Basia Monka

Basia Monka – “Al ha esh” – BBQ has one smell in Israel

“Nir David” Photo: Basia Monka

Basia Monka – “Al ha esh” – BBQ has one smell in Israel

Israelis love BBQ. Jews, Arabs, everyone.  I was recently wondering why in the Israeli kitchen, in this hot summer country, there is no any cold soup like Spanish “gazpacho”, Bulgarian “tarator” or Polish “chłodnik” – literally meaning cooler. Israelis eat soups only in the winter as an internal heater (oh yeah, with the lack of good heating system here, that’s needed) or when they are sick. Of course, hot soups only.

People in Israel eat hot sizzling meat all year round. BBQ or rather “mangal”, “Al ha esh” as they usually call it here (literally: on the fire) is part of the local culture, and it’s not attached to your religious beliefs. Maybe only the days are related. For example if you happen to be in Tel Aviv Friday afternoon and walk to Jaffa, while observant Jews are getting ready for Shabbat and non-observant for the second weekend party night (the first weekend night in Israel is Thursday), you will go through the clouds of smoke of delicious meat the Muslim families are preparing for dinner. Often the cloud is so big that you can’t walk through, but if you taste it… Wow, I have never had a better lamb rib. I couldn’t say no to it! And the great thing is, that coming from Poland, where usually BBQ would be pork and I would have to be satisfied with only grilled onion and garlic, here I can eat everywhere. Kosher and halal meat is just as fine for me. Personally of course. Many of my religious friends would disagree with me on that.  But to me, BBQ has one smell in Israel! And I love it.

Obviously, unfortunately, you don’t get to be treated with meat each time you pass by a “mangal”. And most often, Jews grill in one spot and Arabs in the other. But there are exceptions. Last week I was in the North of Israel for a day. One of the places I visited was the Park of Springs, part of Kibbutz Nir David. And I was amazed by what I saw. Religious Jewish and Muslim families, with kids, having the picnic tables and BBQ next to each other. Did they share? I don’t know. I think not. But it was beautiful, still. The meat smelled the same. The kids played the same. The mothers were dressed, covered on that hot day very similar. Few meters from there, all of them were bathing in the water (I would not call it swim) Jewish women in their dresses or religious bathing suits and Muslim women in their ‘burkini’ or also dresses, both with covered hair. Jewish men had kippot (yarmulke). In both religions, men don’t care for their modest look, just the women. So besides kippot, the men looked the same.

There were many nonreligious families as well, but fascinating really was to watch the two religions together on a holidays day.

And all of that far from the politics, horrible terror attacks that Israel experienced just a few weeks before and scary riots in Jerusalem, in July, that cost the life of many souls and almost turned into a religious war (the real danger for all us here). But in the kibbutz, in the North of Israel, after the security check on the gate, there was just nature, fun and people. As it should be all the time.

Am I naive writing about it? Probably yes. Another day, I was waiting for a bus in little Jewish town, “moshav”, it was a sunny morning in a very nice and wealthy neighborhood. I felt safe enough that I was considering hitchhiking (I know I should not). The very moment I had this thought, a nice white car drove next to me. Strangely, the car’s license plate had no IL on it… I’m not sure if the young driver saw surprised and suspicion look on my face, or it was his standard way of saying goodbye to the town guard, but he put his hand out with the middle finger up… It was shocking and sad. I was glad it was just his hand not a gun. I was waiting for the bus. The guard, an older guy, later told me:  “It’s Sunday, Arabs come here to the swimming pool”. Just that.

I still didn’t wait for the local bus, an old Jewish resident of the ‘moshav’ gave me the lift to my Tel Aviv bus. He loved his little town so much and was so proud to live there, and I didn’t dare to ask about the white car without Israeli license plate…

The night before I had BBQ at my friend’s, and went back to good things I witnessed recently, I thought of the smells from Nir David. It is wishful thinking, but I want to believe that there is hope, if “al ha esh” smells the same…

Photo: Nir David by Basia Monka

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