The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle invites community members to join the 2020 Community Trip to Israel, “Israeli Food, Wine, & Art: Off the Beaten Path.” Trip-goers will experience Israel’s beauty, complexity, and diversity through encounters with accomplished Israelis who are interpreting Israel’s story through the lens of our Jewish homeland’s vibrant food, wine, and art scenes.
We visited with three of the amazing Israelis with whom trip participants will meet: Meir Adoni, adding spark to the fast-evolving world of Israeli cuisine; Adam Montefiore, widely regarded as “the Ambassador of Israeli Wine”; and Adi Nes, making his mark as one of Israel’s most creative fine art photographers.
Ge to know them and get a taste of the experiences in store for you when you come along on the 2020 Community Trip to Israel.
Twenty years ago, Israeli cuisine hardly existed as a distinct culinary tradition, says Chef Meir Adoni. Now, he and other path-breaking chefs “are creating an entirely new language” that has made Israeli cuisine the talk of the town, not just in Tel Aviv but in epicenters of fine dining worldwide.
Two deeply rooted culinary influences have given rise to Israeli cuisine, says Adoni, who owns four restaurants, including the kosher Blue Sky and Lumina in Tel Aviv. One is the astonishing diversity of food culture that Jews settling in Israel brought from around the world. “So much knowledge,” Adoni marvels. The second influence is the Arabic and Persian culinary culture of the Middle East.
“We are taking this knowledge and creating a new cuisine,” and innovating like other creative people in Start-Up Nation — pushing the envelope and doing it a hundred miles an hour.
Adoni is not afraid to mix things up. “I’m a crazy guy!” he laughs. If a new dish could use a dash of soy sauce, great. How about a mole sauce from Mexico? Why not? The result of his experimentation is modern Middle Eastern food “with all the flavors of the world,” he says.
And forget any notion that kosher food doesn’t taste good. “All the mechanics, all the techniques give you the tools to cook unbelievable food with amazing ingredients,” he says. Blue Sky is “full every evening.”
Adoni is a chef in a hurry. He’s opening restaurants in Jerusalem, Barcelona, and Kyiv, and he hopes to create cuisine fusing African and Jewish traditions. “I’m dreaming, dreaming,” he says.
When wine consultant and writer Adam Montefiore made aliyah 30 years ago, Israeli wines did not have a good reputation, he says. White wines tended to oxidize early. Reds had little varietal character.
What a difference three decades makes. The growth in quality and diversity of Israeli wines has been “phenomenal,” says the British-born Montefiore, widely known as “The Ambassador of Israeli Wine.”
Today, over 300 wineries in Israel produce well-received international varieties, such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot. Several recently began producing wines from long-neglected indigenous grape types. Fifty-five percent of Israeli wineries are kosher, but given their high production, 95 percent of all wine produced in Israel is kosher.
“We’re on a journey, but considering where we were, it’s amazing,” he says.
Montefiore is a descendant of Sir Moses Montefiore, a 19th-century global Jewish philanthropist. He and Baron Edmond de Rothschild were seminal figures in the modern growth of Israel’s wine industry.
The extraordinary diversity of growing conditions is a key to the astonishing variety of Israeli wines, he says. Growers operate in a broad range of microclimates, from mountainous regions nearly 4,000 feet above sea level to the Negev Desert. The Golan Heights, where he says “the [Israeli wine] revolution began,” is an example of a region with excellent growing conditions — volcanic soils and cooler temperatures.
Does Montefiore have a favorite Israeli wine? Wrong question. Each is special in its own way. “What’s beautiful is the variety,” he says. “The opportunity is enormous.”
Take a look at an image of life in Israel created by photographer Adi Nes, and what will you see? A meticulously crafted, beautifully illuminated tableau of subjects staged in dramatic, perhaps emotionally jarring poses that, upon reflection, reveal hidden layers and complex meanings.
Nes’s photographs are stories about Israel and its people. “In my art, I’m a storyteller,” Nes says. “The ideal is that layers exist in the idea of art, that there is much beyond the first glance.”
Many of Nes’s photographic explorations of Israel are rooted in questions of identity. His provocative Soldier Series, for example, depicts IDF soldiers in ways that depart from what Nes calls idealized images of strength and toughness. Nes says his personal story as a gay, Sephardic son of immigrants from Iran was an impetus to stage photographs of soldiers in ways that show “there is no one voice, no one layer, no one color” in Judaism.
In the Biblical Stories Series, Nes explores identity ideals versus reality by crafting provocative images of prominent figures from Tanakh stories set in gritty, contemporary contexts. Abraham is a homeless man pushing his shabbily dressed son Isaac in a shopping cart. Ruth and Naomi glean discarded produce from the ground outside a trash-strewn market.
There is no one correct interpretation of his works, Nes observes. “The beautiful thing in art is that you can interpret an image your way. There are many visions, many colors in my photographs, many dreams. The viewer can choose their own point of view,” he says.