Taboulie and family night at the synagogue

As my son prepares for his Bar Mitzvah in May, his schedule of services and attendance at the synagogue has increased a lot. A lot goes into being Jewish, it seems to this Christian of mixed breed — Orthodox parents, raised Lutheran with a Catholic daughter and Jewish son.

Every Wednesday night is Hebrew school. Every Friday night is service, and every Sunday is Sunday school.

This Friday is Family night. I sometimes go with Alison and Aaron to the services. Some Palestinians are shocked. In fact in the last two months, I have lost two long time Muslim friends who were so shocked, apparently, that they wondered how I could raise my son Jewish. I tried to explain that I believe strongly in several principles. The first being that a child should be the religion of the mother.

That’s my view, as a Christian and as a secular person in this crazy world. I think women are more stable than men, more reasoned and more patient, all characteristics I think people who raise children should have. One said to me before attacking me on the Internet as “that Palestinian Zionist,” in an honest expression of sincerity, “At least you could have raised your son Muslim.”

Oh, I can just see how that would go over, too. And when my explanation included my argument that while I criticize Israel’s government policies, and even what I sometimes believe is the apathy of Israelis themselves to achieve a genuine, fair and just peace with the Palestinians, the issue of religion is really besides the point.

This conflict isn’t about religion. For those that believe it is, that explains the hatred that swirls in our engagements together as people. This conflict is about politics. Political policies that can be made and changed by men.

So I sit in the synagogue wearing a yarmulka, just as I used to go to the mosque with friends and prayed with them wearing a head covering too. If you believe in peace and respect religion, nothing should prevent you from admiring the other religions of the Book. Jews. Christians. Muslims. We’re really all the same. We believe in fundamentally the same concept of One God. The same God, no matter what we want to call him.

I listen to the Rabbi who always offers a brilliant sermon — or story from the Torah to the congregation. No one has ever confronted me in anger, despite my strong views on Middle East politics. Once we talk, even though they might not agree, they understand that we can be passioned and even energetic in our expression of our views. We can be passioned in challenging the other. And we can debate. All without hating each other.

Is free speech among decent men, and women, about acceptance and conformity? Or, is it about tolerance and respect? I think it’s the latter.

I wanted to go to the Family Service this Friday for Shabbat, but I had some dental surgery on a bad root canal — if anything can ever get worse, that combination is it. Though dental science has really progressed from when I was in the military in the early 1970s and had my first dental procedures done in gold.

Still, I had to stay home. It would be pain killers just in case on hand and I didn’t want my pained demeanor to disturb their service experience.

The Family Service is something that I often experienced at the Orthodox Church, which has an equally beautiful service on Sunday mornings. Afterwards, everyone would get together in the Church basement and share in a potluck brunch. Families would make food and bring it to the church to share. Breaking bread is a Jewish, Christian and Muslim custom of peace.

I had promised my wife that I would make my second favorite meal that we would take to this Friday’s Potluck Dinner/Family Service. But because of the dental surgery, it will be just Alison and Aaron, and not me.

My favorite meal is stuffed Grape Leaves. Grape leaves freshly picked and wrapped with rice and seasoned diced lamb, cooked atop a stew of Ox Tail, onions, green pepper slices and diced tomatoes.

My second favorite meal is Taboulie, the tasty diced salad made from cracked wheat, and a mixture of tomatoes, parsley, green onions, and cucumbers, drenched in extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and lemon juice which is soaked up by the cracked wheat. Not everyone makes it the same. The Lebanese make it with more parsley and no cucumbers and the Palestinians do and don’t add cucumbers. That’s fun of making your own recipes.

But Grape Leaves are best served hot, so Taboulie is the next best contribution.

So even though my jaw really hurt and was swollen, I patiently mixed the cracked wheat, the lemon juice, olive oil and vinegar to the perfect combination and then diced each of the vegetables. And I covered it in aluminum foil and put it in the “ice box.”

I know. “Ice box” is a Baby Boomer term adopted from my parents. We used to have an ice box in the early 1950s. And my son always corrects me. “You mean the refrigerator, dad. Don’t tell people you put food in an ice box. They might think we’re nuts.”

The Taboulie is going to be a great hit. I’m sure of it. Last month, when I went, I brought a box of Mejdool Dates, the finest dates you can purchase from the Middle East. These were grown in Jericho and handpicked and packaged by Palestinians, a fact that didn’t bother the Rabbi when I told him. It was an interesting fact and nothing more.

The congregation loved the Mejdool Dates I brought. And when I told each person they were Palestinian dates from Jericho, no one was offended. The food was too good.

I wish everyone listened to everyone else in that context, not interpreting what’s said. Just listening.

But I think Palestinians and Israelis listen a lot better when food happens to be on the table and we are breaking bread together instead of each other’s heads.

I wish we could do more of that. I wish that Israelis and Palestinians could relax their disagreements and see how beneficial peace can be.

I’m going to miss the Family Service Friday. Partly because I enjoy going there. But equally as much because I would have loved to share in the Taboulie with my Jewish friends, and one day, maybe, my Palestinian friends, too.

If we really want peace in the Middle East, maybe we should insist that negotiations be accompanied by maps, historical documents and claims, and Arabian and Israeli food.

But don’t ask me what Alison calls the Taboulie. That’s another story.

— Ray Hanania

About the Author
Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American columnist and former Chicago political City Hall reporter. His father is from Jerusalem and mother from Bethlehem. A Christian, Hanania's wife, Alison, is Jewish. He has two children, Carolyn Haifa, from a previous marriage, and Aaron, who is Russian Jewish. Hanania writes regularly for Creators Syndicate on Middle East issues and for the Saudi Gazette every Sunday. He is the managing editor of The Arab Daily News online ( During more than 35 years in journalism, he has also hosted several live radio talk shows. He performed standup comedy with the Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour, lampooning his Arab-Jewish marriage, and is the author of several books including "Arabs of Chicagoland" (2005), a historical look at Arab settlement in Chicago, and “I’m Glad I Look Like a Terrorist: Growing up Arab in America” (1996, 2006), which humorously explores his experience growing up Arab in America.
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