The 11th Floor

A Perpsective Overlooking Jerusalem, Israeli Life, and Talmud Torah

Friday, October 20, 2006

"On that hill," God said, "I'll build the Kenesset."

Like many Ashkenazi Jews, I grew up with rugelach, the semi-cylindrical pastries that are a rolled strip of sweet dough and a filling. Alas, Gittel’s bakery has been gone for many years now, (yes, there really is a Gittel, a saintly woman who speaks fluent Spanish, Russian, and 4 other languages) but hers were and always will be the best in my mind. They were the perfect blend of nuts, caramelized sugars and cinnamon. The dough she and her husband used was far more cookie-like than most. They were…sublime.

But no matter how I espoused the greatness of Gittel’s, New Yorkers and others who disparaged my home town always had a three word rebuttal for me: “Marzipan’s chocolate rugelach.”

People still bring them back by the KILOGRAM from Israel. Those waiting for them at home eat them as if they were manna from heaven itself. They do this even though they get smushed by baggage handlers, crammed into overhead bins (or stepped on when placed below the seat in front you), irradiated in the x-ray detector, and arrive 72 hours after they have been made.


They are perfectly lovely pastries, but I think there are local Jerusalem Bakeries- not to mention bakeries in Canada- that do just as good a job as Marzipan when it comes to chocolate and rugelach. Mentioning this opinion in public has always earned me the same shocked reaction I am sure I would get if I said “Actually, I’m in favor of a 783 state solution to the Arab-Israeli Conflict.”

It has always seemed to me that people are afraid to say “Marzipan's rugelach? The chocolate? They’re OK,” as if the Shin-Bet can find a security threat just by seeing if people posses the proper pavlovian profile when presented with these preeminent pastries (my, wasn’t that illiterative). Recently, however, somebody confided in me a dark secret. “I don’t think they are that good there either,” he noted quietly, “but the ones filled with ******- those are incredible. Those you have to try.”

So today, I went with my chevrutah partner to the Marzipan bakery. I saw a tray of something coming out of the oven.
Something bigger than chocolate rugelach, but the same shape.
Something that people were all pointing at and ordering in large amounts.
Something with a filling that was not chocolate, but clearly sweet.
Something like... Halvah.

It was only by an act of love (and the need not to get any fatter) that I was able to save one of the two halvah filled rugelach I bought. I gave the other to my beloved wife, who came home with a tired and slightly grumpy expression- it had been a long week. The smile it produced with one bite was instantaneous- and worth every shekel.

Halvah Rugelach. Has there even been a confection that is more symbolic of the Israeli people? Halvah, that crumbly sesame and sugar concoction that you either love or hate, is truly at its peak here in Israel, thanks to both the influx of Jews from the Eydot Ha’mizrach as well as the influence of arab citizens. Ashkenazi Jews have brought to Israel the latest in rugelach technology. Combine the two traditions, and you have a culinary force that could topple a government. That and the pizza boureaka alone are reasons to work tirelessly for a just and secure State of Israel. But there are things here even more remarkable than the pastries, chances for a better future worth even more effort.

And if we still will it, it still is no dream.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are a nut. Marzipan is the best. Just out of the oven. Holy cow. Have you gone to the Tico House Yet?

3:19 AM  
Blogger ranger said...

That didn’t take too long…
First, that I am a nut is generally accepted by all. Second, I am only noting that there three or four bakeries in Jerusalem that do just as good a job at producing molten chocolaty goodness. Third I said that Marzipan triumphs over all with their halvah rugleach. You didn't say anything about that, or about their bourekas stuffed with grape leaves, or their raspberry twists... I’ve done my homework, kiddo.
And to think, 50 years ago, Israel was struggling to exist, yet today we can debate which place has the best chocolate pastries. What other country has come so far in so short a time? And how much more is possible for Israel in the future if we defend her as best each of us can?

See at you at Marzipan.

9:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what in the world is your emai? i sent you a fab email but it was returned to me - not once - but 3 times!

2:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oops that message was for aviva! -tal

2:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Friday morning or early afternoon, shopping in Mahane Yehuda, you'll find good rugelach fresh out of the oven at several shops. But the halvah rugelach from Marzipan are something special! And I don't think anything in North America can compare.
We do indeed live in miraculous times when we can debate over the best pastries in J'lem!

4:00 AM  
Blogger So what if I am not married said...

How's my Baby Bro? Yes the Halavah Rugelach are fabulous. There is an Israeli bakery here that makes all sorts of pastries filled with it. Dad would have loved a kilo of those.

6:19 AM  

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