For the Love of Hummus

Delicious, delicious hummus.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A very special visitor

One afternoon when I was about 7 my favorite babysitter picked me and my best friend up from school. I couldn't have been more excited. We were going to play all afternoon and have so much fun talking to spirits on my Ouija board. Everything was going well until this babysitter unlocked the door to my house. The alarm started to go off in terrifyingly loud screeches. Problem: My babysitter didn't know the alarm code. There went my lovely afternoon right out the door. I never forgave her for this incident until she came and visited Jerusalem a couple weeks ago. Now I can safely say that I have gotten over the incredible disappointment.

I can't even believe how much we did with Ruthie Ellenson while she was here. It wasn't even two days, and yet we packed in a ton of sites and hummus. Let's start with the hummus.

Ruthie, her sister Hannah (the friend I should have hung out with that day in 1993), Dafna and I went to Abu Ghosh to eat many things at the Lebanese Restaurant. I would describe the hummus as lemony and earthy. It had a very rich taste and texture. We also ate turkish salad, arab/israeli salad, labane, falafel and other great, great things. Also, our food literally arrived 30 seconds after we ordered it. Here's to hummus!

After dinner we went over to the cellar bar at the American colony hotel (a 19th century former palace near the old city of Jerusalem) and had some fancy drinks. Mine was a hot chocolate plus something else. I think it was called a hot baby. It was definitely a hot drink, baby.

The next morning we woke up bright and early to meet the only mummy in Jerusalem. He lives at the Pontifical Biblical Institute. This institute is totally hidden away. We never would have noticed it had Ruthie not heard a rumor about it. We couldn't stop staring at this mummy. It was amazing. A real Jerusalem secret.

We then visited the Italian Jewish Synagogue, the Underground Prisoner's Museum, the Old City and the Museum on the Seam. Can you even believe that? And we even found time to eat hummus at Abu Shukri's in the Muslim quarter.
The synagogue was beautiful. Very decorative. The man with the programs outside warned us that we are not allowed to take any pictures. One member of our group thought she could bypass the rule and sneak a little photo. Little did she know that this man not only has a hidden camera in the synagogue but was also carrying a gun! Luckily it all turned out okay, but we were nervous for a second.

At the underground prisoner's museum we talked like British people (mumbling snootily a lot) since the British controlled the prison during mandated Palestine. The inmates were Jews and Arabs who engaged in anti-British activity, mostly violent stuff like blowing up bridges. Two Jews were supposed to be executed there in 1946, but they blew themselves up instead. As disturbing (and inspiring?) as this was to hear about, we were still having fun. Ruthie likes taking silly pictures.
Lunch time. Aruchat Tzohorayim. Abu Shukri's hummus was super flavorful. It had a lot of spices in it. It's a stand-out place, very famous. Another highlight of the Muslim quarter: lots of children playing with fake guns that look shockingly real.

Outside the awesome Museum on the Seam--features artists from all over the world whose pieces deal with conflict and coexistence.
A relaxing end to a super beautiful day. Thanks, Ruthie, for more than making up for the alarm thing and taking us to awesome places! We miss you!

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Negev: Sand, Sun and Ben-Gurion

(Title disclaimer: totally rhymes with a bit of poetic license and an emphasis on the -on part of Ben Gurion. Go with it.)

Hey all! Rachel and I just spent a fantastic weekend galavanting around the Negev. For those of you who may be unaware, the Negev is Israel's big desert, and when I say big I mean it makes up 60% of the entire country. It's really beautiful but pretty darn desolate in some places. There are a few main roads, all of which sort of encircle this vast, empty middle space where as far as I can guess, there could be some sort of alien colony or fully stocked, abandoned fireworks factory.

So we stuck to the "civilized areas," but retained a bit of incivility by camping out at night! Before we left, I attempted to make sure the tent worked. Thankfully, a kind woman with a headlamp at our first destination helped us out a bit.
We first hit up Tel Arad, the ruins of a fortress from 3,000 years ago outside the modern city of Arad. It was hot. It was dry. There are ongoing excavations at the site, and when we played the quiet game there was not a single sound.

Then we high-tailed it over to the "East Coast," aka the Dead Sea. It was hot. It was dry. The water felt amazing on our skin, and in case you are wondering, was extremely salty. Salty enough even for my salt-loving self. And certainly enough for this geologist:
Conveniently, right across the street from the Dead Sea were two interesting places. The Flour Cave, a big, cold cave with salt deposits on the rock (and rock like glass), and above it, Mt. Sodom. Yes, that's right. Sodom as in that wicked little city we've all been warned about. The mountain had wickedly steep steps to the top, but a fantastic view of the light blue Dead Sea waters and a peaceful moonscape.

From there it was on to Mamshit campground, which happens to be right next door to the famed Mamshit Camel Ranch. We set up camp, battened down the hatches and settled down for the night with our delicious edibles. I was comforted by the horde of young families camping around us, though slightly discomforted by the rock under the tent right where my pillow was.
Good morning! We decided to really splurge and ride some camels next door! Rachel and I happen to be camel riding experts, having been to that same ranch twice each before. At 10AM, we hopped onto the old gals and headed out for a stroll through Mamshit on our desert limousines. We learned that Mamshit's lot in life was as a stopover for spice traders on their way from Yemen to Jerusalem. Avi, our guide, told us that it would take more than two months for them to make the journey, traveling 30km a day. Mamshit was also where Nabateans, notoriously adept at finding water in the desert, lived, serving as a border between the Roman Empire and the Arab world. Fascinating, no? By the end, all we could think about was the stifling heat and the chaffing. Did I mention that Rachel's camel licked my leg? It was soft, and slimy, and a little too intimate for my taste.
From there it was onward south to Sde Boker, land of David Ben-Gurion, first prime minister of Israel and former Sde Boker kibbutz member. We took a tour of his house, which included separate bedrooms and bathrooms for David and his wife, Paula, and a library filled with probably every book written about Israel until 1973. There was a great exhibit featuring quotes, pictures and artifacts. It was Graceland for Ben Gurion junkies such as ourselves.
It was also crazy hot. We dragged it over to Ben Gurion's burial site with an unbelievable (re: I can't even describe) view of desert canyons and some ibex! We chilled in the shade for a bit before taking a hike through Wadi Haverim. We were going to hike Wadi Karakash, but couldn't find it. The trail sign sort of just pointed off a cliff, so we chose the second one. On our way out, we sort of under-estimated the distance to the parking lot and Rachel climbed hands and knees up a steep, sandy slope only to...climb down the other side. But she looked pretty cool doing it.

Then it was on to our favorite gas station, aka the only place in town to buy food/supplies/fire starting devices. Thanks to a Dutch man and some handy quick lighting coals, we set up our tent in some intense sandy wind and got a fire roaring in time for dinner! Aluminum foil-wrapped potatoes never tasted so good. Neither did strawberry marshmallows. Neither did smoked meat, aged over a period of two days of desert travel.
We made friends with some soldiers ("warriors," as they called themselves) eating a lot of meat a few tents away. In sharing our plans to go to Be'er Sheva the next day, one of them pointed out that Israel's 4th-largest city is, in fact, "ehhh, a shit-hole." Nevermind. We were on a mission to see it all - the air force museum, the museum of art, Abraham's Well, and the Joe Alon Bedouin Museum.
Stop number one was great. At the air force museum (which was free that day thanks to Bank HaPoalim), there were lots of families checking out dozens of old and new fighter plans. We joined a family of olim from Beit Shemesh for an English tour with Lee, an air force soldier lucky enough to be a guide at the air force museum as her army service. What a life Lee has. It was hard to pay attention to her while walking between all the planes (Mirages, Mysteres, F-16s, Spitfires, Cobras, shall I continue?) but basically we learned the following: not too long ago, no one wanted to give Israel any military equipment that actually worked. And if it did work, it cost a lot of money. These days, we're told this little country doesn't really produce it's own stuff. The old US of A supplies Israel with their aviation needs, like this working F-16I (the I means it's Israeli-modified) on display for the Chag:
Farewell planes! Hello food. Be'er Sheva isn't exactly a culinary hot-spot (the guide book uses the word dismal) so finding the Aroma in the Negev Mall was like discovering water in the desert.
Then came the chance for Be'er Sheva to live up to the soldier's epithet. No, I didn't time it, but I am fairly sure Rachel and I spent nearly three hours (in a town with very little) looking for Abraham's Well. We knew it wasn't going to be anything life changing, but it's Abraham, and it's a well, and goshdarnit, we were on a mission. As it turned out, the well is in fact inside a building, which happens to be the city's welcome center. And, as it turns out, they were closed early for the Chag. Let's just say the tourism bureau of Be'er Sheva will be hearing from us about their wells, their restaurants, and their poorly-marked signs.
I say poorly-marked because our adventure to the Joe Alon Bedouin Museum was somewhat impeded by a lack of a sign pointing to it. It was closed when we got there, but I think this picture gives us the gist of Bedouin life, right?
On the positive side, getting lost in Be'er Sheva allowed us to see the university campus (Ben Gurion University) and the old city shuk.

From there it was a short hop up to Tel Aviv, to a shower, and a bed that didn't have rocks under it. I thought it was fitting that we ended our Negev adventure at a restaurant on Ben-Gurion Blvd. He would be happy to see a Kosher for Passover restaurant serving cheeseburgers on matzah rolls. His true dream finally realized.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Hummus Said makes us hummus happy

We have to devote a small post to the hummus that is Hummus Said of Akko's Old City. We journeyed on a train for two hours just to taste it. Devastating news: It closes at 3. We arrived a few minutes after the hour. We begged and pleaded and they wouldn't let us in. Then a hummus miracle occurred. A young Israeli woman leaving the restaurant handed us her untouched take-out hummus. She refused our money. She could see how desperate we were for hummus. Dafna and I haven't had any hummus in weeks in preparation for the day. Enough "Said."

The restaurant manager handed us a few pieces of pita and we were all set. We sat by the water (p.s. Akko is a port city in the north) and really enjoyed our meal. The hummus was thick and oily. It had lots of chick peas mixed in. Had we been able to go into Hummus Said, we could have tried their other kinds of hummus: They have hummus with garlic, eggplant, eggs, peppers and many other varieties. We'll go back sometime.

After lunch we took a little boat ride around the water, visited a beautiful old mosque called Al-Jazzar and got a little freaked out when a man kicked his puppy in the shuk.

Al-Jazzar was a very cruel 18th century leader of Akko who used to have parents kill their own children just to display their loyalty to him. People were really said when he died, but they kept his mosque anyway. Dafna and I had somewhat of an emotional religious experience there. It was odd and surprising.

After Akko we took a sheirut to Nahariyya to spend the first couple days of Pesach with Dafna's family. The food and family were amazing. Nahariyya is a beautiful northern town right on the beach.

Journeying down south, we went to a couple museums in Tel Aviv FOR FREE yesterday. Thanks to Bank HaPoalim, during Chol HaMoed lots of museums are free to the public. We went to the Tel Aviv Art Museum and Beit Hatfutsot (Diaspora Museum), Dafna's old stomping grounds. We saw some awesome new exhibits. One particularly cool one at Beit Hatfutsot was of a digital, surround sound t'fillah experience. We loved the Degas sculptures on display at the art museum.

To top off that day, Dafna made some fabulous apple matzah kugel.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Everyone has their fears

I think Dafna just overcame one of hers. She pitched our tent in my kitchen. We're leaving early tomorrow morning for a tiyul to the Negev, the glorious desert south of Israel. Dafna was nervous that we wouldn't be able to figure out how to set up our tent, or that when we purchased the tent today, unbeknownst to us we were purchasing a 1987 Israel guide book and some trash bags. As it turns out, the tent is quite cozy. Quite cozy, like, are you breathing on me but in a friendly way. Really, it's hamish.

We'll be going to Qumran, Ein Gedi, Mount Sodom and a Flour Cave and camping out at Mamshit's Camel Ranch tomorrow. We'll see how much we really get to, but we're ambitious. Saturday's itinerary includes a relaxing Shabbat hiking and then camping out in Sde Boker. Plenty of people around. Sunday we're going to Dimona to see the Black Israelite community, do some nuclear experiments and eat vegan soul food. Then, Be'er Sheva and its museums--the Israeli Air Force Museum, Joe Alon Museum and an art museum. Maybe we'll visit the national park there. The sky is the limit.

Dafna's cousin recommends zipping our tent doors tight so that Bedouins don't jump in. Okay. April Fool's? Unfortunately, not in this case. Drink a ton of water. It's supposed to be around 100. Wear a hat. Stay around people and not Asiatic asses. Be patient with each other.

My fear is overdosing on bamba. Two cheers for kidniyot!

Crossing my fingers for well marked signs.

All in all, we are so excited for this trip. It's going to be gorgeous.

Wish us luck and happy matzah to all!