Hello Readers! I am now back home in Chicago and my year of study abroad in Israel is over, but I wanted to reflect on the incredible summer that I spent in Israel. The summer began in May before my study abroad program at TAU ended, and wow was it a fun-filled summer! I have incredible memories from the last three months and they started with the trip I took to Eilat with my wonderful roommate Claire. I had never been to Eilat which is located at the most southern tip of Israel on the Red Sea. The Red Sea is beautiful and the state takes care to protect the coral reefs and aquatic wildlife that are found in the area. We went to the underwater viewing center, snorkeled in the sea, enjoyed the nigh life, and ate lots of ice cream in the 90 degree weather. It was a great trip and the natural beauty was stunning!
The end of May and the beginning of June was bittersweet because my program was coming to an end, and although I had spent an incredible year with my roommates, it was time for us to move out of the TAU dorms and for everyone to part ways. During the spring semester, I lived with Claire (my American roommate), Haijie (my Chinese roommate), and Uyen (my Vietnamese roommate). We had such a wonderful time teaching each other about our different cultures, cuisines, languages, and understanding all of the things we still had in common. It was truly hard to say goodbye. Haijie and Uyen did not leave Israel right away so I saw them a few more times throughout the summer, but Claire returned to the US and I hope to see her again one day. She was the roommate that I shared a room with and had known since August 2016. The adventures and experiences that we shared together will always be fond memories of mine. I especially miss studying with her at Tel Aviv coffee shops and talking about our interesting classes. These are some of the final pictures my lovely roommates and I took together.
In June my little sister Mika came to visit my older sister Malayan and I for vacation. We had a lot of fun showing Mika and her friend around Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Jerusalem. We also spent some time at the beach and at wonderful restaurants around Tel Aviv. I was still working on some final papers but it was fun to relax and enjoy summer with my siblings.
Over the summer I participated in a research internship at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. I worked on a research paper with a faculty member at INSS, and thus, the month of July was occupied by research and writing. I really enjoyed my experience at INSS and writing a short paper on a topic of Middle East studies that I am highly interested in. I was very busy this summer but it was definitely worth it. The paper that myself and Dr. Ofir Winter wrote will be published as an insight piece on the INSS website next week. I am very proud of myself for this accomplishment and for learning so much about the style of writing/research that I used for my internship. I learned that hard work and dedication pays off, and I hope that the experience I had in my summer internship will influence my future research at UIUC or lead to other opportunities for me in the future.
Although I was highly occupied with my internship, I still enjoyed my summer vacation in July as well. I got to travel to Eilat for a second time with my boyfriend to celebrate our anniversary. We had an amazing time snorkeling, diving, and exploring Eilat together. I feel so lucky that I got to travel to Eilat twice this past summer. I also got to enjoy sitting at many Tel Aviv coffee shops while I wrote my research paper for INSS and indulged in the Israeli food I knew I would miss after returning to the US. Now reflecting on all of this, I really wish I could live the month of July over again, it was truly incredible.
Now it is August and I have been home in Chicago for exactly two weeks. I am already missing Israel terribly and it was very hard for me to leave. I spent about 15 months abroad and now it seems as if it flew by. I will always cherish the memories I have from this past year and I am already awaiting the next time I can travel to Israel. I made some amazing friends, learned so much about myself, and accomplished so many of my goals for my year of study abroad. I will continue to post on this blog from the US, and I hope to write about Israel from University of Illinois to share my thoughts and opinions.
Goodbye for now Israel!
Hello Readers! This post is very late, but as my semester has come to an end, I really want to reflect on what has happened in the last month of my program at TAU. From the end of April to the beginning of June, my life was jam-packed with activities, programs, and final exams. But it was all worth it!
On April 30th, I participated in the international program's Yom Hazikaron ceremony. Yom Hazikaron is the Israeli memorial day to honor victims of terrorist attacks and those who died during their service in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). I believe that this is one of the most important days one can experience in Israel because you really see how the society comes together and honors those that have died and the resilience of the community. The day following Yom Hazikaron is Yom Ha'atzmaut or Israel's independence day, which brings the somber mood of the country to that of joy and celebration. It is so inspiring and moving to witness these two days back-to-back here in Israel.
Every year, the Tel Aviv University International Program holds a ceremony for Yom Hazikaron. There are ceremonies all over the country on the eve of memorial day and during the day families will go visit the graves of their loved ones who have died for Israel. The ceremonies on the eve of Yom Hazikaron are very important because the stories of those that have fallen are shared, meaningful songs are sung, and poems read. I have participated in the international ceremony twice now, once during my gap year in 2015 and this past April. Every time I participate I am so moved and thankful that I get to be a part of this ceremony. This ceremony is unique because every poem and story shared is read both in Hebrew and in English so that the international community can understand and take part.
This year I read a story in Hebrew called "Yonatan Will Never," by Ron Leshem. It tells the story of a young man who dies during the First Lebanon War in 1982 and about all of the life experiences he will never have because he died so young. This was easily the most emotional piece of the ceremony and it was hard to hold back tears while reading it out loud to my peers on the night of the ceremony. We practiced for two weeks straight before the performance and had a full day of dress-rehearsal. It was a big commitment to get involved in the ceremony, but I am extremely proud of myself for participating once again.
May was the last full month of our program and it flew by. I was busy with final exams, both in-class tests and take-home essays. I have recently received my TAU transcripts and I am happy with my academic accomplishments this past year. I took study abroad seriously, achieved high grades, and still had time to have fun at the beach. During the spring semester I took courses called Social and Cultural History of the Modern Middle East, State and Stateness in the Middle East, Mobilization, Social Protest, Rebellion, and Revolution from the Arab Awakening to Occupy Wall Street, Colloquial Palestinian Arabic, and Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Security in the 21st Century. These courses were all very interesting and added to my knowledge of the Middle East and deepened my interest for Middle East studies. I am so thankful that I chose to stay for the entire year at TAU because I took so many wonderful courses, made important connections with TAU faculty, and made friendships that will last a lifetime.
Hello Readers! Here in Israel the Passover holiday has ended and everyone is back to work and school. We are now encountering the memorial days for the Holocaust, fallen soldiers, and victims of terror attacks that fall every year in the weeks after Passover. And we will also be celebrating Israel's 69th year of independence on May 1st. However, I still want to reflect on my last day of the Passover holiday and vacation because it was truly special.
On the final night of Passover, Israelis celebrate Chag Sheini or the second part of the holiday. I am not familiar with the religious practice on this day, but secular Israelis will often get together with their families and have a family meal or barbecue. I was lucky enough to experience chag sheini in Israeli fashion and have a barbecue of my own.
I was staying in Haifa for the second half of Passover and my boyfriend Matan and I had wanted to go traveling in Israel. However, because of Passover, public transportation was not functioning and businesses were closed on the ever of chag sheini and the following day. We were fated to stay in Haifa that day, but we wouldn't let that stop us from having fun. So we planned our own barbecue for just the two of us. Although businesses were mostly closed, Haifa has a large Arab population that is not observing the holiday and keep some of their shops open. We first went to a convenient store to buy an Israeli-style aluminum camping grill and some coals. We then visited a traditional Arab butcher to buy steak and seasonings for our meal. I really enjoyed running these errands until we had to walk up the steep hills of Haifa with all of our purchases in order to get home. That was difficult....
When we finally made it home, we prepped our steak in seasoning and marinade. We also prepared potatoes and sweet potatoes to put on the grill. When it was finally time to get cooking, we ascended up to the roof of Matan's apartment building to barbecue. The weather was perfect and the afternoon light was warming up the rooftop. Matan is a barbecue expert luckily so he handled much of the cooking, but I feel that from watching him I have learned some skills. Besides actually lighting the fire, the barbecuing isn't as complicated as I once thought.
Our steak preparation and barbecuing was a success, and Matan and I had an amazing chag sheini meal. These moments with Matan and other Israeli friends really makes me feel that I have had a successful year of study abroad and soaking up the Israeli experience. I only have about three months left here in Israel, and all of the experiences I have had with friends, with the holidays, and in university are irreplaceable. I am excited to share more of my memories and stories form this year in the months to come!
Hello Readers! On the second day of Passover here in Israel, most of the country has a day off. There is no school, most businesses are closed, and everyone takes time to have a family day. The second day of Passover despite it being a Tuesday, felt exactly like a Saturday in Israel, but with even more time to relax. I saw religious, secular, and Arab families out and about around the city. People were going to family meals, outings in the park, walks, and myself to a picnic at the beach.
I was invited to go with my sister Ma'ayan, her roommate Daniela, and their friends to a small Passover picnic at the beach. The day was warm (about 75 degrees F) and the sun was out. We went to the only AMPM store that was opened in my sisters neighborhood to buy some last minute food. We had matzah, pesto spread, cheese, watermelon, apples, palm hearts, some chocolate with chili, and of course wine and juice. I was in charge of carrying the machtzelet (a versatile Israeli-style woven blanket) that we used as our picnic blanket.
We had our picnic on a grassy area of the beach a little bit north of the old city of Jaffa. It was windier than we had been expecting near the beach and we had to hold down the corners of our picnic blankets but it was still so much fun. I felt that the scene was idilic in many ways. The sun was shining, I was meeting new people, the Passover picnic food was good, and everyone else around us was happy. There were teasing smells coming from the family barbecues also happening at the beach, and an Arab family nearby was flying a kite. Although the sea water is still cold, there were even people wind surfing and water boarding in the waves.
Towards the end of the picnic the sun began to go down, and my sister and I who had been wearing shorts, were both starting to get cold. We all decided to pack up our picnic and walk back towards my sister's apartment. But on the way, we found one open coffee shop and we decided to stop there to grab some afternoon coffee. I had a wonderful time meeting other young people who moved to Israel for a short period of time after they finished their undergraduate degrees. They gave me some ideas of things I can do in Israel after my degree. If I would want to move back here after my senior year of college, I know that there is a diverse range of jobs I could find, and talking to these friends began to make me think more about my future. But more on that another time....
Hello Readers and Happy Passover! This Passover is like no other because I am here in Israel and spending the holiday in Israeli style. Last night I attended a wonderful Passover Seder with my extended Israeli family, and as I am on Passover break from TAU, I am hoping to have many fun experiences over the vacation and to share them with you all!
Yesterday before the holiday began, I met up with my older sister Malayan (who also lives in Tel Aviv) and her lovely roommate Daniela for a pre-Passover lunch. It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed walking around my sisters neighborhood in the center of Tel Aviv. We even took a polaroid picture at their neighborhood coffee shop to commemorate the day. Later on, my sister and I headed out to our great aunt's house in Herzliya for our family Seder.
Getting to the Seder was an adventure all of its own. Ma'ayan and I were running "fashionably" late and we had planned to take a taxi to a bus station, and then from there take a mont sherut (a shared taxi) to Herzliya. However, we didn't realize that it would be impossible to find a taxi at 6:30 pm on the first night of Passover. Absolutely no taxi would pick us up and the famous Gett Taxi app was not working to its usual standards. We ended up having to run/walk for 40 minutes to get to the pickup point for the mont sherut. We were unfortunately late for the Seder and walked in as our family was reciting the 10 plagues.
Once we settled in, there was only about 30 minutes left of reading and singing from the Haggadah before the main meal began. We made it in time to taste our family's traditional Iraqi charoset. In the Ashkenazi tradition, charoset is usually made from chopped apples and honey, but in our Iraqi family, charoset is made from dates to create a paste and then has raisons and some nuts. I always love when my mom makes this type of charoset which she learned from my grandmother. It was comforting that my great aunt here in Israel made the same charoset that I know and love.
For the rest of the night we ate the delicious Passover meal that Janette had prepared. She ended up not making many of her traditional Iraqi dishes and chose to experiment with more standard Ashkenazi food. My sister and I still enjoyed the food which consisted of brisket, chicken schnitzel, cauliflower, green beans and meet, salads, and watermelon for dessert. It was so nice to spend Passover with my extended family who I do not get to see very often. I am so busy with my life in Ramat Aviv and at TAU that I often forget that my family lives just north of me in Herzliya. I want to go visit them more often from now on because I know it is important to preserve family relations especially while I am here in Israel.
Chag Sameach :)
Hello Readers! I am still visiting in Chicago and this past weekend I decided to head to southern Illinois to visit my friends down in Champaign-Urbana at my university. I have been away from UIUC for over 9 months now, but I was both excited and a little nervous to see my friends and catch up with them. I took the bus down on Thursday the 23rd and planned to stay until Sunday the 26th. My parents drove to Champaign on Saturday and stayed through to Sunday so we could spend some family time with my little sister Mika who is also a student at UIUC. It was truly a great weekend.
I wasn’t sure what to expect for my visit at UIUC. I had been gone for so long and I was worried the dynamic I had with my group of friends would have changed or that I wouldn’t feel like a part of my social circle anymore, but that was certainly not the case. I fit back into my friend group perfectly and it luckily felt like I had never left. I stayed with my amazing friend Avital who hosted me for the entire weekend and I was reunited with so many people.
Coming home from a year-long study abroad is a strange thing. No one expects you to come back from your time abroad, because usually students don’t have a two-month break, but when you do they can seem pretty confused about what you are doing home. However, I am glad I got a chance to visit my university because I got to see so many friends that I have been missing this year. Visiting my university also made me feel very excited for next year and all of the experiences I will have when I come back. I think this is important for me to keep in mind because when it is nearing the time for me to leave Israel, I already know I am going to have an incredibly hard time leaving. If I can remember how much fun I had this past weekend, maybe it will make the end of study abroad seem more positive than negative.
We started the weekend off by going rock climbing in the university gym with my sister Mika and my friends Avital, Spencer, and Jess. We had so much fun and because my sister works at the rock climbing gym, we were able to get guidance from her and some special treatment. I had been climbing many times in Israel but mostly bouldering instead of wall climbing. This was the first time climbing for my three friends and I am looking forward to climbing with them much more next year. That night we also made homemade falafel at Avital’s apartment. She thought it would be nice to bring some of the Middle East back to Champaign and it was a great way to have fun while making dinner. We ended up making so many falafel balls that they lasted us for three days, and they tasted incredible.
On Friday we had a super packed day. My friends and I spent the day going to the gym, having a delicious lunch at a Thai restaurant, touring our apartment for next year, and attending Shabbat dinner at Hillel. I was especially glad to get the chance to tour my future apartment because I relied on my friends to find us a place to live next year since I am on study abroad. I will be living with Avital, Jess, and another friend Arielle and after our tour and this weekend I am looking forward to living with them next year. Attending Shabbat dinner at Hillel was also very special because I got to see so many of my friends from the UIUC Jewish community.
On Saturday my parents drove down to join my sister and I at UIUC. When they arrived we had a nice dinner at my favorite restaurant on campus, Pho Café Thai Kitchen. My parents were able to meet some of our fiends from school and it was nice to be reunited with my little sister after not seeing her for 9 months. On Sunday morning my family and I went out for another meal together before we set out on the drive back to Chicago.
I am very glad that I got a chance to visit my university during my trip home. Despite the fact that I was unsure about visiting my university while I am in the middle of my study abroad year, it proved to be a very positive experience. I know that leaving Israel in August will be extremely painful and hard to do, but I am looking forward to continuing my degree and living with my friends at UIUC. Thank you to all of my friends for making this a wonderful visit!
Hello Readers! I am home in Chicago visiting my family for about two weeks, and I wanted to talk about something very near and dear to my heart that has been making me miss Israel so much. There are many differences between Israel and my hometown of Wilmette Illinois, but I may talk about those things in a different post. However, what I have always loved about Israeli culture and what I am longing to hear when I turn on the radio is Israeli music.
For as long as I can remember, my family has listened to Israeli music artists on cassette tapes, CDs, and now YouTube. My parents have always been obsessed with buying the latest albums by their favorite Israeli singers and this was all we listened to on family road trips and at home. I strongly believe that growing up with Israeli music always brought me closer to Israel, and although back then I couldn't understand many of the songs, as my Hebrew skills grew I found myself preferring old Israeli classics to new American pop songs.
I used to be embarrassed because my friends would ask me what music I liked and I wouldn't know how to answer them. Because of my parents I didn't know the latest hits out in the US or many popular songs from the 70s and 80s, but I always knew what was popular in Israel. I could have responded to my friends by saying I liked Shlomo Artzi, Avraham Tal, Rita, or Sarit Hadad, but I knew they wouldn't understand why I liked those things or what the songs meant to me. But when I listened to this music I felt like I belonged somewhere else and to another culture which I loved.
As I grew up and I began to use YouTube to look up music that I liked, I began to discover Israeli music that my parents didn't know but that was popular amongst younger people. I still love Idan Rachel and have been to three of his concerts, but I now like Natan Goshen, Liran Danino, Idan Amedi, Idan Haviv, and even some Israeli rappers. It has been fun discovering new Israeli artists and being able to share their music with my parents and buying their CDs as presents to my family. I have always felt that I know more about what's popular in Israel than in America, and this is something I take pride in even today.
The hard thing about being home in Chicago, is that when I turn on the radio there is no chance that one of my favorite Israeli songs will come on. Living in Israel, I get a kick out of hearing the radio on the bus when suddenly a song from my childhood comes on and everyone on the bus has a nostalgic smile on their face. I know that I fit in with Israelis who grew up loving the same music as I did far away in the US. Due to my knowledge of Israeli music, I feel like I understand such an important part of Israeli culture because music in such a small country is something that can bring everyone together. It is hard to describe my favorite genre of Israeli music. It is a mix between a classic rock, smooth pop, and soul music that many artists have perfected. I feel that their lyrics are not simply written to make hit songs, but are poetic and deeper than what we have in American pop. At the end of this post I will leave some recommendations of my favorite Israeli singers and songs. In about a week I will be heading back to Israel and I cannot wait to once again have the pleasant surprise of hearing my favorite music in stores, on the radio, and using it to connect with my Israeli friends.
My music recommendations:
-Idan Raichel (all albums are great)
-Natan Goshen (new song Hikiti and I love many of his old songs)
-Eden Ben Zaken (new albums and covers from The X Factor Israel)
-Rami Kleinshtein (older albums and Ruchot Milchama song)
-Shlomo Artzi (old albums)
-Mosh Ben Ari (all albums)
AND MANY MORE
Hello Readers! Although the holiday season has recently passed, I wanted to talk about my experience of many different holidays this year in Israel. I was able to witness not only Hannukah, but also Christmas and Russian New Years during my time here this year. All of these holidays are celebrated to the max in the city of Haifa in northern Israel. Haifa is one of my favorite places in Israel and I visit there often, but during the holidays it is even more special.
Haifa is a city full of different ethnicities and religions that are known for their coexistence. In the center of Haifa there is an area called the German Colony that was built by German Templers in the late 19th century. Their goal was to move to Palestine to hasten the Second Coming of Christ and they built small communities in cities like Haifa and Jerusalem that are still standing today. The German Colony in Haifa is now the center of holiday celebrations and specifically decorated for the Holiday of Holidays, a celebration of all religious and secular holidays that fall in the winter. In the center roundabout of the colony there is a huge Christmas/New Years tree, a Hannukah Menorah, and a crescent moon representing Islam. This square is a major tourist attraction and truly beautiful to walk around in the evening.
I visited Haifa multiple times this holiday season and I was able to experience the Holiday of Holidays celebration in the German Colony, go out with my friends in the Russian New Years style, and light Hannukah candles. I will include some pictures at the end of this blog post so that you can all see the beauty of the holidays in Haifa. I loved the atmosphere and felt love, joy, and gratitude that I have gotten to experience so many new cultural experiences this past year. The holidays have made me feel closer to Israeli society and a part of something special. I am now truly looking forward to my spring semester at Tel Aviv University.
There are many things that are different about the holidays in Israel to what I have grown up with in the US. For one, people don't give presents to one another on Hannukah. I know that gift giving for Hannukah is an American Jewish invention to satisfy Jewish children who do not get Christmas gifts, yet it was still strange that December is not a time of holiday gift sales in Israel. There are many other times of the year known for gift giving, but winter is not one of them. Another interesting difference is the large amount of Christmas imagery that does not have anything to do with Christmas. By this I mean, there are Christmas lights, blow up Santas, snowflakes, Christmas trees, but these things are often set up to celebrate Russian New Year and not Christmas. Russian New Year adopted this imagery during the time of the Soviet Union when religious holidays were not allowed. Therefore, symbols from Christmas were adopted to celebrate the secular New Years holiday and are still a part of Russian New Year today. When I want out with my Russian/Israeli friends in Haifa on New Years Eve, we wore Santa hats in celebration which I really enjoyed.
Finally, holidays in Israel are still a time of eating way too much food. I had many Hannukah/New Years meals and desserts, making me feel that I celebrated the holidays right. All over Israel there were Hannukah jelly donuts or Sufganiot which are incredible but very fattening. There was also a lot of chocolate in Christmas wrapping and other things I couldn't resist trying. Overall I loved the holiday season and I think that the mix of representation of so many religions is something I will miss next year in the US.
Hello Readers! My family has come to visit here in Israel and this past weekend we went on a fun adventure to Masada. Masada is an ancient cite with a lot of importance to the Jewish people. Although I had been to Masada before on my Birthright trip, I only had vague memories of my experience and I was very excited to explore the mountain again.
The story of Masada explains that around 60 CE during the Jewish Revolt and Jewish-Roman War against the Roman Empire, a Jewish community took refuge against the Romans on the top of the mountain. They were able to hide in the palaces of King Harod that were built on top of Masada a little while before. The Romans were able to find the Jews hiding on the mountain, but they were unable to ascend the peak with all of their equipment and soldiers. Therefore, they camped below the mountain and surrounded it for six years as they built the famous Roman Ramp up Masada. Eventually the Romans reached the top and the Jewish community had to decide whether they wanted to die at the hands of the Romans or take their own lives as a sign of protest and defiance. They ended up committing mass suicide in order to assert their independence against the Romans. Their story was recorded by Titus Flavius Josephus as the Siege of Masada in 75 CE. I learned that it is unclear if the details in Josephus's account of the siege are fully true, but his writings are the best account we have today of the story.
Today when you visit the ruins of Masada you can imagine the lives that both King Herod and the Jewish community lived on top of the mountain. Herod had a lavish vacation palace atop the mountain that you can still walk through today, and the Jews hid in this palace from the Romans under very different circumstances. My family and I walked around the ruins for about two hours exploring the excavated parts of the palaces. It was incredible to see the painted walls and murals that have been found, along with the architecture of the bath houses, store rooms, and palace courtyards. Although we came late in the day and we didn't have long before the viewing was closed, I feel that my family saw much more of Masada than I had seen on Birthright.
I really appreciated experiencing Masada again, and I feel that touring somewhere can always be better the second time. I know many people see something once and they then want to move onto other things, but revisiting places can still teach you things you didn't notice the first time or didn't have time to appreciate. I was able to take some amazing pictures of the Dead Sea from the top of Masada and of the ruins that I had not taken on my first visit. Also visiting with my family felt much more meaningful to me and I will remember this trip always. My family has now left Israel and I miss them already, but I know it's time for me to continue my adventures on study abroad independently.
Hello Readers! Today I want to tell you a little bit about my heritage and how I am discovering new things about my family during my time here in Israel. I come from a mixed background and I am one of those half Ashkenazi/half Mizrahi mutt type of Jews and I have always been proud of this fact. My dad's side is Ashkenazi from Russia/Poland and Belarus. I am very close with my grandparents on my dad's side and I feel that I know a lot about that side of my family. My mom's side is British and Iraqi. My British grandfather is also very present in my life and lives close by to our family in Chicago. A few years ago, I went on a trip with him and my sisters to the UK to visit his side of the family and learn about my British roots. However, unfortunately my Iraqi grandmother Idit passed away when I was 11 years old from Alzheimer's disease. I did not get to grow up with her, yet her memory has been kept alive through stories my mother has told me and my relationships with her siblings and family in Israel.
When my grandmother was about 10 years old, her family was forced to flee Iraq due to rising tensions and persecution against the Jewish community. My family was from Baghdad and had wealth, good jobs, and a comfortable life until their safety was compromised. They first fled to Iran and eventually made Aliyah (immigrated) to Israel. My grandmother went through the rest of her schooling in Haifa, went to the Israeli army, and had a degree from Hebrew University. On a trip to Boston to visit her brother she met my British grandfather and ended up staying in the US.
Much of our Iraqi family is spread across the world from Canada to the UK, Australia, Switzerland, and Israel. It just so happens that my grandmother's close first cousin Janette still lives here in Hertzelya Israel nearby to me. I have met Janette a few times, and during my time here I have spent more time with her and my family. We have met for a few Shabbat dinners, outings, and recently an Iraqi cooking lesson!
Meeting with Janette is very special because she and my grandmother were only a few months apart and grew up together. It feels like she is another link to understanding Idit's story and in brining me closer to her. Janette often tells little snippets from their childhood, but I have never learned so much than I did during our time making machbuz last week. My older sister and I were invited to Janette's house for a cooking lesson to learn how to make Iraqi style pastries which are called machbuz. They are baked goods that can be sweet made with dates or nuts and savory made with a cheese filling. She taught us how to make the date filled cookies and the cheese filled pastries. While she taught us the important steps of the recipe, she intertwined stories from her childhood and how she and my grandmother used to make machbuz in Iraq.
We began by making the dough for the pastries. It contained more sugar than I had expected especially because the cheese pastries are savory. While we added the ingredients and kneaded the dough Janette explained that as little girls her and Idit used to sit in their garden with their mothers, their grandmother, and their maid making the same dough on a low Ottoman style table. She said they would sit at this low table with little stools because they were small, and they would learn from their mothers how to knead the dough correctly. She explained that to create the right size dough balls for the cookies, you need to rip off dough in the palm of your hand and simply feel that there is the right amount. Janette laughed as she said that the older women just had a knack for this and they always did it perfectly. To this day she doesn't understand how they had such skills because she claims she always has to adjust the size of the dough balls and she still cannot get it right. To me and my sister she seemed like a pro, but I suppose everyone always believes someone's skills are better than theirs even at age 70+.
While we were baking, we used special rolling pins that Janette's mother had brought with her form Iraq. It was incredible to be baking with tools that were so old and to realize that although our family couldn't take much when they fled, there were still able to bring the things they thought were most important. I wonder what I would bring if I had to flee from my home today, but I don't suppose that I would bring a rolling pin. It fascinates me how certain things were so important to people back then, such as the tools that allowed them to make their traditional foods, and what we think is important to us today like our technology. Janette also explained that in Iraq they had a special stone oven in their garden for cooking machbuz and that their maid would stick the pastries to a special pillow with fabric that they would stick to. Then the maid would press the pillow into the oven and the pastries would stick to the inside of the oven. They would cook that way for about 20 minutes and then the maid would take them out with long, metal tongs. Today we put our pastries simply in the oven, but back then everything was an art, even the skill it took to put the pastries into the oven had to be perfected before it was done right.
Finally, after about two hours of baking we had finished both the date cookies and the cheese filled pastries. It was so cool to see the finished product and taste them. I have had Janette's baked goods before at Shabbat dinners, but I couldn't believe that I had helped make them and they came out descent. After all the baking we were of course hungry, and not unexpectedly, Janette had left over food from Shabbat. She fed us salad, kitchri (rice with carrots and unions), meatballs with sauce, and beef kebabs. This was an unexpected feast! It was so fun to spend the day with her learning about my roots, my grandmother's life back in Iraq, how to make our traditional foods, and getting to know Janette on another level. She told my sister and I that she cooks all of the time and still makes machbuz often, but she truly enjoyed making it with us and passing along the traditions. She has even invited us back for more cooking lessons and I will write about that next week! I will add the machbuz recipe to my next post, goodbye for now!
Above you can see the cookies ready to be baked. The circular ones with sesame seeds are date filled and the crescent ones have cheese filling. The next picture shows the finished pastries which only took about 20 minutes to bake. Finally the last picture shows our ingredients before filling the date cookies. We had set out the rolled date balls which are the filling, the dough is covered in the big bowl, and there are multiple rolling pins. You can see the traditional rolling pin we are all familiar with, but the smaller ones that do not have handles are the rolling pins that my family brought over from Iraq. What an amazing experiene this was!