Monday, May 22, 2017

Khat - from Yemen to Israel

fresh khat leaves*

The 'khat' plant (khat is pronounced 'gat' in hebrew) is a stimulant and appetite suppressor. The plant is native to Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia, and it was brought to Israel by jews of yemenite descent. It was, and still is  in some neighborhoods inhabited primarily by yemenite jews, part of their tradition to sit together for several hours (men and women apart), chewing the oval shaped leaves of this plant, and socializing.

bunch of khat leaves*

During the recent years , the juice extracted from the plant has become a Hit. Chewing khat in leaf form is legal in Israel, but as for the juice, its status is not very clear, and that has allowed people to use this fact to make a profit by selling it at kiosks, certain eateries and  restaurants.

khat juice*

Neither the leaves nor the juice are cheap; in fact it's an expensive habit, but people will pay any price for the promises that khat  chewing or khat juice carry: weightloss, virility, increased energy etc..(it reminds us of another mild narcotic - marijuana). Its main dangerous feature for the consummer, besides possible addiction, is raise in blood pressure with all that is associated with it (stroke, heart attack).

field of khat shrubs*

Anyway, the 'khat'  growers and traders in Israel are reporting an increase in demand for the leaves; among the new users - quite a lot of women (weightloss ?!!).  

The other day, I saw an article from TIME  on the internet with the following  headline  :" Is Yemen chewing itself to death?" Interesting article, dealing with the negative influence of chewing 'khat' on the society and economy of Yemen. The situation there is extreme, but even in Israel  and the UK this khat chewing is certainly not a blessing.

*web pictures

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Bent Tree and the Old Lady

The above tree grows within a small square with soil in the pavement. Behind it - two supermarkets with people of all ages coming  and going. In front of it - parked cars; across the street - a children's playground.

I' ve heard a rumour that the municipality intends to remove the tree, but that there are some protests against this intention. The protesters claim that the tree is some sort of an attraction , odd attraction, even dangerous, but has become the icon of the place.

Anyway, lately, when I  happen to see this tree (it's in an adjacent town), it reminds me of  an elderly lady that lives on my street. Last time I saw her I noticed  her back had become so bent that her head almost touched her feet (I think it's called kyphosis and has a lot to do with osteoporosis and loss of height; it could also be genetic). 

I once had an argument with her late husband after which I 've decided to keep away from both of them, so I'm not familiar with the cicumstances of her condition.  I've heard, though, among neighbors, that she's otherwise ok , and that she lives alone with no assisting caregiver at home, except maybe some weekly house cleaning maid. 

According to neighbors, her two married  daughters that live in a nearby town, are trying hard to persuade her to move to another location/ facility, as there are some stairs to climb to her appartment and this climbing is not for her any longer (she's well over 80, I believe). However, so far she has refused to do so; she's very fond of her home and surroundings.

Well, both the tree and the lady are a reminder that we should all be thankful to God every day for keeping us on our feet , upright, and functioning. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can be taken for granted, and it is appalling to realize how helpless medicine is about a lot of  health issues.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Ein Hod ; Nisco and his Musical Boxes

When we left the druze village of Daliat El Carmel, on our way down the Carmel mountain to the artists' village of Ein-Hod, we passed through  another druze village , named Osafia. It is believed that this is where the big, massive fire of December 2010 started and burned down much of the Carmel forest.

The above fire has caused many casualties and a lot of damage.It has also reached Nisco's  museum of mechanical music located at the entrance to Ein-Hod artists' colony.  The museum houses a private, unique collection of mechanical music devices accumulated by Nisco (Nisan Cohen) over 45 years. 

web photo - the fire got to the  small museum and caused damage

Anyway, now, six and a half years  after the fire, the little museum continues its activity of tours and concerts taking place regularly at the spot.  It is a bit off the beaten track, and there are a few stairs to climb to the entrance (apparently no easy access for people with disabilities, if at all). However,it's kind of a "gem" , a place for all ages, and well worth a visit.
At the entrance (also exit) there's a small shop. where one could buy mementos relevant to the items and themes of the museum.

stairs up to the entrance of the museum

the  shop

inside the shop

wooden boxes; you can buy one and make your own music

Downstairs, the museum, looks dull and simple with plastic chairs for the audience - but it's the musical devices and the presenter (the owner) that make it come alive and interesting. The collection comprises: musical boxes, gramophones, a 170 year old organ, a concertina, phonographs, manivelles, hand operated automatic piano , old records ,you name it ...

The owner of the collection - Nisco, a charismatic gentleman of over eighty, with an american accent and a dog which seems very attached to him - conducts the show. He does so with humor and jokes, interracting with the public during his explanations and musical demonstrations. Sometimes, he uses his singing voice which is quite a pleasant one.

Nisco in action

Nisco goes from one musical device to another to explain things

Primar, the latest aquisition - organ from Belgium

The museum tour lasted about an hour and it was all fun and pleasure.

Friday, April 28, 2017

On The Top and At The Foot of Mt. Carmel

With Passover over, I felt I needed a change of scenery. So, I joined a day trip to Daliat el Carmel, the  colorful druze village on the top of Mt. Carmel, and to Ein Hod, the artists's colony, at the foot of this mountain, domineering from above the northern city-port of Haifa.

We were to meet there with the art of two very special people: Bothaina Halabi of Daliat El Carmel, a young druze painter who has dedicated her work to  the commemoration of the Holocaust, and Nisco (Nissan Cohen) of Ein-Hod, the founder of the museum of musical boxes collection.

Bothaina lives with her handsome husband and three children in a 2-storey house. The ground storey has a gallery, a lecture hall, toilets, a tiny kitchen where refreshments  are prepared (druze hospitality is famous), and where some locally produced druze specialties are sold to visitors.   It's a family 'affair'. Husband and children help out with everything.

the 2-storey house

to the upper storey

entrance to ground storey (galery &lecture hall)


Jars of green olives; two of the children in charge of the mini shop

The daughter's declamation in front of the audience (something about her commitment to the subject of the Holocaust) ,followed by the son's playing some adequate tunes on the flute, preceeded Bothaina's lecture and 'opened the show' , so to speak. That was quite lovely.

Son playing the flute

The interesting thing about Bothaina's art is its theme: the horrors of the Holocaust, and also the fact that she doesn't sell her paintings; she considers them her thoughts, her babies. She earns a living from teaching art and from lectures on her various activities.

letters of appreciation for her art and contributions

Her original paintings are in the gallery. When lecturing she uses replicas to explain and demonstrate things (the replicas are stored in an adjacent room; the husband brings them out and hands them to her one by one  to explain their subject).

originals on the galery wall

visitor, a Holocaust survivor, contemplating originals

husband helping with the replica pictures

husband waiting to hand Bothaina the next picture

During the second part of our visit, we were given a briefing on the druze sect by a druze retired army officer and lecturer . Nothing I didn't know. but coming from a druze it became strong, solid fact. The druze are a rather unique ethno-religious middle-eastern group with communities in Lebanon, Syria,Israel, Jordan, and with overseas branches in America and Austrlia.

The druze people are monoteistic and strongly believe in reincarnation. Dating and Marriage with outsiders is not allowed.  Their symbol is a five coloured flag (green,red, yellow,blue and white) which strenghtens their sense of unity..

 see the druze flag in front of house

* About Nisco of Ein-Hod and his musical boxes - in a future post.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

"Osher Ad" and.. . Kugel for Sabbath

'Osher Ad' (in english, meaning 'eternal happiness') is a chain of supermarkets with branches in some 15 locations which targets especially the large orthodox families needing quantity buying. The products are kosher, and there's even a tiny synagogue at the back of the store. 

The motto of the chain  is "no tricks, no gimmicks" (that is, no coupons, no 1+1, no deals etc..).  To show their understanding and emphaty for the budget- conscious customers with big families, they even posted advice signs  such as Don't buy more than you need, Don't bring the children when food shopping (truth is I don't see these signs any longer). That's good advice, of course, but hard  to put into practice.

Once a week, usually on Thursday, I do my shopping at the 'Osher Ad' store which is closest to my hometown. I like it for its big size, great variety, clean space, low prices. What I do not like is the fact that one has to stand in line at the checkout counter for quite a long time; there is no express line.

I usually go to 'Osher Ad' late in the day, so chances are their apple kugel- my favorite product- is sold out.
Kugel is a  dish made of egg noodles and baked in a square pan. It's the most elevated traditional Sabbath food on the table.The cinnamon apple noodle kugel is "devastating", and as one might guess, it's not a low-calorie dessert. If it's there , I just have to buy it. I'm hooked. (The potato kugel or any of the other kugel versions is of no interest to me).

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Singapore - city, island, country ?

There seems to be no clear answer to the above often asked question, but who cares? Those who have lived and worked  in this place in south-east Asia,  or have even just visited,  describe it as Paradise on earth. It's rich, stable, safe, clean. It even seems to be immune to natural disasters such as earthquakes, that often happen in the neighboring islands of Indonesia. How cool is that?

Education and healthcare are excellent,compared to western standards; so is the overall economic situation, despite the lack of natural resources. On the 'democracy'  level it's ranked rather low as there's only one political party , and there are restrictions on certain civil rights.  (Well, one can't have it all).

I felt the urge  to write this short post on Singapore after recently reading in the newspapers that an indian Imam (islamic worship leader) was fined and expelled for remarks against christians and jews in his Friday sermon at a mosque.

It should be said, that the population of Singapore is made up of three main layers: Chinese (the majority), Malays (the indigenous), and Indians. Christianity as a religion comes only fourth after islam, buddhism, and hinduism; the jews are very few in number. However, the principle is important here.  The incident with the Imam shows that ethnical and religious harmony is regarded by the authorities as crucial, and rightly so.  

I' ve read somewhere that Singapore is on the list of 'nations in transit'. I don't really know what it means for a nation to be in transit; it  seems to me Singapore should keep things  as they are now. Change could be bad for its future.

On the whole, I think the world can learn a lot from the position and prosperity of Singapore.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

'A Tale Of One City'

I spent most of Wednesday "playing detective" in a modest town named Kiryat Gat, in southern Israel. I was trying to get information on a certain asset, a little apartment in an old building. What for? Well, that's a long, old story regarding a possible inheritance. I won't go into it now.

It was hot outside, desert- like weather; I didn't have a decent map, and the local municipality was not very helpful.
When I finally got to that apartment, the tenant, a middle aged woman, russian accent, opened the door reluctantly, We had a brief conversation after which she 'forwarded' her dog  to "say hello" to me, and closed the door. Well, at least  I got away with some valuable  information.

the old building

children's playground nearby

Kiryat Gat was established in 1954 as a 'development town' whose population was mainly of north african origin. Gradually, it  absorbed newcomers from other countries as well, especially from the former Soviet Union countries.

 main road under construction

blooming cactus

The town has all the standard stuff  : residential neighborhoods, malls, small recreational parks, banks, city complex market(open and covered spaces with veggies and fruit stalls, houseware and clothing areas), educational , religious,and cultural Centers, eateries.
There's also a magistrate court and a railway station.

city mall

the harp memorial to honor the victims of the Holocaust

welfare services building

painted tree trunk in the yard of the above welfare building

open market

Over the years, the city has become known for its industrial zone. The giant, global Intel corporation which has two chip fabrication plants here , and some other foreign and domestic companies  ('Sugat' sugar plant, 'HP' indigo, 'Tzabar' salads etc.) are located in this industrial zone which is on the eastern edge of the town. Athough a sort of world apart. the industry here has significantly upgraded the city.

['Nothing new under the sun'.  It's a fact that if manufacturing industry goes, the place fades away. That's why great efforts are made  (including generous subsidies) in attracting industrial investmemts and preventing their leaving the area].

I bought some delicious black grapes at the covered market, and so I left the city  after a tiring day, with a sweet, aromatic taste in my mouth.

covered market

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Baker from Baghdad

'The Baker from Bagdhad'  is the name of a bakery chain  which includes some seven stores spread around Israel. The chain, founded in 2004 by the third generation to a family of bakers originally from Baghdad (Iraq),  is quite successful. People love these places which combine the old, traditional breads and pastries, with the more modern ones. 

products displayed on racks and counter

Last week, I entered one of the bakeries of the chain to get myself a cup of coffee and a cookie. It was almost noon. Inside, a light traffic of customers buying bread, rolls, pretzels, cakes, cookies.  Salads, sandwiches,and light drinks were also available.

There were only two small chairs and tables, outside the entrance, where one could sit and have a coffee. Not very comfortable arrangement, to say the least, but I left home without any breakfast and I had to have something.

breads on rack

tortes, for festive events, in the fridge, cookies on the table

cookies on racks

ready-made  cake roulades

The specialty of this chain is the 'sambusak' - an iraqi and middle-eastern  turnover pastry stuffed with various fillings (cheese and potatoes, among the favorites).
Doughnuts are also given much honor here, with a variety of fillings (chocolate, strawberries, vanilla, halva). 

Staring at the people buying all those goodies,  I concluded to myself that it was hard for anyone to resist entering the place. Besides the terrific smells of fresh, out-of-the oven stuff, and decent prices, I noticed a great variety of both:  baking supplies used (white flour, whole flour, with or without glutten, various filling ingredients) and finished products (sweet, salty, sugarless/ breads, cookies - and at the other end  - sophisticated and "decadent" desserts).

We're constantly told that sugar and salt are killers, flour is an enemy, jelly is yikes - but most people love these elements and will probably continue to love them  (presumably with the help of a little pill for diabetes, cholesterol, triglycerides and the like. As we all know, Nutrition and Health, go hand in hand, ).