Chefs bringing flavors of Israel to Tucson festivities

(L-R) Chefs Yael Shamir, Maya Klein, Orli Varon Shushan and Sahar Refael from the Weintraub Israel Center’s Partnership2Gether region in Israel will spend a week in Tucson. (Courtesy Weintraub Israel Center)

Four celebrity chefs from Israel will arrive in Tucson next month for the third annual Tucson Celebrates Israel Week, May 9-15.

“Food is known to be a great bridge between people and cultures,” says Oshrat Barel, director of the Weintraub Israel Center, which organizes the festivities.

Chefs Orli Varon Shushan, Maya Klein, Yael Shamir and Sahar Refael all hail from Tucson’s Partnership2Gether area in Israel, which includes the city of Kiryat Malachi and the Hof Ashkelon region. They’ve worked in elite Israeli restaurants and resorts, and Klein and Refael have both won reality show cooking competitions.

The chefs will give Tucsonans several chances to savor the tastes of Israel, including a four-course gourmet dinner on Sunday, May 15.

But first, says Barel, they will take part in the ceremony for Yom Hazikaron, the Day of Remembrance, Israel’s national memorial day honoring fallen soldiers and victims of terror. It will be held Monday, May 9 at 6:30 p.m. at the Tucson Jewish Community Center.

On Tuesday, May 10, the chefs will hold private workshops. Folks not lucky enough to have scooped up one of those hot tickets will get their first chance to taste the chefs’ wares at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s annual meeting on Wednesday, May 11 at 7 p.m. at the Tucson J, where the chefs will provide an array of desserts.

The foursome will return to the J on Thursday, May 12, to create a dinner for the 12 Torches Ceremony at 5:30 p.m. The ceremony, based on an Israeli tradition, will honor 12 Tucsonans who have created unique connections between Tucson and Israel. Among this year’s honorees is Chris Rogers, who first went to Israel in September 2005 as a sheriff’s deputy, spending two weeks embedded with the Tel Aviv district bomb squad. Now a Pima County Sheriff’s Department sergeant and the bomb squad commander for the Pima Regional Bomb Squad, he was one of the first in the United States to become an FBI-certified tactical bomb technician.

On Friday, May 13, Klein and Shushan, who is a pastry chef, will bake challah with residents at Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging. Klein will also spend time with the kindergarten class at the J that partners with her son’s class in Israel through the Weintraub Israel Center’s school twinning program.

Israel’s Independence Day will be celebrated on Sunday, May 15 with a free Yom Huledet L’Yisrael (Happy Birthday Israel) party from 1:30-4 p.m. at the J. This year marks the 68th anniversary of Israel’s independence.

“Most of the events during the week are geared to the adult community. That is why we decided that the theme on May 15 will actually be a birthday party very much oriented toward the younger generation,” says Rony Ben-Dov, who is chair of the Yom Huledet celebration.

There’ll be Israeli party games and birthday cake — “everything that kids love,” says Barel.

Along with the kids’ activities, local Jewish organizations and synagogues are creating a quilt “with a message of hope and resilience” that will be our community’s gift to Israel, says Ben-Dov.

Each community partner has been given a square of fabric to decorate, explains Julie Zorn, Jewish living and learning specialist at the J.  Each square will represent a wish for the state of Israel, such as freedom or peace. They will be displayed at the Yom Huledet party; over the summer, the quilt will be assembled by Anne Lopez, the assisted living manager at Handmaker, and in the fall, it will be delivered to the Partnership2Gether region.

Kids at the event also will get to write birthday messages to Israel that will also be delivered to the partnership region.

For the final event of Tucson Celebrates Israel week, the chefs will take over Vero Amore restaurant at 2920 N. Swan Road to prepare dinner on May 15. The meal will include such exotic delights as savory Bedouin-style pastries, fish ceviche on smoked eggplant cream and an intermezzo of citrus ginger granita, says Barel. This event, even more than the others during the week, is an opportunity to reach out to general community as well as the Jewish community, she says.

“They will taste some Israeli food, get to the know chefs … they can come at six and stay until midnight,” says Barel, adding that there will be music courtesy of JFSA president and CEO Stuart Mellan and the Birks Works Trio.

Visit jfsa.org or call 577-9393 to RSVP for the following events: JFSA annual meeting, May 11, 7 p.m., $5. 12 Torches ceremony and dinner, May 12, 5:30 p.m., $36/person or $68/couple. Vero Amore Israeli celebrity chef dinner, May 15, seatings from 6-7 p.m., $75/person (proceeds benefit Weintraub Israel Center); kosher meal available upon request with RSVP by May 6.