The taste of hope

For Purim, hostage families share loved ones’ favorite cookie recipes

Creator of Tastes Like Home website says initiative ‘an opportunity to really get to know each hostage a little bit better’

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Web designer Shir Uziel created 'Tastes Like Home' website for Purim 2024, with profiles of each hostage (Courtesy)
Web designer Shir Uziel created 'Tastes Like Home' website for Purim 2024, with profiles of each hostage (Courtesy)

Almog Meir Jan loves chocolate chip hamantashen. Lior Rudaef’s favorite cookies are almond biscotti. Keith Siegel is a fan of American pancakes, Carmel Gat likes chocolate fingers and Alex Lubnov eats pistachio financiers.

Naama Levy adores orange-blueberry muffins and Tamir Nimrodi will never turn down an oatmeal, cranberry and white chocolate cookie. Shlomo Mansour always asks for his wife’s rose-shaped cookies.

These eight hostages, along with 35 others for now, are profiled on Tastes Like Home, a site in Hebrew and English created by web designer Shir Uziel ahead of the Purim holiday, when people traditionally exchange mishloach manot — baskets of baked goods and treats — with friends and family.

The profiles of the hostages contain some personal information, recipes for their favorite cookie and photos of them before they were taken captive in the Hamas-led October 7 attack. There are also downloadable postcard versions of their stories and photos that can be included in a mishloach manot package.

The profiles, photos and links to recipes are also shared across the website’s Instagram and Facebook pages.

This labor of dedication arose from an all-too-familiar sense of “what can I do?” explained Uziel.

Working with her mother, a professional pastry chef, Uziel began reaching out to hostages’ families and friends through social media, asking if they would be willing to talk about their loved ones’ interests and share their favorite cookie recipes.

The alfajores cookies beloved by hostage brothers Yair and Eitan Horn, for the Tastes Like Home website created for Purim 2024 (Courtesy)

“This is an opportunity to really get to know each hostage a little bit better,” said Uziel, who built the website through her business, Zing Media. “They’re people with dreams and have loved ones waiting for them at home. This won’t bring them home, but it was an honor to be able to do something.”

Word spread among the other hostage families, and they began responding and reaching out to her.

She also heard from food influencers, baking bloggers and pastry chefs who were eager to help out by gathering information about each hostage, sharing their recipe for a favorite kind of cookie, or helping get the ingredients just right.

“A lot of families got emotional when they saw the website with pictures or found their loved one tagged on Instagram,” said Uziel.

A postcard with information about hostage Keith Siegel for the Tastes Like Home website created for Purim 2024 (Courtesy)

There’s already been reader participation, including from a community in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, that baked several cookie recipes and an Israeli company whose staff made cookies for each hostage and shared them at work, with a postcard for each hostage.

“You see how important it is for people to take part in this,” said Uziel. “It’s just a little idea that grew. And there’s a lot of cookies waiting here for the hostages when they come home.”

Eitan Mor’s Chocolate Chip Cutouts

Mor, 23, the eldest of eight children, was a security guard at the Supernova music rave when the Hamas terrorists attacked the party. He assisted others for hours before being taken captive himself at around 2 p.m. on October 7. Mor grew up in Kiryat Arba and has been living in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Nahlaot near the Mahane Yehuda market, where he works as a barista at the Roasters coffee bar.

Ingredients

2.5 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ cup of dark brown sugar
¾ cup of white sugar
a pinch of salt
3 eggs
¾ cup of oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 bag chocolate chips

Preparation

Preheat the oven to a medium heat. Put all the ingredients except the chocolate chips in a bowl, and mix until fully combined. Add the chocolate chips to the mixture and mix again.

Spread in an 9 x 13 pan, and bake for about 25 minutes or until brown. Cut the cake into squares immediately after taking it out of the oven.

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