◊ From the Bottom

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Dear mom,

I’m sure what you are experiencing on the news must be very scary for you, but the worrying is annoying and needs to stop. My day-to-day reality is not scary … it’s just exhausting. 

I have lived on five continents. I have been exposed to a variety of worldviews, political clusterfucks and human rights tragedies. I became used to being an outsider looking in, which made it fairly easy for me to swing across conflicting realities. I adjusted quickly from Mumbai to New York to Mountain Brook. 

Here, I am not an outsider. I do not have the privilege of casual opinions, quiet observations or weightless sympathy. I am a Jew living in Israel. My actions and words are part of the stage. 

Several times a day, I am tossed across worlds that host separate realities and contradicting narratives. As the truths shift, so does my heart. Listening to everyone is exhausting; cross-checking my reactions to it all before I open my mouth drains me empty. Sometimes it hurts.  

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I want the violence to stop. I turn inward. I ask myself what I can do to ease the chaos around me. Right now, living in Jerusalem feels like living in a pressure cooker and, from what I see, the heat is not fueled by extremists or political leaders. It is fueled by people like me — laypeople who neglect personal responsibility by refusing or forgetting to build unity into their agendas of day-to-day tasks.  The heat is fueled by people who are set on defining and defending rights and wrongs.

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I know what you’re thinking and yes, there very well may be universal rights and wrongs … but the fact that they exist has no bearing on the situation here. Anyone can argue a black and a white. I want the violence to stop and I don’t see a purpose in sustaining this argument. 

I want the violence to stop, so I will focus my energy on efforts that are productive.  I will take time to listen, engage, acknowledge the suffering and pain of others, tell stories, smile and humanize.  I will speak as an individual, avoid blame and propaganda and veer from divisiveness. It is all that I can do. 

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I am a Jew living in Israel … and — deep breath –I refuse to be enemies with my neighbors … and — another deep breath —  I refuse to mitigate my empathy for human-life (regardless of my political views). I am not naive to think that my efforts are always (or often) mutual, nor do I think they can create peace at-large. But I do believe that I can lower the heat on the pressure cooker in which I live. I can say hello and listen to, tell and re-tell stories. Peace can come from the bottom. From the streets. From people like me. 

Stop worrying.

xo,

Shaina

See... people are still dancing in the street. They aren't scared, you shouldn't be either.

See… people are still dancing in the street. They aren’t scared- there’s no reason for you to be.

Ps. I know you’re not happy with my decisions right now, but I hope my letter sheds some light unto my reasoning. And really, stop worrying.

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Pps. Here’s a Jewish bit that I found consoling: In a recent d’var Torah, Rabbi Les Bronstein of  T’ruah explained that the Torah tells us that we must to do what is necessary to save ourselves …  but that even when we are protecting ourselves, we must allow ourselves to weep for the other.  He said, “If we stop protecting ourselves, we will cease to be. But if we stop caring about the consequences of our self-preservation, we will cease to be the Jewish people, which may be tantamount to ceasing to exist altogether.” 

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Musakhan

Last week, I helped the family downstairs prepare the Iftar meal with which they break their Ramadan fast. They showed me how to make Musakhan, which, I was told, is the Palestinian dish to know. I’ve tried a lot of foods from this region so I was shocked (and upset) that I wasn’t familiar with most famous Palestinian dish! But now I know. Even though I ate around the chicken, it was an incredible meal. 

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Along with Musakhan, we made “Arab Salad,” which is the salad that I (and many Israelis) eat almost every day – finely chopped vegetables mixed with tahini, lemon juice and parsley. 

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Also, look at this amazing oven that works like a taboon – can we get one?

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Serves 5 – 7 

Prep time – 1 – 2 hours

  • 1 whole chicken, cut into 4 or 5 pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp cloves, ground
  • 3 cardamom seeds, crushed
  • salt and black pepper
  • 2 tbs olive oilIMG_5732
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 4 tbs sumac

  • 1 pound white or yellow onions
  • 1 pound red onions 
  • 2 tsp salt  
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup chicken (or vegetarian) stock
  • 4 Tbs. ground sumac 
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg 
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon 
  •  1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper  
  • 4 pieces lavash, taboon, shrak, or pita bread
  • 1/2 cup toasted cashews, almond slices, pine nuts
  • handful of parsley for garnish

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Combine garlic, cloves cardamom seeds , salt and black pepper. set aside one tablespoon of mixture and rub remainder into chicken. Let marinate. 

Meanwhile, chop onions into small pieces. Place in large skillet with olive oil and half of your chicken stock and salt. Cover and cook over very low heat for 10 minutes or until onions are translucent. Then, add remaining spices and continue cooking over low heat for another 20 minutes. 

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Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 

Roast chicken in oven on 400 degrees on a baking sheet. Mix reserved tablespoon of spices with lemon juice and 4 tbs sumac. Once chicken is roasted, cover chicken with remaining spices.

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Once onions are cooked and fragrant, brush pan with olive oil. Place bread on pan and sprinkle with 3 – 4 tbs of chicken (or veg) stock. Then, cover with onions and place in oven.

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Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until onions are browned and bread is crispy. Place chicken on top of bread and garnish with parsley and cashews, almonds or pine nuts. To eat, rip pieces of bread and chicken with your hands, or cut it up like a pizza. For a vegetarian version, replace chicken with baked zatar tofu, or top with labneh or greek yogurt. 

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