Macrobiotics In Israel
This long article contains the following essays:
Macrobiotics in Israel, by Ginat and Sheldon Rice
Macrobiotics in Jerusalem, by Ginat and Sheldon Rice
Macrobiotics in Israel
By Sheldon and Ginat Rice, Summer, 2004
- The University of South Carolina Staff:
- Jane Teas, PhD Principal Investigator
- Joan Cunningham, PhD
- Andrew Cousins, PhD
- Puja Verma, MPH
We would like to give special thanks to the wonderful people throughout Israel who have made macrobiotics their own. If we inadvertently misinterpreted information you gave us about yourselves or our community, please contact us. We welcome any and all updates and additions to this information. - Sheldon and Ginat Rice
This work was supported by Grant/Cooperative Agreement Number U48/CCU409664-09 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Wonderful job! Clear, interesting, layered with cultural meaning and macrobiotic information. Congratulations!
- Jane Teas
I. ISRAELI SOCIETY
Macrobiotics is a way of life encompassing both philosophy and practice. It is best known as a dietary principle based on energetic properties of food, particularly emphasizing whole grains and vegetables. Numerous published studies and anecdotal reports recount the beneficial results of a macrobiotic way of life.
The modern application of macrobiotic principles reflects both its Japanese origin and the specific characteristics of its practitioners. Israeli interpretation and implementation of macrobiotics reflect that country's national character, as one would expect.
The 5.3 million Jews, 81% of the 6.5 million people living in Israel, are the focus of this study. As a rule, Jewish Israelis place great value both on intellectual acumen and culinary pursuits, and enjoy a standard of living high enough to combine the two. This means that they give credence to nutritional theory and ideological constructs. In other words, they pay attention to what they eat and why they eat it.
Despite it's nomenclature as the Fertile Crescent, grains are not naturally abundant in the Middle East. Harvest of indigenous wheat and barley has brought prosperity and failure in its wake. The Biblical Joseph went to Egypt in search of grain and prophesized about stalks of wheat during an extended period of famine. Grain alcohol was so scarce that Jews never developed the habit of alcohol consumption. Wine has long been used for its sacred function much more than its relaxing properties.
Most modern day Israelis are not native to the area, and bring with them methods of agriculture and culinary preferences from around the globe. Dietary habits are a mix of Western cuisine, Middle Eastern fare and the indigenous dishes of a melting pot citizenry. Lamb is popular, along with traditional chickpea and sesame products. Fresh fruits and vegetables are common antidotes to long, hot summers, humid along the densely populated coastal plain and dry in Jerusalem's higher Judean Hills and northern Galilee. Chicken and egg consumption is rampant, as are dairy products and spices.
Cafés are ubiquitous in Israel. Coffee originated in Copeh, Ethiopia, and was brought to Israel in the 1500s by the Turks. Since then, Israelis have not stopped drinking it, accompanied by cigarettes and baked flour products.
Open-air street markets continue to be vibrant centers for daily food purchases where vendors display colorful wares amid jostling crowds. Carrot juice is popularly available at sidewalk kiosks, as are roasted and salted nuts and seeds. Chestnuts are sold on some street corners in the winter and corn on the cob in the summer. Sweets of all kinds are always popular.
Alternative healthcare is widely accepted in Israel, judging from the proliferation of homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractors, aromatherapy, and many other non-allopathic modalities. Reflexology is an especially popular alternative therapy in Israel, non-invasive and effective. Israelis are open to innovation in all aspects of life, and alternative healing methods are no exception.
II. JUDAISM AND MACROBIOTICS
To understand macrobiotic practice in Israel it is necessary to examine the role of Judaism in Israeli life. The secular and modern-orthodox populations together comprise the majority of the population, while the ultra-orthodox religious groups are vocal and visible out of proportion to their size. Secular Israeli society is innovative and progressive, akin to that of most European capitals. Modern-orthodox Jews practice a progressive interpretation of Judaism, preferring to follow the spirit of the law rather than its minutia.
Ultra-orthodox religious practice is literal. Very religious Jews subscribe to the letter of Jewish law as well as the spirit. They live independently from mainstream Israeli society with separate educational systems, language, dress, and values. Life is regimented from cradle to grave. Even their calendars are different. Pious Jews configure the date according to the creation of the world, calculated Biblically for 2004 as 5,765 years ago.
Macrobiotic philosophy is compatible with Biblical accounts in many ways. Daniel in the Lions' Den is a story of a brave young man who refused the King's repast of meat and wine and instead requested "pulses." As a non-carnivore, the lions left Daniel alone.
The macrobiotic model of a seven-unit spiral is a cherished concept in Judaism, which bases its calendar on the seven-day creation account, seven-day holidays (Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles, called Sukkoth), seven-week holidays (Pentecost, or Weeks, called Shevuot), and a seven-year growing cycle culminating in a Jubilee year after seven 7-year cycles.
The Jewish creation account parallels macrobiotic understanding: There is One Infinity ("Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one"). This unified field differentiates into seven continuously transforming worlds in an inward-moving spiral of manifestation. Although the order of creation is somewhat different in macrobiotic cosmology than in Judaism, the elements are the same.
Day of Creation Biblical Account - Macrobiotic Equivalent:
- Creation of Heaven and Earth as a deep, formless void; Creation of light, called day, out of night, called darkness; Yin and yang polarization.
- Creation of a firmament to divide the waters from the waters, called HeavenWaves of vibrational energy.
- Separation of water from dry land, creating Earth and Seas;
- Earth brings forth grass, herbs and fruit treesSubatomic particles: Electrons, Protons, etc.
- Creation of sun, moon and starsElements: Soil, water, air.
- Moving creatures that have life: fowl and whalesPlant life.
- Cattle and beasts; Man, Animal and human life.
- Cessation of Creation One infinity.
III. DISCREPANCIES BETWEEN JUDAISM AND MACROBIOTICS
Some ultra-observant Jews consider some macrobiotic ideas to be in conflict with their religious belief. A particular complaint is the issue of human evolution, depicted in tandem with the development of food in Michio Kushi's Book of Macrobiotics. The macrobiotic concept is that animal and vegetable kingdoms developed in an interdependent progression from earliest life. Mankind's upright posture is seen to parallel the proliferation of upward growing grasses and grains in the most recent historical period. This idea is anathema to the devout Jew. Their understanding of creation is God-inspired and God–dependent. Man does not descend from the apes, but was created to rule over them.
On a more practical level, macrobiotic dietary strictures may conflict with religious dictate. Jewish law requires that prepared foods be clearly certified as compliant with kosher (literally "fit" or "proper") regulations. This means that sea vegetables and umeboshi plums from Japan must have official kosher documentation.
The modern orthodox and ultra-religious interpret dietary law, a strict and far-reaching compendium of dietary do's and don'ts, in differing manners. Standard kosher law permits consumption only of herbivorous animals that chew their cud and have split hooves. Livestock acceptable for consumption must be slaughtered in a prescribed manner. Once certified as kosher, the animal food may not be prepared or presented with any dairy products, based on the Biblical passage, "thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk." All government-run institutions including legislative functions, the armed forces, schools, prisons and the national airlines comply with kosher regulations, as do hotels and resorts, which display renewable kosher certificates next to their menus. All religious Jews and many secular Israelis ascribe to these traditional dietary rules.
The ultra-religious go further in their interpretation of kosher law. They additionally require that an animal's lungs be checked after its death to ensure that it was not diseased at the time of slaughter. They wait six hours after eating a morsel of meat before partaking of any dairy products. Different sects of Jews trust different observers to certify their food, and the more stringent the certification the more expensive it is. With large families and low incomes the ultra orthodox often limit their food to poor quality, inexpensive fare as long as it is certified as kosher. Of the 613 commandments given to the Jews, kosher observance is one of only three that require martyrdom before transgression.
Sabbath observance is another difference between the secular and religious that affects dietary habits. For the religious, all work stops on Shabbat, the Sabbath. Women prepare all day Friday until a siren is sounded near sundown to announce the onset of this sacred evening and day. A detailed category of activities is prohibited until complete darkness on Saturday night, including cooking, baking, steaming, salting, pressing, heating, using fire or electricity, or even tearing open a package. While secular Jews have no compulsion driving to the nearest open restaurant to enjoy a Saturday repast (although most restaurants close on the Sabbath in order to maintain their kosher certification) the religious Jew neither rides nor handles money on the seventh day. All food must be prepared in advance and either kept warm or reheated the next day. By Saturday afternoon a popular dish called cholent (literally "hot," from the French) has been cooking for almost 24 hours.
A second dietary issue is the consumption of insects, strictly forbidden to the Jews, themselves likened to vermin during their exile in Egypt. Only once does the Torah forbid eating pig or camel, but insects are mentioned five times, making the sin of their ingestion that much worse. Numerous books with charts and photographs guide the religious housewife as she hunts for food parasites on each kernel and leaf with a magnifying glass and back lighted board. Varying methods of treatment insure insect removal, including freezing, boiling and salting. All leafy vegetables such as hard leafy greens (only recently found in Israel), parsley or cilantro may house the prohibited crawling creatures. Leeks and scallions must be split lengthwise and examined stalk by stalk. Parasites in some vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, Chinese cabbage and cauliflower are so difficult to detect that the majority of ultra-orthodox housewives avoid their use altogether. Some shun all grains and greens because they are so difficult to check. Others cook separately only for an ill family member while preparing conventional food for the rest. Despite the difficulties, many of these women continue this exhausting regimen for years.
The authors of this report, Sheldon and Ginat Rice, hosted bi-weekly macrobiotic dinners for five years from 1996 to 2000. At their inception, the kosher status of the meals was unquestioned as Sheldon and Ginat were religiously observant. When that changed, several families stopped attending the dinners. Eventually some religious women agreed to take turns ensuring that the food preparation complied with kosher dictates. This satisfied most of the religious community, but not all. Some simply would not eat in the home of a non-observant Jew.
Cooking classes were easier to negotiate. A religious client usually took private lessons or shared the session with like-minded friends. They could then spend all the time they needed to check the ingredients for insects and observe preparation methods. Nevertheless, there remained an element of trust that non-kosher food had never entered the kitchen, that imported utensils were baptized in a ritual pool, that pots and pans were not used on the Sabbath, and that soaked grains and beans had been carefully checked for bugs. With all this, some stayed away, knowing that the level of concern was not as great at their own.
One religious macrobiotic Jew explains kosher preparation this way:
"I'm a very thorough person. When I do something I try to do it to the hilt. And I'm not shy about calling up the experts and asking them if I'm doing things right. I would find out who is the top expert for checking each particular type of produce and call them to find out procedures. I made a lot of calls and I found that if I really wanted to be careful about these things, there are certain procedures I have to do in terms of washing, checking and processing all these grains, beans, vegetables and leafy greens. Maybe because of lack of sufficient knowledge, I go the extra mile to make sure I'm covered. People told me about certain procedures of checking leaves, but when I do it their way I still find some bugs, whether it's larvae or something else. The procedure I currently have seems to be working for me. Even then, I don't know if I'm strict enough because I've heard some stories about how beans are checked in Israel that they don't do in the States.
"Broccoli is something I've stayed away from for years because of the florets. They say it is impossible to get all the bugs out. But there's a Rabbi who has an excellent reputation of being knowledgeable and effective in having certain produce checked for bugs, putting out certification that they are ready to be eaten. I don't know how it's possible, but if I'm told it's okay, I'll eat it.
"In terms of kosher products, it is not easy to find certain things. There are so many kosher symbols that certify something as kosher. I don't trust all of them. There are certain manufacturers that I can work with. Some of them don't have the same levels of quality checking that I prescribe to and feel comfortable with.
[Interviewer]: Have you ever tasted the macrobiotic cooking of anyone else or seen it?
"Mmmm…no…no--that would be nice."
Food is bound with ritual. Macrobiotics places tremendous social burdens on someone who cannot share in communal fare. The Jewish religious community is so tightly knit and focused on food that the hardship becomes acute. Hardly a week goes by without a life passage commemoration among extended families with extensive social networks. The standard fare at these happy occasions is a quarter chicken, oily potatoes, white rice, white bread and cheap wine. It is a mitzvah (literally, commandment) to eat at a festive meal. It is problematic to carry in one's own food because of the difficulty of ascertaining its kosher status.
The Jew is spiritually commanded to eat particular foods at prescribed times. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the weekly Sabbath meal. It traditionally includes meat and/or chicken, gefilte (stuffed) fish prepared with sugar, chopped liver, and numerous other items not found on a macrobiotic plate. It is a sacrifice for a religious person to forgo the blessings he can offer through these foods. Two of the three Sabbath meals begin with benedictions over bread and sweet wine or grape juice. It would be unthinkable for a devout Jew to forego this commandment. Food is more than habit or preference to the religious Jew-it is holy.
The same interviewee expressed it this way:
"I was not comfortable talking to my Japanese macrobiotic counselor about religious issues. I felt Elaine Nussbaum, having had had a similar background as me, would be easier to talk to on these issues. For example, I was told to have no more alcohol or fruit juice. What I do is a compromise, but you know, Elaine felt that you have to give in a little with macrobiotics at some point. So when I make the blessing over the Sabbath wine, I drink the minimal amount of organic grape juice permissible. I have two to three ounces each week for the Sabbath evening meal and the same again at lunch. Otherwise I don't have any fruit juice the rest of the week.
"At Shabbat lunch each week we have cholent, a long-cooked vegetable stew. My wife puts it on the fire Friday afternoon and it cooks continuously until I have it the next day for lunch. That's also when I have my fish. We eat this way year-round."
A teaching by the renowned Cabbalist Isaac Luria in 17th century Israel forbade meat eating to the common householder for fear of contamination by the animal's base nature. Only the righteous man was thought able to raise the spark of the animal to human level. This teaching is not emphasized in religious circles. Instead they point to the Code of Jewish Law, compiled a century previously by the Cabbalist Joseph Caro and still meticulously followed today. Caro contended that all Jews are righteous on the Sabbath and hence able to honor the Lord's Day with animal food. Today every day is the Lord's Day by that account.
The weeklong holiday of Passover entails kosher laws even more stringent than Shabbat. No wheat, rye, or buckwheat, nor beans or pulses of any type are allowed during this spring holiday, leaving very little on the macrobiotic plate. Eggs are a significant part of the normal Israeli diet, and their consumption mushrooms during the Passover holiday. A board of rabbis can offer a special dispensation for health reasons, but many ultra-orthodox are loathe to accept it. The Ashkenazi Jew of Germanic descent will not eat grain of any kind on Passover lest it inadvertently be contaminated with the forbidden varieties. Sephardi Jews originating from Spain find beans and some grains such as rice acceptable. The difference is one of custom within ultra-Orthodoxy.
Other holidays link food and custom. Examples include Shavuoth (Weeks), associated with dairy food consumption, and New Years Day, which is traditionally celebrated with apples and honey. The pre-Spring festival of Tu B'Shvat (the 15th day in the Hebrew month of Sh'vat) is marked with dried fruits and nuts. These foods are not generally recommended for those healing from a serious ailment.
Despite these difficulties, many ultra-orthodox families adhere to a macrobiotic diet. Their involvement stems frequently from personal recommendations. Once they determine that this is the road to recovery, no sacrifice is too great for health. Their strong sense of discipline and single-minded devotion facilitate strict adherence to a healing diet. Their lack of conceptual appreciation however sometimes results in rejection of their macrobiotic practice once the patient has been "cured."
IV. MACROBIOTIC LEADERSHIP
Macrobiotic activity in Israel today is focused mainly in Jerusalem, with some activity in the metropolitan Tel Aviv. Northern Israel has one experienced counselor, and the south none. Most people obtain the services they need in these locales or by traveling abroad. Religious Jews naturally prefer the services of someone familiar with their dietary code, particularly when it comes to cooking classes. Health consultants are chosen more for their skill than religious practice. Whereas usually there is no contact between unmarried men and women, a religious patient may be examined and even treated by a health care professional of either sex.
Israel does not require licensing of alternative health practitioners. Many professions in the United States that are regulated by careful testing have no corresponding quality control. Most Israeli macrobiotic counselors are self-trained. Israelis look for results more than credentials, and personal recommendations are more respected than a diploma or certificate.
Macrobiotic practice began in Israel in the late 1970s with Sherman (Shraga) Goldman. A secular Jew, Sherman was an early Kushi Institute graduate and editor of the East West Journal who brought macrobiotics to his newly adopted country. Sherman's wife, Malka Friedman, translated Michio Kushi's Book of Macrobiotics together with Haim Ron. It remains one of the few Hebrew-language resources on macrobiotics in Israel.
Betty Berger, a contemporary of Sherman's in Tel Aviv and today a macrobiotic counselor in St. Louis, recalls that Sherman counseled and taught scores of eager students in his home as he coached his wife and brother through cancer. Betty made tofu and imported rice cakes in Israel in the 1970s in response to the lack of macrobiotic products there. She was also responsible for bringing the woman's self-help movement to Israel.
Both Sherman and Malka fell into hard times and eventually strayed from macrobiotics. An American-born resident of Israel named Karen Fernandez Shachar assisted Malka before Malka eventually succumbed to breast cancer. Alex Jack and Ed Esko rescued Sherman from a homeless shelter several years later. He was brought to a staff home at the Kushi Institute, but a silent stroke required full time care. He now resides in a Massachusetts nursing home, able to recall his earlier days to a limited degree.
Sherman still remembers one of his early students, Pablo Finkelstein, a native of Argentina. Pablo established Israel's first macrobiotic center about 1980 in Jerusalem where he hosted speakers and teachers, including Richard and Isabelle Gombin from France. Pablo continues to counsel and teach today, maintaining close affiliation with European and American macrobiotic institutions. He manages a macrobiotic center in Jerusalem that provides family health consultation and follow-up services, cooking lessons, shiatsu massage and weekly introductory lectures. His center also houses a retail outlet for macrobiotic products and books.
A Portuguese macrobiotic counselor named Mario Lopez taught in Israel in the mid 1980s before moving on to found a macrobiotic center in Greece and later in Brazil. One of his early students was Daniel Krichmar, an immigrant from Argentina to Israel in 1981. Daniel introduced the art of natto making to Israel. Today he presents his own version of "post-macro" studies combined with traditional Chinese medicine and his recent return to Jewish fundamentalist values.
The longest practicing macrobiotic counselor in Israel today is Michel (Meir) Abehsera, a student of Georges Ohsawa. Abehsera blends his Moroccan heritage with macrobiotic philosophy to create an inviting and charming presentation of macrobiotic cooking. His early cookbooks combine childhood reminiscences with cherished recipes. Today Abehsera is an ultra-orthodox Jew who devotes his life to his Hassidic master while continuing macrobiotic pursuits during his frequent visits to the US. When asked about the beginnings of macrobiotics in Israel he quipped, "Macrobiotics still hasn't arrived. It's not a household word yet. Not enough people know about it." He is presently completing a movie about his rabbi/mentor and vowed to renew macrobiotic activities in Israel once it is complete. "I owe it to Ohsawa," he asserted.
Sarah Landau is the only female macrobiotic counselor in Israel who was born into an ultra-orthodox family rather than taking up religion later in life. This affords her an extensive social network in her exclusively ultra orthodox town near Tel Aviv. While living in Antwerp Sarah turned to Rik Vermuyten, a well-known macrobiotic counselor in Belgium, to find relief for her husband's severe intestinal disorders. She studied with Rik extensively and began to share her knowledge when she returned to Israel. She now sponsors Rik in counseling visits to her town. She is the author of a small volume in Hebrew cataloguing home remedies. Today she specializes in foot reflexology as a front door to macrobiotics for her ultra orthodox clientele. Her daughter Yocheved Feldman provides strictly kosher take-out meals for the orthodox macrobiotic community and runs a small health food store with her husband. She offers cooking advice over the phone. Many times one client teaches the rudiments of macrobiotic cooking to another without any formal training.
Rik Vermuyten began visiting Israel just after the Gulf War in 1991. He is Israel's only visiting senior counselor, lecturer and teacher. Rik spends a week in Israel three to four times a year, dividing his time between Jerusalem and Sarah Landau's religious community. His schedule is usually full, a sign of the enthusiasm in which his consultations are appreciated. We hosted Rik for several years, and I cannot recall anyone not satisfied with the advice they received. When Ginat was diagnosed with breast cancer, he gave her unlimited time and compassion in helping her pass through a very significant crisis in her life. We will be forever grateful for this kindness.
Asher Lazar, a 1978 Kushi Institute graduate and former chef at the Open Sesame restaurant in Boston, recently immigrated to Jerusalem from New York with his wife Raezelle, a compassionate yoga teacher. They are part of the Jerusalem ultra-orthodox community. Asher provides health consultations, takeout food and weekly macrobiotic dinners at his home-based Traditional Jewish Health House. He recently began a macrobiotic soup kitchen for Jerusalem's poor. Asher combines macrobiotic health practice with Torah insights such as suggestions to his clientele that they silently recite Psalms while chewing their food. He notes that the Hebrew word for rice, orez, is comprised of two words, or, meaning light, and raz, meaning golden.
Sheldon and Ginat Rice began their macrobiotic practices twenty and twenty-five years ago, respectively. Sheldon went on to cure himself of a deep-seated cancer that had not yet been detected when he adopted macrobiotics. Ginat studied initially at Pablo Finkelstein's macrobiotic center in Jerusalem. She continued in France with Richard and Isabelle Gombin and then at the Kushi Institute in Boston where she co-owned Satori macrobiotic restaurant. Sheldon and Ginat were macrobiotic leaders in Jerusalem from 1995 to 2000, providing health consultations, live-in programs, lectures series, pot-lucks, bed and breakfast, cooking lessons, take-out meal delivery, gourmet dinners, courses in macrobiotic principles, and both treatments and instruction in shiatsu massage therapy, reflexology and energetic healing. A wide variety of services enabled them to surpass the salary of doctors in the government-run socialized health care system where salaries are a pittance of their American counterparts. Sheldon and Ginat recently returned to Israel after a three-year cross continental trek around North America where they had the opportunity to meet hundreds of macrobiotic practitioners. Today they offer weeklong seminars in their home outside Jerusalem for those wishing to initiate or improve their macrobiotic practice.
Michael Feinerman, his wife Lois and daughter Aviva are three active participants in the Jerusalem macrobiotic community. Both medical doctors, Michael and Lois now totally espouse a macrobiotic way of life, as a family offering health consultations, Sabbath dinners and cooking classes.
Finally, Klara Levine is the untiring moderator of the Macro Lovers of Jerusalem, a dedicated group of macrobiotic friends who meet regularly for mutual support and shared food. Klara hosts a successful chatsite with active participation atMacroloversofJerusalem@yahoogroups.com
V. MACROBIOTIC PRACTITIONERS AND ACTIVITIES
The macrobiotic community of Israel is largely located in Jerusalem. It is more religious than secular, older rather than younger, more female than male, of middle income and principally English speaking. Most clients come to macrobiotics seeking relief from illness. For many, macrobiotics remains a diet. Relatively few study macrobiotic principles and theories. Rare are those choosing to pursue careers in macrobiotic consulting or cooking.
Secular and modern orthodox Jews are prone to accept macrobiotics as a philosophy more than are their ultra-religious counterparts. The former see life as logical and predictable according to patterns referred to in macrobiotic literature as the order of the universe. God is neither vengeful nor forgiving, but just and exact. The food we eat is responsible for both our physical and mental health, and by extension, the health of our society. In the long run, the only real cure for the insanity and imbalance in the world is sane, balanced eating.
In contrast, the ultra-orthodox typically approach macrobiotics as a healing diet rather than a belief system. For them macrobiotics is a symptomatic cure to be followed like a doctor's prescription. It is God's grace that ultimately heals; their role is to follow the "rules." Lifelong training in postponed gratification results in adherence to a macrobiotic diet in disproportionate numbers. They seek the precise information they need to know and little more. They have only secondary interest in exploring macrobiotic concepts, joining a group or learning beyond their individual concerns. This makes them compliant if uninformed adherents to the macrobiotic diet, and purposely distinct from the macrobiotic way of life.
Few macrobiotic practitioners fully establish a macrobiotic lifestyle. Three to four times a year for over four years the Rices hosted visiting counselor Rik Vermuyten in Israel. During each weeklong stay he proffered advice to fifty or sixty people. Not more than five or six of these followed up his consultation with cooking lessons. The paucity of those willing to embrace a macrobiotic way of life reflects Israeli society, the individual client, the counselor and the follow up services.
VI. MACROBIOTIC FOOD SERVICES IN ISRAEL
Health food stores abound in Israeli cities, towns and villages, well supported by the Israeli public. All of them are small, and most focus on vitamins and supplements. Israel lacks the supermarket style health food chains so popular in US cities.
Standard macrobiotic items are readily found in Israeli health food stores. Kibbutz Harduf in the Galilee grows and imports a wide variety of organic grains and beans for sale throughout the country. Although there is less selection than in the US, organic grains such as short grain brown rice is a popular item along with most other staple grains. Of the four basic beans in a macrobiotic diet, lentils, adzuki and chickpeas are abundant along with many other varieties suitable for occasional use. Only black soybeans are hard to obtain. Harduf distributes organic bread and other baked flour products made on the premises. Good quality sourdough bread and whole-wheat fruit-sweetened cookies and cakes are popular items.
Readily available macrobiotic products, albeit offered without a choice of brands, include shiitake mushrooms, dried daikon and lotus root, soba and udon noodles, various pastas, packaged condiments, umeboshi plums and paste, kuzu, barley malt and rice syrup, rice and umeboshi vinegars, and tamari soy sauce. Cold pressed oils include sesame, sunflower, safflower, corn and toasted sesame. Sea vegetables include sushi nori, kombu, wakame, hiziki and arame. Several types of miso are readily found in Israel, but unfortunately Israeli law requires that they all be pasteurized. Product availability fluctuates with market demand, and something available one day may disappear the next. For example, some packaged pickles and good quality sauerkraut was available in many health food stores and is now non-existant. The same is true for such products as mekabu sea vegetable, fu, amasake concentrate, and barley malt syrup.
Mitoku macrobiotic products, known for their reliable kosher certification, are imported from Japan, as are Lima products from Belgium. Japanese imports to Israel cost about the same as in the US, making it 4-5 times for expensive with Israeli currency. US imports obviously cost much more in Israel than in the US. An average Israeli middle class family spends about the same money to maintain a macrobiotic diet as a standard Israeli diet. Americans generally spend about ¼ as much money to sustain a macrobiotic diet as a standard American regime.
Israel is both blessed and cursed by a lack of Japanese specialty items. On one hand, needed foodstuffs are sometimes missing. For example, there is no medium grain or mixed rice blends, nor specialty grains such as kibi millet, useful in healing the pancreas. Products on the order of takka, tekuan, and natto are not available. Dulse, sea palm, wild nori and other varieties of sea vegetables are lacking. Prepared foods are hard to come by such as mochi, dried tofu and seitan. Relatives and friends are often imposed upon to bring unattainable products from visits abroad, whether for medicinal use or to please the palate. The advantage of this paucity is that the macrobiotic practitioner in Israel is spared the temptations of the US consumer to indulge in pre-packaged health foods and frozen confections. They learn to be self-sufficient in their macrobiotic practice. Good quality tofu, occasionally organic, is manufactured locally by several small businesses. Tempeh is produced locally, but along with the commercial imports, is generally frozen. The Rices routinely taught classes in the preparation of seitan, bread, mochi and other cottage industry foods.
The open-air vegetable markets remain popular despite the proliferation of grocery stores and high security tensions. Colorful fruits and vegetables attract the shopper's eye, but the organic chef has slim pickings there. The hot summer season, called kayitz, or "end" in Hebrew because of the conclusion of the winter rains, leaves few vegetables available for consumption. Macrobiotic practitioners eat commercially grown kohlrabi, zucchini and lettuce during this time.
Israel specializes in organic produce, yet little of it is available on the domestic market. Food exports are a major source of national revenue. Often foreign markets carry Israeli grown organic vegetables unavailable at home. Nevertheless, the display of organic produce is consistently improving in Israel. Where three years ago it was not unusual to see old, withered vegetables for sale on dusty shelves, today, organic carrots are available at health food stores all year round. Organic onions, turnips, cauliflower, radishes, scallions, parsley, green and red cabbage and leeks are available intermittently. Organic Chinese cabbage, broccoli and daikon are found in their season. Organically grown butternut is the only winter squash available.
There are essentially no hard leafy greens to be had commercially. Carrot, turnip and daikon tops are removed from their roots for easier shipping to market. Radish tops, cabbage, parsley and cauliflower leaves substitute for greens. Recently local farmers have begun to offer organic produce on a small scale, making hard leafy greens and other previously undreamed of produce available. Kale, collard, mustard and dandelion greens are now grown by small farm holdings under individual agreement. The macrobiotic community has responded enthusiastically to this opportunity, supporting and encouraging these pioneering growers.
Much organic produce is out of the question for the religious community because of omnipresent insects. Observant Jews have developed a farming method in an area of the Gaza Strip in southern Israel called Gush Katif where they grow vegetables in sand rather than earth. This highly sprayed produce harbors much fewer parasites, though its quality is greatly compromised by their artificial growing methods. The vegetables are frailer since they lack the natural resistance of the earth as they germinate.
There are no macrobiotic restaurants in Israel per se, although a vegan meal can be readily found in many kosher restaurants that separate food into distinct categories of milk, meat and pareve (neutral). Nevertheless, this is not the same as a meal prepared according to macrobiotic principles. There are two health food restaurants in Jerusalem, the Village Green and Belinda's, where lesser quality macrobiotic foods are available.
VII. CASE STUDIES
Health conditions among the secular and modern-orthodox populations of Israel conform to disease patterns in most post-industrial societies. Macrobiotic practitioners in Israel address health concerns ranging from skin rashes to cancer. Multiple sclerosis and similar nervous system disorders are alarmingly common, indicating long-term dietary abuse with heavy chicken consumption.
Among the very religious, Sunday morning is the most prevalent time of health complaints. The heavy meals and excesses of the Sabbath regularly take their toll. In general, many religious people suffer from disproportionate sugar consumption and over-eating, a yin response to a life of constriction. The social suppression of personal ambition and the need to publicly conform undoubtedly take their toll. Teenaged brides can become overwhelmed with family concerns in a society where six to twelve children is common and men are encouraged to study rather than work. Overcrowding and impoverishment create tremendous burdens. Families often eat inexpensive and institutional food, and suffer the consequences.
Infertility is of particular concern to the religious Jew whose first commandment is to be fruitful and multiply. Inability to conceive necessitates divorce. Once the directors of an assembly hall surreptitiously approached the Rices at a wedding feast. The husband would not even look Ginat in the face as he spoke, gazing over her shoulder as is customary when a male addresses a non-related female. The wife begged for advice to reverse her infertility. Explanations of excessive fat and dairy intake as the cause of the problem were too foreign to be acceptable to this couple. Other more open-minded clients have made the Rices unofficial Godparents many times.
Embracing the macrobiotic way of life has helped many people in Israel. A prime example is Michael Feinerman, MD, who reversed decades of osteoarthritis and avoided the accepted medical alternatives of steroid injections, lifelong use of anti-inflammatory drugs, arthroscopy, or eventual knee replacement surgery after adopting the macrobiotic life-style and diet. Today Michael astounds his personal fitness trainer with his vigor and newfound agility and continually improving flexibility.
Jordan Penkower is another macrobiotic success story. Jordan was diagnosed in 1994 with peripheral neuropathy. There is no known treatment for this debilitating disease that entails the loss of various muscles throughout the body. PN causes numbness and tingling in the extremities and the loss of fine-motor skills. Jordan could not write in a normal fashion, button his shirt, or properly hold a fork and knife. He embraced macrobiotics with single-minded determination, including exercise, weight lifting and other alternative modalities in his practice. After 7 years of macrobiotic practice, Jordan recently celebrated the occasion of his niece's wedding with a rousing saxophone performance, entailing dexterity unknown to him for nine years. Jordan has completely regained his fine motor skills and his sense of touch. His muscle loss has been completely reversed.
A different kind of success was a patient who effectively reduced the size of his tumor, but not that of his stressful six and a half day workweek. His cancerous intestines ruptured after six months of successful macrobiotic practice and he died shortly afterwards. The energy and quality of his life had changed so dramatically during his recuperation that even on his deathbed he maintained a positive spirit. The hope that macrobiotics provided after his physician told him to settle his affairs had completely rejuvenated his outlook on life.
A similar story involves a geography professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The first time we saw him, he was despondent, pale and lifeless from liver cancer. His doctor had given up hope. Something in our explanations caught his attention, and he decided to try macrobiotics. Within a few months his life completely turned around. His cancer went into remission, his mood turned upbeat, and his appearance changed dramatically. Unfortunately the patient's wife did all the cooking. He was only a passive participate in his own recovery. He neither read about nor studied macrobiotics in order to embrace it as a lifestyle rather than as a diet to cure an illness. Eight months after our initial consultation the patient succumbed to his disease. He had lost his will to live and resorted to old eating patterns. Nevertheless he lived far longer than expected and passed on peacefully.
The most encouraging aspect of the Israeli macrobiotic community is the continued interest and dedication of its adherents. Israel is a country where community is paramount, and the growing assembly of macrobiotic friends here is no exception. They are currently preparing for their second annual macrobiotic fall conference, and constantly seek ways to expand their learning and improve their practice. Several members have already, or plan on attending classes at the Kushi Institute, and many travel abroad for summer conferences. In short, the Israeli macrobiotic population is stronger, and getting stronger!
Macrobiotics is the art and science of living according to natural rhythms-one might say, it is the art of adaptability. Macrobiotics as a natural food movement that became popular in the United States in the early 70s. I first heard about this holistic way of life in Israel, but it took a prolonged US visit to learn enough about it to put it into practice.
Today one doesn't have to travel to another country to learn about the macrobiotic way of life. Israel boasts one of the most active macrobiotic groups anywhere in the world. There are few macrobiotic centers with more activity and attendance than our group in Jerusalem, a fact substantiated in an extensive research project my husband Sheldon I conducted for the University of South Carolina in 2002 on American macrobiotic practice. Jerusalem holds its own!
The MacroLovers of Jerusalem is an English-speaking group that seeks to enjoy a healthy lifestyle in the company of like-minded friends. We join together weekly for an informal potluck support group and again for personal study.
My own road to macrobiotics began in 1974 when I moved to Israel. Completing a bachelor's degree in Judaic Studies, I joined a core group of American and Israeli pioneers establishing a new kibbutz on the Golan Heights. To bond together some of us visited a commune in North Carolina. One young man was a vegetarian, so we decided that we would all refrain from meat during the trip. Thus began my interest in healthy lifestyles, and I never ate meat again.
Several post-kibbutz years later I found myself working in a health food store in Jerusalem. I learned to combine grains and seeds or nuts for protein and to avoid dairy products. I made an appointment with a naturalist doctor and discovered the cause of my chronic colds and fatigue-milk! I became a vegan.
In 1980 I was invited to attend a lecture in Jerusalem on a subject I had never heard of-macrobiotics. The explanation of food as energy fascinated me. I learned that I could use food to create my health and realize my dream. If I wanted to be an assertive, worldly businesswoman, I needed to eat fish and salty foods. To develop my femininity and spirituality, I'd do better with lighter, vegetarian food.
Whole cereal grains always form the center of every meal. We eat seasonal vegetables (excluding nightshades), beans, seaweed, fruit, nuts and seeds; we don't eat "extreme" foods like refined sugar, red meat and poultry, and dairy products. Each country and person adapts a cooking style to its needs.
Once these new kitchen habits were adopted, miracles happened. Within weeks, I began to feel more centered and focused. Health impairments I considered normal began to improve, like better eyesight, limber muscles, and good moods. My cooking became delicious and friendships blossomed.
A small group of us established a macrobiotic learning center in Jerusalem. We hosted visiting teachers from abroad, and I traveled to France to study. To develop further in the Great Life ("Macro Bios") I completed all levels of study at the international macrobiotic center directed by Michio Kushi in Massachusetts. I eagerly attended cooking classes and delved into macrobiotic medicine, Asian diagnosis, and Order of the Universe studies.
I became head chef at a Boston macrobiotic restaurant, then manager and co-owner for almost a decade. Finally back home in Jerusalem in 1995, I met my future husband at a macrobiotic pot luck dinner in his home. Overcoming new health challenges, I realized the importance of correct application of the principles in food preparation, and strengthened my practice even more. Today Sheldon and I run a home-based macrobiotic learning center, counseling, teaching, and cooking. I have authored many articles on macrobiotics in print and on line. My personal chef d'oeuvre is a study of macrobiotics as a healing path based on interviews with counselors and teachers from across the US, along with hundreds of practitioners who overcame cancer with a macrobiotic lifestyle.
Healthy eating in Israel is alive, well, and flourishing! Join us for a healthy and joyous macrobiotic adventure!
Sheldon and Ginat Rice live in Zichron Yaakov, Israel. They are the founders and directors of the Rice House of Macrobiotic Studies.
- Brown, Virginia. Macrobiotic Miracle. Japan Publications, Tokyo and NY, 1984.
- Fawcett, Ann and Smith, Cynthia. Cancer-Free: 30 Who Triumphed Over Cancer Naturally. Japan Publications, Tokyo and NY, 1991.
- Jack, Gale. Promenade Home. Japan Publications, Tokyo and NY, 1988.
- Kohler, Jean Charles and Mary Alice. Healing Miracles from Macrobiotics. Parker Publishing Co., West Nyack, NY. 1979.
- Kushi, Michio. The Cancer Prevention Diet. St. Martin's Press, New York. 1983.
- Monte, Tom. The Way of Hope. Warner Books, New York, NY. 1989
- Nussbaum, Elaine. Recovery from Cancer. Avery Publishing Group. Garden City Park, NY. 1992.
- Sattilaro, Anthony J., M.D. Recalled By Life. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA. 1982.
- Deuteronomy 6:4
- Michio Kushi, The Book of Macrobiotics.
- Exodus 23:19 and again Exodus 34:26.
- Telephone interview with Michael Reiss, January 21, 2002. By permission. Ibid.
- Michio Kushi, lecture, April 5, 2002, Becket, Massachusetts.
Macrobiotics in Jerusalem
As returning Israelis, we qvell with delight to be back in our exciting little country. Now we have the pleasure of new challenges in a country where good fences make bad neighbors.
In combined experience Sheldon and I have been practicing the principles of macrobiotics for almost 3½ decades. Continuing study with Michio Kushi in Becket and with Jeanne van den Heuvel in Belgium along with illness has allowed us to really examine the basics of our macrobiotic practice. Here are the results of our living research.
The first thing that happened when we really began to eat more and more according to universal natural order is that grains and beans begin to taste phenomenally good, and to be utterly satisfying. Cravings entirely disappeared-in fact, we discovered that cravings are one of the best barometers of a correct, or balanced, macrobiotic practice. If we crave anything-including too much food-there is something we can change in our practice, including lifestyle habits. Over-eating often means that we are eating too fast, with too much going on around us and poor concentration on the task at hand. When we changed this habit to more focused chewing without outside interference, less food felt more satisfying. It's a simple trick that only takes a decision.
We found that macrobiotic living does more than rebalance our bodies towards health. An orderly approach to eating based on good habits, healthy food and a life aligned with nature nourishes our spirit. As we simplify our diets we attract amazing experiences into our lives. Wonderful people, astounding encounters and synchronous events continue to amaze us. The most remarkable part is that these feelings only increase as time goes on until the amazing became normal. Our new home was waiting for us just when we were ready. It was just what we wanted for the right price with tenants moving out. All we had to do was imagine it and there it was. Life is an adventure led by positive expectations.
Israel has its share of alternative thinkers, and we‘ve already discovered chi gong and t'ai chi teachers, fung shui practitioners, and of course the MacroLovers of Jerusalem, a great support group that has hosted us as speakers several times already. There also is a weekly macrobiotic dinner/lecture where we were welcomed like royalty when we presented a synopsis of our three-year adventure.
We have begun to reestablish routines and relationships. In demonstrating the effectiveness of a macrobiotic life by our personal example, we interest people who want the energy they feel around us. Their questions stimulate our knowledge.
We've found that the single best way to learn the art of macrobiotics is to teach it. It feels good, it helps others, and it may create a new friend for life, or at least a place to get a good meal. We have been able to guide several people toward better health already. One new friend north of Tel Aviv found my healing story on the web and contacted me even before we returned to Israel. We've been to her house several times and are beginning to teach her shiatsu therapist now. We also have reconnected with clients who we guided three years ago and help them reestablish their practice. Our good friend Dr. Michael Feinerman is graciously hosting us until we settle in our own place as he begins his own macrobiotic consultancy.
There seems to be two kinds of macrobiotic practice in Israel. Many people are interested in a diet to heal a condition. The word out there is that macrobiotics is strict and difficult, limited and bland. Unfortunately, we met many people who model their practice along these lines. Until the individual can appreciate macrobiotics as a flexible, harmonious and satisfying way of life, they have difficulty adapting to and sticking with the practice.
The other kind of practitioner sees macrobiotics as a way of life. These remarkable people are drawn to the philosophy inherent in macrobiotics, the same as that taught in the Torah. They approach macrobiotics with an open mind, not feeling limited or restricted by the practice. On the contrary, in embracing macrobiotic philosophy and cooking, shiatsu massage, Asian diagnosis and medicine, meditation and spiritual practice, they have discovered true freedom.
We never stop studying. Our focus is always on how we can best apply the principles of macrobiotics to the daily strengthening of individual well being. Our focus is always on what would be healthy to eat rather than worrying about all the things we "can't" have. The difference is subtle, and strong. We ask ourselves, "What would be good for us to eat, what will further our life?" When we approach macrobiotics this way, it's a matter of personal choice coming from understanding. If we dwell on what we can't have, we usually want that even more. Rather than forbidding ourself and taking away the foods we loved, we add healthy foods to our diet at our own pace. We give ourself time-it didn't take long to lose the taste for animal and dairy food after we began eating grains and vegetables. We quickly began to crave the foods that provide the most benefit and the greatest sense of health and well being. Gradually the value and practice of macrobiotics becomes more accessible as we develop an orderly approach to diet and lifestyle. After all, it's nothing more than common sense.
The point of macrobiotics is to recreate ourselves each day as we want to be. We have begun to understand that there is no perfection, but rather an ongoing journey of creation. Macrobiotics allows that creation to be deliberate rather than by default. You never get it done and you can't get it wrong! We can all make better choices everyday under any circumstances if we understand what constitutes a good choice. This is our macrobiotic journey.
Four years ago Sheldon and Ginat left Israel for an extended trip by motor home across North America. When they returned in 2003, they regretted losing access to the hard leafy greens they had come to cherish in the U.S. To their delight, a farmer named Bat-Tzion Benjaminson emerged, happy to supply the Israeli macrobiotic community with greens and other hard-to-find products.
Bat-Tzion Benjaminson grows and sells macrobiotic vegetables on her mini-farm, the Judean Permaculture Center, located in the Judean Hills south of Jerusalem. Seasonal produce includes kale, collards, mustard, daikon, squash, sweet peas, beans, and macrobiotic specialty items.
Everything is grown organically, using biointensive and permaculture techniques that aim to capture, store, and cycle the natural energies of the earth and sun.
Produce is harvested to order and usually delivered within hours to the customer, ensuring fresh taste, vital nutrients, and strong life energy.