Hostages’ families share favorite Shavuot recipes as they hold out hope for loved ones

Hostages forum releases cookbook ‘Shavuot of Longing, Their Recipes on Our Table,’ as part of fundraising efforts to secure the freedom of those held captive in Gaza

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

The front and back covers of the 'Shavuot of Longing' cookbook from the Hostages and Missing Families Forum for the June 2024 holiday (Courtesy)
The front and back covers of the 'Shavuot of Longing' cookbook from the Hostages and Missing Families Forum for the June 2024 holiday (Courtesy)

When Gil Dickmann and his cousin Carmel Gat were kids, they often celebrated Shavuot at Kibbutz Be’eri where his cousins grew up, and his mother before them.

This year, he’s hoping his cousin will soon be on her way back to Israel as part of a hostage deal, after being kidnapped into Gaza on October 7 by Hamas terrorists.

For the moment, however, he gave a family recipe to “Shavuot of Longing, Their Recipes on Our Table,” a cookbook in Hebrew and English that was compiled in a matter of weeks by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, as part of the organization’s efforts to mark yet another holiday without the 120 hostages who still remain in Gaza of the 251 total who were kidnapped on October 7.

“In Tel Aviv, you eat cheesecake and that’s it,” said Dickmann, who grew up in the city. “In the farming communities, you celebrate the new harvest, including the babies who were born that year.”

His family debated between cheesecake recipes but chose Chocolate Log, a cocoa-and-biscuit recipe made by Dickmann and Gat’s grandfather, who before dying in 2018 always made these with his grandkids, of whom Carmel Gat was his eldest.

The upcoming holiday will offer more difficult days for Dickmann and his family.

Carmel Gat was taken captive by Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023 from her parents’ home in Kibbutz Be’eri (Courtesy)

His aunt, Kinneret Gat, was killed on October 7 at home in Kibbutz Be’eri as his cousin, Carmel Gat, her brother Alon Gat, sister-in-law Yarden Roman-Gat and their three-year-old daughter Geffen, were seized by terrorists.

Alon and Geffen Gat escaped their Hamas abductors on October 7 without being taken into Gaza, while Roman-Gat was released at the end of November. Carmel Gat, his yoga-loving, India-traveling first cousin, remains a Hamas hostage.

“We’re a very close family,” said Dickmann. “My aunt, Kinneret, especially loved the harvest holidays and the fact that she’s not with us just renews all of this. It’s all so hard and heavy.”

It felt necessary to connect the upcoming holiday with the hostages, said Itay Shemberger, a marketing professional who volunteers at the Forum and handled the cookbook’s production, including its printing at the Kibbutz Be’eri printing press.

All proceeds from the $45 cookbook with 75 recipes will go to the Forum to help in hostage release efforts, with the cookbook available in print in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and Israel and online.

“It’s another holiday that’s so familial, with food and families and the kibbutzim, and all these motifs that come back to us,” said Shemberger. “It’s another holiday that they’re not here and like everything we do, we hope it won’t be relevant and we can all just toss it out.”

It took about six weeks to assemble the cookbook, as forum staff reached out to the hostage families to ask for recipes that resonated for them and their relatives.

Some families had actual recipes to offer, while others suggested their loved ones’ favorite holiday dishes. A roster of local chefs and food influencers then offered their own versions of those dishes, testing the recipes themselves for the cookbook.

Orly Peli-Bronshtein, a local culinary influencer and cookbook author edited the Shavuot cookbook after already contributing to an earlier effort, “From the Farmer to the Table,” following the Hamas attacks of October 7.

That cookbook was initiated by the local Foody website to honor the beleaguered farmers of the south, with recipes revolving around their crops.

“Cookbooks are a way for all of us to get to know these people, and it’s a way for the families to tell a little bit more about their loved ones,” said Peli-Bronshtein, author of the award-winning cookbook, “On the Hummus Route.”

The “Shavuot of Longing cookbook” contains more than a few cheesecakes (there are 12 in total) and several versions of date-stuffed mamoul cookies, said Peli-Bronshtein.

Cloud Cheesecake, a favorite recipe of hostage Omer Wenker, featured in the ‘Shavuot of Longing’ cookbook from the Hostages and Missing Families Forum for the June 2024 holiday (Courtesy)

Hostage Omer Wenkert, a foodie by nature and profession, loves a particularly fluffy, light Cloud Cheesecake, and Peli-Bronshtein assigned the recipe testing to a chef who had some trouble with it.

“It’s an unusual cake because it’s very light but includes lots of different creams, and I tried it myself until we got it right,” she said.

Along with recipe adjustments, there were also far more difficult revisions, such as when hostages who were included in the book were suddenly announced as having been killed on October 7 with their bodies taken to Gaza.

“It’s part of these crazy times,” said Peli-Bronshtein. “There are such emotions and sensitivities and you have to pay attention to all of it.”

Peli-Bronshtein added some recipes to fill out the cookbook such as salads and side dishes in order to make it usable for other times of the year, with the goal of enticing readers to purchase the book and raise money for the hostages’ cause.

“It’s not just Shavuot, it’s really the Israeli kitchen, so it’s cheesecakes, but lots of fruit and vegetables too,” she said.

Peli-Bronshtein had been in touch with the daughters of now-released hostage Louis Har who told her about the homemade pizzas Har would prepare each week in Kibbutz Nahal Oz for his family and the community.

Har, looking joyous and happy, is now the inside cover of the cookbook, along with his pizza offered as the first recipe.

The project doesn’t end with purchase of the cookbook, stressed Shemberger. Readers and home cooks are asked to pick a recipe or hostage to whom they feel a connection and post their recipe on social media.

Food influencers and chefs will be doing the same, hopefully leading to thousands, or tens of thousands of posts that would increase recognition of the hostages’ plight, said Shemberger.

“It’s all from a place of hope and optimism,” he said. “It’s about each hostage, who they are, what they love to do, and what they love to eat.”

Hostage Carmel Gat’s favorite Chocolate Log recipe in the ‘Shavuot of Longing’ cookbook from the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, for the June 2024 holiday (Courtesy)

Chocolate Log
Yield 12-16 servings


1 cup sugar
½ cup cocoa
½ cup milk
¼ sweet red wine
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon rum extract
4 ounces (100 grams) butter
18 ounces (500 grams) Petit Beurre cookies

1. Mix the sugar, cocoa, milk, wine, vanilla and rum extracts in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
2. Remove from heat and add the butter, mixing well.
3. Crumble the biscuits and add to chocolate mixture. Place the dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
4. Form the dough into the shape of a log and place in the refrigerator to set for two to three hours.
5. Slice the log into thin rounds and serve.

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