Somewhere between San Francisco and Berkeley I developed a craving for hummus. Not hippie grocery hummus, not coffee shop hummus, not deli hummus but hummus, the real deal. I took a gamble with a Google search on my cell phone and followed it far down San Pablo Avenue all the way to a small place called Zaki Kabob House.
Zaki, of course, was closed upon arrival. I stood outside a bit annoyed and a bit frustrated and then decided to go in anyway, pushed the door, and I was quickly inside the closed restaurant. A young woman in a hair net came out and I said, defeated, “You are closed, aren’t you?” And she answered a curt, “yes.” And then another woman appeared, a beautiful woman in her late 50’s with a full head scarf and warm hazel eyes.
I told her I knew they were closed, but maybe I could just buy some hummus? I smiled and she looked at me like I was her own daughter and said, “of course.”
“You know,” she said, “you look just like my niece. You even talk like her.”
I said, “I miss my mother, I want her hummus.” She said, “Where are you from?” and I answered a hesitant, “I am Jewish.” It went on from there, about my mother’s food and its complex relationship to Jerusalem, to Lebanese food, to food of all walks but for certain, hummus, the homemade, tahini-thick real deal.
She shared with me that she had just come from Jerusalem. “We call it Palestine, you call it Israel.” There was a very un-American recognition of Jewish agency in the equation. “It is G-d’s land,” she said, “When we all die it returns to G-d, it does not belong to anyone.” She had come from East Jerusalem and I said I had never been there, only to Bethlehem, shaking my head at the sadness of that place. “Is it as bad as Bethlehem,” I asked? “No,” she answered, “there is life in East Jerusalem. You can breathe.”