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Israeli chef cooks feasts for partnership
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Israeli chef cooks feasts for partnership

Ofakim caterer from federation sister town ‘gives back’ to community

Osi Lankri and her assistant Mor Bohadana, left, create an Israeli meal in a Short Hills home; with them are, from left, host Robin Buchalter, Beth Levin, Eileen Breindel, Catalina Silberman, Philippa Miller, Stephanie Evenchick, and Debbie Zucker.
Osi Lankri and her assistant Mor Bohadana, left, create an Israeli meal in a Short Hills home; with them are, from left, host Robin Buchalter, Beth Levin, Eileen Breindel, Catalina Silberman, Philippa Miller, Stephanie Evenchick, and Debbie Zucker.

If Osi Lankri has it right — that every time someone cooks one of her late father’s recipes, he smiles down on her — she was bathed in his approval last week.

The Israeli, a cookbook writer and caterer from Ofakim, cooked her way around the Greater MetroWest region last week, doing “Cool Bishul” (“bishul” means “cooking”) demos in synagogues, private homes, and other venues.

Working with her assistant Mor Bohadana and her “students,” with variations for time and circumstance, she whipped up feasts fragrant with Moroccan and Iraqi flavors. The menus included meatballs and baked chicken, a side dish of vegetables served over couscous, plus falafel and hummus and Israeli salad, with date honey balls for dessert. 

Lankri came to New Jersey as her “way of giving back,” volunteering her time in return for the support provided to her a decade ago by the Women’s Ethnic Empowerment Group. The group is part of the teamwork between the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and Ofakim — its “sister” community in the Negev through the Jewish Agency for Israel’s Partnership2Gether project — and it was designed to help women use their cooking skills to generate an income. Lankri parlayed that support into a home-based catering business.

As she put it, “I’m a chef by heart and a social-entrepreneur by soul. I offer my guests a taste of the Israeli cuisine — influenced by Iraqi and Moroccan kitchens — and the warm hospitality I grew up with.”

This fortunate writer got to watch and taste on May 11 when Lankri worked her magic at a demonstration organized through Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills and held in the home of Robin Buchalter. It was Lankri and Bohadana’s fifth group in three days, with more to come. Lankri admitted she was tired, and all the more so because that day was Yom Hazikaron, when Israelis commemorate those lost in its wars. Despite the solemnity of the day, she was warmly welcoming.

Her other cooking venues during the week of May 9-May 13 were organized through Temple Har Shalom, Warren; Mount Freedom Jewish Center in Randolph; and Chabad at Short Hills.

The recipes she used are in her book, Osi Recipes Telling a Story: Israeli Home, dedicated to her beloved father, Ezra Hava. He emigrated from Iraq at 18, and was one of the founders of Ofakim. “He was an entrepreneur who took part in Ben-Gurion’s mission to make the Negev desert a thriving place,” his daughter said. 

“My father and I cooked together,” she told the Short Hills group, her eyes gleaming with tears. He died in 2014, just before Rosh Hashana, at a time when Israel was battling Hamas violence. “Without saying anything to anyone in my family, I decided to make a cookbook of his recipes, and the small stories that go with each one. On the day of his memorial, I presented each of them with a copy.”

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