by Kate Heyhoe
Kate's Virtual Journey: A Progressive Feast
9th Stop: Jerusalem, The Holy Lands
Jimmy "The Digger" Jones points his long, rickety finger to the streets of the Old City below. "Those are the David St. And Al-Wad markets over there, he says, "with more phony artifacts than fleas on a junkyard dog." We're standing on the stone ramparts of a 40 foot high wall, which gives me a much better perspective of how the four quarters of Jerusalem's Old City piece together. "Watch your step," he cautions, "these stones can be lethal, especially when wet. Never try this after a snow storm, and don't ever come up here by yourself," he advises in a stern but fatherly manner, referring to the potential perils facing unescorted women.
Twenty years ago, Digger joined the millions of other humans who make a pilgrimage to the Holy Lands. But unlike the Christians, Moslems, and Jews, he didn't come here for religious reasons, at least not spiritual ones. "I came for the rocks," he explains. "The Holy Lands are an archeologist's dream."
Once he got to the Holy Lands, Digger dug it: he ultimately retired here, but he still leads digs in the summer for the Israeli government's antiquities program. "Peoples of all faiths and no faith at all pay to dig," he explains. "They get a sleeping bag, some simple food, and a bag of tools for around $200 a week—all for the privilege of pokin' around the rocks. Heck, you can't blame 'em. There's a whole lot of history in this dirt.
"And," he adds with a subdued reverence, "if it weren't for these rocks being religious icons and monuments, they may never have been preserved."
Indeed, the most impressive aspect of the Holy Lands is that they have such enormous meaning to so many different peoples, especially during the period from Hanukkah to Christmas to Ramadan. America may be a melting pot, but the Holy Lands are their own simmering, energizing stew—and each group adds their own taste to the broth.
After climbing back down from the ramparts, we weave our way through the narrow stone streets to a potluck Hanukkah party, hosted by one of Digger's biblical archeologist friends, Gloria Kaufman. Digger brings our host an authentic artifact: a 4th century terra cotta oil lamp, symbolically appropriate for this Jewish holiday. Hanukkah (or chanukah) means dedication, referring to the rededication of the Holy Temple, which was desecrated during pagan occupation. Rededicating the Temple included rekindling the menorah, a seven-branched candelabrum, by fueling it with pure, untainted olive oil. Only one day's worth of the oil could be found, but miraculously, that small vial of oil fueled the menorah for a full eight days and nights. Hence, oil became an important symbol of Hanukkah, and foods fried in oil are eaten to remember this special event.
Like Digger and I, the guests at this celebration are not all Jewish. I am both surprised and not surprised to see Moslems and Christians there as well. "We love each other as brothers and sisters," says Gloria. My Moslem, Christian and Coptic friends here may not partake in the menorah ceremonies, but I invite them to eat with us because they are like family, and Hanukkah is an important night for me to be with all my family."
A multi-cultural potluck feast in the Holy Lands is not one to be missed, especially one on Hanukkah. A Russian Jew, now a permanent resident of Jerusalem, serves cups of her grandmother's recipe for Yogurt-Barley Soup, quickly warming us from the chilly evening air.
A few minutes later, a Syrian woman passes around an eggplant dip, spiked with a hefty dose of Aleppo pepper. If you've never had it, the bright orange-red Aleppo pepper has the unique quality of hitting your tongue first with a tart, citrus-like burst, then slowly warming to a mild heat. Fortunately, the dip is paired with a tongue-cooling minted yogurt sauce, one of many dairy dishes served at Hanukkah.
Another guest, a young Turkish man, has cooked up a flavorful but less piquant dish: fish filets redolent with the tart flavor of dark red sumac (the non-poisonous kind). The buffet table seems endless with latkes, couscous, mezzes, hummus, stuffed vegetables, blintzes, boreks, blini and dishes ranging from Spanish-style Sephardic specialties to Ashkenazic cheese delights. But some of the most spectacular fare is on the dessert table: hot, fried jelly donuts, honey cakes, sweet kugel, rugelach, sesame candies, halvah, and even a true New York-style cheesecake, courtesy of some visiting Manhattan-ites.
As we enjoy this fine mix of foods, I observe that the typical dishes of the Holy Lands have taken shape in the same way as Digger's ancient cultures: in layers, one over the other, sharing the same walls, with materials brought from distant as well as local resources. It is impossible to draw the line between some Moslem dishes and Jewish ones—they share the territory, similar heritage, and as such, frequently share ingredients and flavorings. In fact, I have enjoyed many of the same dishes in Moslem, Christian, and Jewish households: stuffed eggplant, meatballs, chickpeas, flatbreads and egg breads, chicken and rice, filled pastas, turnovers, noodles, baklava, and anise cookies. The names and religious rules of how these foods must be prepared may differ, but ultimately the dishes themselves are the same.
The evening wears on, though no one seems to notice. The various guests at the party speak in many languages, but laughter seems to be the most universal. I'm inspired to see that here, in this region which seems to be in terminal conflict, such a wide range of people can come together not to spotlight their differences, but to unite as friends.
"Cast out the negotiating tables and bring on the dining tables!" I think to myself. Food and feasts like this may be the real road to peace.
Other Mediterranean, North African & Middle Eastern
...from Kate's Global Kitchen:
December Itinerary... Kate's Virtual Journey: A Progressive Feast
Copyright © 1999, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1999, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created 1999 and modified November 2006.
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