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Hut cuisine for Sukkot in Jerusalem

by michael October 13 2008
HolidaysFoodThings to do
This sukkah brought to you by a six-year-old girl

Multinational pizza chains and the third world aside, it's not often that you get to eat your dinner in a hut. But during Sukkot, religious Jews are required to take their meals inside a sukkah, the modest huts designed as reminders of the temporary dwellings of the Exodus-era Israelites, and dozens of the city's kosher restaurants provide their customers with the opportunity by erecting sukkot on their sidewalk space or in their courtyards. The profusion of sukkot may clog the walkways, but it adds a palpable holiday spirit to the city, the sense that a modern urban center has become one big communal campsite. Sure, many of the sukkot are the lame pre-fab ones (Cafe Rimon's glitzy super-sukkah, pictured above, notwithstanding), but no other city can claim so many.

So all you have to do to tap into that Sukkot spirit is visit a restaurant or a bar. And in Jerusalem, of course, there's a sukkah for every palate: Asian food lovers can go to Gong, Sheyan, Yoja, Kohinoor and Corusin; pescavores can cast their nets at Ahavat Hayam and Beni Dagim; Italian connoisseurs are extremely well taken care of with sukkot at Angelo, Little Italy, Luigi, Luciana, Macaroni, Pera e Mela, Primavera and Rosemary; South America get a sukkah shoutout at La Boca, Vaqueiro, El Gaucho and Papagaio; you can fine dine under the palm fronds at La Guta, 1868, Spoons, Eucalyptus, Canela, Gabriel, Eldad V'Zehoo, ZaZa and Darna or have a cup of coffee and a light lunch at Cafe Rimon, Cup o' Joe, Cafe B'Gina, Tmol Shilshom, the Ticho House, Masaryk, or Simone; and you can get a plate of honest Israeli workingman's food in a sukkah at Rachmo, any of the Marvad Haksamim locations, Hamishpacha and Hatagine. And that isn't all. Keep your eyes peeled - in a city where even Burger King has a sukkah, you're bound to be surprised (say, by Nachlaot bar Slow Moshe's Sukkot shanty).

And don't forget to keep checking Jerusalemite over the course of Chol HaMoed - we'll be bringing you full coverage of the holiday, its events and its cultural phenomena as well as an extra-special photo essay of the city's finest neighborhood sukkot (it's as close as Jews can come to driving around to check out Christmas lights).

Chag sameach!

Photo of Cafe Rimon's highly decorated 2007 sukkah by Ben Jacobson for Jerusalemite.

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Fit to serve? Socially conscious kashrut sweeps Jerusalem

by josh September 24 2008
FoodEnvironmentMunicipal newsShopping
He cares. Do you?

The Social Seal: Because I care

Kosher certification is so passe. These days it seems every Ploni Almony with a deep fryer and some charif has a kashrut certificate (Tel Aviv's Kingdom of Pork excluded). But while rabbis worldwide have universally accepted a non literal translation of not bathing a kid in its mother's, or anyone's, milk, Kashrut certification generally ignores the idea behind those words. Over 100 years after everybody missed the point of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, a small Jerusalem outfit is making waves by showing that eating by God's standards involves more than separating milk from meat and that guiltless gourmet has nothing to do with transfats and everything to do with treating people well.

Bema'aglei Tzedek, a Jerusalem based consort of youths with a mind for social change, have taken it upon themselves to certify restaurants, catering halls, and other food service establishments with a social seal that verifies their commitment to workers' rights and handicapped access. A full one third of Jerusalem eateries now carry the social seal, including 1868, Bar Kochba, Village Green, New Deli and Emil (a full list of participating restaurants can be found on their website here.) A number of kibbutzim have also begun to employ the seal, even this place, which hopefully reformed its chicken stomping ways to get the seal. The Christian Science Monitor describes the movement, which has begun to spread across the country, as growing out of frustrations stemming from the political situation.

The popularity of the social seal, continues [Bema'aglie Tzedek founder Asaf] Banner, is a testament to a growing Israeli appetite for understanding and partaking in these community Jewish values. A shift, he muses, that might have to do with a collective sense of disappointment over the faltering peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

"A lot of young people are beginning to say, 'let's invest our energies internally. Let's fix our own society first,' " says Banner. "Once we know who we are, and what society we want to be – we will stop stammering and might be better able to move forward with peace as well."

A similar movement is growing in America, though one that would concentrate not on restaurants, but on kosher food suppliers. Their desire for change has nothing to do with Palestinians and instead stems from a number of concerns about how socially conscious kosher food is. Kind of like a Green movement for God with Rabbi Morris Allen, the project director, playing the part of Al Gore. One major target of the campaign has been the AgriProcessors plant in Postville, Iowa, the largest kosher slaughterhouse in the world and a Chabad stronghold. The plant was recently raided by immigration authorities for employing illegal immigrants and making them work hours no God would be happy about, even if they aren't on Shabbat. The plant had already come under fire a few years earlier when a religious Jewish couple working for PETA taped animal abuse in the plant, which they said would render the meat unkosher by anyone's standards.

The American effort, being led by the Conservative Movement, has met with resistance from Orthodox leaders, including Chabad, and the kashrut powerhouse Star-K, who say it is not their job to monitor a plant's safety record. That job, they say, falls under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration, that little agency founded 100 years ago after everybody misunderstood The Jungle. It seems when it comes to meat, kosher or not, it all goes back to Upton.

Photo of activist courtesy of Bema'aglei Tzedek

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By the delis of Babylon

by michael September 22 2008
If I forget thee, O Upper West Side, may my bagel forget its cream cheese 

Jerusalem. Here, according to tradition, Abraham offered his only son Isaac up to God. Here David forced out the Jebusites and built his capital. Here the Temples were built and destroyed. Here the Israeli paratroopers fought to liberate the Western Wall. Here, for two thousand years, Jews from Vilnius to Kerala directed their prayers and dreams.

But is it the capital of the Jewish world? Well, according to a certain Haaretz columnist, apparently not.

So what is the capital city of the Jewish World? It's time to make a declaration. And, no - despite the campaign rhetoric in both Israel and the U.S. - the answer is not Jerusalem. That choice is way too obvious and needs to be disqualified.

Instead, let's ask where the majority of the world's Jews would really feel most comfortable? What's the one place they'd love to live, or regularly visit, not to mention inherit an apartment there? My vote goes to that piece of Manhattan paradise between 59th and 125th Streets, Central Park, and the Hudson River (even though defining its exact boundaries sometimes inspires more argument than discussions about what constitutes Israel's borders). 


Don't get me wrong, Jews like to be around other Jews, and be a five minute ride away from lox (must be nova) and bagel or pastrami-on-rye, but they also like to be part of a larger urban and multicultural mix; and to be in a place that they can soak up music, art, theatre, plays and celebrate/curse the local sports team. In short, we want to be inspired and feel like we're living at the center of the universe. 

Demographics back him up. Every single one of the world's roughly 13 million Jews is an American East Coaster of Ashkenazi descent whose feeble, guilt-stricken cipher of a body withers without regular infusions of nova lox. Those people at Mordoch or Shegar or Darna are just self-denying New Yorkers with tans; when their customers aren't looking, they're in the kitchen putting a schmear on their kubbeh, shedding quiet tears of shame.

But why, beyond the lox, does the Upper West Side trump the Jews' holy city as the center of the Jewish world? Well, cuz like the Bible is way heavy or something.

Here's my take: [Jerusalem] is way too sacred and precious, and getting up there in years, to have to enter such competitions. Plus, the vibe there is just too heavy. If one of the most popular sayings about Jerusalem is any indication, I'm in no mood to lose my hand if I forget about the city's centrality in my life. That's scary. 

Psalm 137 actually only speaks metaphorically about one's right hand losing its use rather than being lost, but when your gut is full to bursting with the sweet pastrami of Babylon, perhaps you can be forgiven for missing the finer point. Besides, the Bible is way too sacred and precious, and getting up there in years, to be the central book of the Jewish people. It's time we cast it aside in favor of Portnoy's Complaint, or perhaps (if we are to be modern and do away with books altogether) Annie Hall.

After all, what's manna from heaven when you've got bagels?

Image courtesy of unforth from Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tastes like Jerusalem

by michael September 15 2008
FoodFor the kidsThings to do
Jerusalem knows slow food
In Ma'adanei Tzidkiyahu, pepper stuffs you

The unrefined swamp dwellers in that grungy little port town down the highway like to claim they offer the best food in Israel, but up here in the mountains, where the clear air is not choked with the smog of heavy industry and heavier pretentiousness, we know the za'atar-sprinkled truth. From hummus to kubbeh to nouveau-Mediterranean haute cuisine, the real local epicurean culture is in Jerusalem.

And if you need evidence without the hassle of choosing among dozens of restaurants (although our restaurant guides spare you at least some of that), hie yourself down to the Ta'amei Yerushalayim (Tastes of Jerusalem) festival taking place from Tuesday to Thursday this week in the Old Train Station Plaza.

One of the Train Station's signature yearly events (since 2006, anyway), Ta'amei Yerushalayim gathers representatives from dozens of Jerusalem's most beloved restaurants in one central location, each restaurant crew manning a booth overflowing with authentic kosher Yerushalmi cuisine. Whether you get South American from La Boca (or, uh, at El Gaucho or Vaqueiro), kubbeh from Mordoch, olives and grape leaves from famous Machane Yehuda deli stall Ma'adanei Tzidkiyahu, Italian from Pera e Mela, hummus from beloved workingman's lunch joint Rachmo or French-Med fusion from Eldad V'Zehu, you'll leave with your belly full and eyes opened.

The festivities start each evening at 18:00 and run until 23:00. Children's performers entertain during the early evening, and at 19:00 the stage is yielded to B- and C-list musical performers, including crunchy-religious reggae band Acharit HaYamim, rock outfit Sigma, and the Jerusalem Blues Band. Come hungry.

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Israel's best kosher restaurants in Tel Aviv? Uh, no.

by harry September 09 2008
Gavriel - certainly one of the better kosher restaurants in Israel

It used to be that nary a kosher restaurant could be found in Tel Aviv, also known as Jerusalem's hedonistic, secular and at times, apathetic, stepsister. These days things have changed considerably and not because Tel Avivites have suddenly discovered religion en masse - it's all about the tourists baby. But this does not make Tel Aviv a Mecca for kosher eaters by any means. Sure, there are some quality kosher restaurants in the Big Orange but leave it to Haaretz, our nation's pretentious and over intellectualized news daily to publish an article titled "The best kosher restaurants in Israel" and only include restaurants in Tel Aviv, perpetuating the stereotype that there is no world outside of The Bubble. Maybe this gross representation of a headline was an oversight and not intentional, but Jerusalemite must not ignore this grave injustice.
Canela - Jerusalem's fine dining
For years, Jerusalem was certainly not known as a kosher culinary capital, maybe for street food and gargantuan salads at local cafes, but hardly a good reputation when speaking of fine dining, gourmet food or chef's restaurant - or whatever the trendy term is these days. This all changed a few years ago when gourmet restaurant 1868 came onto the scene. Some smart Tel Aviv chefs brought fine dining to Jerusalem using only ingredients the way they were supposed to be used. No kashrut comprises. No parve creme brulee and absolutely no use of Riches' parve whipped cream. And their location is key. You can't really go wrong opening a restaurant directly across the street from the two most expensive hotels in Jerusalem. 1868's success gave investors more confidence in the upscale kosher market and restaurants such as Gabriel and Canela followed suit. 

Today's kosher cuisine scene in Jerusalem is thriving and growing constantly. Sure, there are some unkosher restaurants listed among our top ten. But we at Jerusalemite feel strongly that gourmet and kosher aren't mutually exclusive in this town - nor does it require an exodus to Tel Aviv. So we openly challenge Israel's most pretentious foodies to come on down and taste some of the best we have to offer. We think you'll find it so heavenly, you may even want to thank God - or the chef - for the experience.

Photo of Gabriel by Melissa Dordek for Jerusalemite. Photo of Canela by Asaf Kliger for Jerusalemite. 

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And Jerusalem said, let there be beer

by michael August 25 2008
Things to doFood
Barrels o' beer.

For nearly 60 long years the Israelis have wandered a brewer's desert, a beer wasteland, thirsts slaked and buzzes gained only by glorified seltzer water Maccabi, the slightly less terrible Goldstar, and middleweight imports Tuborg and Carlsberg. But things are changing. The people stand at the border of their long-promised land - a land flowing with malt and hops - ready to claim its bounty as their own. The beer revolution is coming.

At its vanguard is the Jerusalem Beer Festival (punnily called Ir HaBirah in Hebrew, playing on "birah"'s double meaning of "beer" and "capital"), a two-day cerevisaphilic celebration of the fizzy amber nectar of the gods, gearing up for its fourth consecutive summer. This Wednesday and Thursday, breweries major and boutique will set up stalls at the Old Train Station fairgrounds, offering more than 50 beers to the discerning (or not so discerning) Jerusalem imbiber. From international big name producers to experimental brews flavored by herbs or coffee, it's all at the Festival - and much of it remains unavailable in anemically-stocked local bars. Unfortunately, unless you're possessed of Churchillian tolerance for the sauce, you won't be nearly able to try it all in two days (Jerusalemite moves for a week-long beer festival next year). Depending on how reliable your vision is after a couple hours at the festival, you can also watch in-depth demonstrations on the traditional beer-making process.

And beer isn't all (although it is certainly enough): Fitting in with the slizzered-up nighttime youth vibe is a full lineup of hot-ish musical guests, including big rock 'n' roll draws Pshutei Ha'am (consisting of Shotei Hanevuah alumni) and the Giraffes, alongside DJ representatives from Jerusalem electronic collective Pacotek and more. For soaking up the brew, kosher food stalls will dot the Train Station grounds as well.

Gates open at 18:00; entrance is free until 19:00, after which it's 15 NIS, or 12 NIS for Jerusalem identity card holders. The party goes on until 1:00. The beer, sad to say, is not included in the admission price.

So get your lucky drinkin' caps on, and we'll see you there. Blurrily, from under a table.

Image courtesy of the Jerusalem Beer Festival.

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This week in Jerusalem

by michael August 21 2008
This week in JerusalemFilmFoodFor the kidsSportsThings to do
Not Stomp at all.
Like Stomp, but Israeli: the Jerusalem Theatre's end of summer party

As the high holidays become visible on the horizon (they're closer than it seems), summer festival season continues in earnest in the city, with Jerusalemites trying to cram in as much freewheeling good times as possible before the rigor of days of rest and days of fasting. Weather aside, it's a good time to be out and about, because, as it so happens, there will be beer...

  •  X chromosomes go wild at Zimrat Isha, a one-night women-only mini-festival of religiously-inclined music tonight way out in the wilds of Har Nof.
  • If you want to sing in classic old-school Israeli fashion - that is, in a large group and in homage to greatness of the Land of Israel - head down to Mamilla tonight for the first session of Singing in Mamilla, a Municipality series of public singalong concerts.
  • If you haven't been to Chutzot HaYotzer yet, Saturday night is your last chance 'til next year.
  • Help the children learn about the magic of puppets with Quick Goose, a sort of meta-puppet production at the always reliable Train Theater.
  • And all that was only a lead-up: the real fun this week begins Wednesday night when the Jerusalem Beer Festival opens its gates. Barrels of good beer, live music, fascinating demonstrations and, uh...barrels of good beer. More on that later this week. 
Not enough? Nonsense. But if you want to see more, here's everything that's going down in the city this week, courtesy of the Jerusalemite Events section. You best have fun out there.
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À la cuisine, Jérusalem

by michael August 15 2008
Hadassah College chefs-in-training.
Preparing for battle at the Culinary School of Hadassah College

Put on your whites and toques and get ready for a completely unprecedented competitive culinary concept. It goes like this: Two known chefs from respected national restaurants will square off in live competition before a panel of judges, attempting to prepare within 60 minutes the tastiest, most attractive and most original dish using a pre-selected theme ingredient.

Sound familiar? No it doesn't. You must be thinking of something else. This wholly original idea, called "Knife Fight," will go down next week on the campus of Jerusalem's Hadassah College Culinary School. Unfortunately, no TV production crews and no members of the general public will be present, as only the judges' panel, select faculty, the local celebrity chefs and participating students have been invited.

In the preliminary round, on August 18, chefs Asaf Granit (Adom), Gai Ben-Simhon (La Guta), Erez Margi (the mystery Angelica-Fine Grill) and Uri Navon (Lavan), each accompanied by a sous-crew of five Hadassah culinary students, will square off in a brutal, no-holds-barred culinary throwdown over a couple of brutal, no-holds-barred theme ingredients: figs and pasta.

The gourmet grudge continues on August 21, when the two winners of the prelims and their faithful student teams meet in battle once again to finally determine who will be the Iron... er, best one-star chef in Jerusalem. The secret ingredient this time is even wilder: eggplant. It's good this is only a two-round fight, or they might have thrown chickpeas into the mix and really blown someone's mind.

Wake Jerusalemite up when Moshe Basson and Ezra Kedem get into a real knife fight over who has harvesting rights to a remote patch of locally-grown Judean Hills organic za'atar.

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This week in Jerusalem

by michael August 14 2008
This week in JerusalemFoodFor the kidsThings to do
Judean Desert
The wilderness of Judea: a perfect setting for the night of Tu B'Av

The three weeks, the nine days and the ninth of Av are behind us - and with all the gloom out of the way, a Jerusalemite is free to turn to thoughts of luvvvvvvv. It's time for Tu B'Av, the Jewish holiday of love-or-something. The holiday's roots and proper celebrations are hazy, so Israelis have made it their equivalent of Valentine's Day - so this weekend is made for lovin'. Crank up the Marvin, pour the red wine and get ready for yet another week in Jerusalem.

  •  The Italian Jewish community in Jerusalem is throwing a three-day celebration of Italian culture at the foot of Hillel Street starting this evening. Three words: pasta eating contest. Also art, opera, music, plays, food vendors and more.
  • Lovers should take note of the Full Moon Festival at Beit Shmuel, a Tu B'Av revue of classic love songs on the theater's outdoor patio under the moonlight.
  • More love songs ring out in the Judean Hills outside Jerusalem in Nataf on Saturday night, when singer Yael Badihi delivers a set of the Bible's hottest love songs. Hell yes, the Bible has hot love songs.
  • The Train Theater is ready to entertain your kids Monday with Operation Soda, the story of a boy and a donkey who save Tel Aviv's secret treasure from a band of robbers.
  • Get your fifths flatted Tuesday at the German Colony Jazz Festival, a weekly celebration of jazz music featuring arts and crafts merchants, food stalls and, of course, much jazz hot.

And as always, there's plenty more to see and do in the Jerusalemite Events section. Have a great weekend.

Image courtesy of david_shankbone from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Arts, crafts and Sakharof: time for Chutzot Hayotzer

by michael August 08 2008
Things to doArtFoodFor the kidsShopping
Chutzot crowds.
White-robed Israeli folk dancing? Par for the course at Chutzot Hayotzer

It's August, and you know what that means: It's time to buy some handicrafts. The beloved Jerusalem tradition Chutzot Hayotzer, an international arts and crafts fair encompassing hundreds of Israeli and foreign artists and artisans selling their wares and dozens of musical performances, is returning to the Sultan's Pool. It's the largest cultural attraction of the summer, so if you're around, you've got no excuse not to go.

The focus of the fair is everything handmade and aesthetically pleasing, from jewelry to woodworking to sculpture to religious artifacts, with special attention paid to the work of the 150 Israeli artists participating this year, many of whom maintain a permanent presence in the Chutzot Hayotzer artists' colony during the off-season. It's all for sale, and it's mostly one-of-a-kind.

And Yitzhak Moshik-Levy's carping notwithstanding, the list of international participants is impressive, a veritable who's who of countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel (and two that don't), including most of South America, much of Europe, much of East Asia, all the 'stans in Central Asia, a smattering of Africa, Jordan as the lone representative of the 'hood, and more, all selling their respective traditional handicrafts. Will the Nepali delegation defend their nation's honor by tramping all over the city blazed on hash and half-baked mysticism like Israeli twentysomethings do in Kathmandu? Probably not, but worth watching out for anyway. Also worth watching out for is the Korean delegation, staging a dance performance drawing on both traditional dance and martial arts on Wednesday and Thursday, which rates as a vast improvement over the regular artistic offering of the Korean community in Jerusalem, namely singing enthusiastically in Korean about Jesus on Ben Yehuda St.

But what really makes the price of admission worth it are the nightly concerts, featuring some of the brightest stars of Israeli music, carefully selected to make sure every segment of the national pop-listening audience is covered: Rami Fortis, Shlomi Shabat, Mosh Ben Ari, Ethnix, Aviv Geffen, Meir Banai, Gali Atari, Yizhar Ashdot, Boaz Sharabi and Berry Sakharof. Non-mainstream concerts, from flamenco to jazz, also take place nightly, and, in a terrible bit of planning, overlap the main stage pop performances.

And there's more: children's theater and activites. Food stalls. Workshops. Even if for some reason you hate handicrafts, you'll find a way to amuse yourself.

Check out the full schedule in English at the official Chutzot Hayotzer website. Or, as they spell it, Khutzot HaYotzer. Or Khutsot Hayotser. Ahh, consistency.
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