Tag Archives: Kfar Tavor

Beer Lover’s Paradise in Galilee

16 Apr

I met Tal Bitton at an Arts & Crafts fair in my village last week.

"Tavor Brewery" Boutique Beer in Galilee

“Tavor Brewery” Boutique Beer in Galilee

He was sitting on a large cooler under an umbrella selling home-brewed beer.  It was a hot day and within hours he’d sold all his “Tavor Brewery” bottles with their distinctive mustard-yellow and ketchup-red beer caps.  I was intrigued, bought a six-pack, tasted them at home, was taken by the aroma and flavors, and called him to come see his boutique “brewery” up close and personal.

The raw ingridients: wheat and malt

The raw ingredients: wheat and malt

Tal lives in the next village over, Shadmot Devora, named after the wife of famous Baron Rothschild.  It’s a sleepier village than ours, still retains its old world charm.  I pull in front of a basalt, volcanic-rock covered house.

Ground mix of malt and wheat

Ground mix of malt and wheat

He steps out to greet me and we walk in.  Tal’s in his forties, married with two young children.  I did not know what to expect once he opened his front door.

Brewing pots on the balcony

Brewing pots on the balcony

Ornate furniture, sofas, 19th century English dining tables, china plates take up the entire living room.  “My wife Sigal is an art dealer,” he explains.  “She imports one-of-a-kind pieces in ship containers, displays them at home and online.”  We sidestep the delicate furniture pieces and climb up the stairs to his business.  In one of the bedrooms while his kids play soccer on their Playstation, Tal shows me the 25kg sacks of wheat and sacks of malt imported from the UK and other European countries.  “I struck a deal with local Galilee farmers to get their wheat this year,” he tells me.

Tal Bitton showing me around the house

Tal Bitton showing me around the house

He then goes on to explain about the proper ratio between them (70/30).  He first grinds the wheat and malt, places all in a bath at 70 degrees centigrade until a mash develops.  He then drains the stuff. To the liquid brew he adds hops as a preservative and as bitterness agent.  All comes to a boil.  Toward the end he adds his own “secret” spices, essentially coriander, black pepper and orange peels.  Once it cools off with reverse osmosis hoses Tal lets the brew ferment for two weeks at 17 degrees (uses A/C in summer or heater in winter), constantly monitoring the fermentation and the alcohol content at around 5.2%.  This is a small operation soon to be bigger, so at this stage family members all lend a hand.  The bottles are washed and sterilized, grape sugar is added at the end to add effervescence and fizz, and to flatten the last of the fermentation.  The beer is poured into bottles, the caps are sealed one by one.  “Tavor Brewery” is open for business.

“How did you start out?” I ask.

Bottling the liquid gold one by one

Bottling the liquid gold one by one

Tal tells me he’s a casualty of the boom/bust hi-tech in Israel.  As a telecom executive he worked in Germany, then in Belgium.  After office hours he, the employees and the business partners frequented the local pubs. He became hooked.  Back in Israel, he still does consulting work but his passion is evident in the wonderful aroma and flavors of his beer.  Each bottle sells for $2.60 (about $15 for a six-pack) – a reasonable price by Israel’s high-priced beer market.  He now sells out of his brew-at-home bottles days after they’re available.

He wants to expand but must get permits from the Ministry of Health, get the green light from Ministry of Religious Affairs (has to be kosher), and is required to work out of a warehouse, not his spare bedroom and balcony.  It’s a tall order, but I suspect he will succeed.

wheat at the foot of Mt. Tavor

wheat at the foot of Mt. Tavor

He ordered new “upgraded” labels for his bottles, and is considering getting the word out with a multi-level marketing model.

The beer is unfiltered, much like Tal – what you see is what you get. On a warm spring day, as an accompaniment to a good meal, there’s nothing like a homegrown beer from Galilee.

What a nice kick to the head.


Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com


or at BN.com


Your Land is my Land

14 Feb

Imagine yourself waking up one morning and finding yourself in a different country.  You don’t remember packing, you don’t recall crossing a border, and yet, outside, there’s a “foreign” flag rippling in the wind.  You recognize the flag, but it’s not your own.

Avigdor Liberman

Avigdor Liberman

This so-called dream might become a reality for thousands of Israeli-Arabs after the Israeli upcoming general elections only a month away.  I’m speaking of Avigdor Liberman’s initiative, Israel’s foreign minister until not long ago, and his political party “Israel, Our Home.”  His plan is simple and straightforward: Transfer Israeli-Arabs to a future Palestine.  This would solve the Arab problem, create a more homogeneous Jewish state.  He’s speaking of residents who live exclusively in Arab villages, in Israel, along the “stitch-line” of the Israel/West Bank border and some villages further north, on the road leading to Galilee, a place I call home.

Liberman, a staunch right-wing politician, was born in Moldova, one of the Soviet Union’s former republics.  At age 20 he immigrated to Israel.  In time, he joined Netanyahu and moved up the ranks.  Russian Jews, who are generally right-wing and against making concessions to Arabs, further helped Liberman climb the political ladder.

Liberman's Elections Campaign: Swap Arab city Um El Fahem for Jewish Settlement Ariel

Liberman’s Elections Campaign: Swap Arab city Um El Fahem for Jewish Settlement Ariel

Why does Liberman bring up this land-swap idea now?

His party has been recently rocked by scandal.  Officials in his party are under investigation, accused of siphoning money, controlling and awarding contracts, receiving bribes.  Although he’s not personally accused, he’s suffered a black eye.  The fallout is evident.  Would-be voters and supporters are abandoning ship. According to latest polls, his current 14 seats in Israel’s parliament, will be reduced to 6 on election day.

So, in pure Putin-fashion, Liberman is getting on his horse and is trotting all over the Israeli map to sell his idea. His campaign to transfer Arabs appears in newspapers and highway billboards. There’s one such billboard at the entrance to my home village in Kfar Tavor.  It reads:

Um El Fahem to Palestine

Ariel to Israel

Bottom Line: Liberman -“Israel, Our Home.”

The message speaks to the conservative base.  At first glance, the message is appealing, even intoxicating.  What’s not to like?  Throw them out.  All of them.  The city Um El Fahem is a buzz-word for Arab trouble-makers, and for good reason.  In the 2000 Arab Intifada, Arab residents blocked Wadi Ara, the highway that goes though their city, essentially cutting off Israel in two.  The burning tires and stone-throwing are long gone, but their bad-ass image remains to this day.  So, it’s no wonder, Liberman wants to get rid of all 50,000 Arabs in the city, send them to Palestine, where they belong.

Jewish city Ariel

Jewish city Ariel

But do they belong in Palestine?

Under the law, they’re Israeli citizens.  Their forefathers had lived on this land long before Israel was established.  In Liberman’s view, Um El Fahem is nothing more than a bargaining chip, to be exchanged for Ariel.

Is that a fair or even exchange?

Ariel is a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, also known as biblical Judea and Samaria.  Any way you call Ariel, it did not exist, at least not in its present form until 1978.  Ariel, now numbering 20,000 Jews, sits in occupied territory.  The town offers enviable municipal services, parks, schools, and even a university.

Arab city Um El Fahem

Arab city Um El Fahem

Liberman wants to eat the blintzes and have them too; he wants both to transfer the Arabs from Israel and keep Jews in occupied territory.  The rules of his games are odd.  He doesn’t ask the Arabs if they want to play; they’re moved off the board game.  He’s decided Jewish Ariel will be included in a Greater Israel.  What if Ariel were to be a Jewish outpost inside Palestine?  Would it not be sinilar to a West Berlin behind Israel’s own wall?  Sensing that his block of seats in parliament will further strengthen a conservative government, he’d already let be known that he will no longer seek the foreign minister position.  Instead, he wants to be minister of defense.

If that were to happen, could the land-swap proposal go beyond elections rhetoric, and really happen?  Smelling something’s in the air, the four or five Israeli-Arab parties, who were always splintered and stepping over each other’s toes, decided to put their differences aside.  They’re going into the elections as one block.  Analysts predict their united party might be the 3rd largest in parliament.  No Jewish party, Left or Right, would do business with them, but that’s beside the point.

Map of Israel showing Ariel and Um El Fahem, the proposed land-swap by Liberman's party


I don’t like Wadi Ara.  The road leading to the coast goes through the Wadi.  The road is narrow, the traffic lights are slow, the Arab truck drivers zigzag all over the place; it’s a hazard.  But I don’t see myself getting off the road and throwing the first Arab I see over the border.  They, too, when asked, don’t want to leave.  More than 85% want to stay in Israel.  Can you blame them?  They do well financially.  Originally, they used to peddle coal (Fahem, in Arabic) from the forests on the hilltops.  Today, they haul heavy-duty loads on semi-trailers, they work in road construction, manufacturing, auto industry.  They’re not stupid.  They see the turmoil in the West Bank, in Gaza, in Jordan, in Syria.  They’re Israeli and they want to remain Israeli.

They don’t like us, and I don’t love them much, either.  Tough.

Liberman is playing with fire.  The game can be played two-ways. In Galilee, Arabs are the majority.  As a Jew, I’m a minority in Galilee.  Who’s to stop Arabs in Galilee from wanting to establish their own “nation” here.  As is it, the Jewish-Israeli authorities, police, social workers, and such hardly set foot in Arab villages.  Arabs run their own show.  Worse yet, Arabs in mixed cities (Jews and Arabs) such as Haifa, Jaffa, Acco, Lod, Ramla, Nazareth – they may claim their own “autonomy.”  Before long, Israel will turn into Swiss cantons.  Only instead of dipping their bread into fondue, Jews and Arabs should first smell the hummus.

This is a centuries-old conflict.  It cannot be solved unilaterally.  Liberman’s idea is sexy and populist.  But it’s a non-starter, a dead-end, a dangerous political game.  No one’s going anywhere. Jews and Arabs are here for the long haul.

Deal with it, Liberman.


Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com


or at BN.com






Live to age 100 in Galilee

15 Sep

If the promising title prompted you to open the blog and read, you’re not alone.  Most people wish to live longer.  Just a couple of hundred years ago, newborns were lucky to survive childbirth; they were lucky to make it to age 40 or 50. WHO (World Health Organization) ranks 200 nations around the world for life expectancy.  Americans are ranked 36 in the world, average lifespan is 78.

Israel, among other Mediterranean countries, is ranked in  the top 10.  Average lifespan is 82.

Conclusion?  Americans should move to Israel and collect 4 more years of social security.

Dan Buettner

Dan Buettner

Dan Buettner, an explorer and writer, wrote an amusing article last year in the New York Times titled “The Island Where People Forget to Die.”  He’s best known for identifying and describing the “Blue Zones,” distinct areas in the world where life expectancy surpasses 100.

One such place is the Greek island of Ikaria, some 30 miles off the coast of Turkey.

Greek Island of Ikaria in the Mediterranean

Greek Island of Ikaria in the Mediterranean

As a researcher, he wanted to find out why these villagers live longer. Running on the treadmill and doing push-ups does not help.  But keeping busy does.  Go mend a fence, clear stones from your vegetable garden, pick fruit off trees, knead dough, tend to sheep (or grandchildren), climb hills – all these will add years to your life and life to your years.

According to the centenarians in Ikaria, a glass or two of wine will help too.  So will an afternoon nap.  So will organically grown vegetables, herbs, legumes.  A lively discussion or talk among friends and family late into the night will help.  And so will a good roll-in-the-hay with a lover.

Ikaria Village

Ikaria Village

Living in Israel, I thought of swimming to Ikaria – it’s 600 miles in a straight line. I figured if Dan Buettner had biked 15,000 miles from Alaska to Argentina (world-record holder), the least I could do is jump into Mediterranean and take a look at wrinkly old faces in Ikaria.

But then I realized, I could look at wrinkly old people outside my front door in Galilee.

That saved me plenty on airfare, boat fare, swim trunks and goggles…

Galilee is rural; it’s full of almond orchards, olive groves, figs, vineyards.  But at the end of the day, these crops will be produced industrially like many Western countries.  People here might take up gardening, plant tomatoes, eggplants, mint, herbs, basil, soak up better olive oil, but they get most (processed) food at the supermarket.  Therefore, the food eaten here is not the reason why people in Galilee reach into their 80s and 90s.  Working hard on the farm is not it, either.  The farmers rely on hired help (Vietnamese, Thai) to pick almonds off the trees, and the Arabs to pick tomatoes and greens in the fields.

And as for the people of Galilee having a great time in bed when the lights are out – I don’t know – I was thrown out of a couple of bedrooms trying to find out.

Which leads to the one key ingredient why Galilee people live longer.  They talk.  Boy, do they talk.

Which is wonderful!

People here do wash their laundry in public.  Tide detergent sells by the truckload in Galilee.  Everyone knows everyone in Kfar Tavor, my village, at least the old timers. They know who had back surgery, who built an addition for the in-laws, who married three times, why olive oil will cost more this season, why the incumbent mayor will win again in the local elections, whose turn it is to host Passover dinner this year (they all virtual Rolodexes in their heads), who sold his house and for how much, who made money, who lost money, who lost a kidney, which pill is best for fighting cholesterol, which salad dressing is low-calorie, how to cool the house, how to save on water, how to fight the Syrians, how to (not) negotiate with the Arabs, and what to whisper in Obama’s big ears.

And that’s only on Tuesday.

So people in Galilee are tightly knit (and tight), and they give and receive advice; they kiss, hug, love, cry together.  A sense of community and common purpose all add to a feeling of belonging.  And this, according to Buettner, adds years.

So check with me in a few years.  We might climb from number 10 to number 1.

But don’t come to Galilee all at once.  

I can spare only one extra bedroom.


If you could choose a number, to which age would you like to live?



Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com


or at BN.com


Tel Aviv vs. Galilee

23 Feb

Quick!  Name a city in France.  Name one in England, in the U.S.

If you’ve chosen Paris, London and New York, you’re not alone.  Which is to say, in Israel, it’s all about Tel-Aviv.  The city here is nicknamed the “Country of Tel-Aviv,” as if to say, there are two countries in Israel: Tel-Aviv and all the rest.

Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

Urbanization is at an extreme pace in and around Tel-Aviv.  People flock to it in numbers, for jobs, for a way of life.  The young and the restless are willing to put up with rented apartments that are small even for pigeons, put up with leaky plumbing, peeling paint, no elevator, no parking, no privacy.


The city has a buzz.  It’s where you live, work and play.   The city’s not homogeneous; it has its rich sections and poor sections.  Rothschild Blvd is the line in the sand.  To the north of it: cafes, museums, theaters.  To the south: slums.

But you’d be hard pressed to find a place to live, even in the south of Tel-Aviv.  Competition is cut-throat.  Put an online ad for an available apartment and there will be hundreds of applicants at the doorstep willing to bid up the rent.

At Tel Aviv Boat Marina, Winter 2013

At Tel Aviv Boat Marina, Winter 2013

Centralization has gone mad.  Years ago Israel’s main population centers stretched from what was known as “From Gadera to Hadera, ” referring to “border towns” 25 miles south and north of Tel-Aviv.  Today, it’s been reduced to about a 10 mile radius around Tel-Aviv.

Everyone’s climbing over each other’s back to get into Tel-Aviv.  Skyscrapers, 40 and 50 stories high, are going up.  Old, rundown neighborhoods are being gentrified with lots of new and old money.

Forbes Magazine in its Hebrew edition ran a survey of the 10 best cities in Israel.

Number 1?  Tel Aviv.

Jerusalem?  Not a prayer.  Not even in the top 10, somewhere around 15.  Haifa?  Dead in the harbor.Tel Aviv

All the remaining 9 are within spitting distance from Tel Aviv (Herzelia, Givataim, Ramat Gan, Raanana, Kfar Saba, Rishon Le Zion, Holon, Bat-Yam).

Forbes’ criteria was clear-cut: educational level, ratio of university graduates, centrality vs. the boondocks, access to art, green space, employment opportunities, income, longevity.

Towns and villages in Israel did not see kindly the results of the survey.  “What about the quality of life in the countryside?”

Kfar Tavor

Kfar Tavor

In 2011 my wife and I and two of my four daughters moved from Los Angeles to Israel, to Kfar Tavor, to Galilee.  Even then, in the U.S., at the mention of Galilee, more so Kfar Tavor, the common response was: “Wow, what a quality community you’re moving to!  Well done!”

Kfar Tavor evokes positive and emotional feelings far beyond its 4000 residents.  It has history.  It CREATED history, established in 1901 by European Jews who wanted to work the land.

Even here, even now, when I visit family and acquaintances in Bat-Yam ( 2 miles from Tel Aviv! ) — to them  Kfar Tavor sounds romantic, rural, green, pure,  the Old Country that was lost in 21st century Israel.

A national survey of  Israel’s “Non-Metropolitan” communities shared the sentiment: it placed Kfar Tavor near the top of the pile.

Winter Vineyards in Kfar Tavor

Winter Vineyards in Kfar Tavor

Yet, as a resident and the owner of a nice home that overlooks the fields of Kfar Tavor, I sometimes question their judgment.  And their taste.

Yes, Kfar Tavor is nice if you enjoy going for long walks among olive groves, almond orchards, vineyards.  Kfar Tavor is nice if you want to explore great bike trails.  It’s close to streams and rivers, to the mountains of Galilee.  Around our home there are Jewish communities, kibbutzim, and Arab villages.

Kfar Tavor has celery, onion and parsley fields, olives, almonds, grapes, figs, irrigation pipes and sprinklers, a water treatment facility, a sports center, a soccer field, a swimming pool, a community center for performances, an elementary school, one library, one post-office, kindergartens, senior center, two clinics, two synagogues, a town hall, mini-market, one  butcher, one  kiosk, one gym, one pizza delivery joint, one Chinese Take-Out, one sit-down restaurant, one cafe, one winemaker and cellars, one hair salon for women (men walk bald), one clothing store for women (men walk naked), one-one-one-one, and lots of dogs doing their business wherever the hell they please.

Kfar Tavor IS  the Tel-Aviv of the rural countryside.

Absurd, but true.

Jews and Arabs come to shop here.  Kibbutzniks come to watch a play or a recital.  Junior and adult basketball teams hold their tournaments here.

Kfar Tavor

Kfar Tavor

We’re on top of the pile.

Yet I itch for the allure of the big city.  With Pnina, my wife, it’s worse.  Her itch has developed into a skin rash.  She craves the big city.

I want to see colors other than gray, the predominant color in people’s hair in Kfar Tavor.

I want to see styles of clothes that don’t resemble biblical sandals and Kibbutz overalls.

I want to see slick, fast cars, not John Deere tractors.

I want to hear languages other than Hebrew and Arabic.

I want to see summer dresses, bikinis, cleavage; I want to smell bus fumes (?), perfume, aftershave, salt air, the sea.

And I don’t want to drive two hours one-way to Tel-Aviv to get my fill of the big city.  And yet we do.  We book a hotel night once a month, go with the girls, see the city, cringe at the noise, jaywalk, drink a beer at a cafe, savor a great cup of coffee, try the many dishes, run in the sand on the beach.  And when it’s all done, we pile into the car, drive the two-hour ride through coastal highways, through vast meadows and hillsides, through Arab towns and villages until we see the dome of Mt. Tavor.

Kfar Tavor Almond Blossom

Kfar Tavor Almond Blossom

We got our lungs full with Tel-Aviv oxygen.  Until next month.

It’s nighttime in Kfar Tavor.

Black sky.

Millions of stars.


I sleep.

Chirp.  Chirp-Chirp.

Crickets, any one?


Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teen-age daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com or BN.com.

The End of a Generation

30 Dec

You’re holding a drink in your hand and you’re making the rounds at your 20th or 30th high-school reunion.  The senior you were in love with — let’s call him Rob — is now a shadow of his former self.  Or the bubbly cheerleader — let’s call her Lizzy — who was the envy and scorn of all your classmates is now in need of cheering up herself.  Time was not kind to them.  Would it not have been better if you had skipped the reunion?  To remember them at their best in the school’s yearbook?

And this leads you to think about yourself.  Were the years kind to you or did they take their toll on your face, body, mind, spirit?

Uncle Tino, left.  Joseph Labi, right

Uncle Tino, left. Joseph Labi, right

A couple of weeks ago, saddled with these thoughts of aging, I get into my car and make the one- and-a-half hour trip from Galilee to the coastal city of Netanya.  The night before, my father, Joseph Labi, had called from his home near Tel-Aviv and asked me if I wanted to visit his brother, Tino Labi, at the nursing home.  “Yes, I’ll come,” I said instinctively   It was too late to back out.  And deep down, I did want to see what has become of my “British” Uncle Tino.

In Netanya I meet up with my father and together we drive to Beit Ami Nursing Home.

From outside, the nursing home looks like a three-star hotel in a typical seaside resort.  In fact, at one time it was.  In the lobby we meet the nursing home’s director and the woman social worker.  She’s surprised by my father’s apparent good health, his posture.  She directs us to the elevators, says, “The first and second level are for the able residents.  The higher up you go, the more help they need.”  I press 5.

The doors open to a wide recreation room taken up by rectangular tables.  Old men and women are seated in wheelchairs.  Some of them stare vacantly at the large windows beyond, or the wall-mounted TV with the volume muted.  Some are asleep in their chairs, others sip tea and nibble on biscuits.  I scan the room from side to side, wanting to pick out my uncle, a Rock Hudson look-alike.  My father points him out and walks toward him.  I follow.  Uncle Tino has his back to me.  I come around and see his face.  The shock in my face is unmistakable.   What has become of his movie star looks?

I approach him and shake his pudgy hand.  He looks me over, slowly begins to recognize my face, makes the connection with his brother at his side.  “How come you still have all your hair?” he says in his English accent.  I smile.  He smiles back, reveals a set of even dentures.  The decades melt away.  I pull up a chair and ask about his health.  He recently fell, broke his hip bone, underwent surgery.  A brace is wrapped snugly around his large midsection.  My father, hard of hearing, relies on lip-reading to keep up with the conversation.

Tino's Nursing Home Lobby

Tino’s Nursing Home Lobby

In the 1950s my father and mother, newlyweds in the still-young Israel, packed up and immigrated to England.  Tino followed.  Dark, not-so-tall and handsome, girls fell for his Mediterranean features.  James Dean would have killed for his hair.  Tino (and my father) greased their wavy, strong hair with Brilliantine.  Joseph started a family (me!).  Tino went without, the consummate playboy.  He did marry an Englishwoman once, the wedding ceremony held in Scotland.  Upon their return, her parents said they didn’t want him.  He wasn’t English.  Tino had a son by her, did not see him until some thirty years later, told him he was the father.  The son told him to go F*** himself.

My father offers to wheel him downstairs to the patio, to take in some winter sun.  Tino smiles eagerly, happy to be taken beyond his prescribed area.  Once on the patio, he lifts his feet off the wheelchair’s footrests, rests his large house slippers on the floor.

Tino always liked food, and lots of it.  He spent his life as a cook in many of London’s restaurants.  At night he gambled his earnings on racing horses and racing dogs.  He spread the love, the wealth on Friday, was broke on Monday.  He moon-lighted in his mini-cab in the streets of London.  He drove drunks home after the pubs closed.  He drove waitresses home late at night to their government-subsidized housing, much like his tiny flat on the East End.  In the mornings, unable to sleep, he fed the ducks in Victoria Park with day-old Jewish bagels.

I had stayed at his flat with friends in 1979, on the way to America.  He had began to lose his hair then, his scalp was full with hair plugs.  “It cost me a bloody fortune,” he tells me now and runs his hands over his bald head.  He’s preoccupied with hair.  “Your father still has some, the son-of-a-gun.”

For the past ten years, he’s been a snow bird, living in London in summer, flying to Israel in winter.  That changed three years ago.  He became sick, chose to live his remaining days in Israel.  My father, age 85, and Tino, 82, are the only surviving brothers from a family of 18 brothers and sisters (two mothers, one stud of a father).  Everyone’s gone.

A former hotel, now a nursing home

A  former hotel, now a nursing home

Tino’s mind is lucid at times.  More often it’s murky.  His money’s running out.  My father is unable to handle his brother’s financial affairs.  He recently signed over legal custody to the State of Israel.  The State will have the final say about his physical needs, help keep him in the nursing home.

We say good-bye to Tino.  My father drops off fruit and cookies my mother had baked.  We leave.  We stroll through Netanya’s famous outdoor market.  The sun’s kind.  We lunch at a typical Jewish North African restaurant, order Libyan couscous with a medley of vegetables, spicy fish in red sauce, rounds of beer.

My father boards the bus, goes home.  I get in the car and return to Kfar Tavor, thinking I didn’t run into Rob or Lizzy, but somehow I’d taken part in a family “reunion.”

Be healthy, father.  Be good, Uncle.

I am sad to report my Uncle Tino died yesterday, 27th of January, 2017.  An end of a generation, indeed.


Beef, Politics, Religion – it’s a dicey stew

27 Oct

Be patient, this paragraph will have an electrifying end.  Twice a week I ride my mountain bike with a couple of veteran bikers in the fields beyond Kfar Tavor, Galilee.  One day we come across a meadow blocked by metal wires.  My two friends get off their bikes and crouch under the wire and continue to pedal on the trail.  I follow their lead but accidentally graze the wire with my shoulder.  ZAP!!!  The live wire meant to keep cattle from wandering off sends an electric jolt down my spine.  It sends me flying with rattling teeth.

Cattle in meadow near Tavor Creek

Welcome to cow country, Galilee-style.  It’s not the endless territory of the West, but Israelis take cattle seriously, at least their meat.  Talk about beef and everyone’s eyes light up.  Tongues begin to drool.  Around here, chicken is cheap, plentiful, but lacks “charisma.”  Pigs are off-limits.  Fish is scarce and overpriced (flown from Cyprus, Greece) and comes with too many bones.

Beef – it’s what’s for dinner.

Unlike the U.S. where beef consumption is down, in Israel it’s up.  The standard of living is higher than ever before, more people have backyards in which to grill, they have an SUV to haul meat to the campsite, and they watch grilling shows on TV — all things that were unheard of just 20 years ago. Talk of beef and health issues fall on deaf ears.  Maybe they’re plugged with plaque.

On a recent outing on my bike I maneuver the tires around gobs of cow manure.  Up ahead, cows are grazing, about a 100 of them; they lift their lazy heads, take scant interest in me.  A young man comes down the trail, greets me with a raised arm.  I wave and brake the bike.  Turns out he’s a 21st century Arab herdsman from a nearby village.  He tells me the cattle eats the pasture in spring and summer, hay in winter.  “Who owns them?” I ask.  The answer surprises me.  A cattle baron from Gaza leases the land from Jews in Galilee, fattens the cattle, delivers them to the slaughterhouse.  “Isn’t there a blockade against Gaza?” I ask.  He tells me business is brisk; he sells the meat in Israel.

It isn’t always this simple.

A 2010 Israeli documentary film, loosely translated as “Luxuries,” by director David Ofek, shows how beef is used as political weapon.  Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists, was still a captive behind enemy lines in Gaza.  A cargo ship from Australia carrying 500 calves destined for Gaza is blocked.  The reason:  So long as Gilad Shalit is a prisoner, Hamas will not eat steak.  This is decided by the “coordinator” for the Territories, following directives from the Ministry of Defense.  That same coordinator allowed bananas and mangoes to enter Gaza, but not kiwi, a luxury.

The Australian calves cannot stay on board the ship.  They’re unloaded, kept in Israel by a rancher.  He bills the Gaza importer for each day he stores and feeds the calves.  A year later the calves have grown from 500 lbs to 2200(!) – double the “normal” slaughter weight, and no solution in sight.  No one wants them; their meat is tough; eventually they’re slaughtered into ground beef, sold to Arabs in Israel.

In this small country, space is limited.  Cattle has to compete with people, cities, agriculture, open spaces.  This explains why 2/3 of the total beef comes frozen from…Argentina.  In the wide pampas of Argentina, the Shohet, the person certified by the Rabbi, performs the slaughter prescribed by Jewish laws. Once the frozen beef gets here, it’s sold to distributors where it’s defrosted, injected with 10% of total weight with water and additives to “bring it back to life.”  The pan sizzles with as much fat as water.

You’d think that after a vast ocean crossing and so many intermediaries that  the cost of frozen meat will be high.  Well, it is by American standards, about $10 a pound.  Yet it pales in comparison to fresh beef slaughtered in Israel: $17 a pound.

I went to find out why.  Culturally, Jews and Arabs prefer fresh meat.  High demand jacks up the price.  So does the cost of keeping out wolves and thieves from the lands of Galilee and the Golan Heights.  Yet the biggest contributor to high cost are Kosher laws.  They dictate the feed type, the slaughter ritual, what part of the cow gets eaten, and what part gets thrown out.  One week before Passover and the week of the Holiday, the ranchers have to remove “wheat” from the cows’ feed because it’s Chametz, not Kosher.  What does a cow know about Moses and the parting of the Red Sea is beyond me.

The change in diet does a number on their stomachs.  During these two weeks the animals suffer from diarrhea and weight loss.  The ranchers take a loss, transfer it to the consumer.  The Kosher-prescribed slaughter, the salting of the meat to absorb the blood, the triple rinsing in water, the classification to Glatt Kosher, Kosher and unfit–they all add to the price.

And then there’s the ultimate reason why fresh beef costs plenty.  According to Kosher laws the hindquarters of the animal is forbidden.  In a sense, 1/3 of the animal cannot be eaten, yet the consumer covers the loss on behalf of the rancher, the meat industry, the rabbinical establishment.

Imagine going into an auto dealership to buy a new Buick.  You pay full sticker price and skid off the lot with the trunk and the rear tires missing.

I got to stop.  My wife Pnina is calling me to come to the dinner table.  I shout back, “Did you say you’re making tofu burgers?”


Let’s vacation – Apart!

9 Oct

Hamat Gader Hot Springs

We’re vacationing at Hamat Gader, a hot springs paradise in the Jordan Valley, a 40-minute drive from our home in Kfar Tavor, Galilee.  The physical scenery is striking: A shear volcanic cliff hangs overhead.  Against it, palm and date trees sway in the breeze.  The smell of sulfur spewing from deep within the earth and into the hot pools, the smell of rotten eggs, smacks your nose the moment you enter the retreat.

The human scenery is equally striking:  Russians are everywhere.  If it’s Tuesday, it must be the Russians, Wednesday, the Israeli-born, Friday, the Arabs.  Which is to say, people here know when to go as much as when not to go.

It’s also a question of where.  They (choose your-flavor-of-the-month Israeli) don’t want to be seen with “other” Israelis.  During this endless Holiday season between Rosh Hashanna and Sukkot–about three weeks–Israelis are itching to get out of the kitchen and into retreats, nature reserves, and Bed & Breakfast in Galilee.

There are unspoken rules but everyone knows them.  Secular Israelis don’t want to share the rubber rafts with orthodox Jews on the calm waters of the Jordan River.  They would rather canoe with their own kind rather than share the waters with the “religious.”  Which is why secular Israelis vacation on Saturday while the Orthodox are observing the Sabbath.

The orthodox Jews during the Holiday “weekdays” come in droves.  Buses unload hundreds.  They tour the hot spots of Tiberias, Galilee and the Golan Heights.

The secular Jews and the Arabs know the drill — they keep away.

Sahneh Nature Reserve

Arabs on Friday, after their prayers, pack up and head to Sahneh, a beautiful natural pool and spring waters at the foot of Mt. Gilboa.  The Arabs come prepared with ice chests, blankets, and large families.  They run the place.  Here’s the headcount:  Arabs: a lot.  Jews: near none.

Back to Hamat Gader where I arrange my towel over a chair and gaze at the Russian Jews.  Many are from Ukraine, but somehow they’re all bundled as “Russians,” part of the nearly 1 million who’d immigrated to Israel in the 90s.  They’re sitting in large Jacuzzis, hot, sulfuric waters bouncing off their backs and shoulders, as if they’re still vacationing in a spa-sanatorium in Odessa.  Older men are playing chess.  Babushkas are giggling in the water.

Younger women in small bikinis hit the showers.  No orthodox Jews here.  No Arabs.

Healing Properties of Hot Spring

It’s nightfall and we’re heading out.  A large sign lists the healing properties of the waters.  The sulfur and heat are a cure-all to: high blood pressure, muscle pain, inflammation, skin rashes, burning calories, digestive problems, fertility issues (?), urinary tract infections, and, quote, “mental pressure.”

The sign says the waters burble up from a depth of 6000 feet (!) at a constant year-round temperature.  Even 2000 years ago legions and emperors came to splash in the pools.

I go out the gate and into the parking lot.  Mostly Hondas and Toyotas, no chariots.   Today must be the Romans’ day off.