November 12, 2005

To Israel, part 3

The Food
I can see why everywhere you go in Israel, you see slim people. Their diet is so healthy! Every meal we’ve had here has included fresh produce. For breakfast they lay out the cucumbers and tomatoes, lettuce, all kinds of melons, citrus and fruits, yogurt, granola and cereals…and to our surprise, fish! Fish for breakfast? Well that is what Jesus served isn’t it? It’s the only meal we know He cooked and it was fish for breakfast….very cool…icky, but cool. They also have pasta for breakfast….lasagna, alfredo and noodles with mushrooms, eggs baked on top of this very good, Italian tasting mixture of tomatoes, onions and peppers. Lots of pastries, not rich but very good….lots of breads. The past few days they have had scrambled eggs and also a make your own omelet station too.

The restaurants here in the hotel are kosher, so it took some getting used to. To be kosher, you cannot (for one thing) serve meat along with any dairy products…which is one reason their meat dishes were so healthy….no butter, milk or cheese! So at breakfast and lunch, you are served lots of breads, veggies, fruits and dairy products. But at dinner, there is no cheese, no creamer for your coffee, no cream soups or pasta with cheese, no butter for your bread…it takes a while to get into that frame of mind for Americans.

Israeli’s are also very fond of humus…plain humus, no garlic. Humus with bread, humus on your salad, humus wherever mayo or something creamy should be, fried humus in your sandwich (called falafel). Humus in the morning, humus in the evening, humus at the noon time too. Everybody sing! (or hum…heehee) Humus at every meal, a humus for every occasion, thin, thick, little green herbs in it…it had us sticking rarely found ketchup packets, and even more rare: salad dressing packets, in our purses and pockets!

We ate our breakfast at the hotels, then lunch and dinner could get interesting. Here are some of our experiences:

For lunch, we always stopped at some food place along the tour, chosen by our tour directors. We ate at kibbutzes several times. Often a kibbutz has a side business along with farming, so a lot of them have a restaurant, usually cafeteria style…..lots of salads, fruits, and very good selections of main dishes. These were usually familiar things like baked chicken, a sausage looking thing, sometimes on a skewer called a shish-kabob, but it was only meat…like a meatball, made of lamb and spices, a turkey or chicken sandwich (in a pita, not sliced bread) called schwarmies...not sure of that spelling. The side dishes were rices, potatoes, and a lot of baked sweet potatoes or baked squashes and peppers…very good! Throw a pita bread on top and you have a common lunch here.

One day we went to a little place run by an Arab family who made falafel, a ‘meatball’ made not of meat, but of ground chickpeas (humus) that were fried and put into a pita pocket. It was very good…and for those who gagged at the thought of chickpeas again, there were also thinly sliced and breaded chicken or turkey strips which they call schnitzel.

One lunch time, we ate at a place that cooked St. Peter fish….a fish they think was the one Jesus told Peter to open it’s mouth and got a coin to pay taxes. This fish is found mainly in the Sea of Galilee and is UGLY. Unfortunately for us skittish Americans, it was cooked with the head on, kind of lightly breaded and fried with a side of French fries. I had the schnitzel!

Dinners at the hotel were elegant, served one course at a time and kosher. The main courses were Americanish, served with wonderful vegetables and salads and breads. The desserts at the hotels were very good…but very small portions, it was always just right and never too much. Except for the night they put out a dessert buffet. You should have heard and seen the excited, sugar enticed Americans ooing and awing over that buffet! We all heaped it on our plates like it was the end of the world. LOL All the time we were feeling guilty for being piggish, but not caring. I appreciated the Israeli ways of eating (except the humus thing…oh, and fish for breakfast makes me shudder). I may keep on trying the no dairy with meats idea because it seemed much more digestible and agreeable….although Charles keeps saying, “Just give me a cheeseburger!”

The People

I know this will sound like I am gushing, but I was very impressed by the Israeli people. As you probably know, Israel is wanting to bring back all the Jews from all over the world (if they want to) to make their nation one again and to build up their strength as a nation. So there are people from every race and language coming ‘home’ to Israel. They have a large place called an immigration absorption center that we visited one day. A very large number of Ethiopian people had been brought in within the last 6 months and they were who we had dinner with and learned about. They are careful to make sure people have authentic Jewish ancestry and bring them in to the absorption center to teach them Hebrew and teach them the customs and practical things about their new country. After one year, they are trained to do a job, fit in to the culture and speak the language. It is amazing, very organized, very interesting.

From our airport experience to the hotels and businesses, we saw a lot of young Israeli citizens all around, very professional, very motivated and sharp! They have a great generation coming up. When the young people are in grade school and high school, they go on trips around their country and shown them the agriculture and history of their land. It instills a great pride in them and they love their country whole-heartedly. So when we were at a few of the tourist areas, we would see the Israeli youth there and they would approach us and say, “Hello, welcome to our Land. What is your name? Where are you from? Shalom.” It was really cool.

There is a distinct orthodox Jewish population, then there are traditional Jews, who celebrate the holidays and traditions, but are not overly religious. Then there are secular Jews, who are not religious at all…but who are still very proud of their heritage. Here in the U.S. I have mainly known secular Jews, but in Israel, the Jews we met were mostly religious and interested in the things that were happening in their country because they are awaiting and preparing for the Messiah to come. We Christians are interested in it because we are waiting for the Messiah to come again. So we seemed to have a commonality that was very interesting to see. The rabbi’s we had speak were very excited about Americans visiting the country and especially that we were with an organization that was helping bring Jewish immigrants back to Israel.

As I mentioned, there are also Muslims and Palestinians living in Israel. It is striking how separated their cultures and housing areas are. As long as they are living in peace within the same country, they are welcome….but there is also a lot of continuing strife in some areas. Israeli’s live constantly on guard in close quartered settlements, looking out for each other, determined to stay even in unsure times, with a great love for their country.

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