Twenty-six years ago, I left the US to live on a farm in the Galilee.
It wasn’t a spiritual connection to the Holy Land that prompted this dramatic relocation, but a chance meeting with a handsome young Israeli farmer.
In an act that was equal parts folly and fortune, I followed him back, married him, bore two children, and set about making this foreign country my home.
After spending my entire life in cities, I came to love country living, and the long walks my husband and I took through the fields and forests surrounding our home eased my homesickness. Learning Hebrew was slow, and for years I was practically mute outside of the baby talk that filled my days.
Once the grip of my children’s demands began to ease and I could lift my head and re-connect to my inner core, I understood that I am a writer. Since then, discovering my writer’s voice has been the defining adventure of my life.
At first I wrote copy, comfortable in the anonymity of marketing jargon. But there was little satisfaction in working as a hired pen, and I yearned to write something that was my own. On a walk in the fields one day, I met an older Bedouin man from one of the nearby villages, gathering the wild spinach that sprouts along the sides of fields during the rainy winter season. I had always been intrigued by the local practice of this most ancient of foodways, and this chance encounter struck me with inspiration. My first article, A Time to Gather – Foraging for Edible Wild Plants with Bedouins of the Galilee, was published in Gastronomica magazine, and I knew that I had found my niche. Like a climber facing Everest, I decided to write a book about the local foods of the Galilee.
Over several years I had countless conversations with cooks, farmers, and bakers, in Jewish and Arab villages across the Galilee. I found the courage to negotiate maps and drive alone to distant destinations. In my accent-heavy Hebrew, I spoke to strangers about food, and watched their wariness and reticence magically melt into gracious hospitality. As the conversations developed, friendships grew and deepened. Discovering the power of food as a bridge for communication across the Jewish-Arab divide was transformational. I became a welcome guest in the homes of Arab families, sharing meals, joys and heartaches, and my life was immeasurably enriched.
Part of my research involved reading about the history of Mediterranean foods, and very quickly I found myself delving into the most venerable account of how life was lived here in ancient times. As a secular Jew, for the first time in my life, I read the Old Testament straight through, marking places where foods or foodways were mentioned. These descriptions, I found, resonated deeply with what I was discovering in my explorations of the rural villages of the Galilee.
I harvested green wheat with a sickle alongside local farmers, like Ruth the Moabite. I helped pick grapes alongside a farmer who planted his vineyard exactly as it is described in the Book of Isaiah. I tasted bread that was baked on stones heated on an open fire, and figs pressed into cakes, like those offered by Avigael to the young King David. Who could imagine that these ancient foodways were still being practiced today, many of which are on the verge of extinction? It took my outsider’s eye to see the big picture, and my writer’s sensibility to document it.
Ultimately, in yet another moment of truth, I realized that the story I was compelled to tell was not only about the foods of the Galilee, but about the exceptional people I met on my journey, and the love and trust I discovered through the simple act of breaking bread. The voice, and the story, would be in the first person – straight from the heart.
Abbie Rosner is the author of Breaking Bread in Galilee – a Culinary Journey into the Promised Land, available here. You can check out her blog, Galilee Seasonality, her tours site, Culinary Tours of the Galilee, and follow her on Facebook and LinkedIn.
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