By Shmuel Katz
I’ve been writing for almost 11 years about our move to Israel, and sometimes I burn out. How many times can I write about the rain (which will be coming again soon) or the language or the culture? Sometimes life is just plain old life and is often—thankfully—quite routine.
Yes, we married off a daughter since the last time I’ve written an article in the 5TJT. And we’ve had exciting developments in our family and their careers. But after 10+ years, talking about fitting in is also getting routine. Which is one of the reasons I enjoy the chagim here so much.
The chagim are not holidays observed only by our small Jewish community within a larger city or town. They are, quite literally, national celebrations. The president of the country has an open sukkah (some of my neighbors went and shook his hand). The whole environment is charged and excited. I don’t think we will ever tire of that.
Plus, we go on family tiyulim, some of which are quite awesome. This year, we only went on one tiyul due to the timing of the chag and family smachot. But it was one of the best tiyulim we’ve experienced in quite some time.
My readers know that I have a special appreciation for tours and events that are connected to experiencing the land and Jewish history in Israel. Walking in the footsteps of the Maccabees—or in the water tunnels. Baking our own matzot. Picking our own arba’ah minim . . . I relish tours that have historical or religious significance.
This past summer, I noticed an ad for a unique experience run by Saidel Artisan Baking Institute, a boutique bakery and educational center in Karnei Shomron. They’ve advertised a sufganiyah-making workshop and the like over the years. But this summer’s special workshop really caught my eye—“The Breads of the Beit HaMikdash.”
The tour is advertised as a three-hour journey of discovery into the history of the various breads prepared for the avodah in the Beit HaMikdash and a hands-on interactive workshop reconstruction where one makes breads the way they would in those days. As a kohen, I was immediately drawn to the notion that we could learn about some of the work that we hope to be doing ourselves in the very near future.
However, we were busy with other things this summer and could not fit the workshop’s schedule into our own. So I was all the more excited when I saw that they were offering the workshops over chol ha’moed. A few days after we saw the ad, Goldie booked us for a workshop, and on chol ha’moed we hopped into the car for the 90-minute drive to Karnei Shomron.
Master baker Les Saidel and his wife, Sheryl, are the founders and operators of Saidel’s, which opened in 2008. Les built their brick oven himself as an attachment to their home, using expert plans from a master oven builder in Tasmania. In addition to their educational activities, they run an active private bakery as well, delivering their products directly to the consumer rather than through a commercial network.
We drove up to the Saidel home, entered via the bakery’s entrance, and settled in the Saidels’ dining and living rooms for the workshop. Les opened the workshop with a discussion of the history of bread-baking for the Mishkan and Beit HaMikdash and explained not only the differences between the modern ingredients and baking process and those used thousands of years ago, but also how those differences affect the final product.
He showed us samples of the various breads he had pre-baked as examples for us; these breads were prepared according to his research of biblical and Talmudic sources. When there was more than one authoritative opinion given in a description, he pointed it out to us. He was very clear in saying that these samples, as well as the hands-on part of the workshop, were based upon the best information available. He hoped that they were accurate representations, but there is no way to know for sure.
With that disclaimer, we went on to make, under Les’s guidance, small-scale samples of the breads made for different korbanot, including the Shtei HaLechem, various breads of the Korban Todah, and, of course, the Lechem HaPanim. Les explained how they would have been prepared in Beit HaMikdash-era times and helped us throughout the baking process.
He discussed the varying opinions about the shape and preparation of the Lechem HaPanim (showbreads), and then he showed us special form pans he designed and had made to bake an actual-size sample of the Lechem HaPanim, which we used to bake a single loaf at the end of the workshop.
At the end of the day, each participant took home the samples of the various breads they made as well as freshly sliced sections of the mock Lechem HaPanim to enjoy. I’ll admit that while almost everyone ate the Rekikei Matzah, which are very similar to our modern-day hand matzot for Pesach, only Moshe and I ate the other breads; we toasted and ate them with eggs, or, in the case of the boiled and fried bread, with cream cheese or jelly.
The afternoon was fun and informative, and we all walked away feeling a much greater understanding of and appreciation for the work our ancestors did in the Beit HaMikdash. As I mentioned to the Saidels as I walked out of their sukkah—I was really hungry and decided to eat a piece of the freshly cut mock Lechem HaPanim (which tasted like salty cornbread)—the workshop was one of the most outstanding tours our family has done in several years. In other words, it was simply awesome.
Shmuel Katz, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July 2006. Before making aliyah, Shmuel was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at email@example.com.