FROM THE ASCENT KITCHEN TO THE WEDDING CANOPY
by Chana Katz
[photos to follow]
SAFED, Israel -- The match was made in the Ascent kitchen.
The wedding canopy was held under the starry Tsfat sky in Ascent's courtyard.
And the Ascent chief cook, Avishai Bashari, was pretty busy through it all, having made the match, danced at the wedding, and cooked the festive meal too.
The groom under the chupah was Ascent's assistant chef, Pinchas Cuziner, the culinary artist behind many of Ascent's popular Indian-style vegetarian dishes.
Bashari cooked for the special wedding meal with the greatest of joy. It is said that bringing two searching soul mates together in marriage is more difficult than splitting the sea. Having had a hand in that task, tossing the salads and spicing the meat was comparatively a piece of cake.
Pinchas and his bride, Hodaya -- with Divine Providence guiding them -- also did prep work for their future lives together before arriving at Ascent.
Several years ago Pinchas began a slow return to his Jewish roots. What he didn't know was that somewhere in the world, a woman called Vedi was also making a similar return.
Born in Romania, Pinchas came with his family to Israel as a toddler of two. Raised in the Haifa Bay area he became deeply involved with an Indian religion. It led him to India and eventually back to Romania, where he was sent to spread the Indian rituals.
Despite exporting Indian theology to his Romanian birthplace, Pinchas couldn't escape his Jewish roots. For buried under the Romanian soil were the souls of his grandfather and other Jewish ancestors.
As part of his Indian outreach he opened a bookstore, but along the way he acquired a few books on Kabbala (Jewish mysticism) as well. Once, when searching the internet under "kabbala", he scrolled across a website by Rav Yitzchak Ginsburgh (inner.org) and then another by Ascent. His interest was immediately sparked and he thirstily drank in all the articles and information.
He didn't have to look outside of Judaism anymore. The deepest secrets of Creation and order of the worlds were not in the Far East as he had thought, but in the land and people and Torah he had left behind in Israel.
He came home. And from there his path wound up at Ascent, a haven of sorts for him since many of its guests were former Far East trekkers who appreciated his ability to bring the tastes from their journeys to a kosher, mystical meal.
In the Ascent kitchen, Pinchas and chief cook Bashari developed a friendship. Pinchas confided in Bashari his desire to meet his destined mate, whoever she may be.
Enter Hodaya, whose parents named her "Vedi" at birth, which Pinchas says happens to resemble the name of Indian scriptures. Vedi, who practices healing Shiatsu and Chinese medicine, had already completed her sojourn through the Far East and come to a similar conclusion as Pinchas -- that healing of the mind and body and soul was best learned from her own Jewish sources.
During the four years or so that she began her return to her Jewish roots, Vedi added two "hei's" to her birthname and became Hodaya ("gratitude").
Divine Providence brought her to Ascent for one of its popular seminars. During it, she approached Bashari with a very frank question: "I'd like to marry. I'm looking for a shidduch. Do you know of anyone?"
Accustomed to being asked for recipes or second-helpings of chicken, Bashari admitted he was a little surprised by Hodaya's direct request. He told her he'd think about it and returned to the Ascent kitchen. Then his glance fell upon Pinchas .
A few months later the wedding was held at Ascent.
The Ascent staff released enormous creative energies, setting up a "kallah chair" in the garden, draping white linen sheets around the courtyard stairs and adding other touches that made guests talk about the wedding for days afterwards.
The wedding ceremony was conducted by Tsfat Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who immediately set a joyful mood and started singing a lively tune in the middle of the ceremony.
For Pinchas and Hodaya, celebrating their wedding night at Ascent wasn't a hard choice to make.
"There's a special energy at Ascent," said Pinchas. "Most of our friends have been to Ascent. We wanted our families to be exposed to the energy. And we wanted to have the wedding in a place that was blessed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe."
Although Pinchas and Hodaya left Tsfat last week to their new home in Shoham, a new settlement built in 1994 in between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, it does not mean that the days of Indian-style cuisine are a thing of the past at Ascent. Pinchas has already returned to cook for one Ascent seminar and is scheduled to return for upcoming programs in January and February.
And he is hoping to return for the upcoming seminar in July with Rav Ginsburgh, whose book, The Hebrew Letters, has inspired Pinchas in his own practice of moving and manipulating energy within the body for healing. In fact, during the Hebrew month of Iyar, whose initials stand for "Ani Hashem Rofecha" (I am G-d your healer), Pinchas demonstrated at an Ascent seminar the art of revitalizing the body through breathing and movement techniques.
Now, settling into Shoham, Pinchas and Hodaya said they plan to continue their healing practices and to open their homes to Shabbat guests, sharing with their friends a little food for the body and a lot of food for the soul.
[Chana Katz, a former South Florida journalist, lives in Tsfat. Her articles on life in Israel have reached publications throughout the world.]