersey girl Stacey Pomerantz Ullman had a list of long-lost favorites, including Mrs. Smith’s Oronoque Orchards deep dish pie crusts. She also missed the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thrus for donuts and coffee, “Why are there no drive-thrus here?” she asked. Good question.
The treat Ullman and many of her fellow American olim missed most, however, is Entenman’s chocolate fudge cake: “Best cure for PMS, childrearing angst, and work stress. The family knew if the cake was on the counter – watch out!” Perhaps a slice of Osem’s chocolate souffle cake would have the same effect.
For many of us, the grass is always greener, and I am no exception in that regard. When I lived in Britain, I was always on the lookout for Israeli products to satisfy my need to feel closer to my “homeland,” whereas now that I live in Israel, I love that warm feeling which comes with finding familiar treats from my “hometown,” Manchester.
It seems to me, that wherever we live, be it in the Jewish Diaspora, or in the Jewish homeland, everybody loves a “taste of home.”
The writer is a former lawyer from Manchester, England. She now lives in Israel where she works at The Jerusalem Post.