Challah in a Clyde summer

By Sharon Shenhav, September 5, 2011
Follow The JC on Twitter

As Israelis who find Jerusalem summers too hot for our taste, my husband and I have a unique solution. Invited to visit Scottish friends 13 years ago, we found that the cool, rainy weather in August was perfect.

Spending Shabbat on the Isle of Arran, we were delighted by the natural beauty of the island as well as the laid-back approach to life - a haven for Israelis who are bombarded with existential challenges and daily tension and anxiety.

Eight years ago, as we were approaching retirement, we decided to purchase a small cottage and spend several months on Arran each year.

As observant Jews and Israelis, we are somewhat exotic to our neighbours. They have offered friendship and hospitality while we have become unofficial ambassadors for Israel and Judaism.

We can even get kosher chicken on the Isle of Arran

In order to celebrate Shabbat, I realised that the local bakery would not be able to provide us with challot. The experience of baking has added to my spiritual preparation for Shabbat. Island neighbours and holidaymakers who had tasted my challot, including a professor of catering who catered Prince Charles's wedding to Camilla, begged to learn how to make them.

I submitted mine to the Isle of Arran Horticultural Society Summer Show - where they won first prize.

Young non-Jewish girls holidaying on Arran have joined me in my kitchen as we make challot and discuss the meaning of Shabbat. Taking home their beautiful braided loaves along with the recipe, several have invited Jewish friends and neighbours to a Shabbat dinner and served their homemade challot.

In light of the boycotts and anti-Israel opinions in the British press, perhaps baking bread together might defuse some of this.

While we were happy with fresh fish, we yearned for chicken on Shabbat. To my surprise, I found kosher frozen chickens at Morrisons in Stevenston, not far from the ferry landing. I couldn't understand why they carried kosher chickens as no Jewish community existed anywhere near. Delighted, I contacted the store to check on availability when I returned to Arran this summer. They no longer carried them.

Would it be possible to obtain a large order for the whole summer on a one-time basis? "Ï think we can work it out," the manager replied. A few hours later, whole frozen chickens as well as breasts were waiting for me at the store. Every summer, he told me, when I return to Scotland I should call him to place my order and the kosher chickens would be available.

I asked him why they had been available the previous summer. "Oh, that was a mistake!" he said.

We have shared our Shabbat table with many island friends and neighbours - academics, scientists, businessmen, artists, musicians, physicians, lawyers, aristocrats and a retired bus driver - over the past eight years, providing a unique interfaith experience. As they share our songs, rituals and meal, I have no doubt that this personal experience enables them to appreciate Judaism and Israel in a way which is quite different from the usual UK media presentations.

This small island community has welcomed us and encouraged our participation in local activities. My husband, a retired surgeon, has been active in the local horticultural society and runs a weekly Hebrew course. His only student is another retired surgeon who was born in Lithuania where the language spoken at home was Hebrew. The student hadn't used his Hebrew for over 30 years, since his father died.

Over the years we have hosted family and friends from Israel and other countries, all of whom have been enchanted by our beautiful, peaceful island and the Scottish "summer" which often seems more like a Jerusalem winter.

Sharon Shenhav is the director of the International Jewish Women's Rights Project of the International Council of Jewish Women.

    Last updated: 11:17am, September 5 2011