This small Holy Land is filled with cultural events! In one week I attended a film festival in Ramallah and a jazz music festival in Jersualem; and next week there is a film festival in Jerusalem. No matter when you come to tour the Holy Land, there will be numerous cultural events simultanously happening.

“Ramallah Animated,” the film festival I recently attended, had five days of screenings of Animation films from Palestine, Arab and International films. The film I saw, for 15 NIS (less than $5), was called “The Wanted 18” and was award winning for the best Arabic documentary in AbuDhabi International Film Festival 2014.  This film was a creative way for me to learn about a specific story that took place during the first Intifada (Palestinian uprising).

It’s 1987, and the first Palestinian popular movement in the West Bank is rising. Residents want local alternatives to Israeli goods, including milk, which they’ve been buying from an Israeli company. And so begins the strange story of the 18 cows.

The plot is hatched by pacifist intellectuals and professionals. Not your typical dairy farmers. These “lactivists” forge ahead anyway, buying 18 cows and smuggling them into the West Bank town of Beit Sahour.

But who knows anything about cows? These newly min ted farmers have to learn the most basic skills—even how to milk their charges, which isn’t as easy as it looks.

Eventually, the cows come to the attention of Israeli authorities, and the chase is on—a cat-and-mouse (or soldier-and-cow) game writ large, as the cows shuttle from barn to barn, with their pursuers determined to find them. The cows became legendary and the “intifada milk” (sometimes distributed under cover of darkness) becomes a part of daily life.

Click HERE to learn more about this film.

To find out about these culture events prior to your journey to the Holy Land, simply ask locals!  This can be done in different online forums.

To learn more about these forums, check out THIS previous post.

 

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The Western Wall's Significance

One of the most remarkable landmarks in Jerusalem is the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, and in Hebrew, Ha Kotel.  This structure is one of the remaining outer walls from the First and Second Temples.  This wall is significant compared to the other walls because it is closest to the room where the 10 Commandments were kept.  This room is often referred to as “Holy of Holies.”  Regardless of your religious background, this spiritual experience of the Western Wall, is one you will remember.

Visitors and locals alike approach the wall in prayer where they can stuff notes into the cracks of the walls in hopes that their prayers will be answered. Once you are near the Wall you will notice that there are dividers to separate males and females.

1024px-Women_praying_in_the_Western_Wall_tunnels_by_David_ShankboneNot only can the wall’s beauty be seen above ground, but also below ground where there is a tunnel you can explore the ancient remains.  The infamous Western wall actually continues underground where you will be able to see even more of the grandiose wall.  In this tunnel, you will get a picture of how long and tall the Western Wall originally was.  For example, the portion of the Western Wall above ground is about 200 ft long.  When you go through the tunnel, you are able to see the additional 1,591 ft of the wall.

It is politically significant to mention the location of this tunnel because it is built underneath the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.  This caused discomfort to the residents during the construction and after its completion, not only because of the noise, but also because of the religious affiliations.  In addition, the residents residing over the tunnel allegedly did not have a choice in the matter, as this project politically trumped their voices.

To expand on the tensions relating to the Western Wall and its tunnel, there are more political disputes amongst Jews.  A popular dispute is a collective called “Women of the Wall” who strive to achieve the right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud.  The Western Wall is currently controlled by an orthodox sect of Judaism that believes it is forbidden for women to partake in the above actions.

While you are on a Holy Land tour, you will experience something unique.  The Western Wall is an example of one of the countless sites where you can feel full of spiritual energy, and be shocked to learn that the same site provokes tension between people of the same and different faith.

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MUST TASTE: Kanafeh Dessert

While you are on a Holy Land tour, you will have the opportunity to taste, and possibly make, the delicious Arab dessert called Kanafeh.

IMG_2620This dessert is easily recognizable from its neon orange appearance.  Kanafeh essentially is cheese soaked in a sugary, sweet syrup.  The base is shredded noodles, usually kadaif noodles.  Then the cheese is made by combining milk, cream, sugar and cornstarch.  It is poured over the noodles, then drenched with syrup. The syrup is made from a combination of lemon juice, sugar, and orange flower water. After the Knafeh bakes in an open fire, it is flipped, drenched in more syrup, and often sprinkled with crushed pistachios.

Prior to my first time eating Kanafeh, I was a bit hesitant to try it.  Although I grew up eating foods with artificial colors, the neon orange top of Kanafeh had taken me aback.  My friend encouraged me to taste it, and I’m happy she did.  After I had eaten my slice, I went after her leftovers!  

Note: After some research, the bright orange color is most likely just from the noodles being drenched in syrup.  Nothing to fear!

Kanafeh is usually made during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan throughout Arab countries, but here in the Holy Land, it is a year-round dessert.  It is argued that Nablus has the best Kanafeh.  However, I recently went with a friend to Damascus Gate (the popular entrance to the Muslim Quarter of the Old City), and “Ja’Far’s Sweets” had delicious Kanafeh. However, I must mention that I do not have a matured Kanafeh taste buds…yet!

This is not the kind of dessert that you quickly eat.  Therefore, I recommend eating this dessert after a full-day of touring.  While eating and then fighting a food coma, it is a great opportunity for you to bond with other participants in your group and reflect on the past day’s adventures.

Sah Tayn, Bon Appetit!

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Planning to take a Holy Land tour over Christmas? This year why not take our Bethlehem Christmas market tour on December 19. Experience Bethlehem like a local and enjoy the special Christmas festivities found in the city known worldwide as the birthplace of Jesus Christ. This year visit Bethlehem, peruse the city’s unique Christmas market, visit the Church of Nativity in all its holiday glory. Our expert guide will take you behind the scenes, through the market alleyways and into the city’s many important sites as well as into the home of a local Palestinian Christian family where you will break bread and enjoy a traditional home cooked lunch and warm hospitality.

Cost is $120 per person and space is limited so reserve today.

The Price (excluding tips) includes:
– Roundtrip bus transportation from and to Herzliya and Jerusalem
– Traditional Lunch and Hospitality
– Professional Tour Guide
– Visit Shepherd’s Fields
– Visit the Nativity Museum in Old City of Bethlehem
– Visit Church of Nativity, the Milk Grotto, the Cave of St. Jerome
– Free Time inside the Christmas Market at Manger Square

Space is limited so reserve today. All participants must be non-Israelis and must bring a valid international passport with them.

08:00 AM Departure from Herzliya
17:00 PM Return to Herzliya

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You might be wondering what Sukkot is and how can it possibly make sense to say “Celebrating Sukkot in Sukkot.”  This post will clear up that confusion.

Currently throughout the Holy Land and world, Jews are celebrating the holiday of Sukkot.  Sukkot is an easily identifiable holiday because it is the holiday when Jews are commanded to live in temporary outdoor booths.  A single booth is called a sukkah, and multiple booths are called sukkot, hence the name of the holiday. [Note: for the rest of this post “sukkot” refers to booths and “Sukkot” refers to the name of the holiday.]

This holiday lasts for a week and is one of the three pilgrimage festivals. During a pilgrimage festival, biblical Israelites would make their pilgrimage with their fresh crops to sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem.

The purpose of building and essentially living in a sukkah for the week is to remember that biblical Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years after the exodus from Egypt.  While they wandered they, too, lived in temporary booths.  Additionally, since a sukkah is a basic structure, this holiday is an opportunity to reflect on what in your life is superficial.  It is a time to differentiate between your “wants” and “needs.”

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish children play between sukkahs, temporary structures built for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, in Jerusalem. [original picture and caption from Haaretz.com]

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish children play between sukkahs, temporary structures built for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, in Jerusalem. [original picture and caption from Haaretz.com]

It is amazing to be on a Holy Land tour during Sukkot.  Specifically in Jerusalem you will see sukkot wherever you go.  Some are on balconies and others are on the sidewalk.  Most restaurants build sukkot for their customers to eat in.  It is a social holiday where neighbors and even strangers interact with each other.

There are many Jewish Laws regarding the structure of a sukkah. A fun, interactive way to learn about these laws is at the life-size sukkah exhibit Neot Kedumim park.  This exhibit is great for adults and children and is located halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  Throughout the Neot Kedumim park there are dozens of examples of correct and incorrect sukkot accompanied with a sign containing the Jewish Law.

Additionally, there are many events and festivals happening throughout the Holy Land during Sukkot.  Click HERE to see a compiled list.

 

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This Friday evening, both Jews and Muslims will be welcoming important holidays.  Jews will begin Yom Kippur, and Muslims will start Eid al-Adha.

Eid al-Adha is translated to “Feast of the Sacrifice” and directly correlates to the biblical story of Abraham sacrificing a nearby sheep, instead of his son, Ishmael.  This is a major holiday and Muslim families celebrate that they do not need to sacrifice their first born son in order to show their devotion to God.  It is traditional to sacrifice a sheep, goat, or a camel and then share it amongst family, friends, and people who are poor.  This holiday lasts at least 3 days, although certain cultures have the holiday last longer.

Similar to other holidays in Islam, Muslims celebrate by eating a big meal with their family and then everyone goes from house-to-house drinking coffee and eating sweets–like cookies with dates and nuts.

8046408b10a25af989bfd831e1efa188However, before the feast, Muslims go to pray at a Mosque, wearing their best clothes.

Therefore, if you are in the Holy Land and are looking somewhere to go to celebrate Eid al-Adha, look for a nearby Mosque.  Once the sun sets it is easy to spot Mosques because of the green light near the top of it.

Additionally, if you will be in Jerusalem not celebrating either the Eid or Yom Kippur, there will be a group of like-minded people hanging out.  Click HERE to find out details of the event.  I found out about this get-together from the Facebook group Secret Al Quds- East Jerusalem.  To learn more about these usual Facebook groups, check out THIS previous blog post.

For all who are celebrating Yom Kippur–gamer chatima tova, May you be inscribed in the Book of Life; and for all who are celebrating Eid al-Adha–Eid Mubarak, Happy holidays!

 

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This Wednesday evening (Sept. 24), Jews in the Holy Land and the Diaspora will be entering into the Jewish New Year, 5775. How is it that the Jewish calendar is starting year 5775, but based on the the Gregorian (aka Western) calendar, it is 2014?

The Jewish Calendar starts from the creation of Adam and Eve, which was estimated to have happened just about 5,775 years ago!

Rosh Hashanah, literally translated to “Head of the year,” is a happy and serious time for Jews.  According to a prayer said during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, “On Rosh Hashanah [your fate] it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.”  There are ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and those are the known as the “Days of Awe.”

Idb6c38459e5aa58cdc244cb3ea45b99bn Judaism there is the belief that when you transgressed by hurting someone, God will not pardon your transgressions without you first apologizing the person you hurt.  What’s fascinating is that apologizing one time is not enough.  Two times is still not enough.  However, after the third time, if that person you hurt still does not forgive you, God will pardon your error.

For Rosh Hashanah, there is a tradition of dipping apples into honey, in hopes for a sweet, new year.  Also, the traditional Jewish bread, called challah, is made round, instead of braided.  The roundness is supposed to signify the circle of life.

18a95c54b19fe84216dc2398305c5187Additionally, a ram’s horn (called a shofar) is blown 200 times throughout Rosh Hashanah.  There are different interpretations as to why it is a ram’s horn and why it is blown on Rosh Hashanah.  One interpretation is that the sound is supposed to wake up our souls.

It is a special opportunity to be on a Holy Land tour during holy days, specifically the High Holy Days.  In addition to seeing what was mentioned above, you may also see other traditions, such as people throwing bread crumbs in moving bodies of water, in order to “cast off” their sins (this custom is called tashlich, which literally means “cast off”).

I hope that this upcoming year, 5575, will be full of happiness, non-violent action, love, and yummy food.

L’shana tova u’metuka (Happy and sweet new year)!

 

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A few years ago I was on a plane in the U.S. and started small talking with the woman sitting next to me.  Religion came up and when I told her I identified as a Jew, she laughed and told me that when she tells people which religion she identifies with, people often think she is saying “Jew.”

Meals are traditionally served on large platters.

Meals are traditionally served on large platters.

She told me that she was “Druze” and asked if I had heard of it.  I nodded my head excitedly and told her that I had visited a Druze village while on an organized tour to Israel!

I remember them welcoming us with open arms and superfluous amounts of food.   While we were being served lunch, a few Druze taught us about their religion and cultural values.  Although their religion is secretive, they were open about teaching us the basics.   Additionally, they were happy to answer any question we had.

While you are on a Holy Land tour, it is an amazing opportunity to meet Israeli Druze to learn about the fascinating Druze lifestyle.

Fact #1: Druze is a monotheistic religion and are often referred to as “People of Monotheism.”

Fact #2: Druze originated  in Egypt at the end of the 10th century.

Fact #3: Druze is a blend of Islam, Hindu, and Greek philosophy.

Fact #4: In addition to not having Druze clergy, there are no ceremonies or rituals.  This is because they believe ceremonies and rituals are distract one’s connection with God.

Fact #5: They do have a sacred text called Kitab Al Hikma (Epistles of Wisdom), which is only available to religious Druze.

Fact #6: Instead of following the Five Pillars of Islam, they: (1) Speak the truth, (2) Support their community, (3) Abandon the old creeds, (4) Purify from heresy, (5) Accept the unity of God, and (6) Submit to the will of God.

Fact #7: Like Muslims, Druze are forbidden from eating pork, smoking, and drinking alcohol.

98250ec6d6332047ca50731c27744698Fact #8: Druze do not have nationalistic ideals and therefore, support the country they live in.  However, they do have a flag and a five-pointed star symbol.  Both contain five colors, each representing a limit which shows the difference between humans and animals.

Fact #9: There are religious Druze women and they are preferred over men because they are perceived as better “spiritually prepared.”

Fact #10: There is a population of over 100,000 Israeli Druze.  Most Druze communities are in the North.  There are also large populations of Druze living in Syria and Lebanon.

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From Figs to Pomegranates

In the Torah, the Land of Israel is described by God to be a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8).  Once you taste the fruit in the Holy Land, you will understand that this biblical reference remains true, even in modern times.

As mentioned in a previous post about ice cream and sorbet, the produce in the Holy Land is f-r-e-s-h.  There is always a fruit in season that the whole country raves about.  A few weeks ago the talk was about figs.  For the next few weeks, pomegranates will be hot on the market.

IMG_2469

figs entering Jerusalem’s shuk (market). Photo courtesy Jessica Curhan for Breakingbreadjourneys.com

Both figs and pomegranates are considered to be part of the Seven Species.  According to Judaism, these fruits are special and during the times of the Temple, they were brought to the Temple as an offering to God.  Today, because there is no Temple, Jews say a special prayer before eating one of the seven species.  The other five other species are wheat, barley, grapevines, olives, and date honey (which is believed to be the honey in the biblical reference mentioned above).

According to Christianity, the fig symbolizes the search for truth.  A way to search for truth is by producing fruit.  It is said that if a Christian does not produce fruit in a certain period of time, his life is cut off from God because God does not profit from unproductive Christians.  When the New Testament talks about this, it specifically references fig trees.  Perhaps it refers to fig trees because it is a sterile fruit, meaning it requires seasonal labor.

Fun fact: It is believed that edible figs are one of the first plants cultivated by humans back in 9400–9200 BCE.
More fun (because “funner” isn’t a word) fact: It is also believed that these figs were cultivated in t
he Holy Land’s Jordan Valley.

IMG_2504

pomegranates in Jerusalem’s shuk #nofilter. Photo courtesy Jessica Curhan for Breakingbreadjourneys.com

It is also written in the Torah that Adam and Eve “sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Genesis 3:7) once they discovered they were naked.  They discovered their nakedness after they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Some Jewish scholars believe that it was a pomegranate Adam and Eve ate.  Additionally, is believed that pomegranates contain 613 seeds, which correlates with the 613 commandments.

In Christianity, opening pomegranates symbolizes the fullness of Jesus’ suffering and resurrection.  Pomegranates are used for religions decoration in both Christianity and Judaism.

Which fruit season do you want to be in when you come on a Holy Land tour?

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How many times have you attempted to search on the Internet for specific information and failed miserably, not wanting to trust a Yahoo answer from 2007?

If you are similar to me, your answer will range from “Often” to “[sigh] All the time.” While being in the Holy Land, however, I was introduced to different Facebook pages that are useful, safe spaces for me to ask my questions. The answers come within minutes and are relevant. It is also a place for me to learn something new by reading other people’s questions and answers.

These Facebook groups are regional and are called: “Secret Jerusalem”, “Secret Al Quds – East Jerusalem“, “Secret Tel Aviv”, “Secret Ramallah”, “Secret Bethlehem”, and “Secret Haifa”.  Nearly all the posts are in English. These groups are also used for selling products and promoting upcoming events.  There are additional groups on Facebook, however, the posts are frequently in Arabic or Hebrew.

These groups directly show the culture in this region, even amongst native English speakers. People openly connect with each other. When people have questions, they ask them. When people hear/see asked questions, they answer (although sometimes this happens without a question being asked!).

While talking with a friend who also lives here, she talked about how such pages “keep people from falling into tourist traps” and it helps people “find the trendy, hip places.” She admitted that on her free time she scrolls through these pages because it is both entertaining and beneficial.

For example, you can find posts like these:

Asking what time the Jerusalem Machane Yehuda market closes for the Sabbath.

Asking what time stores in the Jerusalem Machane Yehuda market closes for the Sabbath.

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 15.03.56

And also posts like these:

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 18.01.54Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 17.52.15Therefore, while on a tour to the Holy Land, it is a fun opportunity to engage with its cyberspace culture!

 

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