Breakfast of Champions

When you first travel to Israel, one of the first things you are bound to notice at any youth hostel or hotel is the Israeli breakfast.

It can be a bit of a culture shock if you’re used to Lucky Charms or Dunkin Donuts in the morning. On the other hand, if you like vegetables and cheese, you are in heaven, particularly if you are staying at a nice hotel.

When I first traveled to Israel, I was a bagel and cream cheese kinda gal.  Back then (in 1992), bagels existed only on Ben Yehuda street in Jerusalem, and they were as hard as rocks. They sold some mock cream cheese to spread on top, but it wasn’t worth the arm and a leg you’d pay for it — it was basically “g’vina levana” with a sour aftertaste.

Now, it’s easier to find a decent bagel with cream cheese in Israel, if you really want to, but still quite the challenge to find a good Belgian waffle, and impossible to find bacon. Before I made Aliyah I was a waffle and bacon kinda girl.

I know that sounds really unhealthy, but the waffles were organic and gluten free; and the bacon was all natural turkey bacon.

Neither of which you can find in Israel.

I miss my waffles and bacon.

So this morning when I joined two of my Israeli colleagues for breakfast in the lounge of the hotel I’m staying in here in Chicago, I skipped the cornflakes and ran immediately over to the waffle maker.

Within a few minutes I sat down with my freshly made waffle, and gazed lovingly at the plate, “Oh my darling,” I thought with a grin. “How I’ve missed you…”

Yes, I admit it. I made mental love to the hotel waffle.

In that same exact moment, as if reading my mind, my Israeli colleague said out loud, “Wow, do I miss Israel breakfast when I am in the States.”

(Perhaps in the exact same moment I was engaged in sordid thoughts with my waffle, he was longing for a diced cucumber.)

Out loud, he noted how strange it is for him to show up at a breakfast in a hotel and not find a single vegetable. He missed his salads and his cheeses and was not satisfied by the obligatory apple/banana basket and Yoplait. The other colleague of ours, also Israeli, agreed with him.

I also agreed with him, to be honest, but happily continued eating my Belgian waffle, knowing that the waffle was be a rare treat for me.

As much as I miss my waffles, I am proud of the Israeli breakfast. For as much as I complain about how unhealthy I think Israelis can be when it comes to food, I think they do breakfast right. Unfortunately, though, with increasing Western influence (in the form of Nestle Crunch Nougat Rolls cereal), they are on the path to destroying their picture perfect healthy breakfast.

Public service announcements aside, it was of interest to me that these grown men, both in their 40s, who aren’t exactly what I would call “outwardly health-conscious” would long for vegetables in the morning. Without knowing either too well, I would guess that their vegetable cravings were not necessarily connected to how health-minded they are or not.

I think their longing for vegetables is simple conditioning.

Which goes to show that what they say is true: Start a kid off eating the right foods and he will carry those tastes with him his whole life.

I think these two men are used to eating fresh vegetables for breakfast because it’s the cultural norm in Israel. Children grow up in the preschool system being fed a mid-morning meal that consists of cut up salad vegetables, eggs, hummus, and cheese. Hence, those children grow up to be adults used to eating that kind of food for breakfast.

The typical American breakfast I grew up with, on the other hand, was cereal and milk on weekdays, and pancakes on the weekend. My family was your average American family — We were allowed the occasional sugar cereal, but typical stuck to Rice Kripsies and Life cereal (which were actually considered healthy cereals in those days). On the weekend, my dad made pancakes with white buttermilk mix from a package, which we smothered in Aunt Jemima.

I took that early conditioning with me into my life, as well. I still love me a maple smothered carb-filled breakfast. My mind and belly say no, but my taste buds say, yessssss. It’s been hard to re-condition my taste buds to love salad in the morning.

There is a P.R. opportunity for Israel here amongst the chopped vegetables I think.

We should invite Michelle Obama, a great advocate for children’s health, to take a look at how we feed the kids in our daycare system. Vegetables might not lead directly to peace in the Middle East, but feeding our kids veggies from day one is definitely something we can be proud of and rally around.




Once a year, my husband and I used to head to Woodbury Common, a nice outlet mall off the NY Thruway. I remember laughing in bewilderment at the Asian or European tourists who would be bussed in by the dozens to the outlet center and would schlep out with bags and bags of who knows what like they were giving it away.

On the contrary, we’d usually leave with just a few things, a pair of pants from the Banana Republic outlet or a pair of Skechers or maybe last year’s LeSport Sac. And I would wonder, “Are things really that expensive in Asia? Do they not have malls in other countries? Where do they get the money to buy all this discounted crap? It’s not even that discounted!”

Well, after only a year of living in Asia (Middle Eastern Asia, that is) I have become the Asian tourist.

And I can tell you, they don’t have anything like Woodbuy Common in Israel. And the discounted jeans or handbags or Jockey underwear they sell in any outlet mall is indeed like giving it away to those of us who are used to buying such things in Israel.

Yes, Israel has its fragrant, bustling shuks, and of course, higher end chic goods, as well. But suburbia — with its malls and its Target and its Trader Joe’s — well, that doesn’t really exist in Israel. And the version that comes close (let’s say Kfar Saba, for example) comes at three times the price.

I don’t miss American suburbia too much when I am in Israel, but when I am back in the States, watch out. I become as delusional as a self-indulgent reality show housewife…without the bank account to back up my delusions.

For various reasons, none of them good, I’ve had to return to the States a few times since making Aliyah. This is my third trip back. I’m in Chicago right now preparing for a whirlwind business trip. Tomorrow, my colleagues will join me in Chicago, Day One of a six day “road show,” during which I will be accompanying 13 technology start-ups across the U.S. to present their companies to potential investors. But today, I am on my own for a few hours on Magnificent Mile.

Despite the saggy jetlagged eyelids and the airplane smell that’s still stuck to my cardigan sweater, I feel pretty sophisticated when I say “whirlwind business trip” and “potential investors.” And, quite frankly, if you saw me right now sitting at the desk of my Comfort Suites hotel room, you’d say I could almost pass for sophisticated. Particularly when you consider the view outside my Michigan Avenue hotel window.

But if you had seen me at Trader Joe’s earlier today, salivating over the “Avocados Number” Guacamole, or trying on hundreds of headbands and rings at Charming Charlie’s (where the Accessory Place meets Jelly Belly ) or at Walgreen’s snapping up the Gas-X on sale, you might have thought otherwise.

It’s hard to pinpoint who I reminded myself of…a cross between Madison, the mermaid from Splash, and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman (before she had class), with a little bit of midget thrown in to account for the difference in height.

Before you get too disgusted with my materialism, I must tell you I’ve realized there’s a thoughtful side to this madness, too. The side that appreciates what I have…and what I don’t.  The side that sees the life I used to live as a treat reserved now for special occasions. And the side that sees how suffering the absence of all the things that I thought made my life easy –like fruit-flavored chewy kids’ vitamins — makes me appreciate those things more than ever before.

When was the last time you walked slowly through Trader  Joe’s, lovingly gazing at the frozen packaged gluten free waffles? When was the last time you walked into a Starbucks and closed your eyes as the Caramel Macchiato scented air filled your nostrils? When was the last time you felt exuberant at the discovery of “Angry Birds” Band-Aids, knowing that when you brought them home to your kids, they’d practically pee their pants with joy?

I held my Starbucks coffee today like it was a prize I had won. I ate my good old-fashioned American chocolate chip cookie like it was a delicacy reserved for royalty.  I spent the little money I have for spending with reserve and care, knowing that I only have one suitcase, and four people back in Israel who are excited for the treasure they’ll be handed upon my return.


I can see treasure inside a teddy bear shaped bottle of vitamins fromTrader Joe’s.

It’s a little disgusting, I know. But sweet, too. Don’t you think?

Culture, Love, Middle East Conflict, Politics, Religion, Terrorism

Tears in the desert

When I really want to feel life, I put on Billy Joel’s “Songs in the Attic” and drive to work.

It doesn’t have to be Billy Joel. Jackson Browne also works. Depending on the season, so does Randy Newman or the Beach Boys or Elvis Costello’s and Burt Bacharach’s Painted from Memory. In fact, I created a “Songs that Move Me” mix for the very purpose of crying in the car.

If I was more disciplined, I would commit to a regular heart-opening practice, such as meditation or journaling.  But as a full-time immigrant executive mom of three, my ride to work is about the only reliable stretch of quiet time I’ve got these days.

I realized this one day, as I was driving the 20 minutes from my house to my office, amongst the green hills of the Western Galilee. “Hmm,” I thought. “Rather than listen to the news or gripe about the traffic, this would be quite the picturesque opportunity to feel.”

Not move. Not do. Not think.


I can’t speak for the rest of humanity, but I’m not well-trained for feeling and being.  Very well-trained for moving and doing, but not feeling and being.

One of my intentions when I moved to Israel was to get better at “being.” Being present. Experiencing life fully.

If there’s a place in the world to live that brings you ever closer to the realization that there’s “no day but today,” it’s the Middle East. But since I got a full-time job here, and moreso since I was promoted to a senior level management position at the company for which I work, my doing is trumping my being. I realized how severe the problem was when I started dreaming about people from work.  I started to understand just how not present I was when rockets started falling again in Southern Israel a few weeks ago.

Like everyone else, I thought a lot about it. I read about it. I posted articles on Facebook.

But, in all honesty, I didn’t feel it much.

And that worries me.

I don’t miss the booming or the shaking — For that, I am grateful. I am grateful that we live three hours North of where the kassams are falling. I am grateful our kids are still going to school.  I am grateful I can leave for work in the morning and feel fairly confident that all will be well when I return in the evening.

As much as any of us in the world can, at least.

But I worry that I don’t physically feel that ache in my heart for the children who are missing school because the sirens won’t stop or physically feel in my throat the lump that represents compassion for the parents who have to drop down to the ground and shield their children each time there is “tzeva adom” (red alert).

Of course, I am not an animal. I think compassion and I think worry and I even think fear. I think about it a lot. But I don’t know that I feel it. At least, not deeply enough to do me good.

Martha Beck writes,

“Emotional discomfort, when accepted, rises, crests and falls in a series of waves. Each wave washes a part of us away and deposits treasures we never imagined.

Out goes naivete, in comes wisdom; out goes anger, in comes discernment; out goes despair, in comes kindness. No one would call it easy, but the rhythm of emotional pain that we learn to tolerate is natural, constructive and expansive… The pain leaves you healthier than it found you.”

In her bestseller, Expecting Adam, Beck also writes, “You’ll never be hurt as much by being open as you have been hurt by remaining closed.”

I know this to be true. And yet sometimes I forget.

And while I can’t speak for all humanity, I would guess that a lot of us do. Forget, that is. Feel numb, that is. Turn our faces away from the scenes that disturb us. Turn up the loud music to drown out the voices that worry us, or the memories that cause us pain. Breathe a sigh of relief that someone else’s worry is not our worry today.

I won’t drive down South with my children to experience the fear and pain of rockets for myself. But I can and will drive to work with my “Songs that Move Me” mix or my Billy Joel so that I feel the rhythm of emotional pain.

It’s an emotional pain I can tolerate. It’s, as Beck says, constructive and expansive.

I often compare my “heart-opening drive” to Holly Hunter’s cry in “Broadcast News.” For some reason, since I first fell in love with this film at age 13, I always related to the Holly Hunter character. In particular, to the scene when she unplugs the phone in her motel room and allows herself five minutes just to cry.

What is she doing? I always thought, when I watched this movie as a young adult. I don’t get it.

But now I do.

That motel room. Those five minutes of silence. It’s a safe space for her to flirt with deep emotion.

And my mountainous, twisting and turning commute up towards the Western Galilee offers me the same.

The solitude provides me with the opportunity; and the right choice of music weakens my chest just enough to let a little feeling in.

Today on my car radio, Billy Joel sings Summer, Highland Falls. And I cry.

Perhaps Joel was writing about his messy divorce, or his childhood, but this morning when I listen to the emotionally heavy poetry woven into his words, I only hear Israel:

“And so we’ll argue and we’ll compromise, and realize that nothing’s ever changed.

For all our mutual experience, our separate conclusions are the same…

Now we are forced to recognize our inhumanity…A reason coexists with our insanity…

And so we choose between reality and madness

It’s either sadness or euphoria.”