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Shifra surveys the hundreds of spices on display
The daunting challenge: Plan a day-long activity on Chol Ha Moed Sukkot that will engage those who have "seen it all," while providing enjoyment to family members whose age range spans seven decades. The brilliant solution: Hire a guide, rent a bus, and celebrate "Progressive Biblical Meal Day."
What, you may ask, is "Progressive Biblical Meal Day?" Please read on and find out!
Our group, 13 strong, consisted of the Bailey family, and Jay's mother, Sheila, Shifra and Matt, and Matt's parents, Bruce and Susan Schneider and their daughter, Jamie, and Rose and me. The day was perfect to begin with because, at dawn, we received word that Lea and Hayim had become engaged at the conclusion of an overnight hike with Lea's students at Ein Gedi.
In a Landowne family Tiyul record, we were all out the door and on the road by 9:30. Our first stop was at Tavlin, just outside Beit Shemesh, where we visited a spice factory and sales outlet. The word "sales outlet" really does not do justice to this place--it was the Costco of spice stores! We were given a short introduction to some of the spices, herbs and fragrances mentioned
The Chocolate Factory
From a room full of spices to a wall of wine, to a room full of chocolate!
in the Bible, as well as being encouraged to taste and smell them. Then, it was on to the shopping. As you can see from the photograph I have appended, the huge room contained over a thousand items in hundreds of barrels, sacks, and bowls overflowing with spices, rices, grains, dried fruits and nuts in a riotous panoply of colors and fragrances. It would not be hard to imagine that it contained every seasoning known to man. Micha called it "Spice Heaven," and, at one point went over to Dena and said: "Please buy this spice; if you make rice with it I guarantee I will eat it." Our trip was off to a fabulous start.
Twenty minutes after leaving Spice Heaven, we arrived at the Tzora Winery. "Excellent wine begins in the vineyard," our host told us, with "the most important aspect of winemaking being the growing of quality grapes". She said that the owners had spent years to obtain the finest terroirs in the Judean Hills, west of Jerusalem, and that, today, Tzora owns three vineyards; Giv'at Hachalukim, Shoresh and Neve Ilan, each with varying soils and meso-climates. There wasn't that much to see or do there, we didn't see any grapes being crushed, so we watched a short video and had a wine-tasting--but, what would a Biblical meal be without wine??
It was now time for lunch, so we headed back to the bus for the short ride to our next destination, Neot Kedumim, near Modii'in. (another beauty of the tiyul was that aside from the late afternoon trip back from Tel Aviv, we never needed to travel on the bus for more than 20 minutes at a time) Neot Kedumim calls itself the "Biblical Landscape Reserve in Israel," and is a unique endeavor to re-create the physical settings of the Bible in great depth and detail. As it says in their brochure: "Far more than a "garden" showing various biblical plants, Neot Kedumim embodies the panorama and power of the landscapes that helped shape the values of the Bible and provided a rich vocabulary for expressing them." Dena explained that it is the agricultural version of a Biblical Zoo, with spacious grounds containing some of Israel's core agricultural produce. Neot Kedumim's restaurants specialize in "Biblical meals," and, the one they served us wrapped all of the Bible's seven species into its dishes.
After our meal, we toured the park. For Sukkot, Neot Kedumim had built a sort of "Mesechet Sukkah Comes to Life" exhibit in which at least a dozen Sukkot had been erected, each illustrative of a sukkah that had been the subject of a Talmudic debate, and each containing a plaque which gave the question raised in the Gemara, and the conclusion reached. So, for the first time I saw examples of "a sukkah built atop another sukkah (n.g.), a sukkah with 15 foot high walls (also n.g.), a sukkah where one wall consisted of a live animal (o.k.), and a Sukkah built on the deck of a boat (also o.k.), to name a few. We saw Etrogs growing, examined Biblical implements like plowshares and grinding wheels, and we could have stayed for hours more, but, the final stop of our day beckoned, tantalizingly.
We had made an appointment to end our day at a boutique chocolate factory, Shokolada Yael Milshteyn, in Rosh HaAyin. Our guide apologized to us that he was unable to find any reference to chocolate in the Bible, however he justified its inclusion in our "Biblical Meal Day," by revealing that he had discovered, in an old cookbook, a recipe for......"King David's brownies." It was a slim reed, to be sure, but hey, how often does one get a hands-on visit to a chocolate factory, and what's a "Biblical Meal," without a fabulous dessert??
Once again, we received a briefing, this time on the history of chocolate, and the steps involved in its evolution from bean to truffle. All the while, three shimering fountains of melted chocolate, milk, dark and white, were, cascading through a machine, inches away, and begging to be invaded. But, before temptation got the best of us, we moved into a spotless room which looked like a cooking show test kitchen and we all donned aprons. For the next 90 minutes, under Yael's expert tutelage, we melted Callebaut chocolate, (they are the exclusive Israeli distributor's of this, Belgium's finest, chocolate) mixed in nuts, crispies, cream, butter, and liqueurs, shaped them into gooey masses, and squeezed and poured chocolate in various forms into molds and onto pans, dusted everything with cocoa powder, got completely covered with chocolate, tasted to our hearts' delight (and our stomach's chagrin) and had an absolutely glorious time.
There was unanimous agreement that Lea, Rose, Dena, and our guide had constructed a spectacularly enjoyable day and one that was educational as well. It would easily have qualified as the most memorable day of our visit even if, 90 minutes after we returned to Jerusalem, we hadn't hosted one of the happiest parties of our lives....to celebrate Lea and Hayim's engagement!
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