Just what Israel needs - more Jewish sushi chefs

Yalla Peace: My real question though is, can investing in sushi chefs create peace?

By RAY HANANIA
January 3, 2012 22:27
3 minute read.
sushi chef prepares sushi

sushi chef prepares sushi_311. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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If you have been reading the papers, you know that most sushi chefs in Israel are Asian. Now, I didn’t think that was so unusual until I realized that chop suey is probably one of the most popular Jewish foods in the world. Oh yes. Drive to any Jewish neighborhood in a Western city and it will be inundated with Chinese restaurants and take-out. (I’m not sure who I offended more with the stereotype so I apologize to everyone.)

You see, I always thought Chinese food was kosher. Every time my wife and I planned a celebration for some national holiday or event, I would suggest an Arab restaurant and she, being Jewish, would recommend Chinese take-out.

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I always ask my wife, “what is Israeli food?” She’d always start out by naming recipes and foods that are clearly Arab like felafel, humous and shawarma.

Shawarma is Israeli? Come on. That’s going too far. The Arabs rightly stole the shawarma sandwich from the Greeks, who call them Gyros. And now the Israelis have stolen it from us.

But then she would quickly add Aspirin, Pepto Bismol and wine. Or is it “whine?” That’s why, as I was scanning through the Middle East headlines as I always do when I am bored and have nothing important to do, I came across a little story about how someone in Israel’s government bureaucracy (who must have been hungry) had come up with the notion that there were too many Asians working in Chinese restaurants and take-outs in Israel. So they created a program to provide money to discharged soldiers so they can go to school and learn how to make sushi.

I don’t think I need to explain sushi to an Israel. It’s basically the Jewish version of the highly prized Arabian food “stuffed grape leaves,” or, in Arabic, “wuraq dwally.”

Yes, some genius discovered that most of the cooks in Chinese restaurants in Israel were Asian, not Jewish. It’s a project, I read, of the Defense Ministry, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, and the Gross Foundation which provides scholarships for discharged soldiers.



I wouldn’t know this firsthand, of course. I am Arab and so are all of my relatives. They don’t serve in the IDF and therefore don’t qualify for all the perks of IDF service like getting housing subsidies, living in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, or getting military scholarships to learn things like the proper way to “roll” sushi.

In Arabic, rolling grape leaves is referred to as “lif wariq.” I have no idea how to say “roll” in Hebrew.

The whole concept has changed how I view sushi.

I love sushi. Well, I don’t really like “sushi” per se. I like the “rolls” which are called “maki sushi.” The most popular is called the “California roll.” I’m an expert cook, by the way, if you haven’t already noticed. I watched my mother in the kitchen roll grape leaves for the first 40 years of my life, until I got married to a Jewish woman who made me realize that working in a kitchen is not the most profitable way to spend one’s life. It’s so much easier to “order out” and have someone else do the heavy labor while my wife and I enjoy the meal.

I’ve made stuffed grape leaves. Mine are the best. But I just can’t see myself rolling “maki” or making a California roll.

And I just can’t see some two-meter tall former Russian IDF soldier standing behind a sushi counter, asking me in his heavy Eastern European Yiddish accent, “Hey, Arab dude. What the heck are you doing in this restaurant?”

Well, that’s probably what a Russian sushi chef would ask a Palestinian sitting at his sushi counter in Petah Tikva, I’m sure. (It’s actually called a sushi “bar” but that may give readers the wrong impression that it involves drinking and alcohol.)

My real question though is, can investing in sushi chefs create peace? I know most Palestinians will say yes – but only if the Israel freezes the settlements first.

Hey. Everyone in the Middle East gets a few preconditions, even if they are working behind at the sushi bar.

The writer is an award winning columnist and radio talk show host. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com.

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