U-Md. students create cookbook to recall their time in Israel

Abigail Elson (center) pictured during her gap year abroad in Israel. (Photo courtesy of Abigail Elson)

Abigail Elson is tired of Zoom events. As a member of Terps for Israel, a Zionist student organization at the University of Maryland in College Park, the freshman has spent the school year socializing online with other club members.

So Elson teamed up with other club members to create a cookbook. Each of the book’s recipes would be submitted by students, and each dish had to remind the student of their experience in Israel.

“If you’ve been to Israel, [the cookbook] reminds you of a moment you had eating a specific food,” said Elson, who spent her gap year in Israel. “If you haven’t been, it’s something to get you excited about the state of Israel and all the combinations of cultures there.”

The book will “allow students to have an outlet to go back down memory lane,” said sophomore Ayelette Halbfinger, a friend of Elson’s and fellow club member. Readers will “essentially travel vicariously through the recipes, especially since cooking has been such a pastime of people now over COVID,” Halbfinger said.

Club members began work on the book in January. Over social media, they asked U-Md. students to send recipes. Some submissions were family recipes, and a few were original creations. Others were pulled from online. The final product will include a photo of each dish, an anecdote from the student on why they submitted it, along with an attribution of the recipe’s source.

Halbfinger submitted recipes for a sandwich she ate at Crave Gourmet Street Food in Jerusalem and for a nacho dish she had at the same restaurant. Elson contributed a recipe for malawach, a Yemenite Jewish flatbread, and directions for making labneh, a type of yogurt.

“Not all of the recipes are classic Israeli foods,” Elson said. “It’s not all falafels or shawarma. Well, there is that, but it’s a vast collection of types of food that somehow connect to Israel for these individuals, which I think is very cool.”

The cookbook marks a shift in Terps for Israel’s programming, according to Atara Kahn, a senior and the club’s director of programming. She said over the past few years, the club focused on the Israeli-Arab conflict and Middle Eastern politics by inviting guest speakers. Now the club is trying to widen its appeal by exploring Israeli culture.

The cookbook contains 45 recipes, all kosher. Thirty are student submitted and the rest come from Taste of Memories, an initiative commemorating fallen Israeli soldiers through food recipes.

Homemade humus is one of the dishes featured in a new cookbook underdevelopment by student members of Terps for Israel. (Photo courtesy of Rotem Hasan)

Club members have not finalized the cookbook’s title, but one working name is “Bibi Bites” — a reference to Israeli Prime Minister. All of the recipes will be named after famous Israelis, like David Ben-Gurion, Gal Gadot and Golda Meir. Elson said the idea is to introduce readers to historical figures and celebrities. Kahn said they want to include a QR code in the book leading to an Israeli music playlist on Spotify corresponding with the preparation time for each recipe.

The book’s release is planned for mid-April to coincide with the Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. It will be available for free download as an eBook accessible through the club’s social media accounts and website. To help promote the book, Terps for Israel plans to pay student food bloggers to prepare some of the book’s recipes.

“There’s a lot of ways to celebrate Israel,” Elson said. “There’s so many different aspects to the culture, and cooking is one of them. And so I wish everyone will find what connects them to Israel and embrace that aspect into their lives.”

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