◊ Let’s Talk

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Dear mom,

Indeed, the life force goes on. Throughout stress, transition and mayhem, we chop vegetables. We get on buses. We pretend we’re taking notes in class when we’re chatting with friends online. We finish homework on time for class (ha). Tragedy and fear persist, and so does life. 

Many people from home have been asking how I’m handling it all. People ask about what it’s like when sirens go off indicating that rockets from Gaza are on the way. They ask for my thoughts on “the conflict.” I’m unable to vocalize anything… My anger, sadness and sensitivity surprise me each time in engage with someone about life here. The whole situation has tremendously affected me.

Several days ago, I released some of the mess in my brain with a pen-and-paper purge. I didn’t write my thoughts with the intention of posting them here, but I want to share them with you.

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One week ago, four days after the bodies of  Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were found outside of Jerusalem, I went to my first course of the summer semester, which covers inter-communal relations in Jerusalem, a topic that puzzles and fascinates me regularly. In the first twenty minutes of class, my classmates and I introduced ourselves with our names and a comparison between our hometowns and Jerusalem. 

My name is Jia-li, and I come from the Szechwan province, where it hot in the summers like it is now in Jerusalem.

My name is Amir, and I come from San Juan, which is a walled city resembling Jerusalem.

My name is Jackie, and I come from Boston, where historic architecture is all around like it is in Jerusalem.

I was the last person in the room to share. 

My name is Shaina… 

My voice was unexpectedly shaky. 

I grew up in Birmingham, AL, a city known for its history of racism and hate crimes. Today, systemic racism and segregation in the public sphere exist. I did not interact with African Americans other than grocery-store clerks, maintenance workers, house cleaners and ‘nannies’ until I was in high school. I joined dialogue groups and workshops to talk about race, and made black friends who were afraid to come to parties at my house because they did not want to be stopped by the police in an almost all-white neighborhood. I ventured to neighborhoods that I was told not to go to. I became comfortable with the discomfort of being in a place where I am different and comfortable with the discomfort of being in a place where everyone is just like me.

I did not have to explain how my hometown was similar to Jerusalem.

Two weeks ago, I moved from an apartment in Nachlaot to a Palestinian neighborhood. Nachlaot is in West Jerusalem. Its residents wear high-waisted jeans picked from the racks of trendy vintage stores, American Apparel leggings (the kind of thing to stock up on when moving to Israel from the US) and old leather backpacks. They are hip Jewish-Israeli artists, students and young professionals. 

I moved to a Palestinian neighborhood to practice my Arabic and experience a different space of the city. My new apartment is a fifteen minute walk from my old one and it feels like it’s in a separate country.  Even the pavement on the streets is different. 

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Last Wednesday, the day that the boys’ bodies were found in Hebron, I was in the library until evening, multitasking between writing final papers and reading the news. When I got to my apartment, I squeezed through barricades of soldiers to reach my front door. I found my roommates packing overnight bags. Neither of them – a Palestinian-American and a Dane – felt safe staying in the apartment. We shared updates from our Facebook newsfeeds and the op-eds we had read. I listened to the Palestinian-American’s accounts of  the situation in Gaza and Hebron. We left the apartment and headed in different directions – I walked back to Nachlaot, my old neighborhood.

Ten minutes later, I was on Jaffo Street in the city-center. A mob of pre-teens emerged from an alley screaming, in Hebrew, “death to Arabs,” followed by police on horses. Young girls wearing Israeli flags laid down in front of the horses while the teens ran in the streets with sticks in their hands, cheering and shouting like they were at a football game. I started crying. I followed the mob, and watched them surround two small Arab boys against the wall of a shop. The police were gone. The boys sprinted away as fast as they could. The mob cheered.

I arrived at my friend’s house in Nachlaot and plopped down on his leather couch next to others just like me. They had gathered to comfort one another in face of the day’s painful news. The conversation vacillated between things like the health benefits of sprouted grains and how only a society of animals could celebrate something so brutal as the murder of children. I was too shaken to say anything. My fifteen minute walk from neighborhood to neighborhood illuminated the separateness of the multiple realities being lived by Jerusalem’s inhabitants. These realities are divided by vast gaps, but have been built right on top of each other. 

The next day, the body of Muhammed Abu Khadier was found. Another tragedy. In spite of warnings from friends, family and Israeli security, I went to Muhammed Abu Khadier’s mourning tent in Shuafat, a fifteen minute walk from my University’s campus. I thought about the fifteen minutes it took for me to get from Mountain Brook to Ensley – going there was the only way to bridge the gap. 

Visiting Muhammed Abu Khadier’s family was sad and uncomfortable and important. 

The severity of the conflict has escalated. People in Jerusalem are scared; people in Tel Aviv are scared; people in Gaza are scared; I am scared. What does this violence mean for the future of the families around me? These days have been a painful time for Jews and for Palestinians.

Today, a Muslim-American friend (she wears a headscarf) asked if I wanted to meet up for dinner in a place that feels mutually safe. I laughed to myself.

I responded via text message, Hahaha yes!

And then, Sorry, not funny…  just feeling confused about where that place is supposed to be.  

I am embarrassed to admit this: when I walk the streets of Jerusalem my heart remembers driving around Birmingham. It remembers being conflicted, torn and confused about where I’m supposed to be. It remembers the dialogue groups I participated in in high school – Anytown Alabama, Heritage Panel and PEACE Birmingham – that positioned me to see individuals beyond their homophobia or evangelical conviction that I was eternally dammed. In Birmingham, I learned that trying to bridge gaps can curb violence and fear; I learned how to speak and think in I instead of we and they; I learned that no one has exclusive ownership of the truth. Is it naive to think that teaching our children to communicate – to think – could make the world more livable?

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Thank you for sending your prayers – please, continue to do so. But more importantly, let’s talk. 

Whoa.

xo,
Shaina

Ps. Wow dad has tarragon growing in the garden?! YES. 

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This salad is adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s 2012 collaboration : “Jerusalem: A Cookbook.” You know it. The two are an Israeli Jew and Palestinian who united over a shared appreciation of food among other things.  I received their book as a gift from my aunt and immediately fell in love. I will never be able to look at it in the same way I did before living Jerusalem. It’s pages, in which Ottolenghi and Tamimi weave together the separate realities of the city, are colored with familiar scenes, characters and flavors. It’s beautiful. 

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Shabbat dinner spread

Tamimi and Ottolenghi aren’t the only ones:  Jam Session, recipes from women belonging to The Parents Circle, a group of Israeli and Palestinian parents who lost children in the conflict, is another inspiring collaboration. There is hope. Yesterday, my classmates and I had the privilege to hear Raphie Etgar, the founder/director of  Museum on the Seam speak about his work to create dialogue and unearth hard topics through art. Etgar told us that “creating art is one of the ways people can something and expect other to listen … Discussion is a starting point for considering other options.” Word. 

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Jerusalem Date and Greens Salad, Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook

Prep time: 20 minutes

Serves: 4-5

  • 1 tbs wine vinegar
  • 1/2 medium purple onion, thinly sliced and chopped
  • 5-7  Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbs butter
  • 2 small pitas or any bread you have laying around, torn into 1 1/2 -inch pieces
  • 1 tbs poppy seeds
  • 1/2 cup almonds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts (or all) chopped
  • 2 teaspoons sumac
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
  • 5 handfuls of arugula or mixed greens (the original recipes calls for 5 to 6 ounces baby spinach leaves)
  • 2 oz goat cheese feta, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tbs good olive oil

Put vinegar, onion, salt and dates in a small bowl.  Leave to marinate for 20 minutes and drain any residual vinegar.  Discard vinegar.

Heat butter in pan over medium heat. Add pita and fry until golden. Add poppy seeds, almonds and whatever other nuts use choose, continuously stirring until pita is crunchy and nuts are toasted and fragrant. Remove from heat and mix in sumac, chile flakes and a pinch of salt. Let cool.

When ready to serve, toss spinach leaves, pita mix, dates and red onion and feta with olive oil, lemon juice and pinch of salt. Serve  immediately.

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The recipe below is one I made up in a last-minute effort to clean out my kitchen space. It also reeks Jerusalem. The dominant flavors – rich tahini, spiky zatar, surprisingly warm- spiced chickpeas – are familiar to all Jerusalemites (the tofu part… not so much). Don’t be scared by the list of ingredients… it’s long, but this dish is worth it.

Tahini Roasted Vegetables with Crispy Chickpeas and Baked Tofu

Prep time: 1-2 hours

Serves: 7 – 10 as a side, 4-7 as a main

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  • 3 medium sized carrots, peeled and sliced lengthwise into strips
  • 3 cups (one large box) of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 medium purple onions, chopped into 1/2 in pieces
  • 2 medium eggplants, chopped into 1 inch chunks
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • juice and zest of one lemon
  • 2 cups chick peas, cooked (or canned) and drained
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/tsp cumin
  • pinch of cayenne powder or chili flake
  • salt to taste
  • 1 (or more) 16 oz box of extra firm tofu
  • 1 (or more) tbs olive oil
  • salt
  • sumac
  • zatar
  • 4 heaping tbs crude tahini
  • 1/3 cup toasted sesame seeds
  • sprinkle of sumac
  • sprinkle of zatar

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Preheat oven to 250 degrees (use convection setting if you can). Toss carrots, tomatoes and onions in olive oil, salt and pepper and lay flat on baking sheet (preferably lined with parchment paper). Allow to slowly roast in oven for about 35 – 50 minutes until tomatoes are wrinkled, onions are browned, eggplant is soft and carrot edges are crisp. Check frequently – it turns from browned to burnt quickly! When done, mix with lemon juice and zest. Allow to cool.

While your veggies are in the oven, mix cinnamon, cumin, cayenne, salt and olive oil. Add chickpeas until coated. Lay flat on baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Set aside.

Up the oven to 350 once veggies are done.

IMG_3782Remove the tofu from its packaging and pat dry with paper towels. Cut tofu into cubes and allow excess liquid to drain. While draining, prepare mixture of olive oil, zatar, sumac and salt. Mix tofu cubes with the zatar mixture so that each cube of tofu is covered with a green powder coating. Lay flat on baking sheet covered in parchment paper.

 Bake tofu and chickpeas (on separate baking sheets) until golden and crispy at 350 – this should take 30 – 50 minutes. The zatar and cinnamon will make your kitchen smell heavenly.

After it’s all out of the oven, toss everything together with 2 tbs tahini and sesame seeds. Drizzle remaining tahini over top. Dust the final product with pinches of sumac and zatar and serve.

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3 thoughts on “◊ Let’s Talk

  1. I read about your account of the Israel and Palestine condition. Its so heartbreaking to hear about all that’s happening over there and the millions of people who are suffering. I hope the hatred ends soon and people take time out to spread love and cheer. Thanks for sharing your story!

  2. I agree with you that many troubles arise from people thinking “they own the truth”. But while in Tel Aviv there were few demonstrations against the IAF strikes in Gaza, and a major Israeli Newspaper published an opinion aginst those strikes (http://www.haaretz.co.il/opinions/.premium-1.2375270), as far as I know, such (potentail) protestors in Gaza risk their fragile connection between their head and shoulders. Anyway, I hope the violence would stop soon for the benefit of both people.

  3. Pingback: ◊ From the Bottom | cross counter exchange

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