Israel :: Live

Story posted March 10, 2018 in Israel by Bellisario College of Communications international reporting team.


~ by Claire Going

Servers balance plates and pile one dish on top of another to give customers a small taste of everything at The Corner Restaurant located along King George Street in Jerusalem. Customers can choose to let the waiters decide what they will eat for lunch that day. The quick service, tasty food, and serendipitous meal are main attractions of The Corner Restaurant.

Meir Micha, the owner of the critically acclaimed restaurant, is a lively character eager to have his customers try new foods and share the history of Israeli cuisine.

“This type of food actually comes from many different nations,” Micha said. “Every nation brings something different, but now, it is Israeli food. The black lentils, and many other popular dishes, come from the Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews.”

Micha referred to when the Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews returned to Israel after they were scattered all over the globe during the Diaspora. With the establishment of the state of Israel, they brought their culture and food from Eastern Europe, Spain, Portugal, and many other countries.

“Asking ‘does Israel have its own unique cuisine?’ is the billion dollar question,” Micha said.

Micha said Arabs argue they brought hummus and falafel, but he claims the Ashkenazi brought these dishes when they returned to Israel. They also brought lox, chicken soup, and chopped liver.

During the early 1900’s, Jews immigrating from central Europe brought schnitzel and strudels, while Russian Jews brought herring dishes.

Because the country is just shy of 70 years old, other nations largely influenced Israel’s cuisine since it is too young to have its own. Despite this, Micha said Israel claims their cuisine is part of their identity.

“Because we came from all different nations to Israel,” Micha said. “We took their cuisine with us. But now, in the last 20 years, the Israelis make the food our own. Now, our food is all over Europe, all over America.”

Micha said Israelis have taken Mediterranean dishes and the influences from other Middle Eastern countries and added their own touch, such as adding new kinds of fruits and vegetables they gained access to after the agricultural revolution. They also use kosher wine to cook and use more ‘Kibbutz foods,’ which consist of various types of cheeses, yogurt, salads, olives, hardboiled eggs, and bread. Adding these personal styles makes the cuisine recognizable to any Israeli.



~ by Alyssa Cichy

Shoe designer Kobi Levi is known to push the boundaries of shoe design. He gained overnight success because of a famous fan.

Kobi Levi discusses his creative process for designing shoes in his studio in Tel Aviv, Israel. Levi has made shoes for Lady Gaga among other clients. ~ photo by Giana Han

In own words:

"I’ve always been passionate about art. I’ve always wanted to know how things were made. When I was a kid I went to an amusement park and I looked at a statue to see how it’s built and made. Since then, I knew I wanted to become an artist. I studied art and design in Jerusalem. After graduation, I went on to work as a freelance shoe designer.

"Later, I decided to upload my footwear creations online and that’s when things exploded. I received an email from Lady Gaga’s stylist asking to borrow my ‘Double Boot’ shoe design for her ‘Born this Way’ music video. I was very surprised because I didn’t know things could happen this way. I was just making my shoes in a small room in my apartment in Tel Aviv. I thought my friends were just fooling with me but it turns out Lady Gaga’s stylist did see my designs online. I knew that if anyone could pull off my shoe designs it was Lady Gaga.

"Eventually, I thought my overnight success was going to pass. But it didn’t. I decided to open a studio and an online shop.

"As a shoe designer, I use iconic images or objects that everybody can relate to. Everybody sees them and knows them but most of the time don’t notice them. It’s there. It’s part of our life. It can be very ordinary but now it’s shown in a different light. One of my designs is a shoe that’s stepping on chewing gum. I just froze that motion of the chewing gum stretched out from the floor to the heel and it became a high-heeled shoe technique. It’s a crazy thing in a way but it’s funny. I enjoy designing shoes. The humor is part of it. It’s not a very serious job for me."




~ by Alex Bobbyn

In one shop-lined passageway of Jerusalem’s Old City, a Penn Stater who yells “We Are…” might get the response: “Alabama!”  Old City shops are known for pulling in visitors with their Jerusalem-themed clothing and crafts.  One shop, however, stands out from the rest.

It’s titled ‘Alabama – The Heart of Dixie’, and is located in between the Christian and Armenian Quarter of the Old City.  Its owner is Palestinian-born Hani Imam, who is forever connected with the University of Alabama.

Hani Iman, Palestinian-born owner of the Alabama Shop, located on David Street in the Old City. Iman is a proud graduate of the University of Alabama and said Alabama related gifts have been good for business. “Roll Tide,” Iman said. ~ photo by Kat Procyk

“I was there in the mid-80s from ’85 to ’89,” Imam said.  “We also have another brother that still lives in the States who graduated from there.”

Imam’s shop wasn’t always dressed in the crimson, gray and white colors of his alma mater.  In the beginning, it had a single Alabama sign.  It was there to remind Imam of his ties to Tuscaloosa and his fervent love of the school.

“I’m a loyal fan, and I love the state of Alabama,” Imam said.  “Everybody started asking questions.  That’s when I started making t-shirts and shot glasses and all kinds of tiles, and a lot of Alabama stuff.”

‘Roll Tide’ is written across many of the shirts, glasses and tiles, translated from English to both Hebrew and Arabic.  Along with the Alabama-themed items, there are wooden crosses, silver and gold jewelry, and pieces of framed Roman glass. 

While the clash of cultures may seem odd at first glance, it hasn’t hurt business for Imam.  His shop attracts customers from all over the world, especially Americans.

“We’re just big Alabama fans,” Imam proudly said. “Roll Tide!”


~ by Alison Kuznitz

Leading a Jewish student organization in the Jewish state can be a redundant endeavor.

But Hillel at Tel Aviv University isn’t meant to be a “home away from home” for Jewish undergraduates. That’s the role of its 550 counterpart Jewish campus centers in North America, with the entire global network dedicated to providing religious and leadership resources.

The 30,000 students at this public research school won’t have trouble making Jewish friends or finding a space to celebrate the Sabbath, admits Keren Dicastro, the Hillel director. Still, she faces distinctly Jewish hurdles, which ripple across the seven other Hillel International spaces established in Israel.


“There is a lot of disconnection between the average students — the secular students — and the Jewish story. We are trying to give platforms to Israeli students to explore their Jewish identity and Jewish story,” Discastro said.

According to a 2016 Pew Research Center poll, more than 40 percent of Israelis are secular Jews, who may celebrate some major holidays but do not necessarily follow religious law.

Meanwhile, 18 percent of Israelis are ultra-Orthodox or religious, representing a more pervasive Jewish lifestyle that dictates observing the Sabbath, adhering to dietary restrictions and dressing modestly, among other elements.

Hillel at TAU offers two main programs, serving about 20 students.

Keren Dicastro, the Hillel director in Tel Aviv. ~ photo provided

Once a week, students can spend time with Holocaust survivors, preserving memories of Jewish communities before and during World War II. There’s also an innovation initiative, comprised of Russian-speaking students. Some of their methods of self-discovery lead to campus events, including a poetry slam.

Second-year student Carmelle Bargad, who’s originally from New Jersey, participates in the volunteer-based “Remember and Respect” project.

“Obviously, the Holocaust is a very big part of our Jewish identity as a nation,” Bargad said. “It does bring me closer to my Judaism.”

Dicastro, who works alongside just two part-time coordinators, said her goal is to increase Hillel’s presence at TAU. Yet, it wouldn’t mimic the programming of Penn State Hillel, for example, with its weekly Shabbat dinners and student leadership boards.

“The biggest difference here is that students don’t know about Hillel,” Discastro said.  “I’m surprised when students come and ask about Hillel.”

Part of the challenge is the baggage modern Jewish students carry — and the “bad feelings” they harbor toward their faith.

“For them, being Israeli is enough,” Discastro said. “For them, Judaism is those religious people who prevent them from having public transportation on Shabbat or prevent their gay friend from getting married.”

It’s a worrisome thought to people like Dicastro, who has devoted more than 10 years to educating Jewish youth through informal settings, including serving as an Israeli emissary in the United States through the Jewish Agency.

To Alon Friedman, the director general of Hillel Israel, the detachment from religion could lead to “horrific” consequences in which the country “isn’t Jewish enough.”

In 2012, Hillel Israel launched a new global strategy to combat this, one that would connect Israeli college students with Jewish life abroad.

“They can understand there is another 2,000 years of history — not just 70 years,” Friedman said.

As for Dicastro, she said she intends to remain true to Hillel International’s vision of “inspiring Jewish students.”
“There is a wave of people who want to be more involved,” she said, “but it’s still a very small and very specific audience.”


~ by Olivia Hogan

On Mondays and Thursdays in the Old City of Jerusalem, Jewish families celebrate the coming of age of their sons as part of the traditional Bar Mitzvah ceremony and parade through the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.

David Brent, in a blog post in the Times of Israel, described it this way,

“Every Shabbat, Monday and Thursday, Jews read from the Torah (the five books of Moses). Each week it is a different section. On Saturday, we read the whole section. On Mondays and Thursdays, we just read part of the section. When you read from the Torah, you have an opportunity to be called up for an honor. This honor forms the central part of the Bar Mitzvah ceremony. So basically, you can celebrate a Bar Mitzvah (or a Bat Mitzvah if you aren’t Orthodox) on a Saturday, Monday or Thursday. The problem with doing this on a Saturday is that you can’t take pictures. So in Israel, you end up having a lot of Bar Mitzvahs at the Western Wall on Mondays. Jews from all over the country (even from all over the world) come to this sacred place to observe this traditional ritual when a boy turns 13.”




~ by Giana Han

A woman with a white veil over her head stood with her face pressed against the entry way of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Just inside the doorway, worshippers knelt facedown on the Stone of Anointing, which, according to tradition, is where the body of Jesus was prepared for burial.
Throughout the entire church, the enormity of the events said to have happened here more than two thousand years ago was reflected in the reverential awe of the faithful.

A worshiper pauses by the votive candles in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Israel on Sunday, March 4, 2018. ~ photo by Giana Han

In countries like Spain and France, many churches and cathedrals are much grander and more beautiful than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Its outer walls have no adornment, and the immense size of the building is not immediately apparent since it’s buried amid in the cobblestone streets of Old Jerusalem.
Inside, there are no Renaissance paintings, sculptures or murals. The fanciest adornments are the lanterns hanging in the doorway.
Yet the other churches, as beautiful as they are, cannot claim to be the place where Christianity began. The stark, uneven walls of the Holy Sepulchre are said to be built on the site where Jesus was buried and resurrected after being crucified on Cavalry Hill nearby.
The religious significance of the Holy Sepulchre transcends the divisions in the Christian church, at least in the moment. Every day, Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox and members of Protestant denominations come together to pray at one of the most sacred sites in Christiandom.
On a Sunday morning in early March, a diverse group of visitors stood side by side, waiting for their moment to see Christ’s Tomb, where they believe Jesus was buried before he rose from the dead.
From the many different arched recesses surrounding the tomb, monks and other groups of religious men emerged, swinging incense and chanting before disappearing back down one of the many hallways.
Instead of a large congregational area, services and ceremonies were performed in different corners of the church.
In one small chapel, a group of Italian tourists gathered for a Mass in their own language.
Although the priest officially celebrated the Mass, the real leader was a little old Italian lady who led the singing as loudly and as long as she wanted.
The sound of their voices, unaccompanied by instruments, reverberated through the chapel.
For centuries, divisions among Christians were so bitter that a Muslim family, the Nusaybah Clan, who was considered neutral in the skirmishes, was given ownership of the keys to the church.
But at this Sunday Mass, the tears, the bended knees, the radiant smiles shared by the worshippers bound them in their awe of the miracle that they believe took place on the ground beneath their feet.






~ by Rashanna Lee

At 28, Brooklyn-born Becky Jaye is in Jerusalem studying to become a rabbi


Becky Jaye

In her words:

"My dad is Russian and Polish and Jewish and my mom is Christian and also Korean. We grew up going to synagogue and church all the time. There was so much respect for each other's religion. After I graduated high school I did decide to go to the mikvah and took classes at my synagogue and went through a formal conversion. I was meant to go to law school but decided to change my path and go to rabbinic school.

"I was deep into law and really wanted to go down that path and then I was with a lot of American Jews who said some really hurtful things to me about not being Jewish "enough" because my mom wasn't Jewish or because I was Korean and not white.

"It was really painful and the reason why I took those classes at the synagogue after I graduated was because I wanted to understand where these comments were really coming from. It wasn't like I walked into the synagogue and automatically felt welcome. I was really scared but I ended up falling in love with everyone there because everyone was so welcoming. That's the Judaism that I think is so important.

"In some ways, it felt like it gave me a different life. At the time, I was going through some health problems. I was having seizures all over New York City and it was terrifying. Every time I woke up after a seizure I was like, "What's most important to me?" It wasn't my job, it wasn't money, it was my family and my community. That really brought into focus for me that this was something that I really love to be a part of."




~ by Kelly Powers

Kneeling on the stone floor Sunday, clutching a bundle of tissues, Gheorghe Viorica laid her other hand and forehead flat on the stone that according to tradition is where the body of Jesus Christ was prepared for burial.

Many Christians believe The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem’s Old City, is the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection. The Stone of Anointing is one of many holy spots within its walls that brought Viorica from Italy to the Old City.

Viorica stares towards the entrance to the Church on March 4, 2018, as she kneels on The Stone of Anointing. Photo by Kelly Powers

Viorica knelt for nearly 20 minutes. She paused occasionally to sit up and stare into the distance as the hot Israeli sun streamed through the church’s entrance.

Viorica was luckier than many Christian pilgrims who journeyed to Jerusalem earlier in the week.  

The church was closed for three days in protest of Israeli tax measures and proposed legislation and only reopened in the early morning hours on Feb. 28.

According to an article published in The Times of Israel, the churches who share custody of the Holy Sepulchre owed the equivalent of more than $186.3 million to the city on their commercial operations. Although a decades-long agreement between the churches and the state prevented the city from collecting property tax from Christian institutions, the city decided, citing a legal opinion, “the exemption for churches applies only to properties used ‘for prayer, for the teaching of religion, or for needs arising from that.’”

The Times reported that the decision to reopen the large wooden doors of the holy site followed an announcement from the Prime Minister’s Office that the government would suspend the tax collection and pending legislation while the issue is reviewed by a newly formed committee.

Filled with emotion after stepping away from the stone, Viorica struggled with her broken English to describe her visit to the church.

“So much,” she said, with a fistful of wet tissues clutched to her chest. “ didn’t even know how much.”

Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications journalism students are reporting from Israel March 3-10, 2018 as part of the annual International Reporting class now in its 10th year.

Follow their live reporting here and read in-depth stories that will be posted in the coming weeks.

Eleven students along with four faculty are traveling throughout Israel reporting on a range of social, technological and political stories as the State of Israel approaches its 70th anniversary.

Eleven students along with four faculty are traveling throughout Israel reporting on a range of social, technological and political stories as the State of Israel approaches its 70th anniversary.