Thursday, October 2, 2014

Letter From Israel

elinor        אלינור   


Rosh Hashana

My internet connection evaporated the day before Rosh Hashana, which I blamed on all the troglodytes who, liberated from school or work, leapt onto their computers to play inane games and/or hunt up dirty pictures. 

After Yom Kippur I began to wonder if perhaps there was a problem with my computer, so two days were spent in trying to reach a human at HOT, our IP.  Finally someone answered who actually spoke English, albeit bymushingallthewordstogether.  She ultimately diagnosed the problem as my not having an ETHERNET cable.  I’ve never had one, so how did my e-mail function all these years? 

And wasn't it fun trying to decipher the words ETHERNET CABLE, spoken in Mush?  Finally I resorted to E-for-elinor, T-for-tachat (bum) and by the time I reacheds N-for-nudnik, I shouted Ah!  Ethernet!  That'swhatIsaid, she said.  A quick trip to the computer guy for the cable and I'm back in business.  But how did I send e-mails before that?  Never mind, this is Israel, Home of the Occasional Miracle.

So.  Most people know about Rosh Hashana, the Head of the Year, but the bubbling chaos beneath the approach to the holiday is revealed to those who watch it up close.  It’s a doozy.  The very very observant will serve all  kinds of things that symbolise heads (such as eyes of a lamb, no kidding), and fruits like pomegranates which, with their tens and tens of ruby red seeds, represent blessings (we should only have that many).

There’s a problem here in Israel:  Few kitchen pantries, mostly unique to new flats.  People make do by sacrificing a cupboard, or the largest drawer.  I’ve lived in half a dozen apartments in Israel and I’ve never had a pantry.  As a result, mine host shops and cooks and shops and cooks. Freezers are emptied a priori, it is otherwise impossible. 

For days and days before the holiday, pedestrian traffic is thick with people (mostly men), rushing around in buying frenzies, trying to acquire their favourite symbolic foods.  I have only once had a fish head at my table, lovingly brought by a Romanian lady who was fairly certain I wouldn’t provide one, and she was right. 

At least ‘Rosh Hash’ does not require all the stuff that comes with Succoth.  What it does require is that everyone you know either invite you or, better still, that you invite them.  ‘Where are you for Rosh Hashana?’ is heard everywhere, in all the current languages of the Middle East, like French.  I haven’t figured out quite why the question is asked, for if the answer is mumbled and there is no remarkable destination, one would expect the questioner to issue a hearty invitation, sincere or not. However, the mumble seems to suffice.  Next topic.

Problems can arise when tradition has not yet been nailed down and the argument carries forward:  ‘This year we’re going to my family for First Night.’  ‘No, we’re not.  I promised Mother…’   I, who do not like to argue, traditionally settle for Second Night.  Confidentially, it’s easier, everyone’s stuffed to the gills from First Night and it gives me an extra day of preparation.  With half my family vegetarians, the meatless tsimmis should be gone by Chanukah.

I hunt up the menu from last year, examine it critically and wonder why I continue to make that every year.  Eliminating that always causes someone grief but hey, taste this!  I invented a new cucumber salad this year!  And, as cucumber salads go, it went. (I am trying not to say Big Deal. We do our best.) 

Shul services are lengthy and dinner is not served until 9 o’clock at night.  It’s a real problem for people with young children but the youngest around here is 17, and he’s the sous-chef.  No problem there.  The adults can barely stay awake and I find myself silently remonstrating, YOU MUST NOT FALL ASLEEP UNTIL AFTER I SERVE DESSERT!  In retrospect, is dessert all that important?  (Hint:  Yes.)

I just want to go on record:  If another year comes around when Rosh Hashana starts on Wednesday evening, count me out.  With food for two holiday dinners and Friday night to prepare, I will not be available.  I will have been invited elsewhere.

cross posted geoffff's joint


  1. I'd get down with lamb eyes. Probably wouldn't even be the most unusual thing I've eaten. I've had cow eye tacos from a truck already.

    This is fantastic wordplay -

    "I invented a new cucumber salad this year! And, as cucumber salads go, it went."

  2. Jay, there's still some cucumber salad in the fridge, if you're in the neighbourhood. I used to write a cooking column called Cooking for Kids. The first recipe was for Liverburgers. People actually wrote letters to the editor saying Loved the column, but is she serious? Some things never change. (Cow eye tacos? Really?)

    1. Going down to 40 tonight here in North Philadelphia. Cucumber season is a distant memory. I'd stop by if I could!

      I'm not complaining, though. This is my favorite season, and I love winter squash, potatoes and apples. Not to mention fresh / wet-hopped beers.

      Still in the upper-70s inside my apartment (doesn't cool down to room temperature until late October, generally after we have our first entire week of lows in the 40s, here in my no-a/c-having, east-facing corner rowhouse - it's sunny and bright in here during the day, but brutally hot from May through September!), but I don't complain about the weather until the winter winds pick up and the first snow falls. Then I pretty much want out of here until Spring. Which, fortunately, comes pretty early in Philadelphia. Well, at least most years. Certainly didn't come early last year. And I was working in North Jersey last year. We had flurries up at work on May 1.

      I hope my new job (over-the-road, long-haul trucking for the next year, starting in about three weeks) takes me away from winter for weeks at a time, but knowing my luck I'll probably spend most of it in the Rockies, the Upper Midwest and / or New England. Oh, well.

      Chopped liver is one of my favorite foods, and I sometimes go an entire week living on lunches of liverwurst on rye w/ onions and mustard. Can't say I've had a liverburger yet, but I would definitely go for one!

      I'm a huge fan of offal tacos, especially off trucks or in corner delis down South Philly. The selection / availability was definitely much better back out West, though. Mike lives in one of the greatest cities in the US for tacos. If we meet up one day, he should be ready to head into Fruitvale for tripas and buche. ;)

      Portland was great for tacos, too, but mostly out in East Portland, and especially down Woodburn, OR.

      I really hope I have a day or two off in a Southwest border town sometime over the next year, so I can walk into Mexico and spend a day just eating. Heh.

  3. I have to say, when I first visited Israel the last thing that I was thinking about was the cuisine.

    I did not really think about it much, because I tend - for obvious reasons - to associate "Jewish" food with Jewish Ashkenazi food, which is not so great... I mean, unless you're a fan of gefilte fish, or whatever.

    But, needless to say, the primary culinary influences in Israel are Mediterranean cuisines, more generally, so the food was delicious.

    I still insist, tho, that the eastern Mediterranean truck here at the Oakland farmer's market makes falafel as good as I had in the Old City or Haifa's Arab section.

    Of course, he tells me that his recipe comes from Israel, anyway.


    1. And just what, may I ask, is wrong with gefilte fish, sir?!


      As with all foods, leave the stuff in the supermarket jars behind, put some care and quality ingredients into it, and it can be elevated to world-class fare.

      Ashkenazic cuisine gets a bad rep anymore mainly because even the remaining NY- and Montreal-style delis no longer care. Thank G-d for places like Portland's Kenny & Zuke's and Brooklyn's Mile End Deli and Berkeley's Saul's and Ann Arbor's Zingerman's and (sometimes, when they're on) Philadelphia's Hershel's, and others who do still care!

      But yeah, I personally prefer Sephardic cuisine, and that of the Mizrahim, myself. I'd take a fine shakshuka and a piece of fresh, crusty bread over most any other meal any time and any day of the week. Ditto sabich, which is the greatest sandwich in the world, imo...