I never realized how much I love this beautiful and unique fruit until 2010 when I began to travel annually to Israel. There, in both function and form, you see pomegranates everywhere. From the stunning jewelry stores in downtown Tel Aviv and Neve Tzedek, to the shuks and Cardo of Jerusalem, poms call out to me: silver earrings, challah covers, shiny menorahs, bronze pins. My prize possession is the latter, found in a small shop in Ein Hod, an artists’ colony in the Carmel Mountains, near Haifa.
While the fruit has only widely been in US markets for a few years, it is often small and dark. In Israel, poms are a rich part of their cuisine. Their size is triple what they are here, the gorgeous red, radiant, and the most enticing element of the orb, the crown, is open, fresh and intact. They are served in salads, made into juice, and one very special treat, pomegranate molasses, the trendiest of condiments.
The fruit is believed to hold many secrets: romantic images in the Torah; fertility for women; the world of plenty and pleasure. References and reflections abound in literature and music. In the mid-1990s, my daughter attended Jewish day school while I set about to have an adult bat mitzvah and participate in a wider range of adult learning. Sometime during this period, I became aware of the minhag (custom/belief) that a pomegranate has 613 seeds, the number of mitzvot in the Torah. I was so charmed by this concept, my daughter and I tried once to count the seeds!
While many of my poms are ubiquitous today in gift shops around the world, there are some unusual ones:
A small painting was purchased in Tzafat, a small town rich with spiritual history and artist life in the high mountains of Israel’s most northern point. The Boston contingent of that year's JFNA Womens Philanthropy’s Heart2Heart trip had gone to visit our sister city, Haifa, that day, so we reached Tzafat very late in the afternoon. Down the long, narrow winding street where artists sell their wares, I saw only men, eager to sell before the day’s end of business. Suddenly, deep in a little alcove, I saw a woman, quietly painting, the only woman in a sea of male artists. And her specialty? Poms! The paintings were beautiful, and perfectly sized for traveling. I bought this one, which hangs in my kitchen, and every day I remember that year's trip to the spiritual mountain town.
One year, I had just an hour to walk on Ben Yehuda Street, a famous and busy shopping district of Jerusalem. As always, I was on a search for poms, and drawn to one of the many chotchkeh (souvenir) shops. These small sienna-colored ceramic poms were packed, two by two. They are traveling Shabbat candle holders, or as I use them, for salt and pepper. They were wrapped in a cellophane bag with a card that indicated they were made by people with disabilities, as part of a non-profit enterprise. I bought half a dozen, and they were the gift for my friends that year.
A wall hanging was bought at the amazing gift shop of the even more amazing Israel Museum in Jerusalem. It’s the prayer for the home, which you see all over Israel, in English and Hebrew. The words mean: Within this gate, there will be no sadness; within this home, there will be no trouble. Within this door, there will be no fear; and in this room, there will be no arguments. Within our home, there will always be blessings and peace.
A large cookbook by Janna Gur is wonderful, and not just because of the gorgeous picture on the cover. I was honored to watch the author, a Russian Israeli who is widely known the world over, cook when she visited a few years ago. Since friends and family know how much I love poms, I’ve received three copies (so far!). It’s fun to pass them on, with my love of poms, to other friends.
And just for a sense of whimsy, I cherish a cup from El Al. I always travel on Israel’s official airline, and last year, 2013, they had a new set of paper goods, each with a picture of one of the seven species. I couldn’t resist taking the Pom cup home!
As I prepare for yet another visit, I imagine a special pomegranate waiting for me in the bustling corners of Jerusalem, or Tel Aviv, or perhaps, in the hotel gift shop. And, hopefully, in the many delicious meals I will have.