Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Mimouna 2014

mimouna table in Israel
We did not have the opportunity to make it to a mimouna this  year.  While we usually have one cousin who holds the festival at her house (she is married to a Moroccan Israeli), she decided not to have one this year.  Even though we didn't get to one, mimouna events were held across Israel on Monday night, April 21, 2014, marking the end of Pesach. 

What is a mimouna?  Well, I'm not going to repeat the entire Wikepdia entry, which is linked above.  In short, it is a Moroccan-Jewish gathering marking the end of pesach (passover) which features various food items, especially mufleta (recipe link), which is, more or less, a form of fried dough.  I suppose it is like a beaver tail. It is traditionally eaten with some honey.  The mimouna  has become the quintessential celebration of Moroccan-Jewish culture in Israel (other than perhaps, the henna celebration before a wedding) and mufleta is seen as the represenative food.  Many Moroccon families host a mimouna, which is considered an open-door event.  People are not necessarily invited - they just show up at the house of their nearest Moroccan friend or cousin - and hope that they are hosting a mimouna this year....

President Shimon Peres at Mimouna
The mimouna has become an important political photo op in Israel.  the Prime Minister and the President of Israel both publicize their mimouna outings as do many other high ranking political officials.  Aside from the fact that these are fun events with lots of great food (and often some fine drinks as well), political leaders also like to support the Moroccan-Israeli community by enjoying their mimouna events very publicy.

Prime Minister Netanyahu - at mimouna 2014
One mimouna in Ashdod this year caused a bit of a stir.  Posters were circulated inviting people to attend a mimouna with Shas party leader Aryeh Deri along with the Mayor of Ashdod and the Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef.  According to YNet News, the circulated invitations stated that event was "for men only."  This is particularly crazy given that is probably women who prepared mosf of the mufleta.  Moreover, it is not really a "religious" event per se, so it is hard to see what possible rationale there would be for holding a male-only mimouna.  

Most mimounas probably require the active participation of the women.  I tend to doubt that my Moroccan cousin could prepare mufleta himself though I'm quite certain that there are at least some Moroccan Israeli men somewhere who could.   

In any event, the hardest part of hosting or attending a mimouna to me seems to be the timing.  When do you change back all of your dishes from Passover to regular dishes?  If you are hosting a mimouna, how do you possibly do that quick enough to be ready for all of those guests to arrive?  Finally, how do you eat all that fried dough after 7 days of eating ridiculous quantities of pesach food?

I don't have the answers to any of these questions - other than to say "Tradition, Tradition" - in this case, Moroccan tradition....

And after all, the mufleta is quite tasty.

I hope that those who celebrated enjoyed their Pesach  holiday and that many managed to find their way to a mimouna.  If you did not, you have about a year to figure out how to make mufleta quickly and properly.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Israeli Ice Hockey Team Loses 4-3 in Shootout to Iceland at End of Tough Tournament

The Israeli national mens' ice hockey team recently played in the International Ice Hockey Federation's world championship - Division II, Group A.  This division meant that Israel was playing with teams ranked 29 to 34 in the world.

Just getting into this tournament had been a big accomplishment for Israel.  In 2013, the Israeli national ice hockey team won the Division II Group B tournament.  The winner each year moves up to the next division and the last place team is relegated one division down.

This year's Division II Group B included Estonia, Belgium, Iceland, Australia and Serbia.

 Israel started the tournament on April 9th with an exciting 4-3 win in overtime against Australia but then lost 10-6 to Serbia on the second day of the tournament.  On April 12th, Israel suffered a heartbreaking loss to Belgium - 4-3 in overtime. The toughest game of the tournament was a 16-4 loss to Estonia, the eventual group champions.

On the final day of the tournament, Israel still had a chance to remain in Group A.  It faced Iceland.  With a win, Israel would remain in the group for the 2015 tournament.  After three periods and overtime, the game was tied 3-3.  It went to a shootout.  The second Iceland shooter scored. Israeli star Oren Eizenman hit the post.  The game was over and Israel finished last in the group despite having been very evenly matched against three other teams.

Israeli forward Daniel Erlich tied for third in scoring for the tournament with 2 goals and 8 assists for a total of 10 points.  The leading scorer, Robert Rooba of Estonia had 14 points.  Israeli players Eliezer Sherbatov, Daniel Mazour and and Oren Eizenman placed 8th, 9th and 10th respectively in scoring.

Overall, this was a disappointing result for Israeli ice hockey.  The team proved that it belonged in the division.  It won one game and lost two in overtime.  It also lost a reasonably close game to Serbia.  Unfortunately, the two overtime losses left Israel one point behind Belgium.

Israel will now be relegated back to Group B of Division II.  Competing teams will also include Mexico, New Zealand, China, South Africa and Bulgaria.  The Group B winner this year was Spain which will move up and take Israel's spot in Group A.    

If the Israeli team can put together a similar roster, it will be well positioned to win Group B next year and move back to Group A for 2016.  It will probably face its toughest competition from Mexico.  I am not sure of the dates or location for the 2015 tournament - but it will take place somewhere in Europe in April or May of 2015.

The Israeli players deserve hearty congratulations for their strong effort.  They played  four very close games, three of which went to overtime.  They were only outmatched in one of the games.  Hopefully the Israeli national ice hockey program can build on the play of this team and advance further in the coming years.  It will probably help that Israel now has an ice rink in Holon that the players can use for practices - which is much closer to the centre of the country than Israel's only olympic-sized facility in Metullah.

Ice hockey is still a long way from mainstream in Israel but I think it is bound to become somewhat more popular over time.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pesach 2014 - Board Games Day and Kosher Pesach Burgers

What can you do in Israel over Pesach?  Everyone is on vacation, the roads are packed with travelling Israelis and the weather is usually beautiful.  So it's a great time to go the Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), the beach (the Mediterranean Sea or the Red (Reed) Sea.  Many Israelis use this vacation period for trips abroad, since kids are off from school for close to three weeks.  Many soldiers even get a bit of break from the army...

There are many festivals across the country - music festivals, camping and all kinds of other cultural events.

One of the things that we have been doing is spending one day of Hol Hamoed on Pesach and on Sukkot at an all day board games day in Jerusalem.  We wind up with about 25-30 people, all of whom bring a bunch of their favourite board games - and we play all day.  The event is co-sponsored by the Jerusalem Strategy Games Club and the Ra'anana Board Games Group.  It is an opportunity to meet some new people, learn a bunch of new games and play some games at a fairly competitive level.

The event was in Jerusalem, which meant a lengthy drive from Ra'anana.  Even leaving late it in the morning (to avoid rush hour), we wound up facing some outrageously slow traffic.  It took us close to three hours to get from Ra'anana to Jerusalem, despite using Google Maps and watching for live updates as to the best available route.
Terra Mystica - in Action

Once there, we (my son and I) ran a five person game of Terra Mystica.  This is a fairly recent (2012) board game that has been tremendously popular since its release among avid board game players.  There are lots of pieces, a fairly lengthy rule book and a moderately long set up time.  But the game is lots of fun for those who like European style strategy games. Some of the players loved it and some were less enthusiastic. One of the interesting aspects of the game is that it features 14 unique teams (races) each with their own special abilities.  So the game is asymmetrical, which makes it different each time.

I also tried playing Belfort and Carson City, both of which were fun.

For dinner, the group members ordered hamburgers from Black Burgers in Jerusalem.  The burgers came on buns - and were Kosher for Passover - and Kitniyot free....They were actually quite good (the burgers, I mean...).  The's Passover after all.  Black Burgers has locations all over Israel, but very few are Kosher - aside from the Jerusalem location.  So being in Jerusalem, we took advantage and ordered the 220 g Schwarzenegger Burger - the latest house specialty.  They cook it however you might like to order it - so we were able to enjoy some perfectly cooked medium to medium rare burgers and then returned to game playing on a full stomach.  It is quite something that so many restaurants in Israel take the trouble to convert over their kitchens and open up for the 4 days of Hol Hamoed.  

Good food, fun games and a competitive group - even if the commute to Jerusalem was exhaustingly long.

Getting a bit tired of Pesach food already and we still have 4 days to go....

Chag Sameach to all!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Toronto to Tel Aviv via Frankfurt - With Frankfurt Visit

I wound up with another flight from Toronto to Israel via Frankfurt.  So I thought I would add in another article since I also stopped in Frankfurt for the day this time. I wrote a blog about flying through Frankfurt previously - you can find that one here.  That was about three years ago, so I thought it would update it.

First of all, the prices between Toronto and Tel-Aviv have been rising dramatically.  This is probably connected to the fluctuation of the dollar (the Canadian dollar has taken quite a beating).  It is probably also related to the fact that US Air has left the Star Alliance and that Air Canada has increased prices significantly on this route.  Secondly, I was a bit late with my booking - so the options for finding a reasonably priced flight were more limited, particularly on Air Canada, United or El Al.

So I decided to find a less expensive route.  I took a Lufthansa flight from Toronto to Tel-Aviv - with a 12 hour stopover.  The savings were more than $400 over the Lufthansa flight with a 2 hour stopover - and I figured I could see a few sites in Frankfurt.  It was $800 less than flying El Al or Air Canada. 

This time, I flew Lufthansa for both legs of the route.  The flight from Toronto to Frankfurt left at about 6:30 p.m in the evening.  The plane was reasonably comfortable and clean.  The flight crew were extremely friendly, helpful and attentive.

I ordered an Indian-Vegetarian meal.  It was really quite good.  Curried spinach and curried tofu together with basmati rice.  It also came with glabjammon (an Indian dessert) and some yoghurt.  It was one of the better economy class meals that I have had in quite a while.

The airline staff went up and down the aisles quite frequently offering drinks - so I took advantage and had some wine - and some cognac.  The European airlines still serve alcohol at no charge on trans-Atlantic flights - as does Air Canada.  The U.S. Airlines tend to charge $7 a glass - and usually the wine is not even as good as the free wine that you can get on the European airlines.

Lufthansa has a personal entertainment system.  It had a reasonable collection of movies and music.  I watched one movie and then tried to sleep.  Lufthansa also has available wi-fi - though it is about $20 or so for 3 hours.  There are no electrical outlets on the plane or USB plugs, so you cannot recharge your electrical devices.  I didn't need internet that urgently - so I simply listened to my own music and tried to sleep.

The flight is about 7 1/2 hours from Toronto.  We arrived around 7:30 a.m. and I was quite tired.  The next flight was leaving for Tel-Aviv at 7:20 p.m.  So I had about 12 hours and had to decide what to do in Frankfurt.

At first, I thought that I would rest for another hour or two.  I went to look for a lounge.  The Frankfurt airport is huge and the nice lounges are all in the B terminal near gate B40.  There were two or three Lufthansa lounges that I could have used but I came across an Air Canada lounge there.  I decided that this would be a decent place to spend some time.  It was quite a nice lounge.  It had lots of fresh fruit, yoghurt, croissants, bagels, omelets, and many other food items. There was a cappucino machine and some big comfy chairs.  It also had free wi-fi and lots of outlets.  So I charged my phone, had a couple of coffees and plotted my  Frankfurt trip.

Frankfurt has two Jewish museums - the Juedische Museum and the Judenstrasse Museum.  I figured I would start with the Juedische and then see how I was doing for time.

Frankfurt has a huge network of convenient public transportation.  There is train service from the airport to
Frankfurt Train
downtown Frankfurt and it is quite easy.  I walked to the train station from the Airport.  There were so many trains that it was a bit of a challenge trying to figure out which train to take - on which platform.  My German is quite limited (my exposure is mainly from  the Yiddish that my grandparents used to speak and sometimes my parents - when they wanted to say things that we couldn't understand...).  I got some help from the information desk and bought an all day Frankfurt public transportation pass for the grand total of 8.5 Euros.
Then I took the train from the airport to the main Frankfurt station - which is enormous.  I went over to another information counter and was provided with walking directions to the museum and a map.

I didn't have a gps with me and I couldn't make out the names of the streets that well.  I thought I was headed in the right direction...  Anyways I sauntered through the streets of Frankfurt for a while - quite a nice walk actually - before realizing that I might be headed in the wrong direction. Along the way I passed many different Turkish restaurants, Mid-Eastern banks (not Israeli...) and, of course, many coffee bars, high end stores and other German specialty shops.  I stopped at a coffee shop and asked for some help.  The barrista was quite friendly - but she told me that I had gone in the exact opposite direction.  So I decided to grab a cab and head over the museum.

The Juedische Museum is housed in quite a nice building.  There is an admission cost of about 7 Euro - though you can get a combination pass to both Jewish museums for 10 Euro.  The reception staff were helpful both with information about the museum and with directions to the next destination.

For me, the Museum itself was a bit of a disappointment. If has three floors.  The top floor had information about the history of the Frankfurt Jewish community.  Some information went back to the 4th and 5th centuries. Much of the information was about the period between 1100 and 1700.

The exhibits detailed the history of persecution, isolation and discrimination to which the Jewish community was subjected over hundreds of years.  There was a particularly poignant section addressing the change in Martin Luther - from being sympathetic to the Jewish people initially - to being one of the most vicious anti-Semites in his later years.  Most of the museum was pre-enlightenment.  I felt that there was a complete disconnect between the history of this "Jewish people" and the Jews of later years.  There was very little on the vibrancy of Jewish life in Germany post enlightenment.

Even more disturbing was the minimal detail as to what happened to this community.  There is virtually no information about the Holocaust.  One is left wondering what happened to this Jewish community.  For someone who might not have very much historical knowledge - it would appear that the community simply vanished.

On the second floor, there was a collection of items used for Jewish ritual and holiday celebrations and an explanation of the various holidays and how the items are used.  There was a synagogue display (with an open Torah on the wall), a collection of Chanukiyot, Shabbat candle sticks, Havdalah spice boxes and many other items.  Most of the items were from anywhere from 700 to 1600.  Some were quite ornate.  But all of these traditions were described historically, with no connection to something that still exists.  I suppose that is true of Judaism in Frankfurt (largely), but I felt uncomfortable in this museum.

Tram from Judengasse
So after about 45 minutes, I decided to try the other one - the Judengasse.  I was able to take a short tram ride over to this one 

Judengasse means "Jewish Alley."  (It is not a word describing what eventually happened to much of the community).  In any event, this museum focuses on the Judengasse which existed between 1462 and 1796.  The museum features preserved sections of 5 buildings there were part of the old Frankfurt Ghetto.  There is a decent article on Wikipedia describing it here.

I wandered around the museum and looked at these sections of very old stone buildings.  There were remnants of ancient Mikvot, ovens and other rooms.  There was some information as well.  Interesting enough to see, I suppose.  I would not be running back...

So I was done by about 3 p.m.  I could have wandered around Frankfurt and sat in a cafe or a bar or just taken in the sights and sounds of the city.  But I would have to confess that I simply had no interest.  I don't really view Germany at the top of my list for site-seeing, for obvious reasons, even though many Israelis see things differently.  I felt quite uncomfortable, even on the tram ride.  Looking around, there were quite a few Muslims and Indian people.  But I wouldn't really describe what I saw as feeling cosmopolitan.  On the contrary, I had the feeling that this was now a place almost completely devoid of Jews.  I did not really see very many east Asians, black people or others for that matter - but the combination of these two museums and the feelings about Germany that I simply couldn't suppress led me to return to the airport rather than wander around more.

Judengasse Frankfurt
The museum was right across the street from a tram stop.  I was able to take the tram to Frankfurt main station - and then a short train ride from there to the airport.  Total travel time would be about 1/2 hour or so.  I made my way through security and headed over the Lufthansa "Senators Lounge" which is located right near gate C13 - the Lufthansa gate that is used for flights to Tel-Aviv.  This time (unlike on my previous visit three years ago) there was free wi-fi in the lounge.  There was also a wide ranging selection of food and drinks.  The lounge has showers, comfortable chairs and other facilities.

Finally, after about 2 hours in the lounge, I was ready to go to the gate for the flight from Frankfurt to Tel-Aviv. There is an extra security check-in for flights to Israel featuring a full pat-down for every traveller.  But not much has changed since my last blog about this flight.  It is a very cramped airplane.  There are no amenities on board - other than some washrooms at the back of the plane.  No personal video screens or overhead screens.  Limited space.  Fortunately it is only a three and a half hour flight.

I had another Indian vegetarian meal.  Not as good a the first one but still decent.  I tried to sleep.  I arrived in Tel-Aviv at about 12:30 a.m., having travelled for about 24 hours.  It was a long journey.  Overall, it would probably be worth spending some more money to avoid 12 hours in Frankfurt next time but it is always worthwhile to have the experience of seeing and trying new things.

Happy to be back in Israel for the upcoming Pesach holiday.  I will try to write one more blog before then.  So for now - Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Putin to Speak in Israeli Knesset

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin does not like to shy away from danger.  In one photo opportunity (staged, of course), he is seen petting a leopard.  He also been seen hunting, horseback riding, spinning out in a dangerous race car - and taming nature in many other ways.  But where is the real danger? What is out there that might be so risky and dangerous, that it would even frighten President Obama?  Well, apparently, President Putin has agreed to address the Israeli Knesset.

Few other world leaders have tried it.  Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper performed the perilous feat earlier this year.  He was heckled relentlessly by Arab-Israeli MKs who stormed out of the Knesset when Prime Minister Harper called for the recognition of Israel as a Jewish State.  But Prime Minister Harper escaped unscathed, physically and politically.

I'm not good enough with photoshop to put together a picture of President Putin snuggling up to Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon but that might be even more frightening than holding a leopard.  Certainly U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry seems to think so.

President Putin has many things to discuss in the Israeli Knesset.  He would like to warn Israel against overreacting in the face of terrorist attacks and threats.  Putin's calm and peaceful approach to the threat of terrorism, as exemplified by his dealings with the Chechnyans is something he will advocate as a model for Israel to consider the next time that it is faced with challenges in Gaza, Lebanon or Ramallah.

President Putin would also like to lecture Israel about overreacting to Maritime terrorism.  Again, he will point to his country's efficient and friendly dealings with Somali pirates as the model that Israel should adopt.  If you simply blow the entire boat out of the water, so that there are no traces of the boat or its crew, there is no need for a U.N. investigation and certainly no need for reparation payments to be paid to the country that sent the boat in the first place. 

While in Israel, President Putin is also expected to make a major policy change.  Apparently after petting the leopard, he made himself a beautiful pair of leopardskin trousers.  He will be wearing them while marching in the annual Tel-Aviv Pride Parade and will announce a change of Russian policy.  Gay people in Russia will now be treated equally.  President Putin is also expected to announce that he is coming out of the closet (he was feeling very claustrophobic) and will be happy to have more space and breathing room.  There is apparently lots of space in the Ukraine...

Lastly, President Putin is expected to discuss Russia's vigorous initiatives against political corruption.  He will be conducting a series of meetings in Israel with former politicians, rabbis, mayors and others to discuss the successful initiatives that Israel has implemented.  He is expected to meet with Aryeh Deri, Ehud Olmert, former Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and others as part of a fact finding mission.  Following these meetings, he will apparently be blessed, jointly, by Rabbi Metzger and Aryeh Deri in exchange for an unspecified sum of rubles.

Israelis across the country are looking forward to meeting this visionary and hearing all about good governance, human rights, equality, the fight against corruption and sensible foreign policy initiatives.  The visit will take place on an undisclosed date in the near future.