Israel’s recent 65th Independence Day was a nostalgic time for me. The
last time that I celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut in Jerusalem was in 1978. Now, 35
years later, I walked the streets of the central triangle of Jerusalem and
ventured into a couple of public parks, curious to see the changes.
were still popular public stages with captivating entertainment.In front
of one of them, there were even people dancing in circles. Men (with tiny
woven kippot) and women (modestly clothed) were dancing separately.
atmosphere in the streets was celebratory and elated, but I could not avoid
noticing large groups of youth as well as extended families wondering around
searching to be entertained by someone else. Plastic hammers were still very
So, what was changed and new to me? Mainly, two
First, the spraying of sticky white foam that, for some
reason, children and teenagers find amusing and fun, but adult bystanders try
their best to avoid. Second, felafel vendors were almost completely replaced by
Especially in the parks, the smoke of barbecues
On the streets, the second choice of food was pizza – the
American New York City imitation and not the originally Italian oven-baked
Independence Day is frequently described tongue in cheek in
the local media as “The Feast of Mangals.”
Families and friends gather
around the mangal and barbecue a variety of meats.
The approach of the
day of celebration is also marked by a proliferation of advertisements for
outdoor gas barbecue devices. It is reminiscent of the American way of
celebrating the Fourth of July, but the barbecue has been adapted to the Middle
East mangal, which is of Arab origin. The hamburgers are replaced with kebabs,
and steaks with shishlik. Nonetheless, frankfurters (kosher, of course) are
inching their way onto the menus.
Smelling and enjoying the smoke-filled
atmosphere, I started thinking about God and Abraham’s “Covenant Between the
Portions.” Then, lo and behold, a surrealistic scene.
A police motorcycle
cavalcade with pulsating red and blue lights was horning its way up Jaffa Road,
parting the crowds to the sides. It was not making way for any
Behind it was a Jerusalem Light Rail train, crowded with
passengers, lights on, whistles and bells ringing.
Just imagine the
sight: A misty Jerusalem night, smoke elevating to meet the fog and – out of the
fog emerges a giant, modern divine fire, snaking its way between the parting
crowds of Israelites feasting on smoked portions – a 2013 renewed
And who are the partners to this covenant? Jerusalem has
evolved to be a mosaic of people of multiple shades, appearances, clothing,
styles and ways of life. On the streets, you hear Hebrew with many distinct
accents, and also a flood of Russian, English and, indeed, Arabic. In some
neighborhoods, Yiddish is still spoken as the everyday language.
streets’ and restaurants food is mostly so-called “Middle Eastern” kosher fair.
The variations are often in the way that the food is served – in a pita or a
lafa – but inside, it’s almost the same.
The diversified populace eats
“mother’s kitchen” cooking at home. For outings, you have to try harder to find
the Jerusalem restaurants that reflect the diversity of the
Uniformity of public-domain food is the rule. Exceptions are
slowly proliferating but life for the nitch restaurant owner is not easy,
especially when you need to get and maintain rabbinical kashrut
It is time for me to provide a proper disclosure of
I ate only kosher in my parents’ home and, as long as they
were alive, I had two sets of dishes – dairy and meat – at my home, so they
would be able to eat with us.
I eat kosher, but I also eat
A friend once commented, “Uri eats everything that does not
Not having a permanent home in Jerusalem, I became acutely
aware that if a tourist or business person sees his or her visit to the Holy
Land as affirmation of a Jewish identity – and many colleagues symbolically wear
yarmulkes during their pilgrimage here – and you wish to eat kosher on Shabbat,
you have a problem.
To maintain a rabbinical kashrut certificate, a
restaurateur is required to adhere to strict Shabbat observance.
connection between kashrut and Shabbat is very clear to observant Orthodox Jews.
But most contemporary Jews do not align themselves with the kashrut regulations
of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, and even less so with more extreme ultra-Orthodox
Furthermore, the many billions of international food consumers all
have locally flavored diets. Some of them observe their own religious
restrictions. Some of them impose their rules on everybody within their
jurisdiction. Just consider the strict Indian-Hindu laws.
systems, such as vegetarianism and veganism, may be observed by some with
zealotry and conformity as much as any other food-restricting
On the other hand, there are the Chinese and French who eat
everything that walks, flies, crawls, swims and of course, grows. The Chinese
use chopsticks and the French forks, knives and wine. The French also maintain
the “good old” eating tradition at home.
Although you may still see men
walking home for dinner with a baguette in their hand, nouvelle cuisine is
In China, McDonald’s and Pizza Huts were
introduced, but their success is negligible in comparison to the flood of
Chinese restaurants in the West.
In China, even Mao Zedong – who imposed
Communist ideology and a dictatorship – did not suppress culinary diversity and
His successors encouraged the meticulous, comprehensive use
of all available resources, creation of new ones, and diversification and
adaptation to foreign markets to build a winning economy while maintaining the
Is there some connection between culinary attitude and
enterpreneurialship and a way of life in general? King Solomon, who was
considered to be the wisest of all human beings, built God’s Temple in
Jerusalem, a Temple that – God willing – will eventually be a house of prayer
for all nations and a magnate for Jews around the world.
But Solomon, who
was a master of personal, peaceful diplomacy as a tool for Israel to be
prosperous, strong, secure and influential in the region, allowed and even
encouraged his multiple wives to maintain their original ways of lives and
practice their own versions of warship.
In foreign relations, he was
cooperative and respectful. The king of the Phoenicians donated the wood for the
Holy Temple, but did Solomon demand that this fatherin- law convert to his
Jewish faith in order to participate in the mitzva of building God’s Temple? Mao
did not invent the concept of “Let 1,000 (or perhaps, 100) flowers bloom.” He
just uttered it in Chinese, and for his own purposes.
It may be argued
that Solomon with his (probably metaphoric) 1,000 diverse eastern Mediterranean
wives, taught us ideological lessons to be internalized and
practiced.The writer is chairman of the WPA section on interdisciplinary
collaboration, chairman of PEMRN and professor and director of biobehavioral
research in SUNY-AB. He is currently a Fulbright scholar for MENA regional
studies. The opinions expressed here are his own, and do not reflect and are not
endorsed by the Fulbright Program or any other US agency.