If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem
It was a given, I was going to live in Jerusalem. You could say that from the time I was born my parents raised me to be a Zionist, and Jerusalem was the shining star, the focus, the Holy Grail of my Zionism. I got my first dose of Jerusalem at the Shabbat table, my father recounting my parents’ visit in the Fifties. Then, Jerusalem was a divided city, half Israeli, half Jordanian. I remember my father’s sadness that he couldn’t visit the Old City, the capital of one of his heroes, King David.
As the years went by, Jerusalem was always there. I remember my father rejoicing in 1967 when Jerusalem was once again made whole. In the summer of ’79 we traveled as a family to Israel to celebrate my brother’s Bar Mitzvah. I will always remember the look on my father’s face, the tears of joy in his eyes, as we entered the Western Wall Plaza and approached the Kotel, the first time our family did so in two thousand years. In one of those too-weird-not-to-be-true moments, my father found this little old man, older than old, a wizened, ancient rabbi who just happened to have been my grandfather’s friend back in Hungary.
So I was just following the script of my life when I made aliya in 1983 and moved to a single immigrant hostel in Jerusalem, down the block from the famous Monster Slide. I spent six years living in Jerusalem itself, and then another 16 years living in the burbs, a ten minute drive from the outskirts, with the most amazing view of the city on the way in.
So, if I was always meant to live in Jerusalem, what am I doing in Ra’anana? It seems that God didn’t get the memo, and it so happens that you can have more than one love in your life. While Jerusalem represents an ethereal love, a more earthly plan has led me to what I have come to think of as Stepfordwifeville, or Teaneck East. Yes, I do knock Ra’anana, but it’s only sour grapes because life is not going according to plan. Sometimes plans get changed for you. And I do have to say, if I can’t live even within the Jerusalem area code, then let it be Ra’anana. And who knows, just as Jerusalem has its own day of reunification, hopefully one day I will have my own private reunion with the most beautiful city I know.
Yom Yerushalayim same’ach! Happy Jerusalem Day!
One of the other things that have not gone according to plan is that I married a kugel-hater. I adore kugel, so this is practically a Shakespearean tragedy. One of the kugels that I love the most is Yerushalmi Kugel, or Jerusalem Kugel in English. This isn’t your regular mushy veggie kugel, this one has wonderfully caramelized noodles, heavily spiced with black pepper. The kugel was originally brought to Jerusalem by Eastern European Hassidic Jews, and is usually served for kiddush after Shabbat morning prayers. Once upon a time, in my previous, Jerusalem life, I made Yerushalmi kugel at least once a month, and as far as I was concerned, the more peppery, the better. Sadly, since moving to Ra’anana in general and Ju-boy’s house in particular, I no longer make it, but do gleefully partake at any kiddush where it’s served.
I’ve tried many different recipes for Jerusalem kugel, but the recipe I always went back to comes from Faye Levy’s International Jewish Cookbook.
Jerusalem Noodle Kugel
12 ounces fine egg noodles (about 350 grams)
1/2 cup vegetable oil (divided)
1/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
few pinches of cayenne pepper
- Cook the noodles in large pot of boiling salted water for about five minutes or until barely tender. Drain well, return to the pot and toss briefly with 1/4 cup of the oil. Keep the pot on the stove so the noodles remain warm, but do not cover.
- Pour the remaining 1/4 cup of oil into a heavy saucepan and then add the sugar. Heat over low flame without stirring, and shake the pan gently from time to time. This is a good exercise in patience. Cook until the sugar turns dark brown, this can take between 15 and 25 minutes. Be alert, this mixture can go from perfectly caramelized to burnt and ruined in the space of a few seconds. Gradually add this mixture to the warmish noodles, mixing well with tongs.
- You really do want to make sure the noodles are warm, because if you add the caramel mixture to cold noodles you will get chipped gunky noodles.
- Beat the eggs with the salt, pepper and cayenne. Add to the noodles and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning. That one teaspoon of pepper can elicit reactions from are-you-trying-to-kill-me? to isn’t-this-supposed-to-be-spicy?
- Transfer to a greased round 7 or 8 cup baking pan. One with a hole in the middle works perfectly, and will help when it comes to slicing and serving. Cover with foil. At this point the kugel can be kept in the refrigerator for a few hours.
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees F (around 90 C). Bake this kugel overnight, or for about 14 hours. Remember, this is a Shabbat morning dish, not something for the fan of 30 minute meals.
- Slice a knife around the edge to loosen, and turn out onto a round platter. Serve hot.
- For those who like shortcuts — you can bake this uncovered in a 350 F (180 C) oven for one hour. It will not be as deep brown, but will still taste good.
- For those who like even shorter cuts — don’t even think about cheating and using brown sugar. I tried this one and didn’t get the results (or the compliments) I was looking for.