Israel's Good Name

Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page

Cookies, Pitas and History

In Galilee, Israel on December 18, 2011 at 8:43 PM

Today we drove out to the Industrial Area of Ma’alot in search for what we believed was a cookie bakery. What we found was a cookie factory. A factory with an impromptu tour that sparked a few hours of factory tours and historical exploration.

Cookie factory

First, the man who let us in put us in the hands of Gili, who turned out to be the wife of the owner. She took us on our tour, after we had donned our sanitary hair-nets, showing us the process of making cookies. The cookies being made were small sugar cookies with a jam filling. Here they are finished and ready for baking:

Pretty little cookies all ready for baking

Here are some of the notable, interesting stages of the process that is the making of the petite, decorative cookie. A worker rolls the cookie dough over circle cutters:

Cookie cutting the industrial way

And here the cookies are being constructed, a solid disk being prepped with a dallop of fruit-flavoured jelly to then be finished off with a cookie “ring” on top:

The construction of the cookie

Once the cookies are baked they are taken to another room where they cool off and wait to be packaged. Here one of the packaging workers puts the cookies in plastic containers with a doilie to separate the layers:

Packaging the cooled cookies

After we had seen the numerous stages and the 15-20 workers furiously cranking out cookies (1,000+ packages per day), we took some more pictures. Here I am, hair-net on and hands secure and out of the cookies:

Posing in the cookie factory

When we had seen enough, and enough pictures were taken we bid farewell to Gili and attempted to leave. She called us back and told us not to forget about the hairnets, telling us we might look silly walking around with them on. I risked it and poked my sanitary head into several other factories located in the vicinity. Nobody seemed to mind. But I minded that we hadn’t gotten any baked goods yet (we didn’t really wanna buy a package of cookies because we have eaten those cookies so many times before). I suggested that we seek out another bakery, a kosher Lebanese bakery in the nearby village of Mi’ilya (population 3,000). We drove to the Christian village and found the bakery, which turned out to be a factory as well:

Door sign for the Lebanese Bakery

Inside the pita factory we shuffled around in the flour-covered room and had some brief dialogue with a man there who seemed agreeable to our desire to explore the place. A man named John, the professed owner of the factory, allowed us to poke our noses nearly everywhere we wanted to. Here one of the men working there operates the dough mixer:

Manning the mixer

After the dough is mixed, it is then placed on a large table in the centre of the open area for rising:

Rising dough

As per the next stage, the first man we talked to showed us a machine that makes small balls of dough to expedite the process. Here the machine, which was imported special from Lebanon, is hard at work pumping out dough balls:

The Lebanese dough-ball-making machine

Once the dough balls are on their way, they get flattened and gradually turned into large flat disks. Here the disks are still in the flattening process as they travel around the room:

Small pita disks

Once the disks have been flattened near paper-thin they are moved on the conveyor belt back and forth allowing them to slightly rise before the baking. After the dough disks have sufficiently risen they are passed through the tremendous furnace which made the entire room almost unbearably hot. John didn’t like people getting close to the oven but he allowed me to photograph it up close with his supervision. Here it is, the disks blown up into balloons of hot air bouncing out of the furnace:

Pita balloons escaping the flames

After the dramatic baking, the pitas are again on a long track of conveyor belts as they cool and deflate, now boasting a handy pocket that can be filled with all sorts of foods. This part of the process I found to be very cool as the air was all floury and the sun was sneaking in.

Pitas deflating high up on conveyor belts

And here the cooled pitas come bounching down for bagging. The bagging women specifically asked me not to photograph them so the end of the process will forever be a mystery for you, o’ reader.

Cooled pitas coming down for bagging

Oh, and John handed us a free bag of fresh pitas “for the road”!

While we were in Mi’ilya we also stumbled upon ancient tombs hollowed out of solid chalk bedrock on the side of the road. The sign stated that the graves were from the Byzantine era (330-634 CE) and have been slightly damaged by water piping. Here is the most visible cave, clearly seen from the road:

The burial cave on the side of the road

Not only are there ancient burial caves in Mi’ilya, there is also a Crusader castle called King’s Castle when Mi’ilya was known as Castellum Regis. The castle was built sometime around 1160 CE when King Baldwin III of Jerusalem gave the Galilee region to a crusader in Haifa. It was only a matter of years before the castle was conquered by Saladin. King’s Castle and Monfort Castle nearby were then both acquired by the Teutonic Knights of modern-day Germany but by that time the bigger and more impressive Monfort Castle made King’s Castle less important. Here, local residents built their house using the ruined castle’s walls as well:

King's Castle from the north

Once we had parked next to the house as far up as we could, we got out and climbed into the remains of the once noble Crusader castle. Today the site is neglected and grown over but the classic arches and windows live on:

Arches within the ruins of King's Castle

Windows and doors

We had to abandon our explorations prematurely due to school letting out but one day we should come back… with a metal detector! Who knows, maybe a knight in rusted armour is buried beneath the rubble…

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Rocking the Galilee

In Galilee, Israel on December 2, 2011 at 12:58 PM

Due to the popular Israeli DocAviv, a documentary film festival, and its special Galilean branch, DocAviv Galil, several concerts have been offered to the people and they were all free! This blog post is about the two concerts of this week, Lahakat Droz on Wednesday night and Dudu Tassa on Thursday night. Both held in Ma’alot’s beautiful new Heichal Tarbut (Performing Arts Centre):

Ma’alot’s beautiful Heichal Tarbut

Concert 1: The performance of Lahakat Droz (Hebrew for Band of Droz – Droz meaning “stairs” in Moroccan Arabic) was called for 8:00 PM Wednesday evening with several short documentaries shot/produced in the Ma’alot area to be shown before it. I arrived fashionably late, found a seat in the lower section and settled in for some documentary works of film. The short film that was playing when I came in and the subsequent one were of little interest to me but the third one was wonderful. It was about an old man living in Kibbutz Kabri who made aliyah when he was in his teens or twenties from Iran. Throughout his life he had a fascination for filming and had dozens, if not hundreds, of film reels from back in Iran and the early kibbutz life in Kabri. A woman began investigating his work and they set out to watch the reels and to relive the days of old. Throughout the documentary, snippets of the old man’s film reels were shown, including the establishment of the banana farms outside of Nahariya. It was a wonderful film. Then, before the concert itself, a short film of Lahakat Droz was shown. We learned all about the founding of the band and the various members and methods involved, including the various things that inspired them in their music making. Once the band’s movie was finished a short break was announced to allow the band to set up. I headed outside after taking a botched-up panoramic picture of the auditorium. There, in the lobby of the building, next to the cafe, I found the woman from the documentary about the old man from Kibbutz Kabri. I told her that I loved her show and she thanked me and was pulled away by the official people of the DocAviv Galil to either receive or watch someone receive some award or something. After a few more minutes of milling about, finding some friends and saying “hi”, we all headed back into the auditorium for the concert.

Lahakat Droz

Lahakat Droz is a local band founded in Ma’alot with most of its members living in the Ma’alot area. The lead singer, Itzhik Alul, and his brother on the acoustic guitar began playing at least 20 years ago, spending their time in bomb shelters strumming away the days, fine-tuning their skills. I found it fascinating that the bomb shelters they played and practiced in are located just a few minutes from my house.

Lahakat Droz 2 (note the crisp spotlights)

The music that they played was music from the heart, lyrics and musical notes lovingly released into the smoky air and throbbing the tiny bones in the audience’s ears with a wholesome, ethnic-rock feel. I loved every minute of it and I’m sure the several hundred people in attendance with me felt similar as I saw them all singing along. The violinist, a Druze from Bet Jaan named Marzuq Harb, played fabulous Middle Eastern solos.

Marzuq Harb, the violinist of Lahakat Droz

The concert was over too soon, but when it was over everybody agreed that the concert was a smashing success. I shook the hand of the lead singer’s brother, thanked him and then looked around outside in the lobby for CDs to buy. I didn’t find any. But there is a YouTube link to one of their songs being performed elsewhere: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zagwNdPeO7c

Concert 2: Dudu Tassa’s concert was Thursday evening prefaced with a personal documentary titled Iraqinroll (i.e. Iraq-n-roll) a play on words between his rock music and his grandfather’s musical history in Iraq, the successful Daoud Al-Kuwaiti. Unfortunately, the documentary had a fee and since we came late we did not enter until it was over. In the half hour or so that we had to wait I bumped into the guitarist from the previous night’s band, Kfir Ohayon of Lahakat Droz. We spoke for about 15 minutes where we discussed his band, our mutual friends and other chatty topics. Then the doors were opened to all and we went our separate ways into the auditorium. We found seats in the third row from the stage, surprisingly, and the mayor got up to say a few words.

Mayor of Ma’alot Shlomo Buchbut giving an opening word to Dudu Tassa’s concert

The mayor stepped down and the musicians stepped in. The very first song that he sang was the one I have grown to like after finding it on YouTube several days before the concert, and here it is, for you to like too. Presenting “Eize Yom” by Dudu Tassa featuring Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead: 

The music that followed was all new to me and the people loved it. There were at least 400 people in attendance, at least 70% of them 25 and younger. It was loud and fun.

Dudu Tassa and band

Dudu rocked on his guitar and crooned out his songs in both Hebrew and Moroccan Arabic, the heavy drum pounding behind him and the enthusiastic bass player to his right kept us in sync. The lad to his left was on a Qanun-like instrument, plucking at the taut wires with fingers capped in metal. It was quite an authentic touch to the Israeli rock music that he was belting out.

Dudu Tassa on stage

Towards the end of the concert his music picked up pace and people left their seats to crowd around the stage. It was fun. When the concert was over I did not get the opportunity to thank the performers and headed out to leave. I am looking forward to next year’s DocAviv Galil and the slew of free concerts that will no doubt be available. Time to keep my eyes peeled on the posters around town!