Gil Hov­av, Israel’s lead­ing culi­nary jour­nal­ist and a pop­u­lar TV per­son­al­i­ty, recent­ly had his auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal sto­ry col­lec­tion Can­dies from Heav­en trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish by Ira Moskowitz. Below, read an excerpt from the book, The Miss­ing Fam­i­ly Jew­els,” a com­i­cal piece about a fam­i­ly myth.

Some­time back in the 19th cen­tu­ry, a Yemenite man awoke from his sleep on the out­skirts of the garbage dump in Sana’a and decid­ed that the time had come to go up to the Land of Israel. Some­how, that Yemenite man was my rel­a­tive and, of course, relat­ed to King David too (because all Yemenites claim there was a fam­i­ly tree in the syn­a­gogue in Yemen that doc­u­ment­ed their pedi­gree, direct­ly con­nect­ing them to Rab­bi Shalom Shabazi and all the way back through the gen­er­a­tions to King David, but that unfor­tu­nate­ly this doc­u­men­ta­tion was lost dur­ing the tra­vails of wan­der­ing through the Ara­bi­an Penin­su­la on the way to Zion). We weren’t big shots in Yemen – not the most high­ly edu­cat­ed in the world and not even gold­smiths. We were, in fact, among the world’s poor­est. The only sol­id infor­ma­tion my father had about the founders of the Mah­boub fam­i­ly was that his great-grandfather’s uncle was a black­smith who was blind in one eye.

In any case, on that morn­ing in the 19th cen­tu­ry, the Yemenite man gath­ered his belong­ings, his wife (assum­ing he had only one) or wives (a more real­is­tic assump­tion), and of course his chil­dren too, and start­ed walk­ing to the north­west, on a path that was sup­posed to lead them to Jerusalem. All that on foot, of course. They had a don­key, but it car­ried the father, not their belong­ings, which were left for the women to bear.

After long wan­der­ings, my ances­tors reached Jerusalem and dis­cov­ered that it was impov­er­ished and run-down, exact­ly like Sana’a – but here no one was await­ing them, not even on the out­skirts of the garbage dump. They set­tled in the vil­lage of Sil­wan, site of the bib­li­cal pools of Shiloach. Lat­er, through­out the years and gen­er­a­tions, they mar­ried, were fruit­ful and mul­ti­plied, wan­dered the land and always, but always, made sure to remain dirt poor.

The main branch of the fam­i­ly made its home in the Givat Shaul neigh­bor­hood of Jerusalem because the Fru­min Bis­cuit Com­pa­ny was locat­ed there. Bro­ken bis­cuits could be sal­vaged from the factory’s trash bins and these com­prised a key part of the Yemenite menu of those lean years. They weren’t sad – the days were harsh, near­ly every­one was poor and, in any case, Yemenites were accus­tomed to liv­ing on a menu made up entire­ly of car­bo­hy­drates. And besides, the main thing was that they were in the Land of Israel.

When Grand­pa Chaim Mah­boub mar­ried Grand­ma Mazal (née Hot­er), they made their home in a tiny apart­ment con­sist­ing of a room and a nook in the Bukharim neigh­bor­hood, with a com­mu­nal bath­room and kitchen in the court­yard. They remained dirt poor because my grand­fa­ther, who had stud­ied at the Beza­lel School of Arts and Crafts, didn’t real­ly man­age to pro­vide a liveli­hood for his wife and sev­en chil­dren from his (occa­sion­al) work as a Torah scribe. There­fore, my grand­moth­er and Aunt Eli­she­va, the eldest daugh­ter, also pitched in to sup­port the fam­i­ly: Eli­she­va worked as a nan­ny at a wealthy fam­i­ly in the Rehavia neigh­bor­hood, and my grand­moth­er worked as a jan­i­tor at the Gym­na­sia Rehavia high school, which soon made her one of the only Yemenites in the coun­try (and in the world) who spoke flu­ent Yiddish.

Forty years lat­er, when the Gymnasia’s prin­ci­pal refused to accept me at the pres­ti­gious high school, claim­ing that my math grades were too low, my father banged his fist on the table and informed him that every tile and stone in the build­ing cries out the name of Mazal Mah­boub. The shocked prin­ci­pal imme­di­ate­ly reversed his deci­sion and accept­ed me at the school, apol­o­giz­ing and con­fess­ing I wasn’t aware of the pedi­gree.” And so, I got into high school – not by virtue of my great-grand­fa­ther Eliez­er Ben-Yehu­da or because my father man­aged the nation­al radio sta­tion, but thanks to the smell of bleach that waft­ed from my fam­i­ly tree.

But we’re get­ting ahead of our­selves. Let’s go back to the 1960s and 1970s. The sev­en sons and daugh­ters of Mazal and Chaim Mah­boub grew up and mar­ried (all of them to Ashke­nazi Jews, by the way, except for my father), and all of them did well. No one became wealthy, but all of them worked, sup­port­ed them­selves and their fam­i­ly in dig­ni­ty, and were con­tent with their lot in life. My father, Uncle Ami and Aunt Gulit lived in Jerusalem. Aunt Eli­she­va lived in Los Ange­les. Aunt Reumah lived at the Wingate Insti­tute, but also kept a home in Jerusalem (“where I hide from my hus­band David”). Aunt Hadas­sah the Cos­sack changed address­es at a tor­rid pace: Revivim, Ramatay­im, Sheffield, Lon­don and final­ly Migdal, near Aunt Cha­va, who lived in Tiberias.

And here we come to an eco­nom­ic turn­ing point in the sto­ry. Despite the fact that none of the mem­bers of the orig­i­nal Mah­boub (lat­er Hebraized to Hov­av) fam­i­ly became rich or even aspired to wealth, we had a dis­tant rel­a­tive in Tiberias, a very dis­tant rel­a­tive – the type that Mooma would define as my grand­moth­er and your grand­moth­er hung laun­dry under the same sun.” They called him Uncle Shalom Hot­er, though he wasn’t real­ly an uncle. We nev­er met him, main­ly because he died when my father was a child, but he had (trum­pets, please) a pri­vate syn­a­gogue of his own in low­er Tiberias, adja­cent to the old cemetery.

As not­ed, none of us knew Uncle Shalom Hot­er, but we con­sid­ered him one of us – and this includ­ed a deep sense of affin­i­ty toward the prop­er­ty he had appar­ent­ly left behind. We didn’t real­ly know how we were relat­ed, but a Hot­er is a Hot­er,” Dad declared, and all of us are Hot­ers, of the Hot­er fam­i­ly.” In this way, Uncle Shalom Hot­er filled the role of the rich uncle we all dreamed we had in Amer­i­ca. His prop­er­ty con­tin­ued to grow over the years, if not in real­i­ty then at least in our Ori­en­tal fan­tasies, and the syn­a­gogue on the out­skirts of the ceme­tery became a pri­vate beach on the Sea of Galilee. Lat­er, we would refer to the late uncle as Uncle Shalom, who owned half of Tiberias.”

The prob­lem was that while Uncle Shalom Hot­er may have been rich, he was most def­i­nite­ly dead. Every­one knew that Aunt Cha­va, who as a res­i­dent of the city held the Tiberias port­fo­lio in the fam­i­ly, had an old and dusty suit­case con­tain­ing doc­u­ments per­tain­ing to Uncle Shalom Hot­er. (Aunt Reumah imag­ined that the suit­case con­tained a Turk­ish deed for all of the lands in Poria!” while Aunt Hadas­sah mod­est­ly added, I actu­al­ly heard that the Arbel1 is list­ed in his name in the Land Reg­istry.”) But Cha­va didn’t appre­ci­ate this talk about our late Uncle Shalom Hot­er. Every time some­one men­tioned the sto­ry of the suit­case, when the entire fam­i­ly gath­ered at the home of Cha­va and Amos to cel­e­brate the Passover seder, she found var­i­ous excus­es to avoid pulling it down from the stor­age area. She would always claim: There aren’t so many doc­u­ments there, just one enve­lope with a doc­u­ment I’ve nev­er read, and the seder night is not the time to dwell on our rich late uncle.”

And thus the years passed, and the pre­sumed hold­ings of our late Uncle Shalom Hot­er con­tin­ued to inflate. There was already talk of hous­es in Safed and, of course, the com­plete Cru­sad­er wall in Tiberias, home­steads in the Galilee and even entire com­mer­cial streets in Jerusalem. Some­times when we were walk­ing in the city cen­ter, my father would stop next to a par­tic­u­lar­ly beau­ti­ful build­ing and say: Do you see this house? This house would be fit­ting for Uncle Shalom Hot­er to own. Who knows, who knows. We real­ly need to check with Aunt Chava.”

We all believed we were clos­et Roth­schilds except for Mooma, who pooh-poohed the whole sto­ry of the deeds and Land Reg­istry, assert­ing: That dark-skinned father of yours, when he mar­ried your moth­er, could bare­ly scrape togeth­er enough mon­ey to pay the rab­bi. His father would eat bis­cuits from the trash and his moth­er was a jan­i­tor at the Gym­na­sia. Lis­ten to me, kudi­lo – there is no mon­ey there. And if there were, it was hid­den so well that it will nev­er be found.”

In the end, left with no alter­na­tive (I was a 24-year-old stu­dent, poor as a church mouse in the best Sana’a tra­di­tion), I pressed my father to trav­el with me to Tiberias, to Cha­va and the mys­te­ri­ous suit­case, and final­ly, once and for all, claim the lands to which we’re legal­ly enti­tled. Cha­va was hap­py to host us, but avoid­ed the mat­ter of the suit­case, as usu­al. I don’t remem­ber where it is any­more,” Cha­va said. It might have com­plete­ly dis­in­te­grat­ed.” Then she claimed that only a crazy per­son would climb into the stor­age area and that it was dan­ger­ous. I could see that Aunt Cha­va was just try­ing to cling to a dream, but I was more greedy than sen­si­tive. So, on our sec­ond day in Tiberias, while Cha­va was busy prepar­ing refresh­ments (ja’aleh) – tea, dried fruits and nuts, I snuck into the attic, took down a round and dusty leather suit­case, and pre­sent­ed it to my father.

Cha­va turned pale. Our late Uncle Shalom Hoter’s doc­u­ment!” she exclaimed, and my father added: And, of course, the deeds to the lands and hous­es in Safed.”

And the pri­vate beach at the Sea of Galilee,” I chimed in.

And the slope of Poria,” Cha­va said, swept up in the excitement.

With trem­bling hands, my father opened the suit­case and the enve­lope inside it. He had a won­der­ful voice, my father, and it plays in my ears to this day, read­ing the fol­low­ing words:

Death Cer­tifi­cate

We, Yaakov Azue­los and Yehiel Alfendari, here­by tes­ti­fy that we washed the corpse of the late tzadik Shalom Hot­er, and when we did this, we saw with our own eyes that he had only one testicle. 

What does this mean?” I breath­less­ly asked my father and his sis­ter, who both looked com­plete­ly in shock. It means that there is no prop­er­ty,” Cha­va stat­ed. Because it proves that he was infer­tile and had no heirs, and then, if there’s no last will and tes­ta­ment, the prop­er­ty goes to the state,” my father explained.

Oh well,” I said. So we’ll remain poor. We’re already used to it. Why are you two so upset?”

The syn­a­gogue by the ceme­tery is not so impor­tant to me,” my father admit­ted. But it’s a shame about the hous­es in Jerusalem.”

I’m annoyed by some­thing else,” Cha­va said. It annoys me that I know – yes, I’m sim­ply sure Gili – that you’ll take this sto­ry about one beytza and use it to give a receipt for ham­i­na­dos eggs in one of those awful sto­ries of yours.

Cha­va,” I exclaimed, pained to the depths of my soul. Is that real­ly what you think of me?!”

1 Poria and Mount Arbel are hill­top sites over­look­ing Tiberias.

2 Right­eous person

3 The same Hebrew word – beytza – can mean both egg and testicle.

Slow-Cooked Eggs (Huevos Haminados)

Orig­i­nal­ly, this involved eggs cooked in a pot with cholent or kubana. They would remain all night in the oven and emerge brown and fra­grant. In Israel’s very hot cli­mate, there are few oppor­tu­ni­ties to pre­pare cholent and, con­sid­er­ing the (unfor­tu­nate) fact that most of the pop­u­la­tion is not Yemenite, kubana is also not a com­mon baked good. There­fore, here is a sim­ple recipe for fake ham­i­na­dos eggs.



3 teabags


1 tsp salt 

1. Fill a pot with water and add the salt. Place the eggs inside and hang the teabags with their tags on the edge of the pot so that the bags will be immersed in the water but won’t fall inside.

2. Bring to a boil, low­er the heat and cov­er. When the water is real­ly brown, you can dis­pose of the teabags.

3. Con­tin­ue to sim­mer over a very low flame for at least 5 hours (8 if pos­si­ble, and even 10).

4. Peel, cut into halves and serve.

From Can­dies from Heav­en by Gil Hov­av, pub­lished by Toad Pub­lish­ing. Copy­right ©Gil Hov­av 2017. Reprint­ed with permission.

Gil Hov­av is Israel’s lead­ing culi­nary jour­nal­ist and a pop­u­lar TV per­son­al­i­ty. Gil has played a major role in the remak­ing of Israeli cui­sine and the trans­for­ma­tion of Israel from a coun­try of basic tra­di­tion­al foods into a gourmet nation”. Gil has pro­duced some of Israel’s most pop­u­lar TV cook­ing shows and writ­ten a num­ber of best­selling cook­books and novels.

As an author, Gil has pub­lished three best-sell­ing nov­els, all relat­ed in dif­fer­ent ways, to his fam­i­ly’s col­or­ful his­to­ry, expos­ing with humor and emo­tion a Jerusalem of his child­hood that no longer exists. The fourth, titled Twen­ty Four Doors, was pub­lished in April 2015 and hit the top of the nation­al best­seller list. The first Eng­lish edi­tion, Can­dies from Heav­en was released in Novem­ber 2017

Nowa­days, Gil is busy with his pub­lish­ing and pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny — Toad Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and with his week­ly radio show about restau­rants in Israel. His lat­est 20 episode TV series, Food for Thought’ includ­ed 20 inter­views with Nobel lau­re­ates, includ­ing John Nash, Elie Wiesel, Daniel Kah­ne­man, Eric Kan­del and many others.Gil lives with his part­ner Dan, whom he met dur­ing their army ser­vice, and togeth­er they raise their daugh­ter, Naomi.