The truly profound thing about traveling, for me, is that no matter where I go, the sun, the moon, and stars will always be my companions. There is no language barrier, or cultural differences, discrimination, or prejudice. They just shine, rise, set, shoot, twinkle, wax, and wane no matter the circumstances of the world below. When I am in far away places it always comforts me to know that the same moon is shining in the sky over my parents in Missouri, even as I am in Morocco or India or Turkey or Israel. That will never stop being miraculous to me.
When I was in 6th grade I was in the musical "The Fiddler On The Roof". It’s a story about a Jewish family surviving in Russia through tradition and joyfulness in a life of uncertainty and imbalance. We sang the song "Sunrise, Sunset." It's very famous. Do you know it? I've sung it many times and never really thought about in a context other than a musical.
Swiftly fly the years,
One season following another...
I have many amazing things to share about my trip to Israel, but as I type this on my last night here, I keep thinking of this song and my very special new context!
There is an isolated plateau outside Jerusalem called the Masada. It is in the Judean desert and overlooks the Dead Sea. It was a fortress protecting a palace of King Herod during 37 to 31 B.C. It was attacked by the Roman Empire and ended in the mass suicide of nearly 1,000 Jewish rebels. To many, the Masada symbolizes the determination of the Jewish people to be free in their own land.
As a non-Jewish American, I only knew that tourists hike it at 4am to witness the sunrise over the Dead Sea. It was at the top of my wish list as the trip was being planned. I had my dear friend and traveling partner, Cassie with me. It was hard. It was HOT. After the descent of the very steep mountain, we were rewarded with waterfalls and natural springs in a desert oasis called Ein Gedi, as well as a float and mud bath in the Dead Sea. We had earned it!
We were already exhausted and just wanted to go back to bed, but we had to pack up and make our way to Tel Aviv that afternoon. Once there, we didn't want to waste an evening in a new city staying in and going to bed early, so we walked down to Old Jaffa City and walked along the beach for a bit. Just as we were starting to leave and find dinner, look what was happening!
I found it profound that I watched the same sun rise over the Dead Sea and set over the Mediterranean Sea in ONE day. I can't think of any other day that was framed with my awareness, and presence, and witness of these events. I found myself humming that song and relishing the fact that I got to see this incredibly Jewish, (and Arab, and Palestinian) part of the world. As I prepare to leave, I realize that the people here seem to be living their lives through tradition and joyfulness in a life of uncertainty and imbalance, just like the Jewish family in Fiddler singing that song; different circumstances, same sun. And that is true for all of us wherever we are in the world, no matter what we are going through. Profound.
One of my favorite spices is za' atar and is used all over the Mediterranean and Middle East and it is one of the ingredients that connected me to Israel long before my trip here. It is a perfect finishing spice to give extra flavor, color, and zing to a dish. I think I ate it every day that I was here. It is baked into bread, sprinkled over salads, put into falafel, and especially dusted over hummus!
Sweet Potato Hummus with Roasted Beets and Israeli Spices
1 whole roasted sweet potato, peeled and roughly chopped, juice of 1 lemon, ½ t honey, 2 t minced garlic, 2 t olive oil, 2 T tahini, 1 16 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed, 1 roasted and peeled medium sized beet, chopped finely, ½ t za’atar , ½ t sumac (these spices can be ordered online at http://www.kalustyans.com/, one of the best ethnic food markets in NYC.)
Method: Puree the first 7 ingredients in a food processor, spoon into serving bowl, top with roasted beet, and sprinkle on the spices. Serve with crudite, pita chips, or crostini.