Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.


In Search of Israeli Cuisine


In the early-70’s, I spent over three months on a kibbutz in the Negev. It was an amazing experience in many ways, but the food was not among the highlights. Breakfasts consisted of “Israeli salad,” yogurts, bread, tea, and something we called, “chocy sauce,” a pre-curser to Nutella. Dinners were a monotonous and not very adventurous boiled chicken.

In the Kitchen

In the Kitchen

So when I heard that there was a new film about Israeli food, I was intrigued. What could a 94-minute documentary possibly have to say about a cuisine of almost no note? To my surprise, the answer is “a lot.” In the skilled hands of director Roger Sherman and the warm embrace of chef and James Beard Award-Winner Michael Solomonov, also the on-camera host, the film opened up a whole new culinary world to me. And it went well beyond just humus and falafel.

Michael with tomatoes

In the Tomato Field

Traveling up and down this tiny [the size of New Jersey] but incredibly diverse country, viewers are introduced to Israel’s history, culture, and religions. Michael meets chefs, restaurateurs, farmers, winemakers, and journalists and delves deep into the origins of the foods they grow and cook, their families, and the immigrant experience. And what an experience it is.  This “new” cuisine draws from thousands of years of history and over 150 different countries and cultures including Bulgaria, Russia, Germany, Turkey, Poland, Ethiopia, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Palestine. All of them celebrate the bounty and abundance of the local products around them.  As one chef says, “It’s the flavor of Eretz Israel, the Land of Israel.”

Michael and cheesemaker

With the Cheesemaker

The film is also a heartfelt reminder of Solomonov’s own heritage. He was born in Israel but grew up in Pittsburgh eating his Romanian grandmother’s cheese and potato “borekas,” a dish he recreates on camera. During the production, he also visits the place where his brother was killed during the Yom Kippur fighting in 2003. That history led Michael to re-examine his own Israeli/Sephardic roots; and ultimately to open his restaurant, Zahav, which means “gold” in Hebrew.

Fishing in the Galilee

Fishing in the Galilee

From a filmmaking standpoint, this doc is a lovely little gem. The pacing and editing is spot on; the chefs, farmers, and restaurateurs are passionate and articulate; and the scenes of the landscapes are stunning. Kudos also to the light, atmospheric touch of the music created by Amit Gur and Moshe Da’aboul.

So what is Israeli Cuisine? Like any good recipe or great dish, it is a subtle and ever-changing mosaic of rich and colorful flavors; full of history and personal stories; and all of it touched with love.

Top: Michael with spices

All photo credits:  Florentine Films

Oslo – Important AND Entertaining


Five years ago, Director Bartlett Sher introduced Norwegian sociologist Terje-Rod  Larsen to playwright J.T. Rogers. Larsen shared a little known backstory of the 1993 Oslo peace accord with the author who, it seems, had long wanted to write about the Israelis and Palestinians. A revealing history describing the secret involvement of Norway, unofficial representatives from both sides and, in particular, his wife, diplomat Mona Juul (then an official in the Norwegian Foreign Ministry) and himself (at the time director of the Fafo Institute for Applied Social Sciences) provides the basis for this riveting play. Though Rogers later interviewed the couple in depth, he stayed away from other survivors preferring to put his own stamp on participants.


Jennifer Ehle, Jefferson Mays

Like Stephen Sondheim’s song “Someone in a Tree” (Pacific Overtures) or Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen, Rogers embroiders on what he was told, filling in that which couldn’t be observed. He also admittedly sexed up the characters, making them younger, combining and omitting for dramatic purposes. The implausible-but-true facts are, however, front and center with much of what the author deems “crazy” notably accurate.

In the course of three acts (with two intermissions), we’re made to feel like voyeurs, flies on the wall of a volatile narrative peppered with unexpected comedy emerging when historical enemies let their hair down. There are even jokes and sharp parodies of political figures that emerge when historical enemies let their hair down. Partly narrated by smart, level-headed Mona with wry asides to us, the story illuminates a roster of galvanizing players. It’s not necessary to know the accord’s public history, though some knowledge concerning both sides’ contentions would help.

Daniel Oreskes, Anthony Azizi, Daniel Jenkins, Dariush Kashani

The first act opens and closes on a dinner party at which Terje (Jefferson Mays) and Mona (Jennifer Ehle) intend to inform incipient Norwegian Prime Minister Johan Jorgan Host (T. Ryder Smith) and his wife Marianne Heiberg (Henny Russell) of about 9 months of clandestine meetings they’ve been facilitating between the P.L.O. and Israelis. The initially congenial evening is interrupted by two calls on side by side telephones, one from Israeli Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin (Adam Dannheisser), the other from a P.L.O. representative.

Meeting participants include: fox-like P.L.O. Finance Minister Ahmed Qurie (Anthony Azizi) and unruly Marxist Palestinian, Hassan Asfour (Dariush Kashani) on one side of the table and wary, economic academics Yair Hirschfeld (Daniel Oreskes) and Ron Pundak (Daniel Jenkins) – sent first so as not to involve the actual government on the other. The Israelis are later joined i.e. “upgraded” to tenacious Washington lawyer Joel Singer (Joseph Siravo) and cabinet member Uri Savir (Michael Aronov) who climbs out a Paris hotel window to secretly make his way to meetings, “because as we all know,” Mona dryly comments, “every mid-level Israeli diplomat is a rock star in Norway.”

Daniel Oreskes, Daniel Jenkins, Jefferson Mays, Anthony Azizi, Dariush Kashani

Nor has Terje and Mona’s relationship been depicted as cardboard background. The sociologist is clearly drawn as wildcard instigator and driving force while his highly esteemed wife navigates diplomacy and keeps him at least in sight of protocol. “Take one more step forward,” she vehemently warns as they observe Qurie and Savir, “and I’ll divorce you.”

Acts Two and Three take us through the machinations/demands of the two factions both of whom risk international sanctions. Precautions are taken, but breached. Though we finally meet Shimon Peres (Daniel Oreskes), Arafat and Rabin never appear. Being aware of the outcome, does nothing to hinder absorption.

Every man is objectively depicted, his work and private selves played with specificity. As 60 years of habitual hatred and mistrust come to fore, remarks are condescending, insults searing, yet passions can turn on a dime.

When Savir describes his time in New York, it’s like watching an infectiously enthusiastic teenager. His parody of “asshole” Henry Kissinger verges on incendiary, yet ends in laughter. Fathers are remembered, daughter’s names shared, lots and lots of Johnny Walker Black imbibed. (The future film company will no doubt be paid for placement.)


Anthony Azizi, Dariush Kashani, Michael Aronov, Joseph Siravo, background-Angela Pierce

Though, as we know, the center didn’t hold, what was attempted was remarkable in its approach, risk, and reward. This is an eminently human saga of uplifting compromise where none seemed the least bit possible. Our obstructive Republican Congress, among others, might learn something.

Ensemble work is superb. Jefferson Mays’ rabbitty alertness and nuanced reaction to setbacks, Michael Aronov’s energy and theatricality and Jennifer Ehle’s preternatural, decidedly feminine equanimity add immeasurably. Angela Pierce is charming as the appreciated cook who, Hassan declares, “is to food what Vladimir Lenin is to land reform.”

Director Barlett Sher creates memorable stage images – allowing all three sections of audience sightline, enhances character with physicality, and paces the mercurial stop/start piece masterfully.

Michael Yeargan’s fluid set works in tandem with evocative Projections by 59Projections and Lighting by Donald Holder- love the snow!

Photos by T. Charles Erickson
Opening: Michael Aronov, Jefferson Mays, Anthony Azizi

Oslo by J.T. Rogers
Directed by Bartlett Sher
Through August 28, 2016
The Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center
Reopens at The Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center on March 23, 2017