These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Guest Post: Chef David Berman

Posted on December 27, 2011 by Chef David

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

If you aren’t familiar with Pardes Chef David Berman, you should come meet him – he’s really wonderful. At the very least, you should read Leah Stern’s post about him… it’ll give you a “taste” of the man’s personality.

Anyway, Chef Berman attended our recent community trip to Hebron, and he typed up a ‘guest post’ for These&Those, which you can read here:

“Hebron is a microcosm of Israel’s problems…” (Breaking the Silence representative) — or is it?!  |  David S. Berman, Pardes Catering Manager

Please note: the opinions expressed in the following piece reflect only those of the author, and not of the Pardes management/faculty, or of the Pardes Kitchen Brigade.

I have been working at Pardes for almost eight years now (began in January 2004) and participating in the recent visit to Hebron was only the second time that I have been able to go on a school trip/tiyul. I looked forward to the trip for a few reasons:

  1. I had visited Hebron only once before, on my first visit to Israel in 1982;
  2. I thought that it would be interesting to visit Hebron again, especially in the company of the students of Pardes; and
  3. I thought it incumbent upon me to attend if the students would be ending their day with a light supper in our humble home in Elazar (which did not come to fruition, unfortunately).

And so I found myself waiting at Tzomet HaGush (the Gush Etzion Junction) early on a bright crisp Sunday morning, awaiting the arrival of the bus from Jerusalem that would take us to Ir HaAvot, the “City of our Forefathers”. I did not have much in the way of expectations for the visit – I was aware of the tensions in the area, was aware that a relatively small number of Jewish people (you can call them settlers if you want to – I don’t take that as a pejorative term since I consider myself a settler, living on reclaimed and liberated land in Gush Etzion!) live amongst close to 300,000 Arabs in the greater Hebron area, and that it housed Ma’arat Hamachpelah, the “Cave of our Patriachs”. I do not follow the news closely and do not get to read much in the way of political commentary and analysis, so was not acutely aware of the “facts on the ground” or of the issues at hand. I wanted to see for myself what the situation was like.

During the week following the trip, I heard from, and read of, many students who had found the trip depressing, worrying, disturbing, and it made me think about what I felt about it all. I have been living in Israel since 1987, a time before some of the students were born (!), so it is understandable that I should view it all somewhat differently, and of course since my good wife and I moved with our family to “over the Green Line” in August 2010, my opinions have been affected too. I could write about many issues raised by the trip, but will focus on just one:

Hebron being a “microcosm of Israel’s problems”
This statement [or something to that effect] was repeated ad nauseam during the session I attended led by the Breaking the Silence spokesman. While on the tour with their spokesman, I too bought into his theory as it seemed reasonable, and it was afterwards that I began to realize it was not in fact true! At all! Hebron is a city that has had Jewish inhabitants from time immemorial, in ancient [biblical] times as well as in recent history. We heard about the Arab riots in 1929 (not that long ago – my mother, may she be blessed with a long life, was born in that year!!) that ended an extended period of Jewish settlement in the city – and one that was typified by cordial and respectful relations between Jews and Arabs. So it should not surprise us that Jews wanted to return – and returned – to Hebron when the situation allowed it. It is after all “Ir HaAvot” the City of our Forefathers…

During my only other visit to Hebron, in 1982, we walked around freely, conversing with the shopkeepers and local inhabitants. Suffice it to say that after the Six Day War in 1967 and the liberating/occupying of Judea and Samaria/The West Bank, the once cordial relations between Jewish and Arab Hebron inhabitants were no longer possible. One can only wonder why – due to the political national sentiments of the nascent “Palestinian nation”? Due to incitement by Arab politicians who literally want to throw all Jews into the sea?  Due to terrorists who are inciting the local population to attack, maim and murder Jews in the belief that it will cause the Jews to leave “their Arab lands”? The situation in Hebron is so different from that elsewhere in Israel and Judea and Samaria/The West Bank, so how can the situation in Hebron be a “microcosm” of Israel and “its problems”?

Throughout most of Israel and Judea and Samaria/the West Bank, Jews and Arabs live peacefully side-by-side – some would argue by choice, others that it is by force of circumstance, and no, not in an apartheid society! I was born into Apartheid South Africa and it only ended with the release of Nelson Mandela in 1994, long after I had made aliyah, so I experienced it in person for 23 years… Despite living apart in Israel and Judea and Samaria/the West Bank, Israeli Arabs are elected to the Knesset, in Arab cities such as Hebron the local economy relies heavily on business with Israelis, Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria/the West Bank are built on State Land and not land “stolen” from legal Arab owners. In some cities/neighbourhoods, Jews and Arabs actually do live together (Jaffa, Acre, French Hill…).

If you shop at the Rami Levi supermarket in Gush Etzion, as I do on a weekly basis, you are served at the cheese counter by an Arab worker from one of the nearby towns (who used to work at the makolet in Alon Shvut); the Arab workers at the fresh meat counter are baki (knowledgeable) with respect to the various hechsherim (kashrut certification) of the meat they are selling; the supermarket is run by Arab and Jewish managers; the cashiers are a mixture of local Arabs, Jews from the surrounding communities and Russian immigrants living in Kiryat Arba. These past few weeks I saw shoppers wearing Christmas hats checking out the candles for Channukah… perhaps this coexistence, with respect for one another united in a communal goal (of filling one’s shopping cart with quality produce and goods at low prices!), is in fact the real “microcosm” of Israel.

In Hebron, the local Arab population does not want a Jewish presence in “their city” and thus there is much friction, anger, aggression. Has the shuk perhaps been closed because it was the scene of numerous attacks on Jews, who had to pass it by on their daily rounds? By the way, surely those few shops could not supply all the inhabitants of the bustling city of Hebron? Perhaps the shuk was in decline anyway and the owners have moved their business to the other part of Hebron, the part that Jews are not allowed to visit. It would surely be interesting to see what the rest of Hebron looks like… We were shown only a tiny enclave within Hebron and did not see the bigger picture, which includes close to 300,000 Arabs living in greater Hebron. Our view of Hebron was tantamount to showing a first-time visitor to Jerusalem the Ben Yehuda Midrechov, and telling them this is Jerusalem (or at least a microcosm of it…!).

The reality is that in the vast majority of Israel and Judea and Samaria/the West Bank, Jews and Arab live in a fragile co-existence. It is not easy for two “nations” to share one country. And yes, the occupying force must act fairly and humanely to those it is occupying. But to assume that the problems and tensions in Hebron is the way it is throughout Israel and Judea and Samaria/the West Bank is a lie and a deliberate distortion of the truth.

The writer is the Catering Manager of Pardes. A graduate of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and the Tadmor Central Hotel School in Herzlia, Israel, he lives with his wife Rebecca and four children in the religious community of Elazar in Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem.