Sarah and I started off woefully unprepared to deal with the Israeli cultural phenomenon known as “aruhat eser” (the 10 a.m. meal). After all, we already had our own American morning-meal tradition — a quaint cultural phenomenon known as “breakfast.”
It took us about seven years until we realized that aruhat eser and breakfast are not supplementary but competing traditions. Coming from families where a good breakfast was strongly emphasized, we made sure that each of our kids had a bowl of cereal before leaving the house (and sometimes French toast or even home-made waffles). As a result, we thought of aruhat eser as a snack, and so we would give our children a fruit and pretzels, which would hold them until they arrived home (back then from elementary school) at 1:00 or 1:45 for lunch.
One day we were called in by Elie’s kindergarten teacher for a serious discussion. Dvora was absolutely aghast that Elie was not bringing in what she considered to be a proper aruhat eser. She would have none of our explanations about our so-called breakfast meal. The boy needed to eat, and the absolute minimum requirement of aruhat eser is some kind of a sandwich, preferably on a lahmaniya (roll). I guess Sarah and I were slow learners, because Dvora had to send home repeated notes over the next few months, until she practically threatened to go to Israel’s Children’s Services if we didn’t give Elie a sandwich for aruhat eser.
It’s not that I had anything against making my child a sandwich every day. And it’s not as if a growing child will not have any appetite for a sandwich at 10 a.m. just because he had a bowl of cereal early in the morning. The problem is that aruhat eser comes at the same time as hafsakat eser (recess). I ask you: if a kid has 20 minutes to play ball in the schoolyard, is he going to devote 5 or 10 of them to eating his sandwich? So on any given day, an astronomical number of sandwiches go to waste in Israeli schools at aruhat eser.
There is a story in a contemporary Hebrew novel of a boy whose mother would lovingly prepare him a delicious sandwich every day, wrapping it carefully in wax paper. After receiving his sandwich from his mom, the boy would leave his house and walk to school. On his way, the boy would pass an abandoned house, at which point he would toss his sandwich over the fence. This went on for several years. But then one day a family bought the house and started to renovate it. The family also hired someone to mow the lawn. To the child’s horror there lay revealed for all to see a veritable graveyard of aruhat eser sandwiches, as evidenced by the telltale signs of all those (non-degradable) scraps of wax paper.
When our children were in junior high and high school and came home in the late afternoon, the food that they took was more ample. We insisted on calling it “lunch” rather than aruhat eser; this despite the fact that self-respecting Israelis cannot bring themselves to call anything other than a hot meat meal “lunch,” and also despite the fact that our kids would sometimes eat most of their food at 9 a.m. — I guess the 6:30 bowl of cereal wore off by then.
Certain places of work (especially banks) still have official aruhat eser times, with people wheeling around carts laden with sandwiches and sweet rolls. I have to admit: even for breakfast eaters such as ourselves, there’s some good nutritional sense in a morning snack. I have realized that if I don’t eat something midway through the morning (especially on warm days), my head starts to pound by noon. So the bottom line on this topic in Israel is: Eat your breakfast and eat your aruhat eser.