Muhammara: Roasted Red Pepper Dip
I’ve written this blog post in my head every other day for the past 3 months. Not because I was ready to come here to share what was, is, going on but because writing helps me make sense of life. And I like writing here. So I thought you should know, we moved back to America from Jerusalem 69 days ago and that reality hasn’t fully sunk in. I feel a knot in my stomach, a pinch in my heart and a wave of guilt and regret because despite knowing this was the right move it feels all wrong.
In the time my husband and I were debating (a full year), we chewed the ear off anyone willing to listen to us. We got advice from those we respect and look up to the most. We talked and vacillated ad nauseum with everyone from our parents to the barber to the taxi driver. Some said to stay against all odds, to live the struggle and plow through. A romantic idealism I was at once skeptical and jealous of. If this land is the most beloved in G-d’s eyes, where else should I be? Then came the minutiae of everyday life, the hustle that strangles the fresh breath out of you, leaving you gasping for respite. I was sure I needed the next plane out. That was me, hopping from bursting optimism to limping in exhausted defeat. Some days it meant walking four steps and dancing at each mitzvah I was privileged to do, other days I would drag my feet and feel resentful at nothing and every. thing.
At the end, we pared down the list of pros and cons that we wrote and rewrote at least 56 times to one deciding factor: parnassah, livelihood. It became a sort of “can’t live with you can’t live without you” situation where reality pushes feelings aside and demands practical application. And for us, for now, it meant coming back. Another pinch in my heart.
There were many roadblocks and challenges the crept up during those three years, some of them so intense that we would wonder if it was all worth it. If uprooting a whole family to live in another country so that my husband can learn all day worth the ripple effects? My answer was always a big, loud YES! Yes to the adventure, to this chapter in our journey, to the enriching experience of living and breathing the holy land. I wouldn’t trade a minute. Those three years stretched me in unimaginable ways; I became more humble, more real. But most of all, I now get it. I get the longing for Yerushalayim. I see the potential and beauty of what will be and it’s deepened my yearning. Words can’t explain it, you need to live it, to breathe it.
I know, you’re thinking, woah Sina, why didn’t you just stay. I left long enough ago for me to wonder the same. We would have stayed, but for now we can’t. It’s not goodbye, it’s be right back. Yerushalayim is in my heart every day.
I can’t begin to describe the magic you experience in the details. Those I will miss so much. The way the Jerusalem stone glows in the golden sunset. The olive trees lined by Ramat Hagolan 44 (our building!) and how they perched over the parking lot, really an unofficial playground to the drove of children dotting the streets. In the spring the olive fruit would fall to the ground and they would stomp and squeeze the juice out of them until the ground was dotted a crimson black.
During the holidays, the streets came alive with bustle, everyone busying around all in anticipation of the festivities. I loved my neighbors who were always willing and eager to lend a few eggs and a listening ear. Taking my children to gan and seeing the girls chatter and sing in Hebrew made my heart swell. Seeing my son off to school and making sure he has his permission slip for the class outing to Kever Rachel was a pinch me moment. Being able to see my and my husband’s grandparents on a whim was such a treat we didn’t have growing up. Most of all, its the people. The humble giants who walk the streets and who go unrecognized. From the frail lady at the spice store who shares with me what she’s making for lunch to the white bearded man at the Bucharim whose been walking the same route every day for 40 years, to and from his learning. At large, there’s an undeniable sense of fraternité, despite the tensions and differences, amidst everyone. I could go on. These memories live in me and I hope with me every day. Because I want to hold on to them and relive them when I’m far.
Our start in America wasn’t easy. We haven’t found a home, some kids don’t have a school, and we’re missing half our shipment from Israel. 48 hours into it I felt like I made the biggest mistake of my life. But the people have been incredibly kind and we’re slowly finding our path. Very slowly. Uncomfortably slowly. We’ll get there. Moving is hard but it’s a transition and it will pass. With that realization I gave myself permission to be. To be happy and whole and grateful where I am. I won’t compare because I can’t compare the incomparable. I can’t be in two places. I am content here even if I’m whole there.
We haven’t talked about the most vital part of Israel: the food! I’ll be back with another post about that. I will just tell you that I miss the shuk, tremendously.
For now, there’s muhammara. It’s a smoky, peppery spread made with walnuts and pomegranate molasses. That last one lends it a fruity, tartness that makes it a deeply flavorful spread. You’ll also sense a sharp spiciness but nothing too intimidating. You can put it on toast or serve it with pita chips. It’s incredibly simple, just a few whizzes in the processor, which is about all I can handle right now. In any way, I can see it being a new favorite. To newness!
Muhammara: Roasted Red Pepper Dip
3 red bell peppers
3 cloves garlic
2-3 chile de arbol (or 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper)
1/3 cup roasted walnuts
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Over a medium low flame, cook the bell peppers until deeply charred on all sides. Transfer to a bowl and cover to allow the skins to peel easily. Peel the cooled peppers and transfer to a food processor. Add the garlic, chiles, walnuts, molasses, cumin and salt. Pulse until smooth but textured. Spread onto a shallow bowl and drizzle olive oil over it. Serve with bread and a sprinkle of feta.