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Avi Rockoff
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Israeli kitchen dreams

The notion of hosting holiday meals with extended family and friends every single week might not play too well in Peoria

Israel is an amazing place that never fails to surprise.

My latest eye-opener came from a flyer touting kitchen design.  The graphic was standard: a photo of a gleaming, modern kitchen.

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But the ad copy was special. In Hebrew, in bold print, it read:

EXCITED
as you look forward to your new kitchen?
ALREADY IMAGINING
your first family meal?

Advertisers know what customers dream about, and show how their product will fulfill those dreams. Marketers here appreciate that Israelis dream of showing off their brand-new kitchen at a big meal with their extended family.

This ad copy could never run in the US. There, hosting a big family meal is the kind of dream that drives some religious Jews to pledge a penitential fast.

A woman we know works in the US corporate world. Sitting at our table one Shabbat, she told us, “Every November, the women in my office panic at the prospect of cooking and organizing a meal for their family, which they only do twice a year: at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Even then, they try to palm off one of the holiday feasts on a sibling, so that they just have to do it once.”

The idea of having big family meals just once or twice a year sounds strange to those who have company – or are company – every Shabbat, not to mention chagim. But most Israelis, religious or secular, get together with their parents, or with Saba and Savta, every Friday night.

Americans also used to do that, two or three generations ago. Everyone went home for Sunday dinner, even if Grandma burned the pot roast every week, Cousin Timothy fell asleep and snored at the table, and Aunt Felicity came decked out in fuchsia.

Once our family had moved to the New York area from southwestern Pennsylvania, my Dad drove us from Long Island to Brooklyn every Sunday to visit (and eat with) my Bubba and Zeyde. This was quite a schlep, via the streets. I was born so long ago that Moses (not Moshe Rabbenu—Robert Moses) had not yet raised his staff, split Queens, and created the Long Island Expressway. Going to Grandma and Grandpa was just what you did, even if you had to fight all those lights on Queens Boulevard.

Israel is in this respect “behind” other advanced societies. The scare quotes are because it’s debatable whether being “ahead” is better.  TV food ads in the US feature home delivery of single-portion gourmet meals, delivered right to the door so each stylish millennial can microwave one and eat alone.

One reason Israelis can still get together in person is that the country is small, so Israeli families are close, geographically. Another reason is that Israeli families are close, period. Closeness of course cuts different ways. No doubt you, gentle reader, dearly love every single one of your relatives, and cannot wait to sit next to all of them at a three-hour meal. But not everyone is so lucky. Yosef never had his brothers for dinner until he was Viceroy of Egypt, and they had no choice.

But closeness pays big dividends, some of which are evident in the news here in Israel every day, in contexts joyous and tragic. By contrast, news from other countries, including the US, reports on growing isolation and loneliness: teens with no friends but their smartphones, singles with their solo meals, elders with nobody at all.

Kitchens can be for bringing people together, but for other reasons too. US realtors tell me that new houses in affluent suburbs absolutely must have two gleaming sinks in their kitchens. This has more to do with status symbolism than a suburban outbreak of separating milk from meat.

But as usual, Israel, in kitchens and elsewhere, is a different story. Israeli marketers know that their customers will dream of showing off their new kitchen to the family members who will ogle it with admiration – and hopefully a little jealousy – come next Friday night.

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Just wait till my sister-in-law Tzipi sees those Italian tiles on the backsplash. She is absolutely going to have a cow!

About the Author
Avi Rockoff came on aliyah with his wife Shuli in March 2022. They live in Jerusalem. His new book, This Year in Jerusalem: Aliyah Dispatches, has been recently published by Shikey Press.
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