I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when someone tells me they’re afraid to visit Israel – “the terrorism and all that”.  I’m always tempted to say “Are you kidding me?”

Tell me where it’s safe. Arizona? Any of the “democratic” U.S. states targeted by Sarah Palin’s disgusting crosshairs? An Egyptian Coptic church? A hotel in Mombay?

The unfortunate fact is that hatred exists everywhere. In the hearts and minds of men and women everywhere. And for the life of me, I can’t figure out why.

Why do you care who I worship, or don’t worship? How do my prayers affect your life? What are you so afraid of?

I think of all this in context of two remarkably special meals I had recently – one on Christmas Day, the other on New Year’s Eve. They reminded me of why I love living in Israel:

For Christmas, our activity of the last couple of years was to join my friend Aml and her sons in Nazareth. Watch the parade of youngsters, join in the festivities a bit, and then eat a lovely meal in a restaurant. Can you picture Muslim Arabs dressed up as Santa Claus, singing carols in Arabic? Wondrous!

But this year we decided on a different plan – Christmas Day with Aml and her family at her home – for lunch. Since she wanted me to see her tree and her decorated house (and for a Jewish girl who grew up in a pretty traditional family there is nothing more enticing – the lure of the forbidden!)  we gladly forfeited the Christmas Eve celebration to join her and her extended family on Christmas Day.

The attendants were friends and family – we were a group of Christians, Muslims and Jews. The menu was – oh my god! The food covered the length of the entire table – and it was a really long table! Meats, chicken dishes, salads, side dishes, traditional, non-traditional, wine, soft drinks, Arak, on and on. There were young and old (okay, so I’m not SO old but compared to the children…), lots of laughter, philosophy, telling of stories, histories, singing (in at least three languages), and very good cheer. In spite of the fact that it was the first time I was meeting some of the people, I loved and treasured every moment. I felt like part of the family, not like the Jew from New York/Caesarea who dropped in to see how some others live. We promised to make it a yearly tradition but we definitely won’t wait until next Christmas to meet again.

My next special evening was New Year’s Eve and it came about very spontaneously. We were invited to a friends’ home for after dinner snacks, drinks and game playing. I worried about the game playing – my husband doesn’t usually go in for those types of activities. One couple would be coming at around 10 pm – after they settled their young children down for the night.

But in the end – we all ended up having dinner with that family, and then headed over to the other home to “let the games begin.” The dinner and atmosphere was one of the most special I can remember. The wife is British, a former Christian who converted to Judaism. The husband is Israeli, of Moroccan heritage. There was a British couple, a Dutch gentleman, my Israeli husband and me. And fabulous, gorgeous, well-behaved, charming children. The house was warm and inviting. The Christmas tree (yes, there was one and it was so inviting I never wanted to leave it) was lit and glowing and decorated with lovely ornaments. Everyone was happy and in an excellent mood.

And then came out the food! Couscous to start (the most delicious I have ever had). Chopped liver to follow. Then the most delicate, delicious and delectable pastilla I have ever had the honor to eat.  Its a Moroccan dish, a sort of chicken pot pie. The outer crust is layers of phyllo dough, the inside is shredded chicken which has been slow-cooked in broth and spices, with an addition of toasted almonds, sugar & cinnamon. There’s also a custard like filling – oh never mind – trust me – it was heavenly. That was accompanied by many salads and additional side dishes. For dessert – a luscious Christmas Pudding  and my chocolate souffle cupcakes with white chocolate mint cream frosting.

Besides the amazing flavors, it was the evening itself which touched me. How did we all end up here, enjoying this meal together, each coming from his or her own very special background?

As for the game part of the evening – we played Taboo and the women were winning. We were three native English speakers to four men – only one of whom had English as a mother tongue. The girls were doing just great until one of us screwed up a bit (not saying who). The guys then led with a two point lead and at that moment – declared the game over and themselves the winners! Chutzpah, no?

That’s why I love Israel! I can sit with people from all over the world and share wonderful times over wonderful meals. We don’t have to get into politics and if we do – so what? We accept each other’s differing opinions. Sometimes the voices get a bit loud, but usually they don’t. But in the end, we know that the basic sense of friendship is there, and will stay there. We love each other. And we love living in Israel.

So why can’t those others figure this out?

3 Responses

  1. Straight from the heart and the stomach !
    You made my day Anne. Couldn’t all the problems in the world
    be solved around the dinner table ?!!
    How about tolerance through food ? Works for me.
    Love you hx

  2. oh my dear Anne, i just finished reading ur note, and u can’t imagine how i felt happy reading it and meeting u 🙂
    sure, we won’t wait till next christmas to meet again :))) and i really hope that everyone could feel those feelings, and stop racism 🙂
    btw, i miss u already;)
    hugs and kisses

  3. Oh I couldn’t agree more. If only we could all tolerate each other what a great world it could be. And I share your sentiments about living in Israel. I love it too for the reasons you stated.

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