J is for Jerusalem

Well, I’ve finally got around to planning our next stop on our alphabetical adventure and this week we’re going to Jerusalem. I spent three weeks in Israel on my trip around the world in 1999 including a week in a hostel in the old city of Jerusalem and it was one of the highlights of the trip. The old city itself is quite tiny and it’s astounding to see all the history and humanity packed into it’s narrow streets and ancient buildings. The church of the Holy Sepuchre is only a ten minute walk from the Western Wall which is in the shadow of the Dome of the Rock. On that walk you squeeze past women in head scarves haggling over chunks of meat hanging in the market, groups of pilgrims from all over the world; Filipino Catholics here, American Baptists there, Hasidic men in their heavy black cloaks and hats with rows of little boys in yarmulkes and side curls scurrying along behind like ducklings, fashionable teenagers in sunglasses and high heels and of course the IDF soldiers everywhere, watching over everything while they casually fiddle with the straps of their automatic weapons. The streets of Jerusalem are truly a slice of life that you can find nowhere else on earth.

So where would I even start to introduce a three and a four year old to a place like Jerusalem? Well, we started out like I often do by showing them pictures of my old photo albums and showing them short video clips about Jerusalem. We made a simple star of David craft out of popsicle sticks and played some traditional folk music for them.

stars

Our J is for Jerusalem meal required a bit of research. Israel is a very young nation and it is a melting pot of Jewish culture and tradition from around the world. At the same time, it’s food reflects it’s location in the Middle East and draws from the nations around it. And then there are the rules and regulations of kosher cooking to take into consideration. It was fascinating to research and learn about these topics as I planned my Jerusalem meal this week.

I decided to serve a Sabbath eve meal since there are so many interesting traditions around this meal. We also had family staying with us for the weekend so we were able to include them in the celebration of the Sabbath. I made a Challah, or traditional braided bread loaf,which turned out very well and also made an Israeli salad, which is quite simple with finely chopped cucumbers, onions and tomatoes and an olive oil and lemon juice dressing. For the main course, I made a dish called cholent, which is a slow cooked stew and is actually usually eaten the day of the Sabbath when cooking is forbidden. Every culture seems to have a variation of this dish, but most recipes seemed to include beef, onions, potatoes and beans simmered at low heat for a long period of time. One of the sources I found said that in Eastern European villages, the baker would bank up the coals in his ovens so as not to break the rules around tending a fire over the Sabbath, but the big ovens would stay hot enough for the next 24 hours and the villagers could bring their pots of stew to place in the ovens on Friday night. The food would simmer there until they were ready to eat on Saturday. And here I thought slow cookers were a 1970’s sort of thing! Anyway, the cholent recipe I made came from this Eastern European tradition. I also added a plate of grapes and melons since these fruits are quite common in the region. To drink we had a red wine imported from Israel and grown in the Galilee region.

jerusalem

To make the meal extra special I borrowed a lace tablecloth from my mother and we lit candles before the meal. I explained to my daughter that it was the special job of the mother of the house to light the candles before the sun went down on the Sabbath and that often the daughters of the family would each light their own candle as well. I found a website explaining Jewish tradition that included sound clips of Jewish blessings in Hebrew and we listened to the blessings for the bread and the wine before we ate. It was a great learning experience for both the kids and the adults this week and it certainly is interesting to consider the history of these traditions that are still followed by so many people today.

So that was Jerusalem and Jewish culture. It was certainly one of the more challenging meals I’ve taken on so far. But I loved reminiscing about the time I spent in Israel years ago and we all enjoyed learning some new things. And next week it’s on to the letter K, which will take us to a whole new continent. Stay tuned!

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