What Happens When an Israeli Loses the Will to Eat Hummus

One day, out of the blue, I stopped liking hummus. That’s no small human drama for an Israeli. Does it mean I don’t like the country anymore?

Hummus at Abu Hassan in Jaffa.
Tomer Appelbaum

I am facing a crisis of faith. Something I never thought could happen. I don’t know how to say it. Apologies in advance for the desecration, but it seems to me, I mean, I think, that is, I’m afraid, I have no choice. I’m sorry to announce that I no longer like hummus. Is that normal? Tell me it’s normal, because I’m going crazy here.

I’m trying to understand how it happened. The truth is that I really didn’t mean it. It didn’t come from a deliberate effort to cast doubt. Like a marriage that falls apart – it just happened.

Israeli life is made up of innumerable tragedies. This is a very small one. Let’s call it “a slight tremor in the wing.” Still, there’s a human drama here. I live among my people. This is a difficult time. I know what’s done to people who don’t demonstrate loyalty to the state. They become anathema. They’re denied budgets. Miri Regev writes a post about them on Facebook.

Hummus is loyalty. Hummus is us. Hummus is a Merkava tank. Hummus is Iron Dome. Hummus is an Israeli home. Is it that I no longer like hummus, or that I no longer like the country? I don’t want to answer that question. Let Shin Bet interrogators come and extract it from me by torture.

Want to hear a short story? One day I stopped liking hummus. The end.

Until such-and-such a date, I ate it. Once, twice a week. It wasn’t a religious rite. It just happened. Hummus is a cheap, fast food. You don’t have to give it too much thought. It’s not quantum mechanics. All in all, it’s chickpeas ground into a paste, with olive oil on top and a pita alongside.

I’ve never been what’s known as a “hummusologist.” That’s a macho hobby for straight Israeli men, and I still deny any connection with all three. I swear to you that I’m not like that. I didn’t wander the hills of Galilee looking for the world’s best mahluta [fava beans, tahini and a hard-boiled egg], and I have never eaten hot ful in Ramallah. I am not the Yoel Moshe Salomon of hummus nor the Ferdinand Magellan or even the Muki Betzer.

Israelis eat hummus like they do business or have sex: with an uncontrolled lust for conquest. To put another X on the checklist. To plant a flag in every hummus place. The pickle is in our hands!

Illustration.
Sharon Fadida

Hummus is one of the formative arenas of battle of Israeli identity. After 67 years of independence we are still fighting among ourselves: Who does it belong to, us or the Arabs? Who makes it better, us or the Arabs? Who has a bigger pot, us or the Arabs? I see no reason to argue. There’s enough hummus for everyone. One hummus for two nations.

For a great many years, I loved hummus. It was tasty. Very tasty. The tastiest. I loved hummus the way all Israelis love hummus. Both as a purely culinary pleasure and also from a sense of belonging (and also, it can’t be denied, from the standpoint of ownership). Hummus manages to be apolitical while also being totally political. I have friends who live abroad for whom hummus is their most positive memory of Israel. For them, it’s the only reason for the country to exist. If they were to return, it would be for the hummus. Not for Mom and Dad, or Sara Netanyahu.

Not long ago, a friend from New York asked me to mail him a kilo of Bulgarian chickpeas and a liter of Hayona tahini. He wanted to reenact his lost youth. By the time the package reaches him, he’ll forget he was ever an Israeli. Another friend, who lives in Berlin, frequents a hummus place in the city’s Neukoelln quarter, where Hezbollah flags fly and posters of Nasrallah and Al-Aqsa are plastered on the street. He says that they serve the best masabha in the Western hemisphere. I went there with him during the Second Lebanon War. I ordered a Coke.

And then, one day, I stopped liking hummus. I didn’t believe it would ever happen. I tried to arouse the desire again. I ate hummus in Tel Aviv’s Kerem Hateimanim neighborhood. I emerged indifferent. What happened to the enthusiasm? The eros? Nothing. I didn’t even finish what was on the plate. I thought maybe it was because it was hummus made by Jews. A classic case of reverse racism. So I went to Abu Hassan’s, in Jaffa. I ordered hummus-masabha. Without an egg. I dipped a quarter of a pita in it and put it in my mouth. It was like I was eating air. It did nothing for me. I forced myself to finish it.

I thought of all the times I’d eaten at Abu Hassan’s and experienced a divine revelation. As though angels were singing to me by way of my tummy. Sonata for cooked chickpeas. And now, banality, routine, boredom. I went to the supermarket and bought a container of Ahla hummus. Maybe I’d grow to like the mass-produced version, against all odds? I took a spoonful and spat it out. This is what it feels like when your heart breaks.

The truth must out: I don’t enjoy it anymore. It’s not even not tasty. I’m simply indifferent. It doesn’t stir any special emotions. It’s not disgusting or annoying. It’s just hummus. Something I once liked but now does nothing for me. I’m not even tired of it. It’s not you, hummus, it’s me. And it’s the mundaneness of the whole thing that’s disturbing – how everything can change in a minute, without any apparent reason. Hummus didn’t betray me and I didn’t betray it. Maybe I never really liked it? What difference does it make now. It’s just over and done with. Suddenly, just like that. There is no hidden meaning here.

Or maybe I’m deluding myself. I am in denial. I don’t really comprehend that there’s something here that’s bigger than me and hummus. That there’s an allegory here about Israeli life. About disappointment. About the situation of the left. It’s a metaphor. It has to be a metaphor. There’s no way that I can just stop eating hummus, and everything goes on as usual. That people will get up in the morning and go to work, and I won’t eat hummus. The sun will shine, the slaughterer will slaughter, the pita won’t wipe and the hummus won’t be wiped.

This is not how I pictured the rest of my life in Israel.

What is life without hummus? What is Israel without hummus? I don’t know yet. Promise to keep you updated.