Confessions of a Shy, Food-Obsessed Girl, in a Land of Not-so-Shy People

Sitting down with a tour group to eat home-style Israeli food at Meir’s Ptiliot Restaurant in Downtown Haifa

Native Israelis are really social animals. They thrive on nurturing their family relationships and friendships, and don’t flinch at the thought of being thrust into a new situation with new people, or in taking a leadership role in front of a large group of people.  It’s not their fault-most Israelis have had great training their whole lives-Maybe from meeting a constant influx of new people from around the world, or working together as a community on their kibbutz, or in the army — which provides above all, ample training in how to deal with everyday unpredictability, and having the task of just getting things done somehow with limited resources, and with little room for excuses.

It could very well be that this is just my own perception of the Israeli experience, but even if I’m wrong, there must be something that drives the social butterfly of the Israeli psyche.  Don’t get me wrong, sociability and being genuine and authentic are some of the things that makes Israel such a beautiful society to exist in.  To give you a contrast, attend a wedding in Israel, and then attend one abroad.  In the Israeli version, you will see people exhibiting a deep and profound happiness for the bride and groom, something that I’m not convinced exists so wholly in other places. It is something that comes from a concept of putting one’s self aside in the moment for the love of another, for a community.

As beautiful as this concept is, and despite my LOVE for hospitality, and feeding people, at my core I struggle with social situations.  It is an oxy-moron, I know.  How could someone love to throw events, to invite people into their home, their own personal space, and share all they have with them, but be in the end of the day, essentially afraid of people? There is no explanation, but my safe space is and always has been behind-the-scenes hiding out in the kitchen for a moment or two, while my guests are laughing and chatting amongst themselves, around a table of food that I meticulously prepared.  I have big dreams, and sometimes take big strides that you might consider out of character for me-moving to a foreign country by myself at 22 could be a good example of this, but in reality I am more comfortable behind the screen of a computer, leisurely typing away, sharing my creative self though all the suitable venues (and these days there are a lot of them!), or simply just typing up an email.

So then why would I decide to build a career out of leading foreign tourists around my city, and showing them the local food and culture? The concept is simple, even if the implementation for me personally, is not: I have a fire inside me that propels me forward, that screams for me to share the remarkable aspects of Israeli culture and society with others.  A burning to showcase what this all boils down to for me-food, and what food does for people in this life.

For me food was never just food.  For better or worse, it has always been something that I have held very close to my heart. It’s hard to put into words, because the role that food plays in the human memory and experience is beyond that.  It is emotional.  It has real sentimental value, and holds the key to family togetherness.  It is the epicenter of our celebrations and used in marking our life’s triumphs and successes, and the perpetual cycle of new life, love, and death in this world.

So now you know-what I lack in warmth and personable communication, I make up for in sharing food.  Ever received a cookie from me?  It must mean that I really care about you, and that I wish you well. And I hope that this extends even beyond the fare that I personally put in love and care to create with my own hands. I hope that you can also feel this feeling when I lead you to some of the best street food in Israel.  There is something to this.  You see, even if the food you eat wasn’t made by my own hands, it was made by some else’s, and our stopping by on a food tour is helping those people to share this love, along with their own personal cherished memories, with the world.

Furthermore, even if the food of someone else’s childhood is different than that which you grew up eating, I hope that in such instances we can all feel the love and effort that people put in when creating a dish. When it comes down to it-As outgoing or shy as the person behind it all may be, we are all just trying to share what lies within our hearts, and hopefully this is just enough to feed all of our souls.

Join me out there in the city sometime, and once I’ve mustered up the courage to leave my little comfortable bubble behind the computer screen, I will show you what I mean, up close and personal, and with a whole heart.

About the Author
Jessica Halfin is owner and operator of Haifa Street Food Tours, through which she gives culinary tours to tourists in the beautiful coastal city of Haifa. She is an American immigrant to Israel of 10 years, an Israeli-trained baker and gourmet cook, and self-proclaimed “foodie.”
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