Moshe Blatman was my cousin’s brother-in-law, and on my first trip to Israel I was told to make sure to visit him, that he was like family. He and his wife Frieda lived in an apartment in Tel Aviv, and owned a small cosmetics shop on Rehov Shenken, (in the 70s it was not as hip as it is today). I was looking forward to spending time in Tel Aviv and wanted to go out and explore the city, but they wouldn’t hear of it. After taking a brief walk, Moshe took me home for dinner, there was not to be any exploring or wandering, and no letting me out of their sight.
I remember that Frieda prepared a meatloaf made with veal, and I was surprised that her food was similar to my mother’s. Their apartment was perfectly kept and neat as a pin, and the decor felt so European that it was easier to imagine that you were in Austria (where Frieda was from) than the Middle East. Moshe who was Polish had learned to speak German, the only language that his wife knew in spite of the fact that she had lived in Israel for over 20 years. She had not learned a word of Hebrew, English or Yiddish. Frieda wore her white hair tightly coiled in a bun at the back of her head and her clothing was formal and conservative, with black sturdy shoes that had tie up laces. Although we couldn’t communicate, she had kind eyes and I wondered what it was like for this woman to live in a country so different from her native Austria. The next day I asked Moshe to take a walk with me so I could buy a falafel at the local stand but Moshe refused, saying I would get sick if I ate street food.
During each visit to Israel I think of Moshe and Frieda, and other “family members” like Manya and Yosek and Sonja, people who were devoted Zionists, who moved to Israel living out their lives in an adopted homeland that must have felt very strange to these Eastern Europeans. A homeland that turned 67 today. If Moshe were alive, I wonder what he would think of today’s Israel, would he eventually have become integrated into Israeli culture, would he have become just a little more comfortable being in the Middle East, and would he agree to celebrate this Yom HaAtzmaut by having a falafel with me, or maybe a plate of Shawarma.
Chicken Shawarma (adapted from a recipe in the NY Times, this is one that we keep making over and over)
½ cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic minced
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoon turmeric
Red-pepper flakes, to taste
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 large red onion, peeled and quartered
Mix the lemon juice with the olive oil and spices in a large glass baking dish. Add the chicken thighs, and turn several times in marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for at least a few hours. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss quartered red onion with chicken thighs. Put silver foil on a cookie sheet, remove chicken and onion from the marinade, and spread on cookie sheet.
Roast chicken thighs for about 30 to 40 minutes. Meat should look slightly crisp at edges. Remove from the oven and after a few minutes, thinly slice. Serve with pita, Israeli salad and chumus. Serves 2 – 4 depending….