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Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Eating Soul Food!

"I will … talk with you, walk with you … but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you”.

(Shakespeare -The Merchant of Venice (I, iii, 35-39).

Mauro.MartinoMauro Mevlud Martino is not Jewish. But his quirky novel, No Ballyhoo* serves up the biggest tzimmes of traditional Jewish cuisine I’ve read outside the pages of any much-thumbed family recipe book.

Paragraph after paragraph in his odd modern fairy tale provides loving, often repetitious descriptions of popular Sabbath and festival fare as a gallery of  New York eccentrics gather to accept the generous hospitality of a well-heeled Jewish doctor and his 'cookaholic’ wife.

As a person of mixed Canadian, Italian and Turkish stock, Martino’s thesis must be viewed as  sincere: When people from diverse ethnic or religious backgrounds meet to eat, they’re bound to forge an understanding and then love one another forever.  As his fictional Grandma Desta says, it is about “people sharing their food and what they know”. No.Ballyhoo.Cover

Indeed, swapping food notes may be as much a comfort as eating stodge! I publish this review just as a group of bereaved Israeli mothers from the One Family Fund  has produced a recipe book, Cooking To Remember, filled with favourite dishes once enjoyed by children who were murdered  by terrorists or killed in battle.

So while Martino’s scenario may be whimsical, I know his book bears a very serious message which should be sent loud and clear to people of all faiths: Each of us must make an effort to understand other backgrounds and beliefs without actively persuading new friends to apostasy - or maiming – even murdering them in the attempt.

But I suggest that when intermarriage happens – as it does increasingly – it should not be an opportunity to display mutual hatreds by parents on either side. Those of one generation should not coerce those of the next to live in a certain way long after they have died by using concepts of false family ‘honour’ or religious-cultural  ‘tradition’.

Indeed dietary restrictions aside, there are many ways that people on different sides of enduring hatreds may start to demolish suspicion and hatred and replace them with friendship – sometimes love.  There are examples - even in Israel – of young people meeting then marrying across the Muslim-Jewish divide and of their parents deciding to accept the situation rather than to tear the fabric of their family asunder.

Perhaps less emotionally complicated but of  potential great physical danger is the work of peace activists like Egyptians, Noha Hashad and Ahmed Meligy and Meligy’s  UK-born Israeli counterpart, Kay Wilson.  

Hashad is a Muslim nuclear scientist who fled to Israel in 2011 as a refugee after being tortured for expressing pro-Israel views.  Her story has come to light partly because of her efforts to found a centre promoting peace in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the video clip below shows Meligy and Wilson in Egypt together and  in messages published earlier this month, Meligy stated first  that peace may start by “putting aside the stereotypes and the media propaganda by reaching out to one another and seeing the truth … about the other side. The most amazing thing that happened to Kay and me”, he wrote, “was … that the building we ended up in had a restaurant in it named ‘Moses’. For me it was a sign from God that we are on the right path”.

A day later he added: “The former President of my Egypt, Anwar El Sadat after years of wars and bloodshed with Israel, all he did to make peace was simply by reaching out to Israel offering his hands with peace and friendship. Now we have had 36 years of peace between our countries”.

* No Ballyhoo, a finalist in the fiction category for the 2015 USA Regional Excellence Awards category Northeast is published by L'Aleph  and is available from Amazon in paperback or Kindle. 

© Natalie Wood (22 April 2015)

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