Jen Maidenberg

The small ways Israel sweetens me

I didn’t know, until I moved to this country, that the cherry tomato was an Israeli invention.

It’s not really. That is to say, Israelis didn’t invent the cherry tomato; that’s a myth. But they made it better.

The cherry tomato is thought to have been cultivated first in Peru or Santorini, but it’s my understanding that the popular varieties many of us enjoy now were first developed at the agriculture school at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and have been made tastier through breeding technologies at some of the many agricultural research institutions here in Israel.

cherry tomato

I thought about this as I bit into my breakfast this morning — a gluten-free pita (yes, they exist) filled with gvina levana, olives and sliced cherry tomatoes. Before I even finished the sandwich I had just started eating, I found myself craving more cherry tomatoes – they were that delicious!.

I shook my head in disbelief.

When did I become such a tomato lover?

For the first half of my life, I was a tomato hater. Not only did I avoid eating those fruits masquerading as vegetables, but I scowled when I found a tomato on my plate. I would order sandwiches and salads without; the taste so vile I didn’t even want the remnant flavors on my tongue.

I never understood when someone would savor a tomato — sucking its meaty, juicy interior slowly; then munching on its tougher skin with closed suggestive eyes– as if it was a rare delicacy or forbidden indulgence.

When I was a girl, my grandmother grew tomato plants in pots on the porch of her apartment. I took pride in this, my grandmother’s ability to grow something we could eat. Except, I could never enjoy the fruits of her balcony labor; never close my eyes and taste the results of her loving attention. The most I could do was hold the mature, beefy tomato in the clasped palms of my hands and smile up at her; indicating my fascination and pride.

But somewhere along the line, long after my grandmother’s hands stopped untying knots created by weaving vines, I learned to tolerate the taste of tomatoes. And sometime later, once I moved to Israel, found myself a tomato I could actually enjoy.

The juicy and moderately sweet Israeli cherry tomato.

I smiled, this morning, when I acknowledged this unexpected transformation; and wondered in what other small ways has living in Israel changed me.

We immigrants often notice the bigger shifts – the willingness to let go of being right as one navigates a new land and a new language; the gratitude we feel when we encounter friendly faces at a government office or at the checkout counter of the supermarket.

But we often overlook the minor, unseismic shifts. The ones that don’t necessarily change who we are in the world, and yet do transform how we experience it.

My world has gotten moderately sweeter since I moved to Israel.

In the form, and taste of, a cherry tomato.

About the Author
Jen Maidenberg made Aliyah to the Lower Galilee with her family in 2011. A published writer and author, she chronicles her life in prose and poetry at