Jerusalem
"The Politics of Hummus" from Feb. 13th erases the fact that Jews lived in Middle Eastern countries for thousands of years until they were expelled en-mass by Middle Eastern political extremists and Arab pan-nationalists.
 
Secondly, Israelis often incorporate the dishes of the places that they lived in the past. Hummus is no exception.
 
For example, Germans don't claim cultural appropriation for Israelis using the word schnitzel which is a popular lunch item in Israel brought by German and Austrian Jews fleeing to Israel. No one claims Israelis culturally appropriate every food they brought with them. For the record, kugel is originally Lithuanian. Do Lithuanians get angry that Jews claim it now as a Jewish dish? 
 
Ancient Jewish communities enjoyed hummus in places like Iraq, Palestine Syria, Egypt, and Lebanon for hundreds of years even creating distinctly Jewish takes on hummus such as including eggs and a variety of unique seasonings and textures. 
Hummus has unknown origins. It's been in the MENA region for hundreds of years and was enjoyed by both Jews and Arabs. It's historically unlikely that it originated in Palestine, No one group can really claim hummus exclusively. 
 
Most Jews around the world have origins in the Levant and are closely related to Palestinians, Syrians, and Lebanese regardless of where they had ancestry before mass immigration back to Israel.
 
This means that most Jews are by definition, in fact, indigenous to the Middle East and kept similar culinary habits to other peoples of the Middle East. Even Romanian Jews ate a white bean dish very similar to hummus as part of a traditional mezze.
 
Jewish Voices for Peace is a tiny radical minority of Jews and non-Jews who don't represent the feelings and thoughts of the vast majority of the Indiana Jewish community.
 
The state of Israel is only 70 years old; the majority of Israelis have lived in Israel already for generations, growing up eating Israeli variations on hummus.
 
Palestinians do have a wonderful culinary tradition that is unique; no one is claiming those dishes to be Israeli. Hummus is simply not in the category of being a solely Palestinian food, for example, maklubah is a hearty dish of chicken and rice. 
 
Jews mostly adapted local Middle Eastern street foods such as hummus, falafel and shwarma because they were easy to make. The ingredients were affordable and readily available and could be made using Kosher ingredients and adapted to kosher diets and could be eaten quickly.
 
Jews and Muslims both enjoyed these foods for many years. In fact, both Muslims and Jewish have some similar dietary laws that forbid eating certain foods.
 
In the early days of the state of Israel the citizens lived in war-ravaged poverty, Israel was sanctioned and embargoed by most of its Arab neighbors. A quick nutritious and cheap meal was a necessity not a privileged existence. Waves of Jewish refugees came fleeing Middle Eastern dictatorships who took nearly everything from Jews fleeing with a one-way exit to Israel. Those Middle Eastern Jewish immigrants sought to recreate some of the memories of home in a new land. They prayed in the direction of Jerusalem three times a day; it was where their ancestors had come from, a place they wished to spend the next Passover ceremony every year.
 
When Jews first started immigrating en masse to the Holy Land in the 19th century, Jews wanted to adapt to the local climate, eat the local foods, wear the local dress, speak Arabic, and listen to Arabic music. Then came the pogrom and lynching of the ancient Jewish community of Hebron in 1929.
 
It's a shame that hummus is used as a tool to erase Jewish connections to the Middle East. Entire Middle Eastern Jewish Communities in places like Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon,  and Syria were erased from history. Should we also erase their culinary connections as well? 
 
Our collective love of the nearly legendary and ubiquitous Middle Eastern chickpea-based dish should be used to foster co-existence between Arabs and Jews, not hatred. Let's take the politics out of hummus and just enjoy it. 
 
Sincerely,
 
Michael Brown
Program Director, Jewish Federation of St Joseph's Valley 
South Bend, Indiana
 
 
[Editor's Note: this letter has been lightly edited for punctuation, capitalization, and clarity.]
 
 

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(1) comment

Dan Grossman


Thank you Michael, for your response.

My article does not "erase" the fact that Jews live and have lived in the Middle East for thousands of years. It states that hummus is a traditional Palestinian food that, over time, has become part of daily Israeli cuisine. When I write "Israeli" I refer to the modern state of Israel, which was founded in 1948, and does not refer to the Jewish people as a whole. As I'm sure you are aware, before Israel was founded, the region was known as Palestine, where hummus was a part of daily cuisine. And it's true, as you point out, that Jews partook of that cuisine as well, but I make no claim to the contrary.

As a journalist, I'm interested in the fact that there is vigorous debate between various parties inside and outside the Jewish community in Indianapolis about the future of Israel/Palestine. Hummus has become something of a symbol of that debate as well as an item of contention in itself.

This debate is happening here and all around the country. That is a fact. It is also a fact that there are influential groups like Jewish Voices for Peace whose members do not want symbols of the state of Israel in their observances and rituals and are seeking and finding alternative spaces. The exact number of Indianapolis JVP members and/or their ethnic makeup is not the main issue as far as I'm concerned. As I showed in the article, they've found support in the interfaith community and have made alliances with other faith groups in promoting various progressive causes in Central Indiana.

To ignore such facts would be a disservice to our readership.

I stand by my article.

Dan