Best Practices for Teaching Israel Through Food

How to use the Israeli food renaissance in Jewish education

I travel to Israel at least twice a year, and while I could say lovely, altruistic things about my reasons for doing so (Jewish peoplehood, the chance to speak Hebrew, visiting my sister/in-laws/best friend), my constant yearning for Israel comes from a place in between my heart and my brain. In reality, it's all about the tastebuds. I'm drawn to Israel for my semi-annual love affair with hole in the wall stands in the shuk that aren't encumbered by anything approaching a standard health code, by my mandatory daily shakshuka breakfasts, by dairy products so creamy and rich that it would seem like you wouldn't need a new ice cream cone/iced cafe/both every day, and yet you do. That's not just me, right?

Apparently it's not. Israeli food is one of the hottest foodie trends of 2018 according to those in the know, and with all of the richness that this diverse and incredible array of yumminess has to offer, we as educators would be remiss if we didn't take advantage of it in our work.

I'm all about eating my way through Israel, so it makes sense that when it comes to teaching, I want to use the rich flavors to help my students connect with Israel as well. As you may know, I'm going to be teaching a four-week course for supplementary school educators focusing on teaching Israel through food and cooking starting later this month, but for those of you who need a taste (see what I did there?), I figured I'd share some of my favorite tips and tricks here as well. 

Israeli Food as Origin Stories 

Israel's diverse national palate comes from all of the different backgrounds of the people who call Israel home. Jews and non-Jews from all corners of the world have found their way to Israel over the years, and they've brought sweet and savory baggage with them. Israeli food today is reflective of European and Middle Eastern dishes, and effectively tells the story of the waves of immigration that brought them to Israel.

Educator Tip: Assign your students individual Israeli foods to research, ideally going beyond the 'usual suspects' of hummus, pita, and shnitzel. Give students the opportunity to learn about matbucha (Morocco), malawach (Yemen), and kreplach (Poland/Germany), as well as the cultures in which they originated. 

Israeli Food as Jewish Peoplehood

While Israel's colorful cuisine shows the diversity of the Jewish people, it also shows our cross-cultural connections from around the world. By exploring how Israelis celebrate holidays through food, our American students will be able to see the similarities and differences between their practices and those of their Israeli counterparts. 

Educator Tip: It's cooking time! For the next Jewish holiday, explore how it's celebrated at tables in Israel and the States, and put it into practice by making + tasting both options. A classic example is Chanukah latkes and soufganiot. Both of these options have plenty of variation options, so DIY it however you like! 

Israeli Food as Culture

Did you know that Israel has more sushi restaurants per capita than anywhere other than Japan and (according to some sources) New York? Or that it has the most vegans per capita anywhere in the world? Modern Israeli culture is expressed through its food, and as educators, we can use food to explore Jewish values in a variety of contexts.

Educator Tip: A conversation about Israel and veganism can be a great vehicle for talking about ethical kashrut, and mindfulness about what we put into our bodies. You can also look to Israeli non-profits such as Leket to talk about Jewish values when it comes to food justice and sustainability. And of course, put it into practice with a hands-on application that enables students to participate in food justice themselves. 

 Israeli spices at their best in the Mahane Yehuda shuk (Jerusalem)

Israeli spices at their best in the Mahane Yehuda shuk (Jerusalem)

If you liked this taste, and want to join me for four weeks of all things food, Israel, and Jewish education, check out the Gratz NEXT program to register today