Red-hot revenge kubbeh

There isn't a misunderstanding that can't be resolved by plenty of eating. Take the recent bother between Isaac Herzog and Amir Peretz.

Kubbeh (photo credit: Pepe Fainberg)
(photo credit: Pepe Fainberg)
When I stupidly said I didn't realize what a developed culture Iraqi Jews had [my fiance's sister] said: "Only for 3,000 years. When our art and literature were thriving, your Polish grandparents were living in shacks, eating stale bread.  --The Israelis by Donna Rosenthal
It all comes down to food, doesn’t it? Well, that’s my take on things, anyway. For one thing, I plump for the simplest solution available whenever possible. That aside, I’ve been a little distracted by all the competitive eating I’ve participated in during the hagim.
But personal prejudices aside, I do know that people think with their stomachs; there isn’t a misunderstanding that can’t be resolved by plenty of eating.
Take the first time my mother-in-law fed me, for example. I forget the exact occasion, but I’d been promised a slap-up meal.
Now, up until this point in time, I’d assumed that Israeli cuisine was based on the age-old and thoroughly civilized tradition of barbecued beef and beer. So I was a bit nonplussed when I was led to the table.
It was a veritable Mittel-European feast. Gefilte fish. Chopped liver. Kneidlach in clear chicken soup. Which wasn’t quite what I was expecting.
In fact, my disappointment was pretty clear to everyone, including said mother-in-law. And, as everyone with anything functioning upstairs would know, it isn’t a bright idea to criticize one’s mother-in- law’s cooking the first time she cooks for you. Even if it is by body language alone.
“Welcome to lunch,” she greeted me with a wintry smile.
This clearly was No Good At All. So I did the only thing I could do, and ate as if my life depended upon it. I ate and ate. I accepted seconds, demanded thirds. As it happens, it was all quite edible, even the gefilte fish (when liberally doused with spicy hazeret). Eventually, the wintry smile cracked. By dessert time, she’d even brought out her best bottle of wine.
And so, by eating my way out of my terrible faux pas, I managed to establish what remains an excellent relationship with my mother-in-law.
Anyway, all this is neither here nor there. The point is that once upon a time, I was naive enough to think that the distinction between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi identity was no more than an anthropological curiosity. The quote above, from Donna Rosenthal’s interesting book about Israeli society and culture, demonstrates otherwise.
And I’m sure it is no mistake that the affronted Mizrahi sister chose to vent her disdain on, of all things, Polish Jewish cuisine. She probably hadn’t been treated to a delicious bowl of cholent, for instance....
So when Isaac Herzog got himself in a bit of a bother the other week, for (allegedly) saying disobliging things about Amir Peretz, Moroccans and Mizrahim in general, I couldn’t help but think that food was at the root of his dyspepsia.
I mean, consider Herzog. Slender, almost astringent in appearance, always in a suit and tie. He looks as if he was brought up on stale bread.
In all probability, it was the thought of a salad lunch with the American ambassador that pushed him into his indiscretions, ultimately to be recorded for posterity and shared with the world courtesy of WikiLeaks.
All this said, at this point I must admit to being a little partial toward Peretz, at the receiving end of Herzog’s dismissive statements. Yes, I know that there was that fuss about him not being an entirely competent defense minister and so on, but let’s be candid: Faced with a choice between him and Herzog, whom would you rather see at the business end of a mangal?
My already high impression of the man rose even higher when he invited Herzog for a reconciliatory sulha. Aside from making himself appear to be the bigger man – metaphorically as well as literally – it also demonstrated tactical nous on his part. Home turf; which means Peretz gets to choose the refreshments.
I can just imagine the scene...
Peretz: Here, try this kubbeh. With the tehina, it’s delicious, trust me...
Herzog: No, no, I’m on a diet.
Peretz: Diet? What language are you speaking? Look, there’s just a teeny bit of spice here. Trust me, you’ll be fine...
Herzog: OK. (Hesitantly takes a bite, slowly turns red from the neck up, rips off his tie and jacket and runs out of room screaming.)
Whoever said that revenge is a dish best served cold was probably unfamiliar with the spicier end of Moroccan cuisine.
But seriously: I’ve always thought that sampling an alien cuisine with curiosity and enjoyment demonstrates some degree of open-mindedness on the part of the person doing the eating. A willingness to try new things. A desire to figure out how things work beyond one’s usual reference points.
It is (unfortunately) highly unlikely that Peretz and Herzog settled their differences in the convivial environment of the local pita-and-humous hostelry; but truthfully, I can’t think of any reason why not.
Good grub puts people in a good mood, after all; I’m sure they would have been a bit more receptive to learning a bit more about each other and their ethnic antecedents.