Bringing New York-style bagels to the Negev

On a Friday morning in late September, a group of strangers got together to learn how to make New York-style bagels. One might assume that this type of bagel workshop took place in Ra’anana or Jerusalem, but the fact remains that these enthusiastic Israelis were learning the art of baking bagels in the southern Negev city of Yeroham.

Led by Pittsburgh native Ariel Pollock Star, participants hailing from Dimona, Beersheba, Yeroham and even Hod Hasharon, each came across a bag of six freshly baked bagels ranging from sesame to onion at the end of the workshop.

“It’s always exciting for people to see and eat the final product,” said Pollock Star, 34, who founded Lehem Zeh, a collaborative kitchen space, last February. In a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post MagazinePollock Star, who lives in Yeroham with her husband and four children, explained what led her to bring the American bagel to the southern periphery of Israel.

Five years ago, Ariel, her husband Michael, and their two children made aliyah from Cincinnati, where Michael, a neurologist, had completed a fellowship. They moved to Beersheba through the Nefesh B’Nefesh Go South program, as Michael, a native of Indianapolis, had found a job at Soroka University Medical Center. “We had both spent time in Israel before, but never in southern Israel,” said Pollock Star. After a few months in Beersheba, the young family decided the city was not the right fit for them and looked for options near Beersheba. .

“We needed a warmer environment and a smaller community,” said Pollock Star. “The first time we visited Yeroham, we felt there was something special in the air. The people were very welcoming and we felt at home.

“Yeroham was also great because we wanted to integrate into Israeli society faster and improve our Hebrew. In addition, today we also have the comfort zone of having other English-speaking families around us ”.

Bagels of all varieties (credit: Ariel Pollock Star)

FORWARDING FAST a few years later, Ariel found herself in the middle of the corona pandemic. “I was working in a marketing and strategy role at Yeroham when the pandemic hit. I took a step back from my job because I had to stay home to be with the kids.

“I found myself missing my family in the United States and feeling very far from home. The beauty and challenge of moving to a place that is totally different from where you grew up is that you have two places to call home, but then the challenge is that neither place feels completely comfortable, ”he explained.

During the coronavirus shutdown, Pollock Star and his family thought of the most American product that couldn’t really be bought in Israel, and that’s when they thought of bagels. “I tend to express myself through food. So for my husband’s birthday, I made a batch of bagels. As we sat around the table eating the bagels, I felt tears come to my eyes. “

It was at this point that Pollock Star decided that he would continue making bagels. “It was therapeutic for me,” he said.

He began to pass them on to friends and local residents, which also included a considerable number of people with Anglo-Saxon backgrounds. “They were very excited about the bagels. Like me, they experienced this nostalgia for a family meal from their past. “

Soon, Pollock Star began selling his bagels, opening a small business called Little City Bagels, as a side project to the crown. “I did some pop-up stores and the bagels started reaching people who were not part of my immediate circles,” he recalled. “There were so many who asked me, what is this bread?”

Pollock Star was surprised by how many people did not know what bagels were. “Given our global world, I couldn’t believe that there were people who hadn’t yet heard of bagels.”

He quickly realized that the bagels hadn’t made it to Yeroham. However, the experience of being able to share this type of bread with a new audience had acquired another meaning. “It was amazing to be able to share something of myself with this city that has given me so much,” she said.

And yet Pollock Star also remembered that there were types of breads in Yeroham that she did not know about in America. “When we first moved to Yeroham, we went to buy challah for Shabbat at the local bakery. We saw people buying this popular bread that we did not recognize and then we asked, what was it? The locals were amazed that we had never heard of this tasty bread, called frena, before. In Yeroham, frena is a Moroccan bread that is considered a Jewish bread in the same way that a bagel in the United States is considered a Jewish bread, ”he said.

“Bread can be totally different between cultures, but it has the power to serve as a fundamental connector between people and start a conversation.”

THIS WAS NOT Pollock Star’s first foray into the world of business and food. She has a culinary certificate from a culinary school in Jerusalem and has always loved cooking and baking. Previous ventures include running a pop-up dinner club in Chicago and helping start a combined restaurant and social business there. “My experience combines social issues, social business and food,” he said.

But learning about the aspects of running a business in Israel was eye-opening for Pollock Star. “There are many small home bakery businesses in Yeroham, run mainly by women as a supplemental income,” he noted. “It’s a big challenge to run a store business because Yeroham is off the beaten track. While tourism is growing and expanding to this area, there is still not enough foot traffic to justify the cost of running a window display business. Nor are there many commercial spaces available, and those that do tend to be very expensive ”.

So it was a natural solution for Pollock Star to create a collaborative kitchen space, Lehem Zeh (Hebrew for “This Bread”) for other small bakery companies to use and share the costs. He located a suitable space and equipped the kitchen, bringing the necessary equipment. While she made the initial investment, the goal was for future bakery partners who joined later to play a role in financially sustaining the space.

Today, Lehem Zeh has four other Yeroham partners, including Yehudit Ben Hamu, who runs workshops on sourdough breads; Nurit Swead, who bakes and sells Tunisian breads; Rivka Lichtenstein, who runs challah baking workshops; and Karin Iluz, who creates healthy snacks.

“It is important for me to emphasize that Lehem Zeh is a joint social enterprise and each of the partners works to contribute to its success,” said Pollock Star, who runs his Hebrew and English bagel workshops for locals as well as locals. visiting groups from across the country. “Initially I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears. When we decided to move to Israel, we knew that we wanted to contribute in some way to the periphery of the country. This is my way of doing it. ”

The writer made aliyah from Maine in 2004. She lives with her family in Yeroham and works as an English teacher in Midreshet Ben-Gurion.

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