Just what Israel needs – more Jewish sushi chefs

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Just what Israel needs – more Jewish sushi chefs
By RAY HANANIA
01/03/2012 JERUSALEM POST

Yalla Peace: My real question though is
can investing in sushi chefs create peace?

If you have been reading the papers, you know that most sushi chefs in Israel are Asian. Now, I didn’t think that was so unusual until I realized that chop suey is probably one of the most popular Jewish foods in the world. Oh yes. Drive to any Jewish neighborhood in a Western city and it will be inundated with Chinese restaurants and take-out. (I’m not sure who I offended more with the stereotype so I apologize to everyone.)

You see, I always thought Chinese food was kosher. Every time my wife and I planned a celebration for some national holiday or event, I would suggest an Arab restaurant and she, being Jewish, would recommend Chinese take-out.

I always ask my wife, “what is Israeli food?” She’d always start out by naming recipes and foods that are clearly Arab like felafel, humous and shawarma.

Shawarma is Israeli? Come on. That’s going too far. The Arabs rightly stole the shawarma sandwich from the Greeks, who call them Gyros. And now the Israelis have stolen it from us.

But then she would quickly add Aspirin, Pepto Bismol and wine. Or is it “whine?” That’s why, as I was scanning through the Middle East headlines as I always do when I am bored and have nothing important to do, I came across a little story about how someone in Israel’s government bureaucracy (who must have been hungry) had come up with the notion that there were too many Asians working in Chinese restaurants and take-outs in Israel. So they created a program to provide money to discharged soldiers so they can go to school and learn how to make sushi.

I don’t think I need to explain sushi to an Israel. It’s basically the Jewish version of the highly prized Arabian food “stuffed grape leaves,” or, in Arabic, “wuraq dwally.”

Yes, some genius discovered that most of the cooks in Chinese restaurants in Israel were Asian, not Jewish. It’s a project, I read, of the Defense Ministry, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry, and the Gross Foundation which provides scholarships for discharged soldiers.

I wouldn’t know this firsthand, of course. I am Arab and so are all of my relatives. They don’t serve in the IDF and therefore don’t qualify for all the perks of IDF service like getting housing subsidies, living in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, or getting military scholarships to learn things like the proper way to “roll” sushi.

In Arabic, rolling grape leaves is referred to as “lif wariq.” I have no idea how to say “roll” in Hebrew.

The whole concept has changed how I view sushi.

I love sushi. Well, I don’t really like “sushi” per se. I like the “rolls” which are called “maki sushi.” The most popular is called the “California roll.” I’m an expert cook, by the way, if you haven’t already noticed. I watched my mother in the kitchen roll grape leaves for the first 40 years of my life, until I got married to a Jewish woman who made me realize that working in a kitchen is not the most profitable way to spend one’s life. It’s so much easier to “order out” and have someone else do the heavy labor while my wife and I enjoy the meal.

I’ve made stuffed grape leaves. Mine are the best. But I just can’t see myself rolling “maki” or making a California roll.

And I just can’t see some two-meter tall former Russian IDF soldier standing behind a sushi counter, asking me in his heavy Eastern European Yiddish accent, “Hey, Arab dude. What the heck are you doing in this restaurant?”

Well, that’s probably what a Russian sushi chef would ask a Palestinian sitting at his sushi counter in Petah Tikva, I’m sure. (It’s actually called a sushi “bar” but that may give readers the wrong impression that it involves drinking and alcohol.)

My real question though is, can investing in sushi chefs create peace? I know most Palestinians will say yes – but only if Israel freezes the settlements first.

Hey. Everyone in the Middle East gets a few preconditions, even if they are working behind a sushi bar.

The writer is an award winning columnist and radio talk show host. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com.

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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and Columnist who began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He covered Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992 (Mayor Daley to Mayor Daley) and has expanded to writing for newspapers around the world focussed on Middle East and American politics.

Hanania loves to write about American Arabs in politics, and focuses on Arab life in America.

Currently, he writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com. He writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers. He also writes for the online websites TheArabDailyNews.com and NewsAmericaNetwork.com (Illinois News Network at IllinoisNewsNetwork.com).

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. Formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate, Hanania also has written news, features and Opinion Columns for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News, Regional News and Palos Reporter newspapers in Chicagoland. Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.

Hanania is Palestinian Christian from prominent Bethlehem and Jerusalem families. His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.

His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania

Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com