In the Arab town of Furedis in Israel-Palestine, I had the pleasure of re-connecting with a long time friend and amazing woman, Iptisam Mahameed. She is an Arab Israeli who is actively involved in women’s right’s issues, peace building, and local village politics. She also works with Jewish and Muslim women to build understanding and connection. It’s a common sight to see Iptisam closely woven into the fabric of her community as a local mover and shaker. One thing that is not so common to see in Furedis are Israeli Jews – the towns in the area are pretty strongly segregated.
On this particular day, however, Jewish Israelis were wandering through the markets of Furedis, and Iptisam’s role was expanded a bit out of the norm. On this Iptisam was meeting with a group of Israeli Jews lovely autumn day in Furedis from Tel Aviv to give a cooking lesson. Somehow, “Ipti” had met a chef from Tel Aviv and invited him and a group of his “foodie” restaurant clients to Furedis for a food extravaganza! This was the first time most if not all of these Israelis had been in an Arab village, let alone shopped in an Arab market. Later, at Iptisam’s home, they watched closely, with concentration and growing interest as Iptisam put together an incredible feast. Tasks like chopping and stirring were doled out freely. Gradually, everyone got involved and in anticipation of the meal to come stomachs began to growl, and mouths watered.
Here were Muslims and Jews meeting and mingling, getting to know each other and most of all, absolutely bonding over the shared meal to come. Iptisam cooked an incredible fish stew in an outdoor propane fueled wok-like pot – fish heads bobbing in the fragrant broth. The table was absolutely loaded with authentic home-style Arab food of every sort. It was a sight to see Ipti and the chef, heads together and speaking passionately in the shared language of cooking and food. This was a fascinating and delicious experience on so many levels. We can connect over art, music, language, children, but in my opinion, food is right up there at the top of the list of ways we can be together and one that should happen more often! – Robin Saenger