With Yaffa Abadi, everything is on the table. Her lesson at Kfar Menachem’s Tzafit regional high school on nutrition − formerly known as home economics − is nearing its end, and the pupils are enthusiastically tasting the tahini cookies they just baked. One girl is holding a cookie and offering it to a friend. Abadi corrects her with a tone of friendly scolding: “Is that how we serve?” The teenager is embarrassed. Abadi picks up a saucer, places a blue napkin on it and sets down the cookie in the center, before offering it to the girl. “Please, won’t you have a taste of my cookie?” The pupil giggles. Message received.
And that is only one of several messages. With Abadi, the pupils also don’t leave their cooking stations before they have properly cleaned them. And at the end of a class, everyone must sit down at the table and no one is permitted to taste the food they prepared until the diminutive and energetic teacher has given the signal. Seated at the table, with 15 10th-grade pupils on either side, the popular teacher seems to have staged a variation on the Last Supper.
Abadi, the fourth of seven children, was born in Tehran “100 years ago,” she says. The family arrived in Israel when she was four months old, initially settled on Moshav Maslul near Ofakim and them moved to Holon. Her father was engaged in agriculture, and her mother − may she live to 120 − was a housewife.
Abadi attended the Ben Shemen boarding school and still has her home economics notebook from back then. Thereafter, it was obvious to Abadi, who from a young age wanted to be a teacher, where she was heading. “The principal of the school said that if I wanted to be a teacher, then why not go to a teachers college?” she recalls, but her feeling was “why should I go to a teachers seminar if I could, and wanted to, go to university?” Her family was very pleased with her decision, says Abadi, as in those days , “few members of the Sephardi community attended university.”
Abadi was in the first graduating class in nutrition studies at the agriculture faculty of Hebrew University in Rehovot, and immediately afterward began to teach. At that time, her specialty was part of the high-school home economics curriculum − along with ironing, sewing, flower arranging, caring for wood furnishings and other skills that belong to one of two extremes today: the realm of the housewife or the fantasy world of Martha Stewart.
“We cooked, we boiled, we dyed clothes, we did things,” Abadi recalls. “Now if my shirt gets ruined, I throw it out. I spend another NIS 20, 30 or 50 and I have a new one, end of story. There was a time when that wasn’t the case. You would simply mend it.”
In recent years, as the subject of home economics has begun to disappear from the scholastic map in Israel, it has been given a new lease on life in the form of a “nutrition track,” which high-schoolers learn in an intense, five-unit matriculation framework. Ironing is no longer part of the curriculum, but one of the five units is practical, notes Abadi.
“The pupil is given recipes − say for pizza and a cabbage salad. He prepares the food and outside examiners observe him, writing down remarks related to usage of implements, work process, level of organization and cleanliness, how the food is served and so on. And most important of all, they sit down and talk with the pupil about what he prepared.” The other units are theoretical. Abadi shows me a few sample exams. Although a matriculation in nutrition is often not the choice of the higher-achieving pupils, I get the impression that the subjects covered in the track are far from trivial.
As for her pupils, they are crazy about the subject, Abadi says, and it is easy to see that she too loves them, too. “They’ve seen what a fun subject it can be − for a year and a half you deal with food. They prepare something practical on the holidays. It is a subject that you live with, so why not teach it?”
Abadi’s own teaching method, which is based on work in pairs and includes clear behavioral guidelines, encourages the teens to assume responsibility for both their successes and failures. She naturally believes that nutrition must not be allowed to disappear from the high-school curriculum, and also believes that its teaching should not be entrusted entirely to people who specialize in cooking.
“In my opinion,” she says, “cooking, baking and running a household embody the joy of creativity and renewal, and a great deal of inspiration and inventiveness.”
Our meeting comes to an end. Abadi takes the remaining tahini cookies next door, where some teachers are gathering for a meeting. There, too, they will most certainly be devoured with pleasure. But are these the cookies for which we hunger, I wonder? On my way out, walking on the pleasant lawns of the Tzafit school, I think not.
Abadi’s pupils are knocking down her doors not only because she offers them a bit of a break from the usual high school routine. They devote themselves to her classes because they are hungry − but not for cookies or a festive quiche. To me, it seems that they are hungry for an explanation of how a cookie should be served − for someone who doesn’t let them taste something before everyone has sat down at the table.
Like all of our children, Abadi’s students are growing up in a society that offers a depressing and circular route of seemingly endless freedom and of aspiration for immediate gratification, and a low threshold of frustration. It is easy to understand that they are hungry for direction from someone who can remind us that not everything should be bought in a store, that if you don’t watch over the cookies they will burn, and that in general in life, sometimes you have to do it this way and not another way.
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