We talked about walls and we talked about life being stifled and her warmth never ceased, no anti-Jewish stare as I so often imagine, fear, and on occasion, actually experience. She told me she was half Palestinian and half Moroccan. I told her I just came from a year in Jerusalem. We talked about the old Jerusalem, the one my mother knew, the one where Muslim, Jewish and Christian food mixed along with their cultures.
As the woman in the back prepared hummus, babaganoush, falafel and pita to go, I kept talking with this woman. She asked if I would help her write her cookbook, if I could help her write everything down. “What about?” “Everything, my whole life.” We concurred that if she wrote an hour a day, after one of her five daily prayer sessions, she could transcribe the book without my help. We talked about whether to write chronologically, or by the weight of memory.
And then my food arrived and I snuck a taste of a small falafel and it was falafel like in your dreams, crispy, a dense complex mix of substance and spice. Everything was rich with the Middle East I miss. Everything except our loving interaction, a Palestinian and, for all intents and purposes, an Israeli, bonding over hummus and cookbooks. She looked at me at one point and shuddered, “you know it is not the people’s fault there. It is the governments.” “Governments,” she said, plural.
On the counter were young photos of a dead family member. The main cook, her husband I assume, was featured by photo on the door. As I left I stammered a nervous “A salaam alaykoum” and she in turn, an enthusiastic “Wa alayki s-salaam.” And then “Wait,” she said, reaching under a pastry glass. She handed me a giant square of baklavah on the house.