Monday, June 22, 2009

Turkish Delight

My friend E recently invited me over for dinner with her parents, who were in town from Istanbul. I grabbed a bottle of Mendocino Pinot Noir Grape Juice ($12.95 at the neighborhood wine store), plucked a huge lemon from the tree in front of my house, and headed over on an empty stomach. E is a great cook, and let me tell you, the food was delicious. The first course was a lentil soup, amazing taste, I'd never had anything like it. While we were sipping, E let slip to her family that I was Jewish. E's father -- a short, mustached fellow with serious brown eyes -- got very excited about this.

E's dad informed me that there were many Jews in Istanbul. Apparently, the late, great Ottoman Empire had taken in the Jews when they were chased out of Spain by the inquisitors. "Yes, there are many, how do you say, hahams in Turkey," E chimed in. E's father, himself a civil engineer, had recently read a biography of Einstein ("He was religious!") and was greatly impressed. He taught me that inshallah is the Arabic equivalent of im yirtzeh HaShem, gave me a blessing that I should have good luck in my career, and offered to host me and show me around if I ever visited Istanbul. He was very friendly in his somber way and I didn't detect a trace of anti-Semitism in the man. (With his three daughters and his sister at the table, I think he was just happy to have another guy around.)

We retired to the living room, where we sat together on the couch and broke open the grape juice. "Nice color," E's dad complimented, holding his shot glass up to the light (the Pinot Noir grape gives a deep red color, not the dark purple of the concord grapes). We drank the sweet, cool juice with a twist of the lemon I had brought, a wild California lemon with a large rind. "The lemon tree in my garden tastes the same," E's father reminisced. Then E served up flan with caramel. It held together perfectly and had a clean, just-sweet-enough finish. It was one of the best desserts I have had in my entire life. I reminded her husband, a friendly PhD who makes microchips for a cell phone company, that he's a lucky man.

Only once did the Israel/Palestine issue come up (or as E's father malaproposed, the "Isra-el/Phili-stines"). He was opining about how our two cultures had so much in common. "You and I are cousins!" he exclaimed, squeezing my shoulder. "So why are our peoples at war?"

I had a flash. "Sometimes we fight most with members of our own family."

E's father nodded and smiled, his dark eyes flashing. "I understand what you said. I understand."

4 comments:

abhi said...

its a nice post

Dave L said...

Sorry to put a damper on your hopeful post, but…

Unfortunately, the similarities between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are part of the reason that the conflict is so difficult to solve. Both groups feel as though the other is occupying (or at least living in) their ancestral land, both groups think that Jerusalem is their holy city, and both groups feel that the worst tragedies (at least in the past 1900 years) occurred to them less than 70 years ago. All these factors complicate any peace negotiations.

Sim said...

k, just to take the statistical pov here, i'm guessing we fight most with whoever we are competing with most/ whoever is closest. Family and Arab-Israeli both fit well into those categories. But so do Brits and the Israelis in the earlier part of the century, and you'd have to go pretty freaking far back to find a familial connection between them.

Samurai Scientist said...

@abhi, thanks!

@Dave,
Unfortunately, the similarities between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs are part of the reason that the conflict is so difficult to solve...

You're right, we have tragedy in common as well. Even here, we might find solidarity... if we look for it.

@Sim,
just to take the statistical pov here, i'm guessing we fight most with whoever we are competing with most/ whoever is closest.

I wasn't really going for a statistical argument. I was just trying to point out the irony that two nations with so much in common can't seem to find common ground.

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