I first arrived in Israel in 1968, following the ’67 Six-Day War, to learn Hebrew and Jewish History at an ulpan on the border of the Negev and Judean Deserts, in the small settlement village of Arad (located a few kilometers west of the Dead Sea and 45 km east of Beersheba). I appreciated all the new things I was learning and the interesting foods I was being introduced to, but was shocked to learn that bagels didn’t exist in Israel. What? No bagels? How can I live and study here? How can Jews live without bagels? Being from LA, I often brunched at Canter’s Deli, the famous Jewish-style delicatessen in Fairfax. When it came to authentic bagels, I was spoiled.
The closest thing to a bagel, in Israel in those days, was a warm pretzel-looking thing being sold by a street vendor … and sold only in the afternoon. I wanted a real NY bagel for breakfast. So began my search for the perfect bagel recipe. I needed a chewy, dense mouth feel experience, and the local bread didn’t cut it.
A friend agreed to send a recipe by mail; one she’d found in the NYT’s food section. A recipe for “Authentic, classic, New-York style” bagels—which required kneading, rising, resting, forming, rolling, resting again, boiling, turning, and then baking. Since my small apartment didn’t come with an oven, I had to do the complex routine of making bagels on the top of a two-burner stove. It took several shopping trips to Beersheba to find all the ingredients, but I eventually did. Then I spent one entire day making and baking bagels. They were delicious—a gourmet edible masterpiece.
OMG, I thought later, no wonder Israelis don’t DO bagels. They’re too busy rebuilding their country. I decided to just get used to those warm pretzel-looking things. Instead of making bagels every week I helped plant trees in and around Arad.
When I visited Arad, many years later, the trees were standing tall and the warm pretzel-looking things tasted yummy.
Here’s a fun site on the history of bagels.