Anyone who has visited Israel knows a tour of the country is not complete without sampling pita, falafel and hummus.
However, educator Danny Stein knows that if you don’t try Yemenite lachuch and Tunisian burika, you’re missing out on the country’s diverse culinary heritage.
On Feb. 3, Jewish National Fund Women for Israel offered Eastern Pennsylvania residents a virtual tour of a site where nearly every category of Israeli cuisine can be found: Carmel Market in Tel Aviv.
The virtual tour of the market, or shuk, “From Our Jewish Home to Our Jewish Homeland,” was guided by Stein, a Philadelphia native and Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy (formerly Akiba Hebrew Academy) alum. He attended JNF-USA’s college prep study abroad program Alexander Muss High School in Israel as a student and now works as an educator there.
During the tour, Stein highlighted dishes from Jewish groups throughout Europe and the Middle East. In addition to describing recipes and family businesses, Stein explained how each food arrived in Israel with Jewish groups making aliyah, from pastries made by Holocaust survivors from Hungary to kebabs brought by Romanian Jews who immigrated from the Soviet Union.
He also spoke about the creation of the market itself, which was created by Russian Jews who fled pogroms and settled in Tel Aviv during the early 20th century.
Stein’s photos and videos of hummus were accompanied by stories of Jews who fled Egypt in the 1950s after Israel was founded, as well as Nazi scientists who moved to Egypt after World War II to build a long-range missile designed to wipe out the Jewish state. The project, which was one of the first major strategic threats the young state faced, eventually fell through.
He played a video of a stall in the market that sells Yemenite lachuch, a type of flatbread that can be served with toppings. In the 1950s, the Jewish state was facing economic devastation caused by war, but leaders insisted on continuing to transport Jewish populations from around the world. With the help of Alaska Airlines, nearly 50,000 Yemenite Jews boarded 380 flights to Israel.
Even more amazing, Stein said, is the fact that Jewish immigration from Yemen has continued to the present day.
“There actually still are Jewish families left in Yemen, very, very few,” he explained as he displayed a photo of a family in Ben Gurion Airport. “And one of them, a big family, made aliyah in 2016. As we know, the civil war’s been raging in Yemen for quite some time.”
Stein shared a video of Tunisian burika, a fried dough stuffed with potato, egg and other fillings, along with stories of the country’s Zionist movement and impact of the Holocaust in North Africa.
“People don’t even realize that the Holocaust did touch North African Jews as well,” Stein said. They were not exterminated to the same extent as their European brethren, but many were sent to labor camps and concentration camps by Nazis and local collaborators in their own governments, which caused many to flee to Israel.
Stein told his audience that Tunisia was the birthplace
of Habiba Msika, one of the most famous singers and actresses in the world during the 1920s. Msika, who was Jewish, performed across the Arabic-speaking world, as well as in European cities like Paris, Vienna and Berlin. She was known for her angelic voice, became a household name despite the obstacles she faced as a Jewish woman in a Muslim country and demanded equal wages with her male colleagues.
For dessert, Stein displayed photos of Hungarian chimney cake pastries and told the story of his best friend’s Hungarian great-grandmother, who was separated from her sister during the Holocaust and searched for her in every concentration camp she was imprisoned in. She finally found her in Auschwitz at the end of the war and kept her alive until liberation. The two sisters survived and never went more than a few days without seeing each other for the rest of their lives.
Stein ended his virtual tour with a picture of his students dancing in the Carmel Market and a reflection on the diversity of Israeli culture.
“When my students, when they come to Israel, when you guys come to Israel, you’re eating a German schnitzel on a French baguette with Egyptian hummus and Yemenite curry, and all these amazing groups of Jews from Romania and Iraq and Yemen and Hungary, they all came to Israel and formed this amazing country with an amazing culture,” Stein said.