Israel’s newest delicacy is delicious — if far from kosher

Smuggled into Jerusalem in shopping bags, the Aziz Butchers' bacon dazzles foreign journalists and diplomats alike

Topics: GlobalPost, west bank, Israel, Bacon, ,

Israel's newest delicacy is delicious -- if far from kosher
This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

Global Post BEIT JALA, West Bank — The fact of the matter is that it is not that difficult to buy pork in Jerusalem.

Most supermarkets in the city, including the large chains, are either kosher or halal, and thus do not carry the product. But between the secular, native-born Muslims and Jews, Christians, the local tribe of internationals, and Russian Jews who lost many kosher habits during 70 years under communism, a significant number of consumers hanker after the rosy meat.

In fact, the stringency of Jewish and Muslim prohibitions against pork may well serve to heighten the desire for it in a city that almost glows with religious fervor.

In recent months, among journalists and diplomats stationed in town — men and women alike — there has been a quiet thrumming about someone referred to as “the beautiful pork guy in Beit Jala.”

GlobalPost set out to uncover what the buzz was all about.

Beit Jala is a Palestinian Christian town between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, right on the seam between Israel and a potential future Palestinian state. Its inhabitants are largely Greek Orthodox Christians. The fact that it is outside of Israel proper makes it illegal to re-enter Israel carrying meat, but the law is laxly applied.

The Alsoos family has had a butcher’s shop in the center of town, and a pig farm adjacent to it, since 1920.

Today, the shop is small and conspicuously well-kept, with two large meat refrigerators behind the counter and, in the front of the store, two smaller display cases holding an impressive array of salamis, mortadella, smoked bacon, and sausages in an alluring rainbow ranging from cream to a deeply rusty red, studded with points of fat.

At any given moment at the Aziz Butchers, you are likely to hear three or four or more languages murmured by customers considering their options.

Busily manning the counter is Raf Alsoos, 24, a third-generation pig farmer and general meat man, who, as GlobalPost can attest, possesses a winning smile and warm manner that easily draws customers who may have more mundane sources of pork closer at hand.

All the fresh meat is produced at the Alsoos farm. For any locavore meat-lover trapped in a desert of pre-cut, mass-industry meat counters, the cuts here are a sigh-worthy dream: bright and light and pink. Raf commonly advises the doubtful about which cuts better fit an Easter barbecue (chops and souvlaki cubes), and which would be best roasted and served on a platter. Sixty percent of their current business, according to Raf, comes from “journalists and embassies.”

To the almost certain surprise of his international clients, many of whom delight in the titillation of crossing from Israel into Palestine for the procurement of a taboo substance, all the smoked and processed meats come from … “Tel Aviv,” Raf says, laughing. “Some friend of my dad’s makes it. They’ve known each other since 1993.”

These meats can be said to be doubly smuggled: spirited informally into Palestine in the trunk of a car, and then carried back into Jerusalem in small portions in shopping bags, under the eyes of checkpoint soldiers who do not seem unduly exercised by the prospect of illicitly imported salami.

Aziz, Raf’s father, says that business boomed between 1970 and 2000. That is local code for describing the relatively prosperous years bracketed by the Six Day War, in 1967, and the second intifada.

“Before the intifada and the wall going up,” Aziz says, referring to the security wall Israel built during the eruption of violence in the early 2000s, “eighty percent of my clients were Israelis. I have a lot of Israeli friends.”

In the early ’90s, looking for new partnerships, he met Chanan Abramovich (the Tel Avivite Raf mentioned), who had recently acquired a flagging pork business from Karl Berg, a retiree.

Abramovich, who is 62, says “Aziz and I met many, many years ago. It wasn’t just salami. We’ve been friends for years. He and I worked together trading males and females for our farms, or I’d bring him medicine for the animals.”

Today, Karl Berg, which retained its original name under Abramovich, is established as one of Israel’s top pork producing operations, beneath the unrivalled pork superpower Kibbutz Mizra. Historically, the collectivist kibbutz movement has been militantly secular, and several kibbutzim currently produce pork products.

The Romanian-born Abramovich, whose family fled the communist regime when he was 12, owns the processing plant in Holon, a Tel Aviv bedroom community, and a pig farm of about 10,000 heads in Iblin, a Christian town in the Galilee. In Holon they smoke the bacon, for example, that the Alsoos family’s customers so crave. The Abramoviches also own a shop in Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem’s central market, which proved useful to Aziz Alsoos after the wall went up. For a while, ”when I had orders from Jerusalem I’d take the meat from Karl Berg in the market and not from my shop, because of the checkpoint.”

In 2004, the Alsoos family moved to Canada to seek a better future. Aziz now runs a Middle Eastern restaurant outside Toronto, from which he spoke to GlobalPost.

But last July, Raf, who had helped his dad out every summer, decided to come back and run the family business with an older brother. ”I have my own business,” he shrugs. “Why would I want to work for anyone else? And it’s fun to work with meat,” he adds.

The next generation is taking over at Chanan Abramovich’s business, as well. When he spoke with GlobalPost, Abramovich, who travels frequently, was “in Normandy, enjoying the seafood.” Back at the meat plant, his son Ran, 29, was expecting a pick-up from Raf Alsoos that very day.

Like Raf Alsoos, Ran Abramovich proudly says the business is “100 percent meat, no fillers, no substitutes.” The two families’ intertwined businesses — youthful, artisanal, local — could be a Brooklyn cliche, all the more startling considering the West Bank surroundings.

But it’s no surprise that the Alsoos family’s Jerusalem clients are willing to bend the rules to get their hands on the meat. The pork chops grill up crisp and succulent, and Karl Berg’s black pepper salami is an irresistible accompaniment for a cold beer.

The fact of the matter is, not only is pork available in Israel: It’s superb.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...