Let's Eat

Why these intimate stories of the victims of October 7 are an emotional but important watch

Asif – Culinary Institute of Israel is sharing heart achingly sad recipe videos


Shani Gabay, David Katzir and Stav Geta are among the victims being remembered

“I miss his appetite, his hands, his voice — he had a broadcaster’s voice … and [I miss] how he handled bureaucracy and banking. I really miss that” smiles Ayelet Katzir through her tears.

As she makes her recipe for cream puffs, the widow is telling us about her husband David Katzir — Kachko to his friends and to her, Dov. The 72-year-old grandfather with a mane of grey hair had set off from Kfar Aza at 6.25am on a day trip with friends, but turned around as soon as the shelling started. “I told him there was a shelter, but he wanted to make sure I was ok” says his widow. He was killed at the kibbutz gate.

Ayelet is sharing her husband’s favourite treat as part of A Place At The Table, the project created by Tel Aviv-based non-profit organisation, Asif — the Culinary Institute of Israel. The video series provides a place for the bereaved to commemorate their loved ones lost on October 7 or in the war.

“He loved everything sweet” Ayelet smiles as she spoons thick chocolate sauce over the cream-filled choux pastry. She explains that she would limit her husband to four, as she knew they weren’t good for him, but knew he would sneak more.

As the short video closes, she carefully places the plate of buns in front of an empty chair at a table. It’s impossible to watch this or any of this series of films without shedding a tear.

Chico Menashe, CEO of Asif says that he and the team who created the videos also struggled to contain their emotions. “In every case we cried with them. It’s emotional and challenging — although nothing compared with their loss — but everyone participating feels like they are on a national mission to share the stories of the family members and victims. It feels important to put the spotlight on one victim’s story because the huge amount losses, means individual stories can get hidden.”

The concept of using the family dinner table was the brainchild of Asif founder, Nama Shefi, who conceived the idea shortly after the atrocities.

“For all of us, our family table represents the structure of the family. When one member is missing [from their place] that’s so strong” explains Menashe.

“The act of cooking is also emotional — it’s the taste, the smell; and for those family members who’ve lost their husband or wife or child, the act of preparing their favourite food brings on strong emotions. I think that’s why we’ve had so many immediate, positive responses from the families.”

Before they could start this project, the (non-profit) organisation had more urgent work to do feeding the displaced and IDF soldiers in the chaotic aftermath of war breaking out. “It’s only in the last couple of months that we’ve had capacity” explains Menashe.

They were very aware of the sensitivity needed in relation to the families. Not knowing how they would react, Menashe tells me it was he who made the first tentative approach. “A very good friend — who was my boss when I worked in Israeli radio — lost his daughter Sivan at Kfar Aza. I asked him directly, to test the water, and he immediately said yes. I don’t think it was because we were friends but because there is a need amongst many of the families to commemorate their lost family members.”

Eti Geta’s daughter, Stav, was murdered as she and her friend Eden Gez were leaving the Nova festival. The night before Stav was murdered, Eti had prepared her daughter’s favourite meal — a large pot of makbouba, a Tunisian cooked stew of tomatoes and peppers, that she used as a base for shakshuka.

Talking from her apartment in Ashkelon, she struggles to hold back tears as she tells us. she still sends her daughter WhatsApp messages of the two young children she will now be raising without a mother.

As word has spread, there has been no lack of potential subjects for the films and for every approach, the Asif team remains sensitive to the trauma each family has suffered.

“With each family there’s a unique and close friendship with our team who are in contact with them sometimes for weeks before we start. Sometimes we are set to film the next week and they call to say they can’t do it yet — they aren’t ready.”

Another participant — Shani Gabay’s mother, Michal — had not been able to cook since October 7. She is filmed sharing her recipe for spicy hot fish that she made for her daughter on Shabbat — the night before Shani left for the Nova festival. “This fish kept Shani with us on Friday night for dinner. She loved eating.”

Michal says it took 47 days to confirm that her daughter, who graduated in law with honours, had been murdered. “We prayed she had been kidnapped.”

Holding out the crescent moon-shaped pendant on a chain around her neck she explains that her daughter’s body had been identified via her necklace “they found her buried — remnants of her body were buried elsewhere.”

She tells the cameraman that she talks to her daughter every single day, asking for a sign that she’s there. At the close of the video she too lays the plate before the empty place at their dinner table.

When I spoke to Menashe at the end of June, he told me they were in touch with 25 families and had filmed 15 of them with a family being added every week.His hope would be to continue for as long as they can afford to, as it is expensive to make the films.

“Nama’s vision — if this grows to a few hundred stories — is to provide a unique archive that can live in other ways. Maybe as a book.”

Once he has the recipe, Asif’s culinary director tests each one to make sure anyone will be able to make work but will stay as true as he can to the original family’s version. “It’s their dish and we have huge respect for it.”

Some of the dishes have made it onto the menu at Asif’s café in their building in Tel Aviv. “We want to put as many of the dishes or recipes inspired by those dishes on our café menu.”

And Asif want us to cook and share them on Instagram too (using #a_place_at_the_table) to keep the memories alive of the victims and show the community’s support of this act of commemoration.

See the videos on Instagram and find the recipes here

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