The food of coexistence
Arab and Jewish children find common ground making hummus together in Abu Ghosh.
What connects an American lottery, a mortar and pestle, and Hanukkah? Jawdat Ibrahim believes the connection is clear: Since the owner of the Abu Ghosh Restaurant won the Illinois State Lottery in 1990, he has been holding conferences and workshops in his restaurant and initiating and supporting joint activities for Arabs and Jews.
Yesterday morning, 50 children and their parents filled the restaurant to attend a hummus workshop. The Arab and Jewish children were patiently instructed by Ibrahim and a staff of chefs in both languages.
After half an hour, the site looked like every other venue that attracts children during the Hanukkah holidays: The place was in ruins. Bowls and pestles were abandoned on tables, along with empty cups and bottles, and balloons discarded by clowns who entertained the children. Outside, dozens of children showed off the hummus they had prepared: studded with chickpeas, redolent of garlic, mashed to one extent or another, next to a pita or spread inside, accompanied by balls of falafel or straight up. There were a total of 50 different versions of childish hummus, each catered to the taste of a particular family.
Hanukkah vacation is in full swing and Ibrahim's workshop, advertised by a sign at the entrance to the restaurant and via word of mouth, attracted numerous 6- to 14-year-old cooks and their parents, who were happy to sit around tables while their offspring gleefully ran amok in the restaurant. Each participant received a white shirt and chef's toque, a mortar and pestle, and, after an hour and a half of grinding and mashing, a taste of the final product.
Manal Nofel and her three children arrived in a taxi from the Palestinian village of Shuafat. The children - Maram, 7; Majid, 10; and Zina, 2 - scrutinize the thick paste that they made. Their mother's sigh of relief is audible all the way down the street: Three contented children seated around a table and satisfied is not to be taken for granted at this stage in the vacation. "My husband heard about the workshop, and I was happy to hear about it, too," she said. "It's a lovely idea. The children are interacting with others and tasting, and they are meeting children here who they would not have had an opportunity to meet elsewhere. And who doesn't love hummus?"
A busy group of teachers from the Givat Ram campus of the ORT Jerusalem Academic College sits at a table in one of the inner rooms. Majda Atamna, Ibrahim's sister, told her colleagues about the workshop, and they came to the meeting of hummus lovers, happy to take part and even happier to dive into a mountain of french fries with soda.
Esther Haviv, a member of the ORT group, brought her granddaughter, Tomer, age 10, and her grandson, Gal, age 6.
"I like to cook, and I cook a lot at home as well," Tomer says. "I sort of knew how to make hummus but it's always good to get precise instructions, like a recipe."
Ibrahim conducts the workshop as he proudly walks about the topsy-turvy restaurant. What does he care about tablecloths pulled off tables, chickpeas underfoot and bottles of Coca-Cola chugging freely onto the floor? (The workshop, which includes traditional Hanukkah doughnuts, is free.) All of that pales compared to the sincere joy of the community activist who comes with a television camera team to document the event, including the large photograph of the restaurateur and King Hussein gracing the entrance.
Ibrahim's life was transformed 17 years ago: The immigrant who left Abu Ghosh to live in Chicago won a $23 million jackpot in the Illinois State Lottery.
"The system there is smart: You get the money in incremental annual installments," Ibrahim explains. Ibrahim returned to Abu Ghosh, opened a restaurant, and, as he says, turned it into a center of coexistence. He established the Abu Ghosh Foundation, which provides grants to Arab and Jewish students, organized joint trips, fostered connections with King Hussein, and regularly hosts emissaries for the Foreign Ministry.
"I'm on their itinerary," he explains.
According to Ibrahim, his model of activism comes from the Jewish community in the United States. "I would like to see the Arabs in Israel play a role like the Jews in America, based on initiative and involvement," he says. "I have relatives in Ramallah who tell me that their children have never met a Jewish child. And children are children. Activity at an early age is vital - that is where everything begins."
If one judges the impact of this project by the taste of the hummus, Jawdat Ibrahim found a common denominator with uniquely broad appeal.