Archives for the month of: April, 2011

On our final day in the Golan, we visited Nimrod’s fortress on Mt. Hermon.

The fortress was built in 1228. You can see the displaced stones in the arch shaken by an earthquake in the 18th century.

In the old cistern.

panoramic view of the valley from the fortress

While we were at the fortress, we received an exciting phone call – we  had a new nephew! Mazel tov to Deborah & Daniel! I had been looking forward to going to Jerusalem for the delivery to help Deborah, but she left her house at 4:30am Sun. morning to go to the hospital & the baby was here by 6am. Mom & baby are doing great!!!


Clearly we’re a little behind schedule here since Pesach has come & gone & we’re still reporting our pre-holiday travels. Nevertheless, kadimah!

We returned to the Hula Valley on this trip. When we were there for the Berger family reunion in Jan., we went to the Hula Nature Reserve run by the Israel Nature & Parks Authority, but this time, we went to a different site for birdwatching, The Agamon Hula Ornithology and Nature Park, that is just up the road and run by KKL (JNF).

The park is ringed by a 5 mi. road that can be traveled by family bike...

or go cart (our friends Gilad & Osnat in the front and Ido & Gali in the back).

Along the way, we traveled through shaded groves...

alongside lakes...

and through meadows.

There were guided stations throughout the park where we could use their telescopes and the rangers could tell us what we were seeing...

or we could pull over whenever we wanted to and use our own binoculars.

We saw all kinds of wildlife, such as water buffalo,


herons (pictured above on the water), songbirds, and nutria. The Hula Valley is an important migration stop for birds flying between Europe & Africa. Unfortunately, traveling with 3 kids meant there was no way we were able to arrive at the park first thing in the morning, so while it was definitely cool to see a couple dozen pelicans, it was disappointing to learn that there had been 1000’s on the water a couple of hours earlier. Other than that, it was a great trip – it was a beautiful spring day & the kids were happy to be running around outside.

After the nature reserve & a stop for lunch, we went back up into the mountains near our zimmer and made a quick stop at Sa’ar Waterfall.

That this site is not a major attraction...

gives you an idea of just how many gorgeous spots there are in Israel.

We returned to our zimmer late in the afternoon to rest and for our friends to pack up. They were heading home & we were staying on another night. On this visit, we got one of the cool loft rooms. Noah wasn’t confident enough to sleep up there by himself, but he had fun playing up there and the kids had a party in the loft in our friends’ room.

Hello from the loft!

For dinner that evening we went to a quirky restaurant called the Witch & the Milkman. The whole place is decorated with handmade witch dolls handing from the rafters.

Their specialty is what they call “casseroles”, but its more like individual hot pots of some kind of meat & veg over a grain in various combinations. The witch angle of the restaurant is that the casseroles are supposed to be like a cauldron. The milkman angle is that they have a cheese room with many local cheeses for sale. Last time we were in the Golan, we tried to eat here, but could not get a reservation, so we were happy to finally get a chance. It is a very special place and the owners also run B&B cottages next to the restaurant which they built themselves and which are stunningly gorgeous, but a bit out of our price range. The whole complex sits on a hilltop overlooking the Golan.

We kicked off our Pesach vacation with a return trip to the Golan, where we had traveled during Sukkot. It was so beautiful and there is so much to do there that we wanted to return. We even stayed in the same zimmer where we stayed the last time. The owners, Frida & Ilan, are so friendly & charming and Frida makes her own labeneh by hanging yogurt from a tree in the yard, which they serve each morning at breakfast. On this trip, we traveled with our friends Osnat & Gilad and their kids, Ido & Gali.

We left last Fri. morning for the Yehudiya nature reserve to see the Meshushim (hexagonal) pool.

nice picnic lunch before heading down

We set off on a short hike...

straight down to the bottom of a canyon with black basalt walls.

The pool is spectacular because of the hexagonal basalt columns that ring the pool.

The columns were formed when volcanic magma cooled over a long period of time so that the molecules had time to form in their "preferred" shape.

For dinner, Gilad made a very special arrangement for us to eat in a private home at Moshav Sha’al where Chebi, the owner/chef, serves traditional Cypriot meals.

We ate at a long table in what is normally his living room and another group ate at another table in the dining room.

When we arrived, the table was set with about a dozen salads. Our host, Chebi, the sailor chef.

Chebi warned us that we should only taste each dish or we would not be able to keep up. After we sat down, he brought out about 5 or 6 warm appetizers, including stuffed vegetables and homemade bread, and then for the main meal, 2 kinds of chicken, meatballs, 2 traditional clay plot beef dishes that slow cook for around 12 hours, and schnitzel for the kids. It was one of the best meals we ever had and lasted for about 3 hrs.

Wishing you all a chag pesach sameach! We start a 10-day vacation tomorrow.

Noah tells the Pesach story in art:

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By the way, my new favorite Pesach commercials – one for perfume with the jingle to the tune of the 4 questions and one for butter that shows how soft & spreadable it is by demonstrating on matzoh.

Our friend Menachem is President of the Israel Rugby Union, the organization that oversees Israel’s national team, its 12 local clubs, and its youth program. Last weekend we attended the match against Austria. It turns out that the Austrian ambassador to Israel is a rugby player/fan and attended with an Austrian contingent. Plus, he brought some of his ambassador friends.  After watching one game, we still don’t quite understand the rules.  Still, we can tell when one team or the other has scored, and it’s fun to watch when the players hoist each other high in the air.   Israel Rugby has a small but very devoted fan-base.  The team has won something like 13 games in a row and is moving up the rankings in the European Nations Cup. “El! El! Yis-ra-el!”

The team’s home field is at the Wingate Institute, a sports science research & physical education institute, just south of Netanya, so we decided to visit Netanya before the game.  Having spent an hour there, we can report that the primary attraction is its nice beach, but since we have beaches aplenty in Haifa, there seems to be no compelling reason to visit Netanya. When we told Yaffa that we stopped in Netanya before the game, she couldn’t understand why we’d do such a thing.

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One of the projects I’ve been working on since I arrived was designing a new study with my host, Anat. We have finally reached the pilot data collection stage and I have been testing babies for a few weeks. For the most part, this means visiting families in their homes, although I did go to one gan as well. The unique thing about this study is that it involves a pre- and post-nap test, so there is some down time where, I explain to the parent of the participant, I will wait in a cafe or sit quietly in the corner and work on my laptop, until the baby wakes up.

Here’s the thing: something amazing happens here that just does not happen in the US which, I assume, is a function of being in a culture in which hospitality is so important. Parents of the infants participating in the study have welcomed me into their homes above and beyond anything I have ever experienced in previous home-based research. My first home visit was in Ramat Yishai, about 20 mins. outside of Haifa, at the home of a graduate student at the University who is mom to twin girls.  While the girls napped, she served me and my research assistant lunch of couscous and stew that her mother-in-law had just made. I figured this was because we were acquaintances and I knew her slightly from the University.

At the beginning of this week, I went to Modi’in, about 1.5 hrs. by train from Haifa to test 2 babies in a gan, which a faculty member in my dept. here had arranged. One baby was her son & she had also recruited another baby for us, so it would be worth the big trip. While we were there, Maya whipped up a multi-course lunch for us to eat while the babies were sleeping. We stood in her kitchen talking while she made chicken in preserved lemon & olives, soup with meatballs, and more. Of course she would not let me help. Her husband was working at home that day and he came out and we chatted for over an hour. They both interrupted their work day on my behalf.

Yesterday, we tested 2 more babies in the Kababir neighborhood of Haifa. These families had been referred to my RA from a friend of hers who lives in the neighborhood. While we were waiting for one of the babies to wake up, we “stopped by” to say hi to the friend. She served us tea, Turkish coffee & cake that she made, and a huge Israeli breakfast, including home made za’atar and olives. Then she gave us a tour of her garden, where she grows her own fruit (including the olives) and shared kumquats fresh from her tree. She entertained us the entire 2.5 hrs. we were waiting for the baby to wake up and wasn’t even participating in the study! Even at a home where we went last week, where the mom was virtually a stranger, she still served us tea & cookies.

In the US, it is customary for parents to ask immediately after hearing about the study, what’s in it for them if they participate.

Shoshana, my friend Yaffa’s mom, is a Rennaissance woman. She teaches my weekly Feldenkreis class, is a painter, and is an amazing cook, particularly of Tunisian food, where she is from. Shoshana has adopted us this year (she said that Noah needed a savta – he only had a grandma and a bubbie so far) and has fed us many meals. I had been asking for months for her to show me how to make several of the dishes. Since each dish takes hours & hours to prepare, we had to find a time when we both had that much time to spare. Last week the stars were aligned and we were finally able to arrange a lesson at her house for me and Reit, another friend of Yaffa’s. After baking matzoh with Noah’s class, I went over to Shoshana’s to continue my day of cooking.

Our first lesson was for mafrum, Tunisian ktzitzot, or meatballs. Shoshana cut about 2 hours from the prep time by doing several steps in advance – like they do on cooking shows, so everything is ready to go. There was no recipe, or even definite measurements, so I took photos of everything so I’d remember how much of each ingredient.

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This video makes it look easy, but Reit & I could barely coat the mafrum in matzoh meal without it falling apart. I will need another 40 or so years of practice to look as suave. After our class, Reit & I each got a pot with the mafrum & sauce to take home & we still had to cook it for another hour. As they say in Eretz Yisrael, oo ah, ta’im meod!

Today Noah’s class had a mock seder and yesterday I volunteered in the classroom to help them bake their own matzoh.

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Noah said that when they were making the clay bricks, Yaffa (the teacher) would pretend to hit them on the arm and say “work harder” so they could imagine what it was like to be slaves in Egypt.

(pictures of me are on the teacher’s camera. hopefully I’ll get copies.)

  • On the Israeli Survivor, when one team won a challenge, their reward was an Israeli breakfast and they said the bracha before they ate.
  • There are commercials advertising kneidlach v’kreplach
  • In one episode of the Israeli Cash Cab (here it is Rhythm Taxi), there was some noise outside the cab, which was casually identified as, “Oh, that’s just the Na, Nach, Nachman, Meuman” guys. Everyone knows them because they plaster Israel with bumper stickers and hang out on street corners singing.
  • There’s a version of “Israeli Idol” that’s all mizrachi music
  • On Friday afternoons, the children’s channel has special Shabbat shows. We also saw a special musical version of the Purim story.
  • Almost all TV shows have Hebrew subtitles, even when they are in Hebrew. Its really good for helping new immigrants learn the language.
  • One of the anchors on the English IBA news broadcast wears a kipah. Even after all of these months, its still surprising to see kipot on TV – in commercials, reality shows, on TV personalities.
  • Commercials really get into Passover season. One airing now for the cable co. shows a family at the seder table. Something about how they are able to afford the best wine and gefilte fish for the seder because of all the money they saved with the equivalent of the “triple play” package.
  • Also, there is a Nutella commercial airing right now that is especially for Pesach – the mom spreads Nutella on matzoh, they explicitly say kosher l’pesach.

We made some interesting dishes this weekend taking advantage of regional ingredients.

Tehini & chickpea flour

First we made a traditional Jewish Persian soup dumpling, called gondi. A couple of good recipes can be found here & here. The first link has a nice description of other regions that use chickpea flour – we originally bought it months ago to make socca (French chickpea pancakes), but needed another recipe since we had most of the bag left.

No, not time for matzoh balls yet. Gondi are chicken & chickpea flour dumplings.

We also had tehini in abundance (how, exactly, did we manage to acquire 3 jars?), but decided to do something more modern.

Tehini cookies - very yummy, if I do day so myself.

This recipe came from Roy’s Channukah present, The Book of New Israeli Food by the editors of Al HaShulchan, Israel’s Gourmet magazine.

Tonight we took advantage of the fish still flopping in their baskets at the fish market.

Chreime - North African Jewish fish stew

Chreime is traditionally served on holidays in Jewish families from Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, etc., but the fish was so fresh that we made it on a regular weeknight. It is made with paprika, lots of garlic, and the secret ingredient – ground caraway.