A food tour of Israel’s cities


Mediterranean cuisine is consumed with gusto all over the world. While many dishes commonly enjoyed in Israel originate elsewhere, things like hummus, falafel, kibbeh, and shakshuka have been adopted into Israeli tradition with the recent advent of “foodie-ism” by chefs all over the country.

What’s more, every city in Israel has its own unique approach and local flavors. From the street food of Jerusalem to the haute cuisine of Tel Aviv, the options are endless and sure to offer a unique culinary experience for the discerning epicurean.

Jerusalem

The Holy City is best known for its hypnotic architecture, spiritual effect, and historic significance. Home to a uniquely diverse range of religions and ethnic groups, the city has birthed a composite food revolution marrying the city’s varied flavors and culinary traditions. Not surprisingly, the capital city is famous for having the best hummus in Israel, and possibly the world. Particularly lauded among the city’s hummus joints is Abu Shukri, a little hole-in-the-wall in the Muslim Quarter, for which the Wall Street Journal says: “If you are to consume only one plate of hummus in Jerusalem, this is the place to do it.”

Of course, you can’t do J-Town without visiting Mahane Yehuda, one of the busiest shuks in the country, where you’re guaranteed to get drunk on the scents of fresh bread and aromatic spices. This is your chance to marvel in freshly baked goods. Experience street food like never before with warm za’atar-coated flatbreads and potato and mushroom-stuffed bourekas. To finish on a sweet note, indulge in the dreamlike, chocolate-and-filo-dough morsels known as rugelach for dessert. Don’t forget to stop by the Halva Kingdom to sample the sweet sesame treat in over 100 different varieties, all homemade and ground by millstone.

Tel Aviv

While there’s no shortage of traditional Middle Eastern fare in Tel Aviv, this modern metropolis is home to incredibly diverse fine dining, ethnic, and experimental options. If you’re going international, The Brasserie on Kikar Rabin serves up its French delicacies 24 hours a day, while the atmosphere and Spanish tapas at Vicky Christina in Hatachana will take you to the other end of the Mediterranean. The food at Topolopompo is even more fun than its name. Enjoy an acclaimed, finely-honed menu of Asian fusion dishes. For some of the best Asian cuisine in Tel Aviv, try Taizu – that is, of course, if you can get a table.

Dizengoff has earned its reputation as a cultural mecca, so you can’t go wrong with exploring this central bustling street. The perfect balance of flavors at Sabich Frishman will make you redefine what ‘sandwich’ even means, while Keton will warm your heart with awesome traditional Ashkenazi dishes like chicken soup and chopped liver.

Then, for a sunset stroll on the Tel Aviv boardwalk, absolutely nothing in the world compares to frozen yogurt, Israeli style. Like all culinary feats, the key is to have a strong base. The secret lies in the fresh, creamy yogurt produced from the incredible dairy produced by Israeli cows. Pick from a variety of mouth-watering ingredients to create a mind-blowing frozen treat.

Eilat

If you’re doing the resort thing, Eilat is an absolute seaside gem for vacationers. And with the seaside comes incredibly fresh seafood! High among the heavy hitters is Rak Dagim, a fish joint serving fresh, locally caught treasures. Rak Dagim is also one of the oldest restaurants in Eilat and utilizes characteristic Israeli flavors on their extensive menu.

To juxtapose that, Pastori on Tarshish Street combines locally caught seafood with Italian flavors to showcase a different kind of Mediterranean food. Then, of course, there’s nothing better than ending a meal with seaside gelato.

Haifa

This northern city and cultural hub is set against the beach-lined backdrop of the Mediterranean and caters to foodies of every type and budget. Sitting adjacent to one of Haifa’s central mosques, Abu Marwan is known as the best hummus in town. Must-haves include their hummus with lamb, the mashwasha, and their spicy fries.

For a delightfully carnivorous meal, try Limousine, a famed steakhouse run by two “Israeli cowboys.” Locavores delight in the regionally raised, high-quality meat prepared in a variety of styles and accompanied by beers of both Israeli and European origins.

Go light and flavorful with breakfast the next morning at Café Louise on Mount Carmel. Serving a natural, culinary experience, the café offers both the traditional salad-and-spread ‘kibbutz-style’ breakfast as well as a ‘Western style’ brunch. Louise also boasts a variety of vegan and veggie options, as well as a whole menu of juices that are so fresh, you’ll instantly feel superhuman.

No matter where you go in Israel, the food is unforgettable. The downside? You’ll be craving that Abu Shukri hummus for months afterward.

For more information on traveling Israel, click here.

Delicious linguistics “The Language of Food”


It’s not so often that a book significantly changes the way I look at the world. But that’s just how I feel about Dan Jurafsky’s book “The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu.” After reading it, I can’t look at a menu or a bag of potato chips without thinking about how the language reflects the price of the food. I can’t go to Baskin-Robbins without noticing the vowels in the flavor names and thinking about the connection between sherbet and syrup or the role of gunpowder in the invention of ice cream. And I can’t get through a meal without sharing at least one etymological tidbit about the food served.

Over homemade ceviche (inspired by the book), I informed incredulous guests that ceviche, fish and chips, tempura, aspic and escabeche are all descendents of sikbaj, a sweet-and-sour beef dish favored by ancient Persian royalty, transported around the world and transformed (and renamed) by merchants, sailors and missionaries. When someone mentioned “Yankee Doodle,” I explained why he “stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni” (long story) and added, “Have you ever wondered why macarons, macaroons and macaroni sound so similar?” At a Mexican restaurant: “Salsa, sausage, sauce and salad all come from the word ‘salt!’ ” As my daughter dipped her fries in ketchup: “Did you know that ketchup is a Chinese word for ‘fish sauce?’ ” And when someone asked for jam: “I just learned that marmalade comes from the Portuguese word for ‘quince.’ ”

But Jurafsky’s book is more than a collection of fun facts about etymology and cuisine. It also teaches us about cultural contact: We have so many similar-sounding words for various foods because the foods — and their names — were borrowed into British or American cuisine at different times from different cultures, sometimes based on the eclectic tastes of upper-class trendsetters. Jurafsky sums up the process of culinary and linguistic borrowing and change on the last page: “Each food passed along and changed to comply with the implicit structures of the borrowing cuisine: macaroons and marmalades losing their medieval rosewater and musk, fruit sharbats becoming luscious ice cream, vinegary meat sikbaj becoming Christian fish dishes suitable for Lent. Although the foods change, the words remain behind, mementos of our deep debt to each other from our shared past, just as the word turkey reminds us of tiny Portugal’s obsession with naval secrets 600 years ago and toast and supper remind us of medieval pottages and toasty wassails” (p. 189).

Jurafsky is the perfect person to write this book. A professor of linguistics at Stanford and recipient of a 2002 MacArthur Fellowship, he has been teaching and blogging about the language of food for several years. He brings to the table an impressive knowledge of linguistics and food history, unrivaled skill to analyze large data sets and an engaging writing style. He enriches his historical and linguistic narratives with anecdotes from his personal experiences eating in China, Malaysia, the Basque country of Spain, his adopted hometown of San Francisco and his grandmothers’ Yiddish-inflected New York kitchens.

Not surprisingly, readers are treated to Jurafsky’s childhood reminiscences of whitefish, stuffed cabbage, corned beef and Passover macaroons. But elements of Jewish interest are also peppered throughout the historical narratives. A 10th-century Jewish merchant brings sikbaj from China to Oman, a 13th-century Jewish apothecary in Cairo gives us a recipe for rhubarb syrup (using the Arabic word sharab, which, through Latin translation, became English for “syrup”), and in the 19th century, fried fish was a specialty of the London Jewish community, eventually to become the fish and chips Brits know and love. We learn about biblical Hebrew libations, Yiddish descriptions of drunkenness, and Rashi’s use of a word like “vermicelli” (related to the Yiddish word chremsel). After reading the book, I got the sense Jurafsky could write an additional book on the language of Jewish food.

In short, “The Language of Food” makes a great present for foodies, history buffs and language enthusiasts. Just one caveat: Do not attempt to digest this information on an empty stomach. You will come away hungry — not just for the delicacies described in the book, but also for more of Jurafsky’s brilliant and accessible analysis. 

Sarah Bunin Benor, associate professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies at Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion and adjunct associate professor of linguistics at USC, wrote the book “Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism.” 

New kosher cooking school steps up to the plate — and that’s not chopped liver!


On the first day of class at a new kosher cooking school in Brooklyn, 22-year-old Erica Zimmerman carefully slices raw potatoes into a stainless steel bowl.

Zimmerman, a student at New York University, says she’s always been interested in cooking, but as an observant Jew only wanted a kosher school.

“The only kosher cooking school is in Israel, and I can’t take off a year to go,” she said. “Then I heard about this new school on Facebook, and I jumped at the opportunity.”

Last week, the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts opened in the heavily Jewish neighborhood of Flatbush. The $4,500, six-week intensive course, run in cooperation with the continuing education department of Kingsborough Community College, is the only professional kosher cooking school in North America.

According to director Jesse Blondel and founder Elka Pinson, it is the only one in the world besides the Jerusalem Culinary Institute, a 5-year-old school in Israel.

Pinson has been dreaming of establishing such a school for years. Last year she took over the top floor of her husband’s housewares shop on Coney Island Avenue and advertised for a chef/teacher on craigslist.

Blondel, a 26-year-old Brooklyn native, responded. The kitchen manager at the Culinary Center of New York, he was seeking a new position. Organizing and directing a new cooking school seemed just the ticket.

“I realized there isn’t any other kosher cooking school, I’m Jewish, and I grew up not far from here,” he says.

Thirteen people showed up for the course, which teaches basic French culinary skills, from making sauces and soup stocks to cooking the perfect omelet, as well as applying kosher laws in a commercial kitchen.

If you keep kosher, Pinson says, you might shell out $40,000 or more to attend the Culinary Institute of America or one of the other prestigious cooking schools, and never be able to taste what you’re learning to cook.

“Then you go home, buy the ingredients, and cook and taste it there, double the work,” she says.

Pinson says that’s the experience of many, if not most, of the chefs working in kosher restaurants in this country. The Center for Kosher Culinary Arts is the first step in changing that, she says, by providing professional training for the kosher cooking crowd.

The center’s six-week course can only cover the basics, but it’s a start.

“We’re on the crest of this new interest,” Pinson says. “Guaranteed in six months somebody else will do it, too. Good luck! It’s a lot of work.”

Paint Colorful Table With Italian Dishes


While Crostini di Spuma di Tonno, Zuppa di Pesce Passato, Dolce di Tagliatelle might not sound like Jewish food, Italian Jews have long enjoyed these dishes.

Joyce Goldstein made her first trip to Italy in 1957 and instantly became what she calls a “fanatic Italophile.” The former chef-owner of San Francisco’s Square One and daughter of Russian immigrants, Goldstein threw herself into Italian art, architecture, language, culture and food.

Out of her travels and study came “Cucina Ebraica: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen” (Chronicle Books, $19.95). Newly released in paperback, the book is a beautifully photographed homage to a cuisine that dates back to Roman times.

It’s not exactly the first place you’d think to look for a Rosh Hashanah menu. But the Jews of Italy can trace their roots to the second century B.C.E., making it one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, Goldstein said.

As in every corner of the Diaspora, Jewish cooks throughout the ages have used their creativity to wed regional cuisine to the laws of kashrut. Sometimes a clue lies in what is missing — no besciamella (cream) sauce or cheese on meat, for instance. The names of recipes may contain a tell-tale ending, “alla Guidia” or “alla Mosaica,” denoting “Jewish style,” “per Sabato” for Sabbath dishes or “per Pesach.”

“These are very regional Italian recipes,” Goldstein said, “and often you can tell just by looking at them where the Jews lived. Sometimes what makes these recipes Jewish is the name, like Scaloppini di Tacchino Rebecca or Minestra di Esau, but a lot of times you can’t tell, unless you see margarine or oil where they might have used butter.”

While the book is thoroughly researched, Goldstein never sacrifices flavor for authenticity. Where she finds a recipe bland, she adjusts the seasoning. “Our palates today are not used to things simple and good; they’re a little more stimulated. We’re used to eating all kinds of food here, so the ante is up and we want a little bit more flavor.”

She also admits to adjusting cooking times, as many of the oldest recipes were overcooked by today’s standards. “These are people who lived without ovens. They brought things to the baker to be cooked and picked up later, and some things were cooked a very long time. Vegetables — in those days you never got a crunch in your life,” she said.

Trained and educated as an artist, in Goldstein’s capable hands food and art blend. “When you cook you are organizing flavors and appearance, colors, smells, tastes. To me that’s like organizing a canvas when you’re painting, like the composition, choice of textures and colors. With art you don’t have smell and taste, so maybe food has an advantage, although art lasts and food gets eaten up. But both make use of creative energy.”

She is equally passionate about using locally grown ingredients. “The raw materials of the region are fabulous: Italian eggs with red yolks; flavorful, fresh chickens; vegetables that are picked one minute and served the next. Italians are totally driven by the quality of their ingredients; whereas if I go to the supermarket, when was it picked? When was it put out? When did I cook it? Three days maybe have lapsed, and it’s not as flavorful.”

Many of the ingredients traditionally used in Italian cuisine — tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, corn, pumpkin — were New World foods brought by the explorers to Spain and Portugal, where Jews, relegated to making their livelihood in trade and import, introduced them to the community at large. They were then transplanted to Italy by Sephardim who found refuge there during the Inquisition.

For Rosh Hashanah, try Stufadin di Zuca Zala (Braised Meat with Butternut Squash), reminiscent of Ashkenazic tzimmes. And no wonder. Many Ashkenazim immigrated to the Veneto, where this Venetian stew became popular. Here squash and Marsala add a touch of sweetness, bringing a wish for a sweet new year to your Rosh Hashanah table.

Traditionally for the holiday new fruits are served, and it is customary in Italy to poach quinces both for Rosh Hashanah and to break the fast for Yom Kippur. With an infusion of cloves and cinnamon, Mele Cotogne in Giulebbe (Quince in Syrup) brings a sweet, aromatic finale to your holiday feast.

Stufadin di Zuca Zala

(Braised Meat With Butternut Squash)

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 large onions, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

2 pounds cubed veal for stew

Salt to taste

1 cup Marsala or other sweet wine

1 butternut squash, about 1 pound, halved, seeds and fibers removed, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, and parboiled in salted water for 5 minutes

1 1/2 cups meat or chicken broth, or as needed

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Warm two tablespoons of the olive oil in a sauté pan over low heat. Add onions, garlic, and rosemary and sauté until tender and translucent, about eight minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Warm the remaining two tablespoons olive oil in a heavy pot over high heat. Add meat and brown well on all sides, sprinkling with a little salt after it has browned. Add wine and let it bubble up. Add sautéed onions, butternut squash, and broth to cover and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer gently until meat is tender and squash has formed a puree, one to one-and-a-quarter hours. Season with salt and pepper before serving.

Variation: You can use three-quarters of a pound carrots, peeled and grated, in place of the squash.

Makes four to six servings.

Mele Cotogne in Giulebbe

(Quince in Syrup)

2 pounds quinces

2 cups sugar

1 cup water, or as needed

2 whole cloves

2 cinnamon sticks

In a large saucepan, combine quinces with water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, uncovered, until barely tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain quinces and when cool enough to handle, peel, halve, core, and cut into slices.

In a saucepan large enough to accommodate the sliced quinces, combine sugar, 1 cup water, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add quinces and additional water if needed to cover. Simmer five minutes. Then over the course of 12 hours, bring quince slices to a boil in the syrup three times, boiling them for five minutes each time. This helps to bring up the rich red color of the fruit and allows them to absorb the syrup over time.

Transfer to a serving dish and refrigerate. Serve chilled.

Makes six servings.

Judy Bart Kancigor, the author of “Melting Pot Memories” (Jan Bart Publications, $19.95), can be found on the Web at

Filmmakers Bring Maturity to Cinema


Israeli filmmaker Shemi Zarhin is a gourmet cook and baker, whose diet-defying cakes, especially, soothe the vilest temper.

"I cook Sephardic style, Ashkenazi and Japanese," Zarhin said in a phone call from Tel Aviv. "Next time you’re in Israel, come by and I’ll show you."

Not by chance, the 16-year-old title character of his film, "Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi," cooks up a storm. Besides the family meals, he also does the laundry, cleans up, tries to make peace among the shouting family members and bathes his French-speaking grandfather, who greets him every morning with the film’s title.

Shlomi of the film, played with absolute veracity by Oshri Cohen, is not exactly Shemi, its director and writer, but they are at least closely related. Both of their families originally came from Morocco and Tangiers and grew up with the mindset that they were part of Israel’s underclass.

"I was born in Tiberias, which could be a very beautiful town, but the reality was hard, there were lots of unemployed," Zarhin recalled. "My family arrived in Palestine 200 to 300 years ago. The Ashkenazim were here only 100 years, but they were the upper class."

Shlomi keeps the family going, but is considered none too bright. He is flunking out in school and with the girls. When he suggests to a classmate that they "upgrade" their relationship — a wonderful Hebrew slang term introduced by Zarhin and equivalent to having sex — the girl "freezes" him out.

Zarhin, now 42, did not detail his own childhood, but, he said with emotion, "I was miserable. Childhood is a waste of time."

Perhaps as an escape, "making films was my dream from the beginning," he said. "But it was not easy to get the money and to leave for a big city like Tel Aviv."

However, he graduated from the film school at Tel Aviv University, taught there and is now on the faculty of the Sam Spiegel Film and Television College in Jerusalem.

He started out making TV commercials, and nine years ago he wrote and directed his first film feature, "Passover Fever," which did very well in Israel and foreign film festivals. Zarhin followed up with the thriller "Dangerous Acts," and "Bonjour" is his third feature.

The main problem with "Bonjour’s" Shlomi, who turns out to be a remarkably gifted youngster, is not just that people consider him stupid, but that he has internalized that evaluation himself.

"The contrast between a person’s outer image and his inner truth has always interested me," Zarhin said. "It takes two outsiders to open Shlomi’s eyes to who he really is."

"Bonjour" is considerably more cheerful and wide-ranging than just a dissection of adolescent angst. For one, it represents a slice of Israeli life unfamiliar to most Ashkenazim, here or in Israel.

For another, the film has considerable humor and some nongraphic sex, though the language, even in subtitles, is quite vigorous.

"Someone told me that I had made a comedy with tears," Zarhin said.

The producer of "Bonjour" is Eitan Evan, who will be honored on opening night with the Israeli Film Festival’s Cinematic Award.

Described as "a major force in the Israeli film industry for the last 25 years," Evan produced two of Israel’s best-loved movies, "The Summer of Avia" and "Under the Domin Tree," both with Gila Almagor.

Evan, an old friend of director Zarhin, recalled in a phone call from his home in Herzliyah that "Bonjour" came together so smoothly and quickly, "It seemed to have a life of its own."

"Shemi, who had written ‘Bonjour’ in five days, showed it to me, though he wasn’t sure whether it would be film or a novel," Evan said. Funding was guaranteed almost immediately, itself a minor miracle, and the film wrapped in four months, about one-third the normal timeline in Israel.

One reason for the quick turnaround was that the project generated an early buzz, so actors vied for auditions. Another reason, said Evan, was that "Shemi and I work so well together, we can read each other’s thoughts."

Evan, the son of Hungarian immigrants, took a degree in economics at the Hebrew University and then went to England for further study.

"There someone gave me camera and I was hooked," he said. "I decided on a career transfer, went to film school in England, returned to Israel and first worked on two American films being shot in Israel."

Evan formed his own company in 1977 and has since produced such titles as "Wooden Gun," "Clean Sweep," "On the Edge," "Family Secret" and "Dangerous Acts."

In the early ’90s, he was the Israeli producer for two American TV films, "Held Hostage" and "Charlton Heston Presents the Bible."

Evan, an upbeat kind of person, is optimistic about the current and future state of Israeli films and their greater acceptance in the United States.

"Our films are becoming more mature, we have better production values, and we’re getting a new crop of talented young directors," he said.

Film festival viewers will see a more urban aspect of Israeli life in Amos Gitai’s "Alila," set in a rundown Tel Aviv neighborhood, bordering Jaffa.

Gitai has populated a shabby apartment building with a dozen characters who battle each other and their surroundings for survival and small share of happiness.

As Israelis of diverse backgrounds, they naturally fight and stick their noses in each other’s business, but when the chips are down they pitch in and come to their neighbor’s aid.

"Alila" is Gitai’s 30th film feature or documentary in as many years, which include, most recently, "Kedma," "Eden," "Kippur" and "Kadosh."

At 53, Gitai is arguably the most controversial of Israeli filmmakers, who insists on pressing his countrymen’s most sensitive nerves. As a British journalist put it, "Gitai is a director with a mission to tell the country of his birth the truth about its intolerance, its insecurities and its willingness to bowdlerize its own recent history."

In an interview with The Journal a couple of years ago, Gitai accepted the description, adding, "I have great compassion and passion for Israel, but I want it to remain as human as possible. I will never legitimize what Israelis may do wrong, just because I belong to them."

In the strife-ridden Middle East, Gitai sees movies as a possible bridge between Arabs and Jews.

"To me, cinema is not just a commodity to be sold like hamburgers, but it represents a form of dialogue," he said. "Beneath the surface, there is already an undercurrent of cultural dialogue in the Middle East.

"For instance, Israeli music is affected by Arab music," he continued. "When the time comes for a real peace agreement, it can’t be just a piece of paper. There must be, at the same time, a cultural dialogue."

Caribbean Cruise Kosher Style


Chef Erwin Van Oosten could be forgiven for not knowing what
hit him when the rabbi ordered that the lasagna be sent back into the kitchen.

It was the executive chef’s first full day running the
kitchen for a Caribbean cruise ship full of kosher passengers, and he had
thought all was in order by the time the prodigious luncheon buffet had been
laid out for the guests.

But it turned out the cheese lasagna had been cooked in a
meat tray, and the head mashgiach — the rabbinic supervisor charged with
ensuring that everything was properly kosher — had noticed the mistake before
any guests dug in.

“I was shaking,” the chef recalled later that night in the
elegant dining room of the Wind Surf, the flagship vessel of the luxury line of
Windstar Cruises. The company chartered out the vessel for four weeklong kosher
cruises this winter.

“Kosher is not different as long as you follow the rules,”
the Dutch chef said. “But sometimes we make mistakes.”

Indeed, creating the world’s first all-kosher, all-the-time
cruise required “a learning curve for all of us,” said Matthew Shollar, the man
behind the kosher excursions.

Shollar, 36, a member of Chabad-Lubavitch in Pittsburgh,
joked that the idea emerged when he was looking for a way to celebrate a host
of special occasions in his family — and then he got carried away.

An ocean liner buff since he was a kid, Shollar was familiar
with the cruise business. He had started a cruise marketing Web site in the
late 1990s, e-Cruise, but his company went belly up, along with much of the
dot-com boom.

He started researching the idea of creating an upscale
kosher cruise experience, and months later his new company, Chosen Voyage, was
born.

For years, many large cruise liners have turned parts of
their kitchens kosher to accommodate groups of kosher passengers, but the
partnership with Windstar was the first attempt to make an entire ship kosher.
A 290- passenger ship complete with sails, the Wind Surf would make everything
kosher — from the champagne to the emergency rations on the lifeboats.

“This is the only kosher experience — hotel or cruise — that
provides 24-hour kosher room service,” Shollar said. Even the crew, he noted,
ate kosher.

The extraordinary planning and execution required was a team
effort, with Shollar working closely with the ship’s senior crewmembers and
Peter Davis, the director of charters for Windstar.

The details were endless, from the logistics of kashering
the ship’s three galleys to buying all new china and kosher products to
training the crew — from the captain down to the stewards and housekeeping
staff, most of whom come from Indonesia and the Philippines.

And it wasn’t just the laws of kashrut that needed to be
learned for the voyage, which embarked from Puerto Rico and visited some of the
smaller, more exclusive islands of Virgin Gorda, St. Martin, St. Barths, Nevis
and Dominica.

The trip catered to an Orthodox crowd — ranging from Modern
Orthodox to ultra-Orthodox Jews — so staff needed to learn some things about
Sabbath observance and Orthodox social customs. The ship drew up several
manuals and guidelines, including the extensive “Guide to Kosherization.”

A separate manual, “Training Guide — the Onboard Guest
Experience,” detailed the dos and don’ts for interacting with Orthodox guests.
While the manual noted that not all Orthodox “are observant of the issues at
the same level, we will set the bar at a high level that would make any of our
guests feel comfortable.”

The manual described in great detail how men and women who
are not married to each other may act, warning against shaking hands with the
opposite sex and outlining the need to designate separate activity times for
men and women in the pool, fitness center and spa.

“It changed our way of work completely,” said Dalibor
Pocanic, the dining room manager.

He said the months of preparation were made more meaningful
when some of the rabbis involved sat down to explain the whys of kashrut.

Pocanic, who is from Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro, and
has been with Windstar for three years, said it was all very unusual and
interesting for him.

He said he came to appreciate “the way the Jewish people
serve and appreciate God.”

At the beginning of the first cruise, the staff was clearly
nervous.

“They were scared to use the china to take a drink of
water,” said Reuven Millet, who served as the liaison between Chosen Voyage and
the ship and was credited for making the experience a success.

Even by the third voyage, one waiter was reluctant to offer
a diner more than one selection of herbal tea because he didn’t think the
others were kosher.

When asked what he thought about the idea of kosher, Andy, a
waiter from Indonesia, offered, “It’s different, but I know it’s more
sanitized. I like that they put everything in boiling water to get rid of the
bacteria,” he said, referring to the pre-use dunking of many of the utensils to
make them kosher.

The staff appeared so well-trained that none among the housekeeping
staff even blinked an eye — at least in public — when they were asked to rip up
toilet paper before Saturday so that passengers wouldn’t have to violate the
prohibiting of tearing on the Sabbath.

Even the entertainers had to adjust their acts to
accommodate the clients. The small band hired to play each evening made do
without its lead female singer because Orthodox observance of Jewish law bars
men from hearing women sing.

By the end of the week, many of the crewmembers clearly were
enjoying themselves. When spontaneous dancing broke out in the dining room on
Shabbat, several of the waiters were leading the line, singing and smiling with
fervor.

For Capt. Mark Boylin, the entire experience was a
revelation.

“To see the kosherization of the ship and the lengths that
they went to caught us all by surprise,” said Boylin, a native of Beckenham,
England.

When he saw the rabbis with their blowtorches take on the
kitchen ovens, he recalled, “it looked more like a shipyard welding job than
any religious process.”

But in the end, Boylin, who has piloted Windstar charters
for groups as diverse as corporate salespeople, gay men and nudists, took it
all in stride.

“A kosher charter isn’t really all that different when you
come down to it,” he said. “It’s easier to deal with than a bunch of drunken
sailors.”

By week’s end, even the top chef was in full swing, swiftly
ticking off final preparations needed to turn the kitchen into Shabbat mode —
making sure the stove’s burners were on, the food all cooked and the food
warmers stocked.

The only thing he couldn’t quite understand was why
different rabbis had different standards about what kosher labeling was
acceptable. “Why does one rabbi accept a K and another one not?” he asked with
a hint of frustration.  Â

The ship’s head mashgiach, Rabbi Avrohom Groner, from North
Miami, said the cruise was a real breeze compared to other part-kosher cruises
he has supervised. On this one, he had five deputy kosher supervisors helping
him out.

“Before, it was a challenge to make sure there was no
disaster,” the rabbi said. “Here, the challenge is to make sure everything is
perfect.”

The passengers seemed only to have praise for the experience
and the efforts of the ship’s crew.

“What’s really special is that this opens a new avenue for
Orthodox Jews to travel,” said Michael Penn, of Brooklyn, who was traveling
with his wife and two children.

“There’s a certain comfort level” about the whole
experience, said his wife, Joan. “You don’t feel different from the other guests.”

Shollar and his small group of investors, who lost money on
their first kosher-cruise effort due to underbooking, were determined to make
this one work.

“We expect to see profitability in the second year of
operations,” Shollar said.

Shollar already is planning a New York-Bermuda cruise in
late August and hopes to run two Caribbean cruises next winter. “This was a
pioneering endeavor,” said passenger Daniel Frucher, who runs a company,
Leisure Time Tours, that offers kosher-for-Passover experiences in places as
varied as Italy and Phoenix. “My kippah is off to them.” Â

Think Global, Cook Local


“The Jewish Kitchen: Recipes and Stories from Around the
World” by Clarissa Hyman (Interlink Books, $29.95).

Clarissa Hyman’s new cookbook, “The Jewish Kitchen,” is
alive with miracles — stories of Jewish life and war-torn Jewish communities,
bringing with them their glorious history, rich culture and a cuisine passed
through the generations, itself a story of miraculous survival.

This award-winning author crisscrossed the globe, visiting
eight families in nine months, recording their stories and recipes.

“The stories were as important to me as the recipes, because
I believe in context and background, and I wanted to give snapshots of the
Jewish world today to show that there are so many different aspects to the
Jewish experience,” Hyman said.

From the Israeli food and wine writer Daniel Rogov come
pineapple fritters, a classic for Chanukah in Lyon, France, where owner
Celestine Benditte-Strauss served them at her renowned Restaurant Cercle.

And rugelach for Chanukah? Hyman describes the lesser-known
Chanukah tradition of eating cheese and dairy products in memory of Judith, a
brave Jewish widow who beheaded the enemy general Holofernes after feeding him
— what? Hyman said “fatal small cakes.”

Some say perhaps she got him thirsty on cheese so that he
would drink wine and fall asleep. Others insist it was rich, creamy food for
the same reason. While stories differ, the message is clear.

“One Jewish dish, 20 different versions. One Jewish story,
20 different tales,” Hyman said. “It’s one of the wonderful things about Jewish
food: We are as lavish with our symbolism and myths as we are with the sour
cream. Any excuse for something delicious to eat.”

 

PineappleIe Fritters a La Celeseine

2 large pineapples peeled, cored and

thickly sliced

Superfine granulated sugar for dredging

1/4 cup Kirsch (cherry brandy)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup warm water

7/8 cup beer

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon brandy

Pinch of salt

2 egg whites whisked

Apricot jam for spreading

Vegetable oil for deep frying

Superfine granulated sugar for sprinkling

Dredge the pineapple with sugar, then sprinkle generously
with the Kirsch. Let steep 30-40 minutes.

Sift the flour and mix with the water, beer, oil, brandy and
salt to make a batter. Dry the pineapple slices on a paper towel, then coat
them with a thin layer of apricot jam.

While the oil is heating, fold the whisked egg whites into
the batter. Take the fruit and batter to the stove. When the oil is hot (350
F), dip the pineapple slices into the batter, then fry until golden brown on
both sides. Serve hot, sprinkled with sugar if desired.

Serves 6-8.

Hazelnut Rugelach

13 tablespoons butter, softened

7 ounces cream cheese

2 teaspoons superfine granulated sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour sifted with a pinch of salt

1/4 cup brown sugar

4 tablespoons cocoa powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

7/8 cup finely chopped hazelnuts (or walnuts)

2 tablespoons butter melted

1 egg white beaten with a little water

Granulated sugar (optional)

Cream the butter and cheese until well blended. Stir in the
superfine sugar, then the flour and mix until the dough begins to hold
together. Gather into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine the brown sugar, cocoa,
cinnamon and nuts and set aside. Cut the dough ball in half and return one half
to the fridge while you work with the other.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry into a
thin circle about 10 inches in diameter. The pastry may feel hard at first but
it quickly softens. Use a cake pan or plate to help cut out a neat circle. Cut
the dough circle into 16 or 8 equal pie-shaped wedges.

Brush the surface of the wedges with melted butter, then
sprinkle evenly with half the nut mixture. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap
and use a rolling pin to press the filing lightly down into the dough.

Remove the plastic wrap and roll up each wedge from the
outside, wide end toward the point, so you end up with minicroissants. Place on
a lightly greased baking sheet and brush with the beaten egg white. Sprinkle
with a little sugar if desired.

Repeat with the remaining dough and bake for 20-30 minutes
until golden brown. Let cool slightly before transferring to a wire cooling
rack.

Makes 32 small or 16 large rugelach. Â


Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Melting Pot Memories”
and can be found on the Web at

Think Global, Cook Local


"The Jewish Kitchen: Recipes and Stories from Around the World" by Clarissa Hyman (Interlink Books, $29.95)

Clarissa Hyman’s new cookbook, "The Jewish Kitchen," is alive with miracles — stories of Jewish life and war-torn Jewish communities, bringing with them their glorious history, rich culture and a cuisine passed through the generations, itself a story of miraculous survival.

This award-winning author crisscrossed the globe, visiting eight families in nine months, recording their stories and recipes.

"The stories were as important to me as the recipes, because I believe in context and background, and I wanted to give snapshots of the Jewish world today to show that there are so many different aspects to the Jewish experience," Hyman said.

Hyman’s nine months’ work on the book — "research, traveling, writing, testing, a miracle in itself," she said — took her to such places as Greece, Norway, Belgium and the Caribbean.

No Jewish cookbook would be complete without latkes, and Hyman’s recipe is her own. But Chanukah is about the oil, not the potato.

From the Israeli food and wine writer Daniel Rogov come pineapple fritters, a classic for Chanukah in Lyon, France, where owner Celestine Benditte-Strauss served them at her renowned Restaurant Cercle.

And rugelach for Chanukah? Hyman describes the lesser-known Chanukah tradition of eating cheese and dairy products in memory of Judith, a brave Jewish widow who beheaded the enemy general Holofernes after feeding him — what? Hyman said "fatal small cakes."

Some say perhaps she got him thirsty on cheese so that he would drink wine and fall asleep. Others insist it was rich, creamy food for the same reason. While stories differ, the message is clear.

"One Jewish dish, 20 different versions. One Jewish story, 20 different tales," Hyman said. "It’s one of the wonderful things about Jewish food: We are as lavish with our symbolism and myths as we are with the sour cream. Any excuse for something delicious to eat."

PINEAPPLE FRITTERS A LA CELESTINE

2 large pineapples peeled, cored and thickly sliced

Superfine granulated sugar for dredging

1/4 cup Kirsch (cherry brandy)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup warm water

7/8 cup beer

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon brandy

Pinch of salt

2 egg whites whisked

Apricot jam for spreading

Vegetable oil for deep frying

Superfine granulated sugar for sprinkling

Dredge the pineapple with sugar, then sprinkle generously with the Kirsch. Let steep 30-40 minutes.

Sift the flour and mix with the water, beer, oil, brandy and salt to make a batter. Dry the pineapple slices on a paper towel, then coat them with a thin layer of apricot jam.

While the oil is heating, fold the whisked egg whites into the batter. Take the fruit and batter to the stove. When the oil is hot (350 F), dip the pineapple slices into the batter, then fry until golden brown on both sides. Serve hot, sprinkled with sugar if desired.

Serves 6-8.

HAZELNUT RUGELACH

13 tablespoons butter, softened

7 ounces cream cheese

2 teaspoons superfine granulated sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour sifted with a pinch of salt

1/4 cup brown sugar

4 tablespoons cocoa powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

7/8 cup finely chopped hazelnuts (or walnuts)

2 tablespoons butter melted

1 egg white beaten with a little water

Granulated sugar (optional)

Cream the butter and cheese until well blended. Stir in the superfine sugar, then the flour and mix until the dough begins to hold together. Gather into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine the brown sugar, cocoa, cinnamon and nuts and set aside. Cut the dough ball in half and return one half to the fridge while you work with the other.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry into a thin circle about 10 inches in diameter. The pastry may feel hard at first but it quickly softens. Use a cake pan or plate to help cut out a neat circle. Cut the dough circle into 16 or 8 equal pie-shaped wedges.

Brush the surface of the wedges with melted butter, then sprinkle evenly with half the nut mixture. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap and use a rolling pin to press the filing lightly down into the dough.

Remove the plastic wrap and roll up each wedge from the outside, wide end toward the point, so you end up with minicroissants. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet and brush with the beaten egg white. Sprinkle with a little sugar if desired.

Repeat with the remaining dough and bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown. Let cool slightly before transferring to a wire cooling rack.

Makes 32 small or 16 large rugelach.

Spicy ‘Shores’ of the Mediterranean


Celebrated cookbook author and chef Joyce Goldstein can trace her bloodline to a Russian shtetl, but her heart and soul lie in the Mediterranean.

In "Cucina Ebraica" (Chronicle Books, 1998) and "Sephardic Flavors" (Chronicle Books, 2000) she explored Italian Jewish and Spanish Jewish cuisine, and now, to round out the trilogy, in "Saffron Shores" (Chronicle Books, $35) she continues her Mediterranean culinary journey with the exotic cuisine of the Maghreb: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, even including related Judeo-Arabic countries like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran.

"I have been cooking this food for I cannot tell you how many years," said the former chef/owner of the renowned Mediterranean restaurant Square One in San Francisco. "When I was doing research for ‘Sephardic Flavors,’ I realized the subject was so huge I couldn’t do it all in one book, so I covered the northern Mediterranean in ‘Sephardic Flavors’ and the southern Mediterranean in ‘Saffron Shores.’ Here the style of cooking changes with a lot more spices and herbs and additional uses of fruit, but, of course, there is some overlap."

Notable for its absence is Israeli cuisine. "I left it out because it’s a hodgepodge," she explains. "The last time I was in Israel I was served sashimi and Thai-flavored something or other, and I thought, sorry, I didn’t come here for that. Israeli cuisine is a melting pot, a lot like America. Whoever is there is cooking Romanian food, Italian food, Yemenite food. Is there Israeli cuisine? I think it’s fusion, so I didn’t give it much attention. It’s not pure. I’d rather go back to the sources."

Indeed, each recipe reflects Goldstein’s impeccable research and attention to detail, and regional differences are carefully noted. For example, for the Cumin Flavored Meatballs, Goldstein offers Moroccan and Syrian variations. But she never sacrifices flavor for authenticity, adding a touch of orange to the sfenj (Moroccan Chanukah donuts), for example, and adjusting the spices in various dishes.

"The spices of North Africa are really vibrant, just incredible, so much fresher and more intense than those we can buy here," she said. "To make these recipes taste right, I often had to double them."

More than just a recipe collection, "Saffron Shores" traces the history of Jewish life in these exotic lands and its impact on the cuisine. We learn that unlike the Ashkenazim, who preserved their Judaism by isolating themselves, the Sephardim were more involved in the communities in which they lived. "They shared recipes and culinary traditions with their non-Jewish neighbors," she writes. "Their food reflected the cuisine of their homeland but adapted to follow the kosher laws."

Because the Sephardim were more active in the community, in trades and in business, there was a greater exchange of ideas between Jews and Muslims, and the similarity in recipes between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors is striking, she notes.

"On the other hand, certain [Eastern European] dishes, when you think of them, you know they are Jewish. I have many Russian cookbooks, but I don’t see too many recipes in there for brisket or tzimmes. There’s not as much overlap between the Jewish and non-Jewish dishes. Some of the ingredients are the same, like cabbage and potatoes, but the recipes don’t track the same way that the Sephardic ones do."

A tireless researcher, Goldstein combed cookbooks from the area, written in French, to capture the authentic tastes and aromatic flavors of such dishes as Iraqi Chicken and Chickpea Pastries, Lamb Tagine with Prunes and Honey and Moroccan Chicken and Almond Pie. The latter, known as B’Stilla, Goldstein calls "a masterpiece of Moroccan cuisine."

And while most of the recipes are easy to prepare, favoring the use of fresh, local ingredients over the labor-intensive method, the savory pastries that Goldstein calls "labors of love" are worth the extra effort, she said. Teams of women would prepare them together for special occasions, a tradition that is sadly dying out. Goldstein suggests families create their own traditions by preparing these bistels, briks or buraks together. "Anything that is fried is appropriate for Chanukah. The Tunisian briks are rounder in shape and contain egg, as compared to the bistels from Morocco and buraks from Algeria," she explains, "but they all can be fried."

For those who can’t think of Chanukah without potatoes, there are potato filled briks from Tunisia. But Goldstein offers a variety of fillings for these pastries, from beef or lamb to feta cheese to chicken with chickpea to spinach with pine nuts. Depending on the region, the dough may be phyllo, yeast raised, short crust or semolina, and the pastries may be baked as well as fried.

These spice-infused pastries make an alluring addition to any Chanukah table. And for Ashkenazic Jews, what an exotic change from latkes.

>Cumin Flavored Meatballs With Onion Jam and Spicy Tomato Sauce

1 pound ground beef

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1¼4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

11¼2 teaspoons salt

1¼2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Light a fire in a charcoal grill. (You may also use a skillet heated over medium-high heat.)

2. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix well, form into 16 oval meatballs wrapped around skewers, or into eight oval patties.

3. Grill or cook in oil on a hot pan until browned on all sides.

4. Serve with onion jam and tomato sauce.

Serves four.

Moroccan Chanukah Doughnut

2 envelopes active dry yeast

1¼4 cup sugar

1¼2 cup warm water

4 cups all-purpose flour

1¼2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs, lightly beaten (optional)

grated zest of 1 orange

1¼4 cup canola oil, melted margarine,

or melted unsalted butter (optional)

11¼2 to 2 cups warm water or part

water, part orange juice

Peanut or canola oil for deep frying

Granulated sugar for sprinkling or warm honey for dipping (optional)

1. Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the water. Let sit until foamy, about 10 minutes.

2. Pour into a large bowl and gradually stir in the flour and salt.

3. Stir in the eggs, zest, and 1¼4 cup oil, margarine or butter, if using.

4. Stir in just enough water or water and juice to make a soft and elastic dough.

5. Knead well, with a dough hook or by hand, on a lightly floured surface, until the dough is elastic, smooth and shiny.

6. Roll the dough into a ball, place in an oiled bowl and turn to coat.

7. Cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled (11¼2 to 2 hours).

8. Oil your hands. Divide the dough into 20 balls about 2 inches in diameter.

9. In a deep saucepan or wok, heat 3 inches of oil to 365 F.

10. Take a ball of dough, make a hole in the center, and pull it out to make a doughnut shape. Deep fry a few at a time until the donuts are puffed and golden.

11. Using a slotted spoon or skimmer, transfer to paper towels to drain.

12. While still hot, sprinkle with granulated sugar or dip in warm honey. Serve warm.

Makes about 20 donuts.

Judy Bart Kancigor, the author of “Melting Pot Memories” (Jan Bart
Publications, $19.95), can be found on the Web at

Tasty ‘Adventures’


"Adventures of Jewish Cooking" by Jeffrey Nathan (Clarkson/Potter Publishers, $32.50)

When Jeffrey Nathan auditioned for his first job cooking for the captain of a Navy destroyer somewhere in the middle of the Pacific and substituted vanilla for Worchester sauce in the meatloaf, little did he know his destiny was a 375-seat upscale kosher restaurant in Manhattan’s garment district named Abigael’s.

Twenty-five years, one James Beard nomination for Best National Cooking Series for the PBS show, "New Jewish Cuisine," and a critically acclaimed new book, "Adventures of Jewish Cooking," later, Nathan is still a bit overwhelmed.

It’s a blustery Friday in October as we approach Abigael’s and find the solicitous chef waiting by the door. He’s just returned from Los Angeles, filming his cooking show at the Jewish Television Network, with a brief stop at Kosherfest in Meadowlands, N.J., and a few television appearances in Florida.

Nathan is under strict mandate from his wife and his partners to relax. As he talks about ideas for Chanukah, his eyes dart around the room. Is the Thai-Crusted Chicken at table eight succulent enough? Is the Bison Chili too spicy?

"I can’t help it, I’m excited," says Nathan, sipping a cup of hot coffee, then chasing it with cold water. We’re seated at a corner table of the crowded restaurant, where the burly, immaculately dressed executive chef is co-owner and chief worrier. Nathan is as animated as he is on television.

"It was great! I felt like the kosher Emeril," Nathan enthuses about the reception he got at Kosherfest for his book. When you redefine a cooking style that hasn’t always been billed as haute cuisine, you’re bound to turn a few heads.

"There’s no such thing as strictly Jewish food. Since the Inquisition, Jews have migrated all over the world. They took their traditions with them; they also ate the food indigenous to the area. If we were in Palermo right now, we’d follow Jewish law, but we’d be eating fresh mozzarella, vine-ripened tomatoes and robust olive oil — but probably not with latkes," he says with a laugh.

He plays down the difficulties of the myriad dietary rules and restrictions taken from the Torah, including the necessity for a full time mashgiach (a certified kosher supervisor) in the kitchen.

"I know how hard it is," said executive chef Don Pintabona, of Tribeca Grill in Manhattan. "I went to Israel during the Peace Accord with Chefs for Peace. I had to cook a sauce the kosher way — it took me a day and a night. The mashgiach almost threw me out of the kitchen. Jeff makes it look so easy. He’s the type of chef, if you look at a plate of his food, you see his personality. It’s classic cuisine; it’s also comfort food."

Nathan’s most comforting dish just might be latkes. Not only will he serve all manner of the potato pancake with a variety of toppings at Abigael’s during Chanukah, he has fried and flipped the transcendent Jewish treat at The James Beard Foundation’s Latke Lovers Cook-off and Chanukah dinner for the last several years.

So latkes are partially responsible for Nathan’s success? "I’m not proud," he jokes. "You smell a latke, you’ll buy anything. Who could say no to something that tastes that good?"

Nathan relaxes a minute as he muses about Chanukahs past, then shifts into high gear and brainstorms accessories for the holiday’s shining star — a compote of seasonal fruit and a Latin chimichurri sauce of tangy herbs and spices. "The spiciness of the chimichurri is the perfect foil for latkes," he said. "Then you add the opposite flavor of sweetness from the compote. Sweet, savory and untraditional."

"I keep the latkes simple. Everybody thinks they have to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. I use a combination of Russets for strength, Yukon Golds for richness and sweetness. And a few ingredients to bring out the flavor, not disguise it. A perfect latke is light, crispy, cooked all the way through, and above all, delicious."

He laughs good-naturedly. "I love what I do. And the best part, it’s brought me back to my roots. Even when I achieved notoriety as a wild-game chef or when I was invited to cook at The James Beard House, I was the same shlepper as everyone else. Now I’ve achieved everything a chef dreams of. There’s got to be a reason for this."

He pauses, taking it all in. "You don’t think it has just a tiny bit to do with God"?

Days of Learning and Bounty


Every Jewish community has its own sorrows to bear, but perhaps none quite so poignant as the Jews of Iraq. The life of the oldest continuous Jewish community in all the world has now come to an end, and has done so in the saddest possible way: in silence and without marker. In the capital city of Baghdad, no museums honor the glories of Babylonian Jewish culture; no monuments stand in memory of the Jews who lived there, or those who fled in terror; no schools cultivate the talents of future generations. Indeed, virtually no Jews remain at all in a city where, within the past century, Jews constituted roughly 20 percent of the population.

The Iraqi Jewish community — nearly all of whom immigrated to Israel in 1950 — can trace its origins as far back as the year 586 B.C.E., when, after the destruction of the First Temple, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon conquered Jerusalem and deported most its inhabitants to his kingdom. ("By the rivers of Babylon," says Psalm 137, "where we sat down and wept/when we remembered Zion.") In 525 B.C.E. Nebuchadnezzar was defeated by Cyrus, the king of Persia, who possessed a more tolerant attitude toward his Jewish subjects and invited them to return to Jerusalem and build a new Temple there. Many of the Babylonian exiles returned to Jerusalem, but many others decided to remain in Babylonia (now Iraq), where a large and stable Jewish community existed until our own time.

In Babylon, the Jewish community grew into the leading center of Jewish scholarship, producing, among other works, the Babylonian Talmud. In later centuries, the community established world-renowned educational institutions, including the academies of Sura and Pumbedita, led by the gaonim (genius rabbis) who answered Jewish religious questions posed to them from all over the world. The community was largely self-governing, ruled by the exilarchs, who had broad powers of taxation and even imprisonment.

Arab rule over Iraq came to an end in the 13th century, and over the next 700 years the land was dominated by a series of invaders, from the Mongols to the Persians and, finally, the Turks, who ruled from 1638 to 1917. As was true in that other great Jewish commercial center, Salonika, the Jews of Baghdad thrived under Ottoman rule, becoming centrally involved in the country’s commercial life. Jewish merchants traded with their contacts, often fellow Jews, throughout Europe and the Far East. (It was during this period that Iraqi Jewish traders began to settle in Calcutta, where the community became known as the "Baghdadi Jews" of India.) Baghdad’s Jews traded in a wide range of goods, notably textiles, silk, precious stones, metal, porcelain and various foods and liquors. As in Salonika, the city’s markets were run primarily by Jews and were closed for business on Saturdays.

The year 1908 brought the rebellion of the so-called "Young Turks" in Istanbul, who installed equal rights and freedom of religion, further improving the lot of the Iraqi Jews (several of whom were elected as Iraqi delegates to the Turkish parliament). Progress accelerated in 1917, when the Ottoman Empire collapsed and the country was placed under the British Mandate. By this time, the Jews of Baghdad had grown to perhaps 120,000. This period, between the world wars, was a kind of golden age for the Iraqi Jewish community. As David Kazzaz writes in "Mother of the Pound" (Sephor-Herman, 1999), his history and memoir of the Jews of Iraq, "In my memories of the 1920s in the city of my birth, it is always springtime."

Most of the houses in the city were made of brick, one or two stories high, surrounding a central courtyard. When the weather grew warmer, the air carried the scent of roses and orange blossoms from backyard gardens. Sabbath afternoons meant a leisurely stroll over the pontoon bridge that had been built across the Tigris River. In the summer, when it was very hot, families would haul cots up to the flat, tiled roofs of the houses and sleep under the stars; in the dry night air, the families drank water from porous clay jugs that evaporated freely and so kept their contents cool.

Mothers and fathers were called not by their first names, but rather as um (mother of) or abu (father of), followed by the name of the first-born son. For centuries the men of the community had worn Middle Eastern robes, and women had covered themselves from head to toe in black silk abayas, sometimes with a black veil; by the early decades of the 20th century the robes had been replaced by Western suits, and women shed the abaya except when going to the marketplace or to Muslim neighborhoods. They spoke Arabic or French or English when conducting business with the outside world, but to each other they also spoke Arabi mal Yehud (Judeo-Arabic), a language spoken only by the Jews of Iraq, consisting of a mixture of Arabic and Hebrew, as well as scattered words from Aramaic, Persian, Turkish, French and English. Judeo-Arabic was thus a kind of repository of the Iraqi community’s history; as with so many of the world’s traditional Jewish languages, it is today spoken mostly by the elderly.

Like language, cuisine is a repository of a community’s history, often in the vestigial foodways of foreign invaders long-since repelled. Some of this can be seen in Iraqi Jewish cuisine as well, such as in the Persian-inspired combination of fruit and meat (one popular dish is meatballs in apricot sauce). Traces of the Ottoman Empire also appear, for instance, in the use of filo in sweet and savory pastries. In general, the cooking was less influenced by Turkey than was that of other Jewish communities who were closer to the center of the Ottoman Empire. Iraqi Jewish cuisine featured lots of fresh fish, caught from the nearby Tigris; sweet-and-sour stews flavored with tamarind or pomegranate; a Sabbath chicken-and-rice dish perfumed with aromatic spices, including dried rose petals; meat-filled rice dumplings called kooba, in a variety of sauces; and perhaps most distinctive of all, a Passover charoset made from date syrup. Like the community that produced it, this was once one of the world’s most important Jewish cuisines, and one that today exists only in memory.

Ingriyi (Iraqi Sweet-and-Sour Meat with Eggplant)

Ingriyi was a festive dish among the Jews of Iraq. This recipe comes from Monique Daoud of Bethesda, Md., who left Iraq in 1972. At the time, she was one of the last few hundred Jews still living in Baghdad.

1¼4 cup olive or vegetable oil

1 onion, finely chopped

11¼2 pounds beef or lamb stew,

cut into 1-inch cubes

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 large eggplant, about 11¼2 pounds,

cut into 1¼2-inch slices

1 red pepper, thinly sliced

1 green pepper, thinly sliced

2 tomatoes, thinly sliced

1 cup tomato juice

1¼2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 4 lemons)

3 tablespoons sugar

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a Dutch oven or other large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until soft and translucent. Season the meat with salt and pepper. Add the meat to the pot, raise the heat to medium-high and continue cooking until the meat is well browned on all sides.

2. Cover the meat and onions with water. Cover the pot and bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for one hour, skimming off any foam that may develop on the surface. Drain and set aside.

3. While the meat is cooking, place the eggplant slices in a colander. Sprinkle generously with salt and cover with paper towels. Place a heavy object on top and let stand for 30 minutes, then rinse the slices and pat them dry with paper towels.

4. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. In batches, add the eggplant and cook until lightly browned on both sides. (Add a bit more oil if necessary.) Drain on paper towels.

5. Preheat the oven to 350F. Arrange the eggplant in a large baking dish. Cover with a layer of meat and onions, and then the tomatoes and peppers. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

6. In a small bowl, combine the tomato juice, lemon juice and sugar. Taste and adjust the flavoring as desired. Pour the mixture over the layered meat and vegetables.

7. Loosely cover with foil and cook for 1 to 11¼2 hours, until the meat is very tender. Transfer to a large serving platter and serve hot with rice.

Serves 6.

Destination: Strasbourg


It’s not every day a grown woman gets her cheeks pinched by another woman who’s tickled pink to see her eating, but then Yvonne Haller is no ordinary French restaurateur.

She’s one of the handful of honorary Jewish mothers — actually elegantly coifed and no doubt WASPy grande dames — who make the winstubs (wine bars) of Strasbourg so special; even heads of state gather to discuss business at their crowded trestle tables rather than somewhere more private.

Chez Yvonne has hosted European leaders, while members of the rock group, Radiohead, were equally unlikely guests at Le Clou, round the corner. These convivial hostelries and dozens like them provide a disarmingly homely counterpoint to the grave institutions that bring so many suits — politicians, lawyers and lobbyists — to the European city.

Perhaps the haimish ambiance is the result of Jewish influence — the community may have been decimated during the war, but Alsace has a phenomenally strong Jewish heritage reaching far beyond city limits. More than 200 historic sites document a shtetl system to rival Eastern Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, when the region was home to half of France’s Jews. All but a quarter were wiped out by the Nazis, but Strasbourg remains a Jewish haven thanks to an influx of Sephardim from North Africa who have been enthusiastically embraced by the remaining Ashkenazim.

The blood link makes a visit to one of the prettiest parts of France particularly resonant for the Jewish visitor, who will find antique synagogue furnishings of magnificent quality in Strasbourg’s exquisite Musee Alsacien. There are also a host of other museums, synagogues and other testaments to Jewish life across the region.

Strasbourg, which has a host of magnificent museums, houses medieval Jewish tombstones in its Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre-Dame; there is also a third-century mikvah that can be visited, the inevitable Rue des Juifs and two restaurants specializing in Jewish Alsatian cuisine. Although the magnificent Gothic synagogue was destroyed by the Germans in 1940, many beautiful shuls (Moorish in Thann, neoclassical in Haguenau, neoromanesque in Struth) still stand in the countryside, notably the 1791 temple in Pfaffenhoffen with its matzah oven and superb painted ark.

Even without the Jewish sites and heritage tours on offer, Alsace would be a delight and Strasbourg its crown jewel. The most decorated city in France, where every wooden surface seems to be exquisitely carved, every piece of cloth embroidered, every wineglass etched and every piece of pottery hand-painted, the riot of ornament somehow comes across as far from sweet, more a celebration of life.

To get an overview, take immediately to the water; bateaux-mouches (river boats) await in front of the Palais Rohan, where a teenage Marie-Antoinette came to be married. You will float through the picturesque ancient quarter of La Petite France into the handsome harbor and upriver to see the breathtaking buildings that are Strasbourg’s modern raison d’etre — the elliptically elegant European Parliament and swirly, swaggering Court of Human Rights designed by Richard Rodgers.

Once off the boat, your first stop in the engrossing Old Town should be the world’s prettiest and most engaging cathedral. Reminiscent of a pink wedding cake on the outside, the interior boasts a magnificent 16th-century astronomical clock whose 12:30 p.m. performance is not to be missed. The clock portal outside the cathedral is remarkable, too, not the least because it is flanked on one side by a piece of ancient synagogue statuary. Around the cathedral lies a warren of streets rich in winstubs and fine shops. The best shop for regional products is the large emporium on the square where you disembark the bateaux-mouches, lying in wait for the discerning tourists with fine linens, painted cookware and the carved iron for which the region is also famous.

Strasbourg is rich in well-priced, comfortable hostelries like the Tulip Inn-Hannong, where elegant rooms range from $60 to $125 per night. In a smart shopping street only a five-minute stroll from the Old Town, it offers a quieter alternative to the Maison Kammerzell, a hotel-restaurant famous for its ornate medieval exterior, and other lodgings close to the cathedral.

Although there is enough in the city to command a dedicated weekend trip, it would be a shame to miss the riches of the surrounding region. Colmar is another handsome town packed with fine museums and Jewish heritage sites. The Musee Bartholdi, dedicated to the creator of the Statue of Liberty, contains a collection of artifacts and works amassed by the Historical and Contemporary Jewish Art Fund, but the town’s most justly famous museum is the Unterlinden, a former Dominican convent with 13th-century cloister, packed with fabulous mediaeval art and a famous altarpiece.

Like Strasbourg, a river runs through it, and it’s delightful to have lunch by the water during summer; head for the Tanners’ District and Little Venice. Although Colmar does have a luxurious riverside hotel, it is more pleasant yet to stay in one of the surrounding villages on Alsace’s delightful Route des Vins.

While picnics are a good reason to summer in Alsace’s rolling hills, December is when the region, famous for its Christmas markets, is at its most atmospheric and entrancing. Strasbourg’s festive lights are simply unforgettable.

Breaking the Fast


Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins at sundown on Sunday, Oct. 8, during which time a strict fast is observed

Prior to the fast, it is customary to serve a family dinner consisting of simple foods prepared with a minimum of salt and spices.

After the fast, dairy foods are traditionally served, and of course bagels are an important part of the after-fast menu, often accompanied by smoked fish and salads.

If there is one favorite item in the Jewish-American cuisine, it is certainly the bagel. Their popularity has spread to almost every part of the U.S. And many shops specializing only in bagels have popped up everywhere. We can choose from egg or water bagels, whole wheat, oat bran, rye, onion, blueberry, cinnamon-raisin, cheese and even chocolate chip bagels.

There are many opinions as to where the bagel originated. Some say Germany, while others insist it was Austria, Poland or Russia, although scholars claim that the word “bagel” is derived from the German word “bugel,” which means a ring or curved bracelet. No matter where they came from, we know that the bagel is here to stay, and they are not just for breakfast.

Few of us have attempted to bake bagels in our home kitchens.

I love making bagels, but it is true that they do take a lot of time. Bagels are made in a unique manner; they are first boiled, then baked, which gives them their distinctive shiny, chewy crust.

This year, for break-the-fast, bagels will be my theme – a bagel buffet, with enough delicious toppings to satisfy everyone.

Let your family and friends have fun creating their own open-face bagel fantasy from a selection of interesting toppings.

Izzy’s Authentic Bagels

I never knew how to make perfect bagels until I met Izzy Cohen, an elderly retired baker, who made bagels for his friends. He came to my house to demonstrate his technique, bringing his own high-gluten flour. Once you learn the basic process, you’ll love making bagels in many varieties – plain, onion, poppy seed, cinnamon, or your own special creations. You might have to go to a health food store to find the malt for this recipe.

  • 2 cups cold water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon malt
  • 1 tablespoon safflower oil
  • 8 cups high-gluten flour (12 to 13 percent gluten) or 8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour mixed with
  • 1/4 cup powdered gluten, plus more as needed
  • 5 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon yellow cornmeal

In the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer, blend the water, sugar, salt, malt, and oil on medium speed.In another large bowl, mix 6 cups of the flour with yeast; gradually add flour mixture to water mixture and blend until the dough comes together. Add the remaining 2 cups flour, beating until smooth. (If any dry flour mixture remains in the bottom of the bowl, add several drops of water to moisten it and continue beating 5 minutes.)

Transfer dough to a lightly floured board, cover with a towel and let rest 5 minutes. Divide dough into 15 pieces and cover with a towel while you knead and shape each piece. Knead by folding each piece in half and pushing out any air pockets, then fold in half again and repeat. Shape into a rope about 5 inches long; form into a doughnut shape, overlap ends by about 1 inch, and knead into a smooth perfect circle. Repeat the process with remaining pieces of dough.

Sprinkle cornmeal on the board and place bagels on top. Cover with a towel and let rest 5 minutes.Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Fill a large heavy pot with water and bring to a rolling boil. Working in batches, drop 4 to 6 bagels (do not crowd) into boiling water and boil 10 seconds only. At this time, bagels should rise to the top of the water. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a wire rack and drain. Transfer bagels to a parchment-lined baking sheet 2 inches apart. Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Cool on a wire racks. Makes about 15 bagels.Variations: Mix together chopped onion and poppy seeds or caraway seeds with a little coarse kosher salt. After boiling and draining bagels, press the top of each bagel into seed mixture and bake as directed.

Toasted Garlic Bagels

Instead of garlic toast using French bread, try my version.

  • 1/4 pound unsalted butter or non-dairy margarine
  • 3 to 4 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons minced parsley
  • Salt
  • 8 bagels, sliced in half

In a processor, mix butter and garlic until well blended. Pulse in parsley. Season to taste with salt. With a rubber spatula, transfer mixture to a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. (You can also shape the mixture into a cube, wrap in plastic wrap and foil, then freeze it; defrost until spreadable before use.)

Preheat the broiler. Spread the butter mixture on the bagel halves, place them on a baking sheet, and broil until the butter mixture bubbles and begins to brown. Serve immediately.

Grandma’s Chopped Herring

  • 1 pound schmaltz herring fillets or 1 jar (1 pound) pickled herring fillets in wine sauce
  • 2 slices challah or egg bread
  • 1 medium onion, cut into quarters
  • 1 green apple, peeled, cored, and sliced
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs
  • 4 teaspoons vinegar
  • 2 or 3 tablespoons safflower or vegetable oil

Soak the herring in cold water overnight. Drain well. Bone and skin the herring and cut it into pieces. Soak the challah in cold water for a few minutes and squeeze out the water.

Place the herring, challah, onion, and apple in a food grinder and grind. Chop the hard-boiled egg whites and combine with 3 teaspoons of the vinegar. Mix the whites into the herring mixture. Spread the chopped herring on a platter. Mash the egg yolks with the remaining 1 teaspoon vinegar and spread over the top of the chopped herring.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill. Just before serving, pour 2 or 3 tablespoons of the oil over the top. Serve with toasted bagels.

Broiled Lox and Cream Cheese on a Bagel

  • 8 bagels, sliced and toasted
  • 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion
  • 1/2 cup diced smoked salmon
  • 3 tablespoons capers, rinsed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a medium-size bowl, mix together the cream cheese, sour cream, onions and smoked salmon. Fold in capers. Season with salt and pepper. Spread evenly on toasted bagels. Broil 3 inches from the heat until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Italian Deli Platter

  • 12 thin slices of tomatoes
  • 12 thin slices of mozzarella cheese
  • 12 anchovy fillets

On a large platter, arrange slices of tomatoes. Top each tomato with a slice of cheese and an anchovy fillet. Serves 12.

Smoked Whitefish Platter

  • Lettuce leaves
  • Smoked whitefish or cod fish
  • Sliced cucumbers
  • Sliced onions

On a large platter, arrange lettuce leaves, white fish, cucumbers and onions.

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