Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Focaccia and peanut butter

I work in a department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev that comprises about 30 women and 5 men. The Head of the department is a woman, and all five sub-sections are headed by women. It’s a fun place to work even though it’s a serious department and everyone works hard. As in all places of work, there are gossip times when a few people gather together to talk about kids, vacations, kids in kindergarten, home improvements, kids in high school, sales in the supermarket, kids in the army, where to get the air conditioner/fridge/car fixed, kids getting married, the weather, grandkids, and sirens. Once in a while (and really not very often) some of the women talk recipes.
Those are the conversations I eavesdrop on; not because I like cooking (I so don’t) but because it’s such a lot of fun listening to the different kinds of recipes exchanged. It’s not your typical “wow! Your chocolate cake is so moist, what did you put in it” exchange. It’s more like “my mother-in-law makes the best focaccia you’ve ever tasted”. And “it’s only good if you add a bit of chimichurri” or “my kids like Malawach, but I never know what to make with it, they hate tomatoes.”
I don’t usually bother giving my peanut butter and jam sandwich recipe.
My colleagues come from such a variety of backgrounds, I find it breathtaking. There are four olim from English speaking countries (two Americans, one South African, and one Canadian – moi), three from the former Soviet Union (I’m not sure which countries), two from Argentina, one from Italy and the rest are Israeli-born, but with roots in: Morocco, Algiers, Iran, Iraq, Hungary, Romania, most of the other countries in Eastern Europe, and most of the other countries in Northern Africa.
This mixture of people is not unique, and occurs in most other workplaces in the country.
At one time (yesterday) I decided to do a little research to see how many nations have gathered together in the Holy Land.
In a Google search, I actually could not find how the Jewish population was divided according to ‘Edot’ (Edah is the Hebrew word for community, or ancestry – Edot is the plural). I suppose that’s because the population is so mixed, with Edot marrying other Edot, that there is no way to count who belongs to whom. Another, more romantic, reason I couldn’t find any division is because the State of Israel has tried to absorb all the immigrants into one citizenry, and divisions between the groups are not considered desirable.
What I did find in my Google search was astounding.
There was a natural division between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens, and Jewish and Arab citizens. About 75.5% of the population is Jewish.
There was a further division within the Arab community: Muslims (divided into the predominant Sunnis, and a very small number of Shiites), Christians (of many different denominations, but mostly Oriental Orthodox and Catholic), Druze, and Bedouin (divided between the Northern and Southern Bedouin, both having very different ways of life). Just less than 20% of the population of Israel is Arab – of one kind or another.
That leaves us with about 5% of the population.
There is a Maronite community in the north of a few thousand people, made up mostly of refugees from Lebanon’s civil war.
There is a Copt community, refugees from Egypt.
There are about 5000 Black Hebrews living mostly in Dimona but also Arad and Mitzpe Ramon in the south, and others scattered around.  They arrived from America in the 1970s, and just sort of stayed.
There are about 700 or so Samaritans, half living in Samaria (duh) and half living in Holon. They claim to be descended from ancient Israelites who didn’t leave Israel during the first exile to Babylon.
There are about 4000 Armenians, mostly in Jerusalem (found in the Armenian Quarter of the Old city – duh again), but also in Tel Aviv, Yaffo, and Haifa. Refugees from the Ottoman Empire.
1000 people in Israel are Assyrian, mostly in Jerusalem and Nazareth. Assyrians are an Aramaic speaking, Eastern Rite Christian minority who are descended from the ancient Mesopotamians.
A small group of Roma (Gypsies) came to Israel in the 1940s and 50s, to escape persecution in Europe. They have mostly intermarried and became Jewish, but there is still a small community remaining. Recent immigration from the former Soviet Union has bolstered the number.
Several thousand Circassians live mostly in two villages in the north; Kfar Kama and Reyhaniye. Like the Druze, they serve in the IDF. (I passed through Kfar Kama once – quite interesting).
There are still a few hundred Vietnamese here, remnants of the refugees that Prime Minister Menachem Begin brought in to Israel in the 1970s.  A few dozen live in Ofakim, but most live in the center of the country.  They speak Hebrew, and serve in the army. These refugees were originally picked up on the high seas by an Israeli ship; their food had run out and the boat they were on was hardly seaworthy. After being rebuffed by several countries who would not give refuge to them, the ship returned to Israel with its passengers, where Begin said as Jews who found no refuge in the world and were left to die, we had a moral obligation to take in others that no one wants. The Vietnemese were granted almost immediate citizenship.
During the Soviet immigration in the 90s, there were many many non-Jews who came to Israel. Some of these are from ethnic groups, such as Tatars and Siberian Yupiks (Siberian Eskimos). Yes, Eskimos in Isael.
According to Wikepedia, there are communities of Ethiopian Christians, Haitians, former British Mandate soldiers who forgot to go home, refugees from Bosnia, Kosovo, and Kurdistan, and a few members of the Bahai who look after the gardens in Haifa and Acco.
Of course, this does not include legal foreign workers, coming from Thailand, Romania, China and the Philipines, or the several hundred foreign students studying in many of the Universities – which have special programs for non-Israelis to come and learn and bring their education and expertise back to their country of origin – or the recent flood of illegal immigrants, mostly from South Sudan, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, who have come to Israel looking for economic refuge.  
Altogether, there are probably 200 countries, nationalities, religions, and sects represented here in the Holy Land. This is not a big deal as far as America or Canada goes, but this is Israel. We do not search out (non-Jewish) immigration, as opposed to America. Yet, immigrants seem to be searching us out as a place where it is good to live.
I’m going to repeat that: Israel is a good place to live. For everyone.
And the range of food types is as overwhelming as it is delicous.


 
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