◊ Telling stories

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Dear mom,

My grown-up person is strange to me too. In my first hours back from Israel and Palestine, I went straight to laundry, grocery shopping and my life (my life = finding space for the 4 liters of tahini I schlepped across the ocean, scheduling meetings with professors, filing recipes, going to a spin class). These endeavors were far from my usual homecoming routine — my luggage dump onto the hallway floor, my jet-lagged memory-mumble and slow crawl into bed, my early-rise to a full fridge and piles of neatly folded, clean clothes.

My grown-up person embraces the laundry/grocery life with ease and excitement; it is puzzled at how readily I snap back to childhood when I’m home.

Contrary to your verdict, I will always be a child at home regardless of how much junk I clean from my room. I have no doubt that you’ll have plenty more chances to wash my dirty clothes and make me breakfast on demand. Consider yourself lucky to be spared from my late-night, half-formed reflection-thoughts on Jewish-Arab relations, snow in a Mediterranean climate, Palestinian traditions, the transcontinental strength of our family’s genetic traits.

The story I was reporting in Israel and Palestine is about best friends and business partners –  a Palestinian and a Jewish Israeli – who collect and sell embroidery together. They requested I not use their names because of potential backlash.

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I completed my reporting goals – 10 interviews, 5 photo shoots, lots of meetings – and now I have to write it all up. I also spent plenty of time catching up with family, hanging out with friends and taking long walks alone. I had a great time, but I won’t be able to call my trip successful until I’ve written the article. It will take some time to develop so many different experiences into memories and meaningful stories. Shwai shwai, liat liat, slowly slowly.

dried sage leaves in the kitchen

dried sage leaves in the kitchen

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I spent two nights with the Palestinian business partner and learned a lot about her life in Bethlehem. She reminds me of you – her hands never stop cooking, sewing, embroidering, cleaning, preparing. Everything in her house, from olive oil soap to sheep’s milk cheese to embroidered cushion-covers and table clothes, she cultivated with her own hands. For breakfast, we ate olives that she picked and cured herself, green leaves she collected from the Jewish Israeli’s front yard and sautéed with onion and garlic, and kaak ma’amoul that she made late at night.

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Kaak ma’amoul are traditional Palestinian date-filled, sweet cookies. I had eaten them before, but the way that this woman made them without sugar in the dough was different and oddly nostalgic.

Her kaak ma’amoul are simple: dough – white flour, oil, water and fennel seeds – wrapped around spiced date puree. The mild dough against sticky dates reminded me of Bubbe’s oily strudel stuffed with spiced raisins. While I was reporting, I noticed many such parallels among Jewish and Palestinian traditions and daily life. Also, the ways in which many of the Jewish Israelis and Palestinians that I spoke with described their feelings toward one another were strikingly similar.

“When you don’t know people, you get afraid,” the Jewish Israeli friend said. “But when you see them you get unafraid.”

“I wanted them to meet Israelis to see that they are human like us and we are all like each other,” the Palestinian friend said.

People are afraid of the unknown. When they are separated, they do not interact and fear persists. Fear dominates.

Bethlehem

Bethlehem

This is why I went back to Israel and Palestine over my winter break. This is why I study journalism. Sometimes I feel that the only way to introduce humans to one another – to cross borders, create groundwork for dialogue, dilute fear in a small way – is to tell stories. Thus, I can’t call my trip a success until I write the story! I can’t call my trip a success until I highlight, in a small way, humanity on both sides of the wall.

xo,

Shaina

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I recreated the Kaak Ma’amoul I ate in Bethlehem as soon as I got back to my kitchen. Inspired by Bubbe cookies, I added plenty of orange zest and juice. I also substituted whole-wheat flour for white flour. As you can see from the picture, they didn’t come out pretty… I think pretty kaak ma’amoul is one of those things that takes practice.

*note: Most kaak ma’amoul is made with sweet, yeasted dough (sometimes with semolina in addition to wheat flour). This is not the traditional recipe.

Kaak Ma’amoul

Prep time: 1 hour

Makes 20 – 30 cookies

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Dough:

  • 2 ½ C whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup olive oil, plus more for greasing
  • ½ cup warm water
  • 1 tbs orange zest
  • 2 tbs fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Filling:

  • 1 cup dates, pitted
  • ½ tsp cardmom, ground
  • ½ tsp cloves, ground
  • ½ tsp cinnamon, ground
  • juice of one medium orange

Mix the flour, oil, water, orange zest, fennel seeds and salt with a stand mixer or knead with your hands until dough is smooth and stretchy. Put dates, spices and orange juice in food processor and blend into a smooth paste

Heat oven to 375. Divide dough into 25 – 30 balls (1 ½ in each). Divide paste into the same number of balls, but keep each ball half the size of the each dough ball.

Roll each dough ball into a 4 x 1 inch rectangle. Wet hands, and roll paste ball into thin log. Place date log into dough and fold dough around it (like a tube). Roll the log/tube in your hands until smooth. Fold the dough log into a circle and seal it into a closed ring by pinching the ends together (you may have to use some water to get it to stick). Place circles on baking sheet and cook until golden, around 25 minutes.

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