Israeli food writer Gil Hovav sat down with writer Gretchen Rachel Hammond to discuss his early memories of Jerusalem and his new book of essays, Candies from Heaven.
“Jerusalem was a very sweet city to grow up in,” Israeli food writer Gil Hovav told me over lunch recently at a restaurant in downtown Chicago. “In the ’60s and ’70s, it was the cultural center of Israel and a very diverse city. It’s not the case anymore. It’s changed a lot. It’s a lovely place to visit but it’s become more religious and less tolerant—very tense.”
Hovav’s memories about the Jerusalem of his youth and, of course, the food he ate growing up form the backbone of Candies From Heaven, Hovav’s new book of essays, translated by Ira Moskowitz, out this month. His stories are about a family that “built a home for me and built a state for me, who infused me with happiness, warmth, and love,” and the uncomplicated but immoderate joys and challenges synonymous with childhood. So intimate is the narrative that, rather than writing as a man looking back on that childhood, Hovav’s voice is one of a boy affectionately called Gili relating events as if they had happened within the past few hours.
The family Hovav writes about in his book refused to handle a single moment with kid gloves. That attitude explains why Hovav was nervous to come out to them as a gay man—a moment he did not include in Candies From Heaven.
“You know you’re gay, but you’re taught to dream the dreams of straight people,” he told me. “I was 25 and living with my girlfriend for a year and I realized that I loved her but I was not in love with her. I had to make a change. My parents were dead but I came out to the rest of my family. It was so disappointing! They couldn’t care less! They said, ‘We always knew you were gay.’ I said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me? I wasted so much time!’”
Today Hovav lives in Tel Aviv with Daniel Halperin, his partner of over 30 years, and their daughter, Naomi. While their life is not covered in Candies From Heaven, the enduring love and straightforward manner passed down through generations clearly inform the family man he has become.