Shalom al Lechem, meaning “greetings over bread”, is one of Jerusalem Village’s programs in which young Israelis around Jerusalem host Shabbat dinners for other young Israelis and olim in their private homes. A sabra and an immigrant host the meals jointly, each invites a small group of friends. JV provides the caterer, the portable kosher kitchen, and the food, while the hosts provide the conversation, inspiration for the menu, and guaranteed fun!
Avia Prins and Rachel Koenigson hosted the last Shalom al Leche, and presented a wonderful meal for their guests, as a dynamic hosting duo. Avital Blass, Jerusalem’s in-house chef, out did herself with some delicious food inspired by Avia and Rachel’s family history and food-interests. In the heat of the pre-Shabbat rush, I sat down with Avia and Rachel to learn about their work, passions, and why they wanted to host for Shalom al Lechem.
Q: Tell me about yourself.
Avia: I was born in Jerusalem and raised in Kiryat Moshe. I lived in Pizgat Ze’ev and went to a religious school, where I specialized in radio. I did my national service in Soroka Hospital and did my BA in psychology and political science at Bar Ilan University. I went on for my masters there as well in political science. I was also a shlicha in New Jersey for the Jewish Agency about a year and a half ago and I also worked in the Misrad HaKlita.
Rachel: I made aliyah 12 years ago from New Jersey. After making aliyah, I studied in Israel at Wingate Institute for Physical Education and Sports and then Reidman College for alternative medicine.
Q: What do you do for work?
Avia: I currently work at the Employment Training Center for women in Jerusalem, where I guide groups related to job searching. I help them with interviewing, self-esteem, and coaching them—they are all from more at risk populations. Some of them are recovering from a background of crime, drugs, and poverty. The best part of my job is that I can actually see them get better with time.
Rachel: I am a personal trainer, acupuncturist, massage therapist, and even a teacher of massage. Now, I’m living in Jerusalem and practicing in Baka. My work is very eclectic—I have many Israelis and olim as clients.
Q: What are your hobbies and dreams?
Avia: My hobbies include doing puzzles, reading books, traveling, cooking, and seeing friends. My dream for the future is to develop a program that combines Judaism and nature, something like a “Jewish Environment Center” that connects the things we use, caring for people and animals, and our bodies.
Rachel: I love to crochet hats, scarves, and blankets. I love movies. I also love to bake, cook, and travel—I even have a travel buddy with whom I love to travel. I also love concerts and cultural events. My dream is to open a flower shop. I love the smell of flowers and arranging them—I’d want to sell them in a store, although it would be a huge change of profession.
Q: What excites you about the way that Jerusalem Village is looking to bring together and engage a diverse group of young Jerusalemites in Shabbat experiences?
Avia: When I worked for the Misrad HaKlita, about seventy-five percent of the six hundred olim I worked with immigrated alone. They were from everywhere in the world and it was Israel that connected them all together, and to me. Everyone brings his or her own culture here and everyone has a charm. I love witnessing that and meeting new people, especially olim. In Israel, most people or their parents made aliyah at some point. I’m a third generation Israeli. I believe that Israel is a home for all Jews and I love connecting to olim so I can give back—that’s what helped my parents to integrate here.
I also love hosting and getting together for Shabbat—I look forward to it all week. It’s all about relaxing, getting off technology, and being with the people you love. You really get power for the next week. My rule of Shabbat is that there is no maximum number of people who can come over for dinner. There is always more room. My mom always said, “If you have place in your heart, then you have place in your home”.
Rachel: I also love hosting and making meals. And I think it is so important for Israelis and olim chadashim to mix. That really needs to happen. As an oleh, you really can’t get stuck in an English-speaking group. We need to be able to meet the people around us. Many of my friends are Israelis and long-time Israeli citizens.
Q: Why Jerusalem?
Avia: There’s not even an option to live elsewhere. This is the best city, my friends are here, and if I’m going to live in a city, it’s Jerusalem. I love how Jerusalem is becoming more focused on young adults; there are so many cultural things to do in Jerusalem. I see that in recent years, there is now more on the table for religious and non-religious people. I also actually think its really cool how people argue about the city, because it shows that people care and want to stand up for the city.
Rachel: I love Jerusalem. I came here first for a job then I took courses through Wingate. Of course there’s more work for my field in Tel Aviv, but my clientele are here and I wouldn’t live anywhere else. There’s a deep energy here that can tire you out, but for me, Jerusalem is the modern orthodox Israel. Actually, for me, Israel equals Jerusalem.
Q: Tell me about the food you made for your Shabbat dinner and how it may connect to your family’s cooking.
Avia: The food is Indian-fusion for tonight. I was in India for four months once and I’ve been vegetarian for three years now. One of the dishes we are making is called emulaim— It’s a stuffed veggie dish. My mom made aliyah from Romania after the Holocaust and the food reminds me of my parents and my grandmother’s Hungarian food. My dad is from Holland, although he is very Zionist—he doesn’t even speak Dutch. The Dutch side didn’t pass down as much good food.
On my mom’s side of the family, I distinctly remember the smells of the food in the kitchen. During the last years of my grandmother’s life, she lived with my family and made a lot of food for us. I love to cook Hungarian Mussaka because of her. I try to replicate her recipe, but I just can’t do it justice.
Rachel: My mom used to have go-to dishes, mostly salads. She would make a strawberry and spinach salad with avocado. She also made a lot of stuffed veggies like the one we are making today. I absolutely love soups. I don’t have much of a specific food group my family used to make because I’m third generation American. My mom’s family came from Vienna in 1939 and my Dad’s mom came from Romania. Oh, but one funny thing is that one of my jobs in this meal was to massage the kale, which is funny because of my job as a masseuse.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Aliyah Annotated” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her column on JNS.org.