Students participate in the UshpiZoom cooking class at the Hillel. Organizer Sapir Frieman used the activity as a way to bond and talk about Jewish food. Photo by Paige Maizes

By: Paige Maizes
For Mitzpeh

This university’s Hillel Israel Fellow Sapir Frieman, 28, led an Israeli Zoom cooking class on Wednesday, Oct. 8 at 8 p.m., as part of Hillel International’s weekly virtual cooking sessions. During the event, titled “UshpiZoom,” she taught participants how to make shakshuka and decadent chocolate balls.

The session also brought together Israel Fellows and student chefs from six different university Hillels to educate students on Israeli cuisine: Emory, Stanford, UMD, Silicon Valley, Milwaukee, and Davis and Sacramento. The fellows shared personal stories of their dishes while exploring foreign cuisines.

“We can’t go to Israel, so we wanted to show a piece of Israel to the students,” Frieman said. 

Other cuisines featured have included Iraqi, Syrian and Moroccan styles. The focus on Tuesday, Oct. 6, was Syrian dishes.

Tal Sendler, 30, a third-year Jewish Agency Israel Fellow at Hillel at Davis and Sacramento who grew up in a household with grandparents from Syria, holds childhood memories of her grandmother’s Syrian dishes.

Traditionally, many observant and traditional Jews build a sukkah and have ushpizin (Hebrew: האושפיזין‎, ‘Sukkot guests’) on Sukkot, welcoming families and friends to visit while bringing a piece of their own culture from their house. But the coronavirus pandemic’s limitations prohibited these social interactions this year.

Instead of being upset over the change of plans for the holiday, Frieman, Sendler and the other Israel Fellows made Sukkot an event that could be accessible to any student who wanted to partake in making Israeli cuisine.

The UshpiZoom cooking class on Wednesday began with introductions, and after learning about each person attending, Sapir’s co-host Michal Hartman, a 27-year-old Israel Fellow representing Emory Hillel, started to prepare the shakshuka. She mixed chopped-up onions and garlic and fried them in a pan while speaking of her Israeli background and her connection with this meal.

Hartman then cut red peppers into cubes and added them into the pan. She told the audience that shakshuka can also include mushrooms, eggplants, and other preferred add-ins. As she taught, there was one ingredient she loved in her Shakshuka: sweet potato.

“My friend this summer in Israel made me some Shakshuka with sweet potato and I can’t have Shakshuka without sweet potato anymore,” she said.

Diced tomatoes and spices such as garlic, salt, pepper and cumin are incorporated to increase flavor, as well as water since the shakshuka can become pasty from the tomato paste, according to Hartman. Eggs are added on top once the base has mixed, and the dish is covered for about 7 minutes on medium heat. Once the eggs are boiled, the shakshuka is ready to be eaten.

While the eggs cooked, Frieman took over as host to teach the class how to make the chocolate balls and then let the students know to refrigerate them for 30 minutes.

While asked about the meanings of the two meals that she was cooking in her home, Frieman spoke of fond memories and childhood stories related to the chocolate balls made after the shakshuka. The crushed graham crackers add a decadent, mouth-watering crunchy texture with the mixed-in chocolate, she explained.

Sukkot looked very different this year with the pandemic raging on, but students still found ways to celebrate. Photo by Paige Maizes

The event was widely appreciated by students across many campuses.

“Thank you guys so much,” said Ashlee Kupor, a sophomore studying computer science at Stanford.  “This was super fun.”

For those who could not attend, this class was recorded at

Students participated in the Zoom cooking class in different locations. The recipes Frieman introduced have ties to her Israeli roots. Photo by Paige Maizes

Ingredients for the recipes featured are below:


2 Tomatoes
2 Garlic Cloves
3 tbsp Tomato Paste
1 Onion
1 Red Bell Pepper
4 Eggs (or more)
Paprika (sweet/spicy)
Optional: Turmeric, Eggplant, Feta Cheese, Mushrooms

Chocolate Balls:

2-2.5 cups ground Graham Crackers or Tea Biscuits
¼ cup Chocolate Chips
¼ cup Butter / Vegan substitute
3 tbsp Cocoa Powder
3-4 tbsp Sugar
½ cup Milk (regular/almond/soy) or water
For coating (optional): Coconut Flakes or Sprinkles


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