Food & Wine, Israel, Middle East, Politics, Terrorism, Travel

Bombs and Bakeries

Next time you’re in Jerusalem, I know where you can get the most heavenly pastries in town.

An Israeli fellow student at Le Cordon Bleu owns a bakery there. She was a huge talent in the pastry program and whenever she left the proceeds of one of her classes in the garden court for general consumption, chaos ensued. Pastry is her passion and she delights local customers and visitors from far and near. In the hospitality industry, being multilingual makes good business sense, so she’s fluent in Hebrew, Arabic, French, and English.

She has a parallel, much different, career that’s the opposite of joyful. Military service in Israel is mandatory, so pre-Le Cordon Bleu she trained as a medic. To this day, at least one night a week, she rides in an ambulance around the streets of the Holy City, usually to provide urgent care to people who’ve fallen into predictable trouble, such as car accidents and heart attacks, but every once in a while to cradle in her arms the hopeless, ordinary people blown apart by violence, and to aid those injured, sometimes badly, but by pure luck were not at the center of the blast.

She used to comment in amazement that, “for such a small country, we have so many problems.” Anybody who’s up on the news knows what some of those problems are. Surely it’s also crossed her mind that someday one of her customers, or a member of her family who works for her, could walk out the door of her bakery with a perfect loaf of brioche…smack into a bomb.

Here’s my context: while an undergrad at the University of Washington, I had the world’s best graphic artist/publicist/assistant chef job at the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation. I was the oddball Christian work-study student whose only usefulness initially was to chase out of building the non-observant freshmen and their taco salads. By the end of my tenure there 2 years later, I knew by heart the blessing recited over the Shabbat candles every Friday evening, knew how to cook Kosher (and cleanse the kitchen for Passover), and knew by name almost every board member of every Jewish organization in Seattle. I make a mean matzo ball soup, too.

I also learned a great deal about Israel, its history, and the role of Jewish America in its inception and progress. Don’t even get me started on the deliberately ignorant who minimize the Holocaust (referred to in Hebrew as “shoah,” meaning calamity) and desperately need to visit the stark and moving Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. The museum volunteers are themselves survivors and there’s no way you can hear their stories first-hand and leave the way you came. “Never again” is an unshakeable promise all of us, everywhere, need to make to each other.

Personally, I can’t endorse the strict interpretation of Zionism: this is exclusively our land, our rules, our destiny, and honestly we’d rather all of you other guys went somewhere else, we don’t really care where, and stayed there. I’m appalled at the attack on the humanitarian relief flotilla to Gaza and demand more details of its justification, if there even is one. But make no mistake: Israel has legitimate reasons, and 62 years of proof, to be paranoid about security.

Ask the pastry chefs who have to pick up the pieces.

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