Article by Leah Weingast
It has been a while since I lasted posted here, but I’m committed to fleshing out the details of all five senses of my experience in Israel.
I thought it was only fitting since this past month, April, included Pesach to focus on taste for this month’s post. The physical food that we eat and the flavors we are exposed to can convey so much about a culture. The more abstract concept of tastes fascinates me as well, especially in the context of a socialistic community like a kibbutz and a community-oriented village like the one I volunteer in.
We are often told here that clashes in cultures can come from the juxtaposition of individualism and collectivism. I think that my understanding of the concepts personal “taste” and a collective “taste” absolutely stem from my background and privileges. I think that it is also important to recognize living in a community like Sha’ar La’adam and specifically Project Ten where people come from all over the world, that tastes and preferences can contradict but in turn open people up to new perspectives.
As for the physical sense of taste, I have been exposed to so many new spices, local plants that I didn’t even know were edible, and very importantly generosity in sharing food and drink. A big part of Bedouin culture, as I’ve learned, is this concept of generosity. I remember being driven home from school one day by a teacher from Mazareb and stopping off at her home not too far from where I am living in the forest next to Harduf.
The other volunteer and I were invited in, offered cookies, candy, soda, and kamquats from the tree outside. I have picked up that one should not refuse these kinds of gestures, and so I sat and talked to her children eating a cookie and drinking cola, asking them about school, the states, and the Turkish films they lit up about. Most impactful, however, has been the lunches I am offered at school from the teacher I work with.
There is always some sort of yogurt with lots of olive oil poured on top, pita, sometimes with a middle eastern spice called za’atar, and often a leafy green spinach-like vegetable that grows locally called chubezeh. Still, even after three months, I am always amazed by kindness we (the volunteers) are treated with at the school. I often tell my friends at home I have a Muslim mom in Israel, the teacher that I work with, because she packs my lunch for school.
As for Harduf, once a week I volunteer in the ceramics workshop helping to make bowls, beads, and other clay goods. It’s an amazing chance to work with adults with special needs in an environment where everyone is treated equally and can rise to their own capabilities. Every member and volunteer gets to craft their own mug to drink tea and coffee out of, and I love walking in to the workshop and feeling like I have a bit of a home there when I take my mug off the shelf and fill it with Israeli Nescafe (instant coffee).
As for outside of my volunteering life, I love visiting Tel Aviv to have some tastes of home like egg and avocado bagels from Benedict’s and croissants with smoked cheese and poached eggs at a late-night snack restaurant called La Gaterie on Ben Yahuda street. I have also spent a few free weekends at a friend’s home for Shabbat, where her family prepares different salads, vegetable casserole, potatoes, rice, etc. which we recently packed up and took on a Saturday Shabbat-leftovers picnic.
Finally, one of the most memorable and impactful aspects of my time in Project Ten so far has been community dinners each and every night. All of the volunteers really work together to prepare meals, listening to music and chatting, and of course to clean up together afterwards. When I first discovered that chubezeh (the leafy green vegetable I mentioned earlier) grows right outside our kitchen I was stoked and decided to prepare it for my night on dinner duty.
It is funny looking back on my excitement then, after living here for nearly 3 months, but there are new things that I am continually surprised by and excited for like my new role in our project’s play and undiscovered forest trails that I have begun to explore.
In preparing myself for the coming months before returning to the states, I hope that I can uncover more about my own tastes and their dynamism in the changing communities around me.