Sep 17

Israel Culture – Israeli Cuisine – Food

The diversity of the population in Israel has resulted in a unique and interesting cuisine. This has come about due to the fact that the Israeli population stems from more than 70 different countries each with their different customs and food that have evolved over centuries.

Israeli cuisine has developed over the years with the incorporation of the cultures and cuisines from the countries that the immigrants originated from, as well as the foods that existed amongst the Jewish and Arab populations that existed in the area prior to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

Prior to 1948 there has been successive waves of central European immigrants central who introduced schnitzels and strudels and Russians who brought recipes for Borsht (Beetroot soup) and Herring.

Traditional Jewish Ashkenazi dishes such as chicken soup, chopped liver and chopped herring, gefilte fish and kugel were introduced as well as Babka (Yeast cakes), chocolate rolls, and European style pastries.

When the Jews from North Africa started arriving with their Mizrachi (Eastern) cuisine, wonderful rice dishes and stuffed vegetables were added to the mix as well as couscous and shakshuka.  At the same time, Sephardic dishes with their Balkan and Turkish influence were incorporated into the local cuisine, these included Bourekas, yoghurt and taramasalata.  Jachnun, malawach, skhug from Yemen and Iraqi dishes, kuba, sambusak and hamutzim (pickled vegetables).

Evident in Israeli cuisine is the vast selection of vegetables and fruits that are produced locally.   Despite the small size of the country just about anything can be grown successfully and fresh fruits and vegetables in season are always available, especially due to the fact that they do not have to be shipped long distances.

Street food like Falafel and Shawarma served in Pita is very popular in Israel, however during the last decade first class restaurants have sprung up throughout the country and Israeli cuisine has become something that can compare favorably with other places around the world.

Sep 11

Tourist Sites in Israel – historical places in Israel – Masada

The Unesco World heritage site of Masada is situated not far from the shores of the Dead Sea in Israel. This ancient and majestic fortress is located on the top of a sheer rock cliff that rises 400 meters above the desert that surrounds it.

View from MasadaThe fortress was built originally in the second century BCE by a Judean King and at that time was one of eight other strongholds in the desert which were used to protect the land against the Seleucid armies.

In the first century BCE Herod continued the development of these fortresses and Masada in particular by adding bath houses, huge storage areas to keep supplies in and even swimming pools and turning them into magnificent and bold palaces.

The most dominant buildings at the site are the Western Palace with its lovely geometric mosaic floor and without doubt the palace on the north end which balances down the rock in terraces. This palace still has a few stunning marble columns and attractive frescoes that remain from the original construction.

The story of Masada was recorded by the famous historian Josephus Flavius; he wrote that about 75 year after the death of Herod the Great, a Jewish revolt against the Romans began and a group of Jewish rebels took control of the fortress of Masada. After the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in 70 CE these rebels were joined by a group of Zealots and their families who had escaped from Jerusalem.

For a period of time the rebels harried and attacked the Roman forces wherever and whenever it was possible and eventually  Roman soldiers under the command of Lucius Flavius Silva besieged Masada. The Jewish Zealots managed to hold out for about 3 years during which time the Romans built a rampart up the cliff side.

MasadaJosephus described how when the Romans broke through the defenses they found that all 950 Jewish rebels defending Masada had taken part in a mass suicide. The fall of Masada brought an end to the Jewish State that lasted for nearly 1,900 years

During excavations of the site that took place in the early 1960’s under the direction of Yigal Yadin and conducted by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem a great deal of evidence for the siege was found, however only about 30 skeletons were uncovered during the dig.

Today Masada holds a special legendary status for the Jewish people and after Jerusalem it has become one of the most popular tourist sites. When Moshe Dayan was chief of staff he introduced a practice for soldiers completing their basic training to hold their swearing in ceremony on the top of Masada. This ceremony begins with the soldiers climbing Masada during the night and ends with the declaration that “Masada shall not fall again”

Aug 20

Museums in Israel – Jerusalem – Yad Vashem

In 1953, The Knesset, Parliament of Israel established the Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes” Remembrance Authority - Yad Vashem. The intention of this was to document the history of the Jewish people during the Holocaust.

Yad VashemThe museum was built at the foot of Mount Herzl on the Mount of Remembrance (Har Hazikaron) in Jerusalem on a 45 acre site and contains the Holocaust History Museum and various memorial areas such as the Hall of Remembrance, the Children’s Memorial and the Holocaust Art Museum as well as sculptures.

Yad Vashem memorialThere are also a number of commemorative sites outdoors and a memorial named “The Righteous Among the Nations” honoring Non-Jews who, at personal risk, saved Jews during the Holocaust, this memorial is in the form of an avenue that has 2000 trees that have been planted in their honor.

In 2005 the new Yad Vashem Museum was opened for public viewing. The Museum is divided into nine galleries and shaped like a prism piercing the mountain. The experiences and stories of various Jewish communities before the Second World War and the events that took place from the Nazis rise to power are related in each chamber of the Museum. An essential part of the exhibits are the photographs, films, letters, documents, personal items and other items that were found in the Ghettoes and the Camps.

The Hall of names has over three million names of victims of the Holocaust that have been submitted by relatives and is situated at the exit to the museum. This is still open for names to be submitted by visitors and added to the archive which is computerized

Yad Vashem eternal flameAmongst the various other memorials is “The Hall of Remembrance” that has an eternal flame burning in commemoration of the dead and the particularly heartrending children’s memorial Yad Layeled which commemorates the one and a half million Jewish children who were murdered in the Holocaust.

A visit to Yad Vashem is an extremely moving and poignant experience, but is an important way for the more than 1 million visitors each year including World Leaders and dignitaries from around the globe to see the exhibits and remember the Holocaust and what happened to six million Jewish men, women and children.