Monday, December 21, 2009

conscious kitchens in the Holy Land

'tis the Christmas season and i find myself in distinctly new territory: Jerusalem.

there are Hannukah lights gracing street lamps and windows, and inflatable Santas in the Old City, yet few other symbols of this season as i know it - the quiet of snow, the jingle-jingle of silver bells, green and red decorations and the familiar carols playing in stores, on the street, and at home.

for some this time of year is deeply nourishing, full of celebration, belongingness and the sensuous wafts of food as an expression of love, culture and communion. peace on earth. for others, it is a season that brings loneliness. isolation. hunger.

being here in the Holy Land offers rich soil to be in the multiple traditions around this season, and in the paradoxes of union and division. the soil that has birthed Judaism, Islam and Christianity as religions rich with story, traditions, song, prayer, culture and mysticism also holds a legacy of deep and unresolved conflict.

in Jerusalem's Old City, divisions are also thresholds. the jewish, christian, armenian and muslim quarters each have their different "Gates" of entrance and spaces for worship. a place of prayer, a shared Wall, is also a source of tension: the Western Wall is the last remaining structure from the destroyed Jewish Second Temple where the Blue and Gold Mosque now stands, built on its remnants. in its stones, a reminder of both war and peace.

yet, there are shared roots among these peoples and religions, not the least of which is the Land itself. a beautiful example of shared reverence for the land, its bounty and the ancient knowledge, is through the possibilities of peace that comes with mixing and sharing traditions of food.

Chef Moshe Basson is an Iraqi Jew who grew up in an immigrant transient camp in Jerusalem's Talpiyot neighbourhood. he founded Eucalyptus Restaurant and is a member of Chefs for Peace which together "are all about deconstructing harmful images of 'the other.' The restaurant and its dishes are meant to highlight the importance of togetherness. Many of its dishes have been cooked in family kitchens for generations. when members of different cultures sat together around food, they start to talk about their lives."*

Basson speaks about the tradition holders, the sharing of knowledge between generations and cultures, as a kind of divine passing down of collective wisdom:

"Later, when I was a chef, I would go to the Damascus Gate and talk to the Arab farmers and field workers who sold greens they found foraging and that were not found in the Jewish markets. Jews from Iraq come from a different climate..... Palestinians here on this ground were the keepers of our traditions."*

"When you go out into nature with your father and sisters and people with more experience, this is tradition. People pass on knowledge, but without schools, without lectures. I feel the tradition of herbs and medicine from nature is ultimately passed down from God. It is a common knowledge and you have to know how to soak up the knowledge. I know it might be in our mind, but for me it's there and maybe it's [in the] soul. You could also call it a collective wisdom."

soulfood in the holy land.

'tis the beginning of a path of discovery, as i sign up for my first ever Biblical Cooking course in January... more to come from the conscious kitchens of the world.

watch a youtube video of Chefs for Peace Video
* quoted from the Jerusalem Post article, 03.12.09 "Of Biblical Proportions".

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