Bringing Israel Home

Planting an Israeli-Style Garden

If you’ve been to Israel, some of your favorite memories, like mine, probably center around greenery – maybe you picked oranges straight from the grove, marveled at the massive Eucalyptus forests, rested under the shade of a fig tree, planted a tree yourself, or hiked in the Golan.

Tel Dan Fig
Me sitting under a fig tree, eating in a fig in one of my favorite places ever Tel Dan in Israel.

Growing plants and trees found in Israel at your own home is a gorgeous and delicious way to bring Israel home. I didn’t come up with this idea myself. My mom did. She’s creating a “little Israel” in our backyard.

Part of my mom’s garden. Yes, I’m bragging on her. Tooey tooey tooey.
You know what these awesome tomatoes will make? A delicious Israeli salad.
And her drip irrigation method – made in Israel. :)

A great place to start is with the Seven Species. Mentioned in the Torah and still growing abundantly across Israel are pomegranates, dates, olives, figs, wheat, barley and grapes. Clearly, some of these are easier to grow than others, but give it a go.

Israel is also famous for its fresh fruits and vegetables. I sometimes joke that if American veggies tasted like Israeli ones, we’d eat them for breakfast too! My mom grows veggies galore, but for beginners, I suggest starting with a fig tree. Not only is the taste divine, so is the smell! It’ll take your right back every time you go to grab a snack, plus they produce like crazy – people come with baskets to collect figs from my mom’s trees.

Baby figs on my mom's fig tree.
Baby figs on my mom’s fig tree.

Next herbs. Israel enjoys a Salad Culture, and I’m not talking about your standard house salad or Ceaser. Beet salads, eggplant salads, tomato salads and more fill the table tops of Israeli meals. Dotting these dishes are green specs. These emerald freckles are fresh herbs chopped up into teensy pieces. Apartment dwellers, this is your best bet. Cilantro, rosemary, basil and mint will look beautiful in your window box, and liven up your salads and teas.

A typical Israeli salad spread.
A typical Israeli salad spread.

Lastly, wild flowers! The beautiful calaniyot, part of the poppy family, is the national flower of Israel. In the Golan, fields of these red, wily blooms stretch as far as the eye can see. It’s really something. You can purchase Israeli wildflower seeds online and bring Israel’s national flower home.

Israel’s national flower.

I’d love to see pictures of your garden! So, play in the dirt, make an Israeli-style garden, and do your inner kibbutznik proud!

This is Srulik, the little cartoon character that represents Israel. Here he is in his Kibbutznik hat, holding a calanit flower.
This is Srulik, the little cartoon character that represents Israel. Here he is in his kibbutznik gardening hat, holding a calanit flower.
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Blue Ombre Birthday Cake for Israel

Happy Birthday, Israel! And…happy birthday to me. I am so excited and honored that this year my birthday coincides with Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s independence day. So obviously, I made us a blue and white cake.

To Israelify this white cake, I applied a blue ombre treatment, adding food coloring to the batter so that each layer grew incrementally darker.

baking 1_joyishAs a garnish, I made Zionberries­–white chocolate covered strawberries with Israeli flags drawn on top in sparkly blue icing.

zionberry_joyishA row of blueberries at the base and blue-and-silver edible sprinkles completed the cake. Yom Huledet Sameach, Happy Birthday, Israel! You make us proud, and we’re so lucky to have you.

photo 1-2photo 2-2♥ Dedicated to Magda Esther bat Shmuel, z”l who was an incredible cook, sweeter than this cake and a true Zionist.

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Bringing Israel Home: Dorot Makes Healthy Easy & Yum

On a recent trip to my local Glatt Mart­—post-workout, fetchingly bedraggled—I ran into my friends (of course) who were also grocery shopping at 9pm for some reason.

During our mid-aisle schmooze, we checked out each other’s carts and shared our respective food staples.

My cart looked pretty LA that day, I have to admit, and it’s true that I aim for healthy and do a fair amount of cooking. But to keep things from getting boring, I spice up the ordinary with sauces. “Oh, have you tried these?” Daniella asked, walking into the frozen food section.

Dorot_JoyishOf course I had heard of Dorot frozen herbs, but sauces?

The abridged version: I tried them, I love them, I’m telling you about them. Gluten free, sugar free, raw, yes!  Plus, the way they’re packaged you can use some without the rest spoiling in your fridge. And most satisfyingly, they’re produced in Israel—at Kibbutz Dorot near Sderot, to be specific—so when you buy them you support the family and the land.

I’ve tried two flavors—so far, so delicious. I recommend. To your health!

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Creating a Window(Box) into Israel

Taking bets, taking bets now! Anyone want to wager how long I’ll be able to keep my plants alive?

I love the idea of gardening. I love freshly picked fruits and veggies. There’s nothing more decadent than visiting the orchards in Israel and plucking produce straight from the source. And I think to myself, “I want this all of the time. I want a keenly green thumb too. I could totally make it happen.” Yet tragically, duality exists between my ability to execute such a plan without executing my plants.

Grim track record be damned. Off I go to create a window into Israel through a window box of my own, soon-to-be overflowing with fresh herbs and a few sprightly flowers for a lick of color.

Problem #1: I do not have a garden. I live in an apartment.

My green-thumbed friend Roy once grew Momotaro tomatoes so gorgeous, they inspired me to give them a photo shoot of their very own. Roy noticed my interest and so gifted me with a window box on my birthday, even pre-installing it with…straw or squashed tumbleweeds. (I’m not sure what this stuff is, but it helps stop the water from completely leaking out of the bottom.)

Solution #1: I will employ said window box.

The unsuspecting victims in the top left are rosemary, basil, cilantro and Alyssium flowers. Be sure to free the roots before the planting like I did in the top right picture. This way, the plants can soak up all the water they’re allegedly getting. At the bottom, the window box’s ‘before’ picture.

Problem #2: I do not really like dirt or worms.

My mom, also gifted with a glorious green thumb, assures me I should face few wriggly critters atop an urban apartment building.

Solution #2: I shall persist and commit myself to regular manicures.

Rosemary, cilantro and basil in their new home. Alyssium will fill in the gaps, as we see in the bottom photo. And what Israeli-inspired garden would be complete without a flag to dance in the breeze?

Problem #3: I famously forget to water plants. (If only they would bark when they need something!)

I always feel bad for the plants I buy, for they face an uncertain fate. Perhaps I could install an innovative irrigation system like the ones Israelis creatively employ to make the desert bloom! (A bit much for a 2-foot long window box?) Alas, with only my watering can and forgetful memory to save them, my plants too often remain dry as the Negev.

Solution #3: I will set an alarm on my phone…and try to remember not to ignore it.

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” With any luck, this latest garden will be the seed of a new green-thumbed future that would even make the kibbutznikim proud.


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Happy Making: Israeli Brainy Games

brainygames_joyishGame nights are one of my favorite ways to spend an evening with friends. I have awesome memories of loud nights of Pictionary and Celebrity, where my competitive streak has led my team to glorious victory…or spectacular moping.

However, as kids have come to dominate my cohort’s time, game nights have grown less frequent. Still, I’m always up for a good game of Rummikub, Backgammon or Master Mind, three of my faves that don’t require a crowd. Imagine my delight this week when I learned, completely per chance, that all three have Israeli or Jewish roots! Now I love them even more.

Turns out…

RUMMIKUB was invented by Ephraim Hertzano, a Romanian-born Jew, who emigrated to Mandate Palestine in the early 1930s. Ergo, he was a Zionist. Be still my beating heart. I have fond memories of sitting around my grandparents’ table, playing this game with their wooden set from Israel. Intensely concentrating, I’d try to concoct an incredibly disruptive move that would flip the table upside-down! (My grandfather would usually do it first though.)

Fun fact: There are 3 versions of the game—American, Sabra (Israeli) and International. Modern Rummikub sets only include the Sabra rules, and Rummikub remains Israel’s #1 export game.

When visiting my parents, I inevitably end up sitting across from my mom playing MASTER MIND. I don’t recommend you go up against her. She puts me to shame every time by breaking the code within 3 or 4 tries! And I’m not talking about the cheesy 4-hole version of the game; we only play Master Mind Deluxe in my house.

Fun fact: Mordecai Meirowitz, an Israeli postmaster and telecommunications expert invented the modern game in 1970.

Great BACKGAMMON skills impress me. I’ve played  SHESH BESH (the Israeli name for the game) on dates and judged the guy based on his skills. Does this make me a bad person? What can I say, I like big brains.

Fun fact: Backgammon is one of the oldest board games for two players in history. Called Nard before acquiring its modern names, it was first referenced in…the Talmud!

These are timeless brainy games—that’s what I love about them. They’re mind sharpening and gimmick free: no batteries, buzzers, graphics or props (which, by the way, make them super Shabbat friendly too). Winning requires logic, strategy and a whiff of luck.

Wrapping up, I dedicate this post to my bold brother who launched his first business this week! He’s one of those brilliant freaks who solves puzzles in a blink, and cracks Rubik’s cubes in under 2 minutes behind his back. Brain-bending games are his thing. So having hand-picked the best new adds to today’s market, he’s sharing his finds. Feel free to visit his site, DR’s Toy Chest and wish him Mazal Tov!

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Bringing Israel Home: Hebrew Newspapers

Although I didn’t grow up speaking Hebrew, Hebrew has spoken to me since I was a kid. It started with my first visit to Israel at age 11. How strange to feel so at home in such a foreign place? I experienced then what I’ve experienced during every trip since—a happy heart. It’s a soul thing. If you’ve been, you likely understand what I mean intimately. And when you feel your soul smile, you want that feeling to last and deepen and grow.

The key to such expansion, according to me, is Hebrew, which connects a person to Israel and Judaism like nothing else. On the simplest level, I believe that because languages unlock new worlds. The vocabulary, the sentence structures, the emphasis, the sayings all reveal the way a culture sees and interacts with life. Understand the language of a land and be converted from an outsider to an insider.

At age 30, I realized my dream and went to Israel to learn Hebrew. I attended the best Ulpan (intensive Hebrew classes) in the country and emerged speaking Hebrew. High Holiday services that year thrilled me because, for the first time, prayers that were once gibberish had meaning, far beyond the forced translations on the left.

Papers like Hebrew Today’s “Yanshuf” carry on Ben Yehuda’s legacy, using newspapers to teach Hebrew around the world. This brilliant resource comes with a dictionary, pages with and without vowels, a CD to guide pronunciation and games. (!)

Returning to the US, the challenge of maintenance set it. You don’t use it, you lose it, and I wasn’t about to let that happen. Enter Hebrew Today which publishes Hebrew-language newspapers, available around the world that are made especially for students at any level. I’m always excited to find it in my mailbox.

Fascinatingly, the newspaper itself plays an instrumental role in Hebrew’s resurrection as a modern, spoken language. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who pioneered the movement in the 1880’s, published a newspaper called Hatzvi that covered contemporary issues and in so doing, introduced new words to the ancient language. Jews throughout the diaspora read his newspaper and learned modern Hebrew! Thanks to Ben-Yehuda’s dedication, when Jews arrived in Israel after years of exile, they returned speaking the language of their ancestors.

Reading these Hebrew papers are one small way I can bring Israel home, strengthen my connection to Judaism, and continue the legacy of Hebrew and learning as a constant in the story of the Jewish people.

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Bringing Israel Home—Beet’ayavon Salad

If you ask anyone what constitutes Israeli food, they’ll immediately say falafel and hummus. And while Israelis do harbor deep chickpea appreciation, these foods are to Israelis what burgers and fries are to Americans—treats, comfort food…I dare say, junk food.

Real Israeli food, in my opinion, are salads. Salads and salads and more and more salads. A sea of salads greet me at Israeli restaurants and homes. A heaping side of veggies accompany every meal, even breakfast, alongside warm pita, which I use to soak up every last drop of dressing, and to chase skittish bites around my plate.

Before visiting Israel, I thought of salads as “boring health food.” I certainly don’t anymore. In fact, as a wannabe Israeli, I’ve taken it upon myself to incorporate Salad Culture into my life, and become a Master Salad Maker. I must be doing something right, because I am always charged with salads after asking what I can bring to meals or gatherings.

One easy way to bring Israel home is with SALADS. I made this one for Shabbat, using yummy, seasonal winter/spring ingredients.

Beet’ayavon Salad
Salad Ingredients:

  • Baby Spinach
  • Baby Arugla
  • Persian Cucumbers
  • Baby Tomatoes
  • Purple Onion
  • Beets
  • Mandarins
  • Handfuls of Walnuts

Dressing Ingredients:

  • Rice Vinegar
  • Pink Himalayan Salt
  • Freshly Ground Pepper
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Dijon Mustard (my favorite is Trader Joe’s Whole Grain Dijon)
  • 2 Cloves of Garlic
  • Honey

To start, combine all of the salad ingredients in a large, fabulous bowl. I eat with my eyes as much as with my mouth, so if a meal looks beautiful, I’m already halfway to delicious.

I use pre-washed, bagged spinach and arugula. Look at this green. No color enhancement here. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all of us.

Joyish Salad Beginning

For cucumbers, I like to peel part of the skin off the cucumber. Totally bare, it looses some of its crunch and taste. But full peel-on, it’s a little too dominant for me.


Mandarins are so easy and add so much. Simply peel and cut the individual slices in half. No need to get particular about removing all of the membrane.


The salad before dressing. Nothing boring about this.

Beet-ayavon Salad_JoyishThe amount of each salad-dressing ingredient will vary, depending on the size of your salad, so forgive me for not having exact amounts listed. Just use the vinegar as your base and add the rest, letting your eye and taste guide you. What’s also nice about this dressing is that you can find all of the ingredients in a non-kosher grocery store.

The finished product looked and smelled wonderful. A dressed salad shines, the glossiness finishing off the vegetables like a lip-gloss completing a look.

I think they liked it.


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