Sufganiot

Posted on December 21st, 2005

2005-12-21I think there are two types of Israelis. There are those who love the creation and implementation of rules, and those who enjoy finding ways to get around these rules. Whenever faced with strange and somewhat arbitrary regulations, an Israeli friend will always explain to me how I can go ahead and just do whatever is needed by being a little creative.

Walking through the Jerusalem Mall, I saw a wonderful array of fresh Sufganiot, coated with all sorts of chocolate and filled with very tempting crèmes. I decided to take a picture of these doughnuts. With Chanukah coming, I was sure that the picture would accompany nicely whatever I decided to write about. No sooner had I taken out the camera than the woman working behind the counter rushed over and told me “It is not allowed to take pictures of the Sufganiot!” Before I had time to think through whether this was some sort of weird security precaution, I found myself asking “Lamma?” The answer was right to the point, “Ka-ha.”

I thought for a moment and then asked if I bought a doughnut, would I be allowed to photograph it. The clerk pondered this suggestion, and then decided that whatever damage I could do to Israel’s security by photographing a doughnut was worth the risk. With some hesitation she agreed. Of course, right away, I pointed to a doughnut and said “I’ll take that one” while snapping the above picture. (Yes, I did eat the doughnut afterwards.) By the way, according to my scientific research, “lamma” and “ka-ha” happen to be the most popular words in the Hebrew language. This is not surprising. Why does a little Jewish nation continue to thrive despite being surrounded by hostile enemies, a shaky political situation, and surly taxicab drivers? Ka-ha.

Israel can be very intense. Israelis often seem fond of enforcing rules with vague rationales and murky implementation. Things aren’t always rational. Why do we all need to take “medical exams” before getting our drivers’ licenses, when the “exams” consist of someone in an office the size of a telephone booth asking us to check a box indicating we are healthy? Of course the answer is clear. “Ka-ha.” It is the “Ka-ha” mentality. How else would you explain the intense security around the sufganiot table while Kassams are hitting Ashkelon!

I like the sufganiot here, but they are not perfect. To be honest, in Israel you have to eat through a lot of fairly tasteless cake to get to the crème filling. Yet the chocolate, caramel, and vanilla (at least to me) are well worth the extended chewing. As I write this, it is not even Chanukah and I am well on my way to having eaten the obligatory 12 sufganiot that everyone needs to consume by law.

But after 5 months in Israel, perhaps the sufgania is an appropriate analogy for Israel. Yes, there is often lots of chewing. Opening a bank account, getting a driver’s license, finding a mortgage, can all seem like chewing through endless piles of tasteless cake. But when you reach the heart and remember why you are here, you know there is nothing else like living in Israel. And that center is worth all the chewing in the world.

Shabbat Shalom from our blessed nation.

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