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El Al Ambassador and master chef

Emanuel Rosenzweig

Emmanuel Rosenzweig, 58, has been a pilot ever since he was an officer in the Israel Defence Force (IDF), but he’s been cooking longer than that, and counter intuitively, both are linked.

Rosenzweig, who’s no longer in the air force but who now flies Boeing 777s and 787s for El Al Israel Airlines, was a finalist in the MasterChef Israel competition in 2013 and was inspired to prepare a dish based on the rations IDF recruits share while training.

He was a reluctant participant in the competition. But once part of it, one of the judges, a well-known Israeli chef, tried to get him to draw on his experiences for an emotional inspiration for his culinary creations.

That wasn’t necessarily Rosenzweig’s style, but the pressure of the competition and the ingredients contestants were given, brought back memories of living in a tent during basic training with another recruit whose name he’s forgotten.

The guy would receive packages of sweets from home that Rosenzweig recalls fondly. Unfortunately, he fell in action during the 1980s war in Lebanon. Rosenzweig was inspired to use some of the mess kit ingredients to concoct a sweet dish in his memory.

Rosenzweig advanced to the finals of the cooking competition and that story is among many he has when he addresses North American Jewish audiences.

Rosenzweig, along with his co-captain and members of his flight crew told their stories and commented on developments in Israel at Holy Blossom Temple on March 7. The event was part of the Beit Ha’am in the Skies – El Al Ambassadors program, which has been in existence since 2012.

A joint project of World Zionist Organization’s (WZO) Department for Diaspora Affairs, in co-operation with the Canadian Zionist Federation (CZF) and El Al, the ambassadors appear in cities around the world to which the national carrier flies.

Rosenzweig joined the program about six months ago. According to WZO and CZF spokesperson Lior Sagi, the idea behind the program is that “people from different backgrounds share their personal stories and their insights about Israeli society.”

Rosenzweig’s story is an unusual one but speaks to Israeli values and history.

Rosenzweig’s grandfather was noted philosopher Franz Rosenzweig, a thinker who examined what it means to be a Jew and how you live as one in the modern world, his grandson said.

His mother’s family, however, were German Christians. His maternal grandfather served as a judge in prewar Germany and when the Nazis rose to power, he was compelled to join the party to retain his position. During the war he was offered a position as a judge in a military court, but turned it down. Instead, he was made an anti-aircraft gunner and assigned to Sicily, where he was killed.

His mother was shocked by the Nazis’ murderous campaign against the Jews. A student of religions, she was attracted by the premise that all Jews are responsible for each other as “mutual guarantors,” Rosenzweig said. She eventually converted to Judaism and moved to Israel.

Growing up in Hod HaSharon, Rosenzweig joined the air force where he served for 22 years as a pilot, flight officer and intelligence officer. He’s been a pilot with El Al for 15 years.

From a young age he’s been preparing food and has gotten quite good at it.

When MasterChef Israel was looking for a pilot who could cook, his friends recommended him to the show’s producers.

He was reluctantly enticed onto the set and after meeting Eyal Shani, a famous Israeli chef, he got into the spirit of things. He had access to a well-stocked food truck and revelled in the energy and vibe on the set.

On one of the shows, participants were given a military kit and told to prepare a tasty meal. Remembering his tent mate, he prepared a sweet meal based on a halvah sauce, which the judges loved.

“At that point, I realized I cooked from emotion,” he said. “Every dish starts with something I feel.”