The idea grew out of the tragedy of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. A dear friend of mine of Jewish faith, horrified at the growing intolerance and hate in the world and the comments she was hearing that the Paris attacks somehow represented the values of Islam, approached me to see what we could do to counteract these global messages of hate. Through MoverMoms, an organization that we are both active in and one that promotes volunteerism and community building, we decided to host a ‘conversation on tolerance’. As mothers, we understood the unique and critical role that we play in shaping our children’s world views and in modeling respect for people who think and pray differently. About 20 women joined, of different faiths, and a friend and trained facilitator helped us get to know each other better. She asked each of us to choose a photograph, of every day scenes and ordinary objects, from hundreds laid out on my kitchen table; one that spoke to us and to why we decided to come that afternoon. The stories that flowed from the simple photograph provided a window into our values, hopes, and lives; the sharing was sincere and profound. We knew we had to keep these conversations going.
We decided one way to gather in a warm and inviting setting that would be conducive to sharing would be to cook together; and in the process to ‘stir it up’ – share stories of faith and tradition and ask the sometimes hard questions that we may not otherwise dare ask. “Stirring it up in the Kitchen” was created, and we had our first gathering on Thursday evening. The mixing of spices and stories, flavors and faiths, traditions and ingredients was deliciously inspiring.
We used the cookbook “Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, a beautiful collection of recipes from the Arab east and Jewish west parts of the city. As we chopped onions, ground cumin, ladled lentils, and browned pine nuts, we talked about our families, fasting in our faith, favorite recipes, and where to find rose water. An American Muslim shared how she converted to Islam 15 years ago, and how much comfort and solace she finds in fasting; she also told us that she is a power lifter, to everyone’s amazement, which triggered a whole host of other questions: “Does wearing a hijab and long sleeves get in the way of lifting? How do people in the gym perceive you?” Another shared how her family is a mix of Christians, Jews, Muslims, African Americans, and how such diversity feels so comfortable for her children. Another, opened up about how she felt envious seeing my emotional reaction when the azan played on the iphone, because she too once had that feeling; but it was taken away from her by a forceful regime that pushed a harsh and strict form of faith.
We didn’t want the evening to end; we could have shared all night. When the Muhallabieh (milk pudding) was passed around, someone asked what was in the accompanying syrup. “What, Baileys?!,”she said in surprise. “No, it’s bay leaf syrup,” the cook clarified. We all had a good laugh.
Perhaps a poignant reminder that miscommunication can happen so easily; and why it’s so important to keep talking with each other – and stirring, and simmering, and sautéing …
To learn more about MoverMoms and to donate to our work to help the most needy in our community and to promote tolerance and understanding, please visit www.movermoms.com.