Bring the Doughnuts

If you’re anywhere near Israel or West Jerusalem during December, you are going to come across at least one doughnut. These tasty, beautiful little monsters can be found everywhere – in coffee shops, at the mall, wherever your heart desires. It’s all part of a Jewish tradition of eating fried foods to commemorate a miracle at the Temple. The story goes that there was only a small amount of oil left to burn the wicks in the lamps, yet they kept burning for 8 nights – thus the roundabout connection to Hanukkah.

The rest of the year, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a Jewish Israeli (or anybody else) who is in love with the idea of donuts. Certainly nothing approximating the general cultural reverence they enjoy in America. A doughnut shop that sells almost nothing but deep friend pieces of dough with a missing middle and mediocre coffee you can drink on the road? Not happening. In my neighborhood in West Jerusalem, which is chock full of Americans, the best I can find is some semi-stale specimens stuck in the back of one neighborhood grocery store next to the tortillas and loaves of bread.

Aside from the obvious issues with doughnuts and tortillas being sold side-by-side, the doughnuts aren’t covered and I often see store workers tossing them about with their bare hands. I’d love to introduce those dainty, thin plastic “self-serve” grabbers to Israel, but I don’t think it would catch on.

So in the meantime, here’s to avoiding the calorie binge that one doughnut represents until after Hanukkah has passed. Thankfully, I will be in Europe until after the New Year. I hope they enjoy treats that are less caloric for Christmas and New Year’s.

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The Truth About Bethlehem

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It’s not quite the holiday season yet, but if you plan on visiting Bethlehem for Christmas, there are a few things to be aware of. If you’re visiting from a foreign country, or are not familiar with Bethlehem, this will especially apply:

1. Hire a tour guide in Jerusalem who will take you in and out of Bethlehem. Get a recommendation from one of the more established and reputable hotels for a guide, and plan as far in advance as possible.
2. Take your passport, you’ll need it to get in and out.
3. If you go during Shabbat/Sabbath on Saturday, expect more of a crowd once in Bethlehem.
4. Try your best not to drive. Either hire a taxi after you cross through the checkpoint, or hire a tour guide who will drive.
5. If you are unsure where to go, just look for Manger Square. It is the center or town, and where most shops and tourist attractions are.
6. Don’t hire a tour guide once you’re at the Church of the Nativity. They will charge too much, even though they will try to say they are registered or authorized, they might be bogus.
7. Start working your way back to your hotel about an hour before nightfall, especially if it is your first time in the area.
8. Don’t be shocked when you see numerous heavily armed Palestinian soldiers on the sidewalks. This is “normal” for Bethlehem, particularly during the holiday season.
9. If you buy anything from the shouk (open-air market) be prepared to be told that everything is “antique” which will make the price higher. Things might not necessarily be antique and the prices will be higher if you’re a tourist.

Dancing in the Street in the Village of Ein Kerem, Israel

At the end of the Sukkot holiday while in the village of Ein Kerem (just outside Jerusalem), I came upon a large crowd of people dancing in the street. They were mostly men, and were holding a copy of the Torah (the Jewish holy bible). Ein Kerem is a very small village that is just a 15 minute drive from Jerusalem, but it is very typical of Jerusalem, where different religions exist peacefully side by side. Just up the street from where these men were dancing, monks were standing outside the gate of their monastery and talking with Christian pilgrims.

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