Friday, September 27, 2013

A Day at the Beach in Tel Aviv

What's the weather like in your part of the world? Here in Israel, late September is one of the best times of the year. The skies are bright blue, the days are pleasantly warm, and the evenings are cool and refreshing. We've already had our first rain of the season, but there is still plenty of time to enjoy the wonderful weather.

My wife and I headed off yesterday for a day at the beach. Tel Aviv has about 14 kilometers (9 miles) of Mediterranean beachfront, with promenades, sandy beaches, numerous cafes and restaurants, fancy hotels, and endless blue horizons. We usually head to the Charles Clore Beach in the south, mainly because of its close proximity to Jaffa (Yafo),with its Biblical connections and historic port.

Also known as the Dolphinarium Beach, for the dolphin tank and nightclub that once stood at the site, the Charles Clore Beach is a comfortable place to relax in the sun. We left our home in the Judean Hills and the drive took us 35 minutes (because there was no traffic on the holiday). When we go to the beach we go early in the morning, to ensure getting a good parking spot across the street from the beach and a spot in the shade.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Daydreaming Is Part of a Writer's Job

The other night at the dinner table, my wife noticed that I wasn't focusing on our conversation. In fact, I was staring off into space, with my fork held in midair. "Hello, are you there?" she asked.

"Sorry, I was working," I replied.

Working? What kind of work has you staring off into space, daydreaming?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My Granddaughters Are Passionate About Passion Fruit

Israel is known for its wide variety of delicious fruit. In the winter months, citrus is prevalent with tasty oranges, grapefruits, and clementinas providing ample amounts of vitamin C. During the summer months, the markets are full of apricots, peaches, pears, plums, grapes, watermelons, melons, and figs. Pineapples are homegrown, apples are available all year round, pomegranates play a role in Rosh Hashanah traditions, and etrogs mark the Sukkot holiday. There are bananas, cherries, dates, kiwifruit, guava, pomelos, strawberries, and avocados! And isn't the olive also a fruit?

I apologize if I may have inadvertently offended fruit growers in Israel whose specialties were not mentioned in the previous paragraph. With so many types of locally grown fruit, what do you think is the one my two granddaughters most enjoy?

Both young girls, aged 3 1/2 and 1 1/2, happily pick up their passion fruit halves and spoon out the slimy, seedy juices from within. One half is quickly consumed, and then it's on to the other half. Passion fruit is definitely an acquired taste, but my granddaughters apparently acquired their love for this fruit at birth.

Photo credit: "AlexanderKlink", Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.
Known in Hebrew by its Latin name, passiflora, the passion fruit is a hard, yellow-to-purple round ball that is rich in vitamins A and C, fiber, and iron. In Israel, besides being eaten by young children in its raw state, passion fruit wine is a specialty and the fruit's distinct flavor and pulp are added to soft drinks and yoghurts.

12.99 shekels ($3.67) for a package of 8 at Mega supermarket in Jerusalem.

What blessing do you say when eating a passion fruit?

Religious Jews say blessings before everything they eat. Each blessing is set according to the specific type of food. There are blessings for wine, bread, fruit, vegetables, grains, and a miscellaneous blessing for everything else. So what blessing do you say before eating a passion fruit?

According to the scientific classification of Passiflora edulis, the fruit is grown on a vine (and not on a tree), and therefore, one would conclude that the blessing would be the same as that recited before eating pineapples, peanuts, and vegetables, namely 'borei pri ha'adamah', or 'fruit of the ground'. According to the very detailed coverage of Jewish food blessings listed in the book, Halachos of Brochos by Rabbi Yisroel Pinchos Bodner, passion fruit should be blessed as a 'fruit of a tree', as a vine is considered a tree even if it has a very small trunk. But another religious text, Binyan Shalom, argues that passion fruit should be considered a 'fruit of the ground'.

Needless to say, Ashkenazi Jews and Sephardic Jews relate to the passion fruit in different ways, with different customs. The bottom line in my house, however, is that the only blessing recited by my granddaughters to which I relate is when they cry out for "More!"

The flower of the passion fruit. Photo credit: U.S. Agricultural Research Service.

Passion fruit recipes

To conclude this article on a sweet note, let's consider what else the passion fruit is good for if you don't particularly enjoy scooping out mush. You won't get any recipes from me, but here are three Israelis who definitely have a passion for cooking.

As Tel Aviv-based Liz says on the Café Liz kosher vegetarian food blog:
"Passion fruit is downright weird - it’s ripe once the peel begins to wrinkle, at which point you slice it open to find it filled with yellow goo. Not the kind of texture you’d usually associate with fruit. That said, it’s a fabulous ingredient for cooking - full of intense, tangy flavor."
"More, please!"

Monday, September 16, 2013

40 Years after Yom Kippur

For a 16-year-old new immigrant, the siren interrupting Yom Kippur prayers was very unexpected. The war took the entire country by surprise.

The siren blared suddenly, unexpectedly, just after 2pm. Like many other observant Jews in Jerusalem at that moment, I was in synagogue, anxiously waiting for the Yom Kippur Musaf service to end so that I could take a break from the never-ending prayers. I was  totally unprepared for a siren on the holiest day of the year. The other congregants were unprepared as well.

I had made Aliyah the previous year from Sioux City, Iowa, where nothing ever happened. In my first months of living in a new country I was initiated as an Israeli. There was a horrific terrorist attack at Lod Airport, and a few months later, Palestinian terrorists killed our athletes, including a classmate's father, in Munich. I grew up quickly.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Every Holocaust Survivor Has a Story

There is no number tattooed on the arm of Sal Wainberg, yet he is a survivor of the Holocaust. According to Deb Levy, who penned Wainberg's memoir, entitled Bury the Hot, what Sal "doesn't have branded on his skin, he carries deep inside… he doesn't have a number; just a narrative."

Wainberg "has wanted to write his story for a long time," Levy writes. "Seeing the written testimony is the final step he needs in the five stages of grief. He needs to know he's left his legacy."

Levy, whose parents are long-time friends of Wainberg and his wife, never knew that he had a Holocaust story to tell. As she began to interview him with the purpose of putting his memories into book-form, she wondered how he could recall, with such detail, the horror of growing up in war-torn Poland. "There are memoires, sensations as clear to me now as they were some 70 odd years ago," he told her. "They swim through my mind, with traces of understanding I had as a child and reconciliations I've come to in my later years."

Friday, September 6, 2013

Israel's Leading Crime Writer Debuts in English

Sarah Glazer, an 82-year-old grandmother who lives in a quiet Tel Aviv neighborhood, has nothing better to do with her time than to use a recently purchased, and quite expensive, pair of binoculars to spy on her neighbors. There's this young man from down the street who walks his dog in the middle of the night. Sarah observes the man carefully, ready to make an official complaint if the man doesn't clean up after his dog's nocturnal messes. This time, she sees, the man bends down to collect the dog poo with a bag.

Sarah takes her medicine. After all, the doctor told her to space the pills six hours apart, and that is why she is awake at this ungodly hour. But then, something else brings her back to the window. She readjusts the night vision of her binoculars and spots a man and a woman, going at each other like animals. They are animals, she thinks, but she keeps her eyes glued to the scene.

Sarah Glazer doesn't realize it at the time, but she has just witnessed a brutal rape. The police are called in and hurry to solve the high-profile case. Detective Eli Nahum sees an easy conviction when he quickly arrests a likely suspect. Nahum pushes for the victim to positively identify the suspect in a line-up, but as the case becomes complicated due to legal technicalities, Nahum begins to doubt the suspect's guilt.