Taste trumps ideology

Israeli Arabs reveal their love affair with matza.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
April 4, 2010 01:16
3 minute read.
An Arab woman looks at matza in a grocery story in

arabs matza 311. (photo credit: AP)

Many Jewish Israelis can’t stand the stuff, so there’s something mind-boggling about their Arab compatriots: Why in the world do they choose to eat matza?

Local Arabs have developed a love affair with the dry, crunchy wafers. Weeks in advance, Arab-owned stores across the country stock up on matza, knowing their customers will clean it out.

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The matza-craving among Arab citizens reflects their ambiguous place in the Jewish state. While they speak Hebrew, carry Israeli passports and wear Israeli brands, many say they suffer discrimination and identify themselves as Palestinians.

Still, they love matza.

“We eat it from the start of the holiday to the end, and when we run out we buy more,” said Umaima Igbaria, a 35-year-old Muslim woman who lugged a carton of matza out of a supermarket in Umm el-Fahm.

She said she, her husband and their three sons all eat matza, usually with tea and slathered with chocolate spread. She said they didn’t care if it was “Jewish food.”

Inside the store, a 1.5-meter stack of matza boxes stood in the entryway, all that remained of the more than 4 tons that owner Tariq Ifin ordered for the holiday. He had no doubts the rest would sell.

Jews consider matza poor man’s bread, eaten to remind them of their ancestors’ hardships. Few consider it a culinary delight.

“I don’t like it much, but it’s part of the holiday,” said Simon Mizrahi, 44, an observant Jew from Jerusalem who eats his matza with soup, cheese or butter.

Mizrahi said matza doesn’t fill him up like bread, and he worries its carbs will make him fat. Many other Jews share his ambivalence, recognizing its traditional role while saying they get tired of it.

To prevent matza burnout, many have developed alternative recipes. Some stir crushed matza into warm milk or coffee to make porridge. Others add an Italian twist, topping it with tomato sauce and cheese to make matza-pizza or substituting it for noodles to make matza lasagna, or “matzagna.”

Outside of Pessah, few eat it and few stores stock it. Many say they wouldn’t eat it if they had other options.

Thus their surprise when informed that Israel’s Muslim and Christian Arabs choose to eat matza.

The answer to the mystery is simple, said Arabs in several mainly Arab towns. They just like the taste.

“The kids love it. They eat it like cookies,” said Wisad Jamil, a 43-year-old woman lugging a carton of matza and tub of chocolate spread to her car for her husband and five kids at the Umm el-Fahm store.

“Don’t the Jews eat our bread? Fine, we eat their matza,” she said.


Indeed, the mixing goes both ways, with Arab dishes like humous and felafel favorites of Jewish Israelis. And during Pessah, nonobservant Jews often turn to Arab shops for leavened bread, which disappears from most Jewish-owned stores in the season.

Ifin, the supermarket owner, said some of his Arab customers once refused matza on ideological grounds, though fewer do now after years of mixing.

“You can’t say Arabs and Jews are one people, but we share the same land, so why not share the same food?” he said.

Palestinians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem largely don’t share the matza craze, and shops there don’t sell it.

“We don’t like anything that comes from them,” said Jerusalem taxi driver Firas Salem, 27, when asked if he ate matza.

“And besides,” he said – expressing a sentiment shared by many Jews – “bread tastes better.”


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