Staying Traditional On The New Year
Tue, 09/04/2012
Special to the Jewish Week
Marks: “Coming home” to Israel.
Marks: “Coming home” to Israel.

Gil Marks is, well, a walking food encyclopedia. In the short hour we sat talking in the center of Jerusalem, we covered the mistaken attribution of the origin of Boston Cream Pie, the culinary contributions of the German Christian Templer society to Israel and whether or not the biblical tapuach is actually an apple or a quince. Of course, that should come as no surprise considering Marks is the author of the “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food,” and the James Beard award-winning cookbook “Olive Trees and Honey,” among others.

Today, the ordained rabbi and former Manhattan resident is adjusting to a new life, living in the Jerusalem suburb of Alon Shvut after making aliyah just over three weeks ago.

Marks has been traveling back and forth between New York and Tel Aviv for years, spending several months at a time in Israel, researching his last book and visiting family, including his parents, who moved there seven years ago.

“In some ways it’s like coming home,” Marks said of his move. “I wanted to make a small person statement. ... I believe I want to attach myself [to Israel] not just as a tourist but as a citizen.”

Marks will still be traveling to the U.S., doing speaking engagements as well as a book tour for his next publication, entitled “American Cakes.” He remains entrenched in the U.S. publishing world, he said, and thus does frequent appearances as a guest speaker or scholar in residence.

“When I do speaking engagements, it’s like bringing the rabbi and rebbetzin in one,” Marks jokes, “I can give the sermon and do the cooking lesson.”

And for his first New Year as an Israeli citizen, Marks will be bringing back some old favorites.

“I do an eclectic” Rosh HaShanah, he says, “I’ll do traditional Ashkenazic stuff like tzimmes, and I also like to make spinach and leek keptes, traditional Sephardic patties.”

Tzimmes, a sweet carrot dish, is linked with the holiday because its Yiddish word, mehren, is similar to the word for multiply, because the Hebrew word, gezer, also means decree and because the sliced pieces look like coins, Marks says. Spinach and leek are both popular on Rosh HaShanah for seasonal reasons, and leeks are also one of the symbolic foods of the holiday, since their name in Aramaic, karti, means cut off, expressing the removal of one’s enemies.

While Marks enjoys trying the different traditional simanim (symbolic foods tied to signs) each year, mostly, he says, “I really love the dipping of the challah in the honey.” 

Recipes:

Turkish Leek Patties (keftes de prassa)

Ashkenazic Stewed Root Vegetables with Beef (fleishig tzimmes)