Celebrating Freedom With Favorite Israeli Recipes

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Jamie Geller
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Chicken and Veggie Skewers

Food has the power to transport you to another time and place...

One bite of something can lead me to my grandparents’ warm little kitchen, with my feet dangling from the chair, waiting patiently for magic on a plate. A bite of something else can take me to the streets of Yerushalayim, with its heady aromas of Middle Eastern cookery.

I often write about my grandparents because I was so close to them, because I loved them, because I still want to pick up the phone and call them. They played such a big role in my life, shaping my impressions of the warmth of family meals, the pleasurable sense of entering a home where there’s always good food simmering on the stove and the meaning of love and survival.

As I walk the streets of my new home in Israel -- walk my kids to school in the morning -- I think about the upcoming Yom Haatzmaut, with the flags flying from every school, every car, every rooftop. My child is asked to wear blue and white tomorrow to gan. And I think of my grandparents too.

They always dreamt of living here.  As Holocaust survivors, (two in Auschwitz) their lives include stories that flood my imagination: My grandmother used to speak of being selected by the infamous Dr. Mengele on not one but three separate occasions  -- and then running back to the "living" line when no one was looking, risking being shot to death on the spot.  My grandfather was captured and held as a prisoner of war by the Russians for eight years, after the concentration camps were liberated.  He served in a Russian forced labor camp alongside his Nazi captors. And he told how the Nazis were dropping like flies because they were not conditioned, as he had become, to the lack of food and intensity of work.

As Yom Haatzmaut approaches, and we prepare to celebrate Jewish freedom and independence, I can't help but link all these thoughts in my head. How this country was largely built by survivors of wars, oppression, and persecution. How the events that led up to the declaration of the State of Israel riveted and united every Jew in the world. I can't help but think about my grandparents, and how they would have loved to be here with me, right now. How they would take pride in my little ones prattling away in Hebrew at a pace I am still able to follow, but not for long.

We’re going to a family pot luck BBQ to celebrate Yom Haatzmaut.  I’m bringing beer and my California Avocado Salad.  Listen, this is a country of immigrants, so it’s legit to add our own flavor, literally, to the festivities.

But should you want something more bonafide “Israeli” in honor of the upcoming day, I’ll share some of my favorite Israeli recipes with you.

What's your favorite Israeli food?