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A-Salaam Alaykoum

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.”