Hussein Shakra must bring a heavy kit with him each day when he heads to his pastry course at the Bishulim culinary school in south Tel Aviv – complete with a digital scale, a candy thermometer, a spatula – and a set of knives.
In a widely shared Facebook post about his first week of school, Shakra recalled the moment he was handed the set and realized he had to carry it with him every day.
“Panic broke out in the classroom,” he wrote. “‘How will they let me on the train with these knives!??’ one Jewish girl asked. I turned around and said: ‘You’re the one who’s worried? What am I gonna do!?’ (Yup, I’m the only Arab in the class).”
The school was prepared, however, and provided every student – including Shakra – with a letter certifying that he or she is attending the yearlong course and must carry the knives.
“So yes, I’m certified to walk around with knives,” he wrote. Maintaining his sense of humor, he added, “Let’s just hope they won’t shoot first, ask questions later.”
Shakra told the The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the school simply does not have the space to store the knife kits on its premises, therefore the students must carry them back and forth each day.
“We also want to try at home what we learn in school, so we bring it home with us for that,” he said.
Shakra, who lives in the Rehavia neighborhood of Jerusalem and works as a pharmacist, said while he hasn’t been stopped since beginning school last week, he has been many times in the past.
“It happens sometimes, profiling, I’m used to it,” he said. “I’m dark-skinned, I look Arab, so they do sometimes stop me.”
Shakra also sells ornate, personalized cakes from his home, advertising himself online as The Cake Lab. He decided to take the cooking class to improve his skills.
Though he’s the only Arab in the course, he said he gets along well with everyone, and nobody treats him any differently.
“They’re all nice, we all joked together about the knives,” he said. “I didn’t feel anything against me.”
Haim Spiegel, the director of food and beverages at the Dan Hotels chain, said while he remembers issuing such a letter to students at Dan’s culinary schools during the second intifada, he hasn’t had any requests since.
“In general, there isn’t a problem like this right now,” he told the Post. “Even in our courses that have minority students in them, there’s no problem walking around with knives – they’re not walking around with it in their pocket, it’s a little suitcase, and it’s very clear that it’s professional.”
Spiegel said the hotel chain employs close to 300 chefs, but there is usually no reason for them to take their knife kits outside of the workplace.
“Usually, people who work in the same place, in the same hotel or the same restaurant, are not required to travel with their knives,” he said. “Also with regards to kashrut, you’re not allowed to take them out of the hotel or restaurant.”
At the chain’s Jerusalem hotels, close to 50 percent of the kitchen workers are Arab, and the relationship between them and the Jewish employees is very positive, he said.
“The cooperation between them in the kitchen has existed for decades,” he said. “I’m not afraid at all in any of our hotels – or in any hotels – that any Arab cook with a knife in his hand will think to do anything except chop a salad.”
Asked for a response from the Post, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, “Nobody should be walking around the streets with knives on them – not kitchen or butcher knives.”
“If someone after having their ID checked is found to be possessing knives, they will be questioned as to why they have a knife on them, where they are heading to and what their intentions are!” he said.
“If it is someone with a [criminal] background already, then the person could be brought to the police station for further questioning.”
Shakra is cautiously continuing to carry his knife set to and from school – along with the letter.
“It’s right in the front of my bag,” he said. “ I keep it close.”