Who Asked You To Boycott?

“Who asked you to boycott Israeli companies?” questions Bassem Eid, a Palestinian human rights activist. It may be surprising to those unfamiliar with the on-the-ground economic conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank to hear him say, “We Palestinians are not boycotting them, so what do we need you to boycott them for?”

Bassem Eid was born in the Jordanian controlled part of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1958, and grew up in the Shuafat refugee camp. He became a journalist, and worked for B’Tselem, an Israeli non-profit organization whose goal was to document Israel’s human rights violations in the West Bank. In 1996, he founded the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, whose mission is to monitor human rights violations by both Israel and the Palestinian National Authority. Bassem Eid has spent twenty-six years studying the United Nations organization that supports Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. He told me that his family’s experience was “of Arab leaders promising Palestinians short-term suffering for long-term benefit, since 1948. All we saw was long-term suffering. Everybody is using the Palestinians for their own gain. The United Nations, the Palestinian Authority, and others all make money by keeping us poor and dependent. For them, we are a business.” Mr. Eid is a vocal critic of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. About the BDS activists he observed, “They are trying to survive on the conflict, attaching themselves to it in order to remain relevant. Most of them have no idea what the conflict is about, how Palestinians live with Israelis, or about coexistence.” He has come to believe that economic cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis, even where it involves Israeli-owned enterprises in the West bank, is a key to improving the economic situation of Palestinians and of forging the bonds of economic inter-dependence and trust required the create peace.

Eid’s emphasis on improving the economic conditions of Palestinians, and his willingness to see Palestinians partner with Israelis to achieve this, is exemplified by his current speaking tour. Eid is on a tour of the United States, sponsored by StandWithUs, a pro-Israel solidarity group, with Erez Zadok. Zadok, the Israeli CEO of Aviv Fund Management, invests in Israeli factories that employ Palestinians. Like Mr. Eid, he wonders why the BDS movement would want to deprive Palestinians of their livelihoods.

Erez Zadok, Israeli investor

Erez Zadok, Israeli investor

Erez Zadok invested in SodaStream three years ago. The company’s mission, through its location in the West Bank, was “to make peace, and to also make soda.” Israeli companies located in the West Bank must comply with Israeli law. “Palestinians working for Israeli companies in this region earn five times more than the Palestinians who work for Palestinians’ factories,” he explained. “This money enters the Palestinian economy and goes to private consumption, to buy food, clothes, shoes and other needs. These Palestinians support their families and other circles of Palestinians working to provide them with the goods and services they need,” he added.

Last September, SodaStream shut down its West Bank factory due to pressure from the BDS movement. It relocated to a new factory in the Negev, next to the Bedouin city of Rahat. Three hundred Bedouins now work for SodaStream. The Palestinians who lost those jobs will have a hard time finding a new source of livelihood in a region with 23% unemployment.

Soda Stream Seltzer Maker

Soda Stream Seltzer Maker

The new SodaStream factory is within Israel’s 1948 borders. The BDS movement is still promoting a boycott of its products. When SodaStream was in the West Bank, Palestinians and Israelis worked together under the same conditions, receiving the same benefits, and the same opportunities. Some of them befriended each other, trusted each other, and respected each other. According to Mr. Zadok, “SodaStream manufactured peace, co-existence and normalization between the peoples.”

Bassem Eid and Erez Zadok are working together to achieve peace. They don’t believe that boycotting Israel is the way to get there. Bassem Eid is finding a very receptive audience in the United States. “People are thirsty for first hand information,” he said. “My message is probably upsetting and provoking to many of them.” From his perspective, it’s time to stop blaming Israel for the problems of the Palestinians. “Refugees from every other country have rebuilt their lives after one generation. It’s time for the Palestinians to also pull themselves up and develop,” he concluded.

Blood Orange Salad Sicilian-Style

It is the end of the orange growing season in Israel. The blood oranges are the last to ripen. Their deep vermillion hues are like the final brushstrokes of the setting winter sun. One of the best ways to feature this tangy citrus fruit is in a Sicilian salad, which marries the flavors of winter oranges with new spring herbs.

Photo by Erich Ferdinand https://www.flickr.com/photos/erix/

Photo by Erich Ferdinand

Blood Orange Salad Sicilian-Style
Adapted from Tasting Sicily


  • 4 blood oranges
  • Parsley
  • Green onion
  • Anchovy filet
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  1. Peel and cut up the blood oranges.
  2. Chop up the green onion and parsley.
  3. Mash the anchovy filet.
  4. Mix everything together in a large bowl.
  5. Season to taste with salt, black pepper, and olive oil.

Persian Purim Halvah

What do Persian Jews prepare for each other to celebrate Purim? I have always wondered about this. The Persian Jewish community is very insular, and I have never had the opportunity to ask. Thanks to the development of social media, it was possible for me to approach a group of Persian Jewish women to inquire. The special Purim treat of the Persian Jews is saffron halvah.

Saffron halvah is not like the white sesame halvah I am used to from Israel. A base of flour and oil is cooked, and then flavored with nuts and spices. Its consistency is more akin to that of a brownie. The resulting halvah has a deep golden tone, and is redolent of saffron and rosewater. The soft pastry is accentuated with the crunch of almonds and pistachios. It is a Purim treat that truly harkens back to Queen Esther’s palace.

Saffron Halvah
Adapted from the Iran Chamber Society

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 7/8 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup rosewater
  • 12 threads of saffron
  • 1 tablespoon almonds, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon pistachios, crushed
  1. Heat the oil in a heavy pot.
  2. Mix in the flour.
  3. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly.
  4. When the dough thickens, turn off the flame.
  5. In a separate pot, bring the water and sugar to a boil.
  6. Add the saffron to release its golden color and aroma.
  7. Add the rosewater.
  8. Turn off the heat.
  9. Pour the sugar syrup into the dough.
  10. Mix thoroughly.
  11. Pour the halvah onto a serving platter.
  12. Flatten the dough with a spatula or spoon.
  13. Garnish with crushed almonds and pistachios.

Torah Academy Channels Rube Goldberg

Inspired by the Technion’s Passover and Hanukkah videos, Elana Obstfeld, the Enrichment Coordinator at Torah Academy, decided to create a Rube Goldberg competition. Students were placed in groups called clusters. Each cluster thought of a project to work on.

Students in the puppetry clusters made puppets and theaters, wrote puppet shows, and performed for the preschool classes. The “Shabbos is Coming” cluster learned about preparing for Shabbat and were inspired to help people in the hospital who can not prepare for Shabbat. They made Shabbat packages for hospital patients and delivered them to Lankenau hospital. The “Chain Reaction” group built a Rube Goldberg machine that shows support for Torah Academy’s school basketball teams.

I was invited to Torah Academy’s exhibition of all the projects. The students were excited to present the results of their collaborations to each other and the whole school community. By the way they explained things, it was clear that they had learned by doing. The room was full of color, laughter, and excitement.

Michael Steinhardt: Keynote Speaker at Barrack Hebrew Academy

unnamedHow do we ensure the continuation of the Jewish people? This is the question that consumes Michael Steinhardt. Mr. Steinhardt is this year’s keynote speaker at the Jack M Barrack Hebrew Academy’s gala.

Michael Steinhardt’s connection to Philadelphia began with his education at Penn, where he earned a degree from Wharton. After making his fortune on Wall Street, Mr. Steinhardt decided to focus full time on his passion for the Jewish world. He created the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life. Among many other initiatives, he was one of the founders of Birthright.

Mr. Steinhardt sees a bifurcation in the American Jewish community today. “Virtually 100% of Orthodox students attend day school,” he said. “Among the non-Orthodox Jews, attendance is between 5% to 10%.” He would love to see more non-Orthodox Jewish students getting a really excellent education in day schools. It is his fervent hope that the future generations of Jews will care about Judaism and Israel, and will be able to express this in fluent Hebrew!

“The Jack M Barrack Hebrew Academy is a shining light,” Mr. Steinhardt told me. “It is an example for all the other Jewish schools to emulate.”

March 9, 2016
Hilton Philadelphia City Avenue | 4200 City Avenue, Philadelphia, PA

  • 5:30 p.m. Cocktails & Dinner
  • 7:00 p.m. Program
  • 8:15 p.m. Dessert

Purchase gala tickets.

Turkish Coffee Cookies

Photo by PROmmatins https://www.flickr.com/photos/matins/

Photo: PROmmatins

If the person whose heart you hope to win is not a fan of chocolate, try the exotic flavors of the Middle East instead. Stir that special person’s heart with a combination of freshly brewed Turkish coffee, fragrant ground cardamom and golden toasted nuts. The following recipe, which combines these alluring ingredients into a cookie, has been adapted from Israeli chef Pine Giron, the proprietor of the Cooking Culinary Center.

Turkish Coffee, Cardamom and Nut Cookies

  1. Preheat the oven to 320°F.
  2. Mix all the ingredients in a food processor except for the whole almonds, pistachios or walnuts.
  3. Place the dough in the freezer for 15 minutes.
  4. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet.
  5. Roll out the dough on a surface sprinkled with flour.
  6. Use a cookie cutter to cut out the cookies.
  7. Place the cookies on the cookie sheet.
  8. Press whole almonds, walnuts or pistachios into each cookie.
  9. Bake for 18 minutes.

Israeli Roasted Chickpeas

If you are going to a Super Bowl party, it is always a good idea to bring a snack for the group. Making your own special homemade treat is a nice touch. This year, you may prepare something that I have been buying from the open-air markets in Israel ever since I can remember. Roasted chickpeas are easy to prepare, versatile, and new to the palates of many of my American friends. I always bought them prepared very simply, with a sprinkle of sea salt. Roasted hummus is crunchy, like nuts, and very versatile. It will take on the flavor of any spice mix you like. Here is the basic roasted chickpea recipe, with a few variations using several popular Israeli spice mixtures.

Basic recipe for Israeli Roasted Chickpeas

  •  2 cans chickpeas
  • 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Drain the chickpeas.
  3. Dry them with a paper towel.
  4. Spread onto a cookie sheet.
  5. Drizzle the olive oil over the chickpeas.
  6. Sprinkle some sea salt.
  7. Roast for 45 minutes.

This is the basic recipe. You may accentuate your roasted chickpeas by adding one tablespoon of  any of the following Israeli spice mixes before placing in the oven .

Zaatar is an ancient Mediterranean spice blend. It is called Ezov (Hyssop) in the Torah, and is mentioned in Babylonian tablets in Akkadian. You may purchase it or mix your own.

Zaatar Spice Blend

  • 1/4 cup sumac
  • 2 tbsp. oregano
  • 2 tbsp. thyme
  • 2 tbsp. marjoram
  • 1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
  1. Mix together

Lamb was eaten only on special occasions in antiquity. Chunks of meat were speared on skewers and roasted over an open fire. In the 19th century, a Turkish Efendi had the idea of cooking the meat vertically. This is the shawarma or donner kebab we enjoy today. The traditional spice blend works very well without the meat when combined with hummus and roasted. You may purchase premixed shawarma spices, or blend your own.

Shawarma Spice Blend

  • 1 1/4 tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 1/4 tbsp. ground coriander
  • 1 1/4 tbsp. ground garlic
  • 3/4 tbsp. ground paprika
  • 1 1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
  1. Mix together

In Yemen, spice mixtures are popular additions to two favorite delicacies, soup and coffee. These mixes are called hawaij. The savory one works very well with our delicious snack. You may purchase some savory hawaij spice mix, or make your own.

Hawaij spice blend

  • 3 tbsp. ground coriander
  • 3 tbsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp. ground turmeric
  • 2 tbsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp. ground clove
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  1. Mix together

Sephardic Tu b’Shevat Confection

photo (2)Sephardic families are known for their tradition of hospitality toward friends, neighbors, and even strangers. During Tu b’Shevat, some Turkish Jews prepare a special dessert called trigo koço. “Trigo” means “wheat” in Spanish. This sweet wheat berry dish originated in the Middle East, and traveled with the Jews to Spain. Following the expulsion from Spain in 1492, the Jews took it with them to the Ottoman Empire. To this day, every guest who stops by for a Tu b’Shevat visit at their home is offered a bowl of trigo koço with a cup of hot mint tea.

Trigo Koço

  • 1 1/4 cup wheat berries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp. orange blossom water
  • 2 tbsp. rose water
  • 1 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Walnuts
  1. Pour the wheat berries and 4 cups of water into a heavy pot.
  2. Bring the water to a boil, and then lower the flame.
  3. Allow the wheat to simmer for 1 hour.
  4. Turn off the heat, and stir in the sugar, cinnamon, orange blossom water, and rose water.
  5. Serve garnished with walnuts.

StandWithUs Pro-Israel Billboard in Harrisburg

StandWithUs Billboard in Houston reads "Not with our tax dollars. Stop U.S. aid for Palestinian terrorism."

StandWithUs Billboard in Houston reads “Not with our tax dollars. Stop U.S. aid for Palestinian terrorism.”

StandWithUs is placing a billboard on I-83 south between Harrisburg and York beginning January 7, 2016 for four weeks.  The billboard alerts commuters of the foreign aid America sends to the Palestinian Authority with the message, “Not With Our Tax Dollars. Stop U.S. Aid for Palestinian Terrorism,” and directs viewers to learn more and sign a petition.

The StandWithUs billboard counters an anti-Israel one also on the I-83 initiated by StopTheBlankCheck and paid for by IfAmericansKnew that asks, “$10 Million a Day to Israel? Our Money is Needed in America.”  The StandWithUs billboard will appear concurrently with the anti-Israel one.

StopTheBlankCheck Billboard

StopTheBlankCheck Billboard

“The anti-Israel billboard campaign is misinforming people, as usual.  The agreement between America and Israel stipulates that 75 percent of the military aid Israel receives from the US has to be spent in America,  The U.S. spends $250 billion a year to keep American troops protecting allies around the world, from Germany to Japan and South Korea. In contrast, the $3 billion a year America sends to Israel boosts the US economy, protects our interests and does not include any American troops on the ground in Israel, which protects itself,” explains Joseph Puder, director StandWithUs Philadelphia.

“The anti-Israel billboard also omits the fact that the U.S. has given the Palestinians billions of dollars in aid since 1993, which is obviously not spent in the U.S.  The U.S. has been the primary financial supporter of the Palestinian refugees since 1949, and has donated over $6.5 billion to the UN agency, UNRWA (United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency), an agency set up to address their specific needs, while the needs of other refugees worldwide have no such specific agency.  Indeed, the Palestinians have received more foreign aid per capita than any other group of people in the world.  It is unfortunate that this money is spent on promoting hate and violence against Israelis by the Palestinian leadership, rather than on the betterment of its own people,” he continues.

StandWithUs has countered anti-Israel messages on public transit and highways wherever they appeared throughout the United States and Canada since 2007.

The Maccabees’ Victory Feast

Photo by Triggerhippie4

Judah Maccabee coin.

Two thousand years ago, a group of Judean rebels called the Maccabees waged a guerrilla war against the Seleucid Empire. This war was sparked by a decree issued by King Antiochus that forbade Jewish religious practice. Hanukkah is the celebration of the Maccabees’ military victory. “Hanukkah” means “dedication,” in honor of the purification and rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Maccabees celebrated the rededication with a victory feast.

The Maccabean Revolt lasted seven years. During that time, the men neglected their crops and herds. In Ancient Israel, meat was only served on special occasions. The rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem was the type of ceremony that merited a savory meat stew. Since their flocks were lean, the Maccabees probably caught wild deer for this gathering.

Photo by Fae https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:F%C3%A6

Cuneiform tablet with oldest recorded recipe for venison stew

Here is the oldest recorded recipe for venison stew, imprinted on a clay tablet from the time of King Hammurabi (1700 BCE). It is a recipe from Babylonia, written in Akkadian. This recipe predates the Maccabees by 1,500 years, yet meat was still prepared in this manner during their time. The stew was served with flat-bread, wine, and pressed, dried fig cake for dessert.

Babylonian Venison Stew

Adapted from The Oldest Cuisine in the World: Cooking in Mesopotamia by Jean Bottero

For the marinade:

  • 3 1/2 lbs. venison stew meat
  • 3 cups red wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 bay leaves

For the stew:
Photo by Diego y tal https://www.flickr.com/people/68902784@N00

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 leeks, chopped
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup marinade (recipe above)
  • Sea salt
  1. Place the venison and all the ingredients for the marinade in a large glass bowl.
  2. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 24 hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 265°F.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven.
  5. Mix in the cumin, coriander, onions, garlic, and leeks.
  6. Remove the venison from the marinade and add it to the pot.
  7. Once the meat is browned, add the stock and marinating liquid.
  8. Bring to a boil.
  9. Cover the pot and place in the oven.
  10. Bake the stew for 90 minutes.