Culture At Large

Hummus for peace and the beauty of communion

Bethany Keeley-Jonker

After a series of stabbings and shootings in the Holy Land, I would have guessed that lines along ethnic and religious differences would be drawn sharper than ever. The owner of a restaurant in Tel Aviv, though, has taken a different approach. He advertised 50 percent off for Jewish and Arab patrons who eat together.

The Facebook page of the Hummus Bar makes the peacemaking motivation even more clear: “Are you afraid of Arabs? Are you afraid of Jews? By us there are no Arabs, but also no Jews. We have human beings!” Although this is an action from a Jewish business owner reaching out primarily to Jewish and Islamic communities, I saw a lot of resonance with Christian thought. For one thing, the assertion that the café has no Arabs or Jews, only people, reminds me of Paul’s similar claim (perhaps in the midst of similar tension) that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek.

NPR’s report on the restaurant also points out that this effort emphasizes things the two groups in the region share. Hummus is an important part of both Israeli and Palestinian cuisine (it also creates a near-irresistible opportunity for a chickpeas/peace pun). Local and ethnic eating patterns are a crucial way many people mark their identity. In the Jewish and Muslim traditions, specific food laws are part of their observance. In many places kosher and halal grocery stores are popular among both cultural groups because so many of the standards are similar.

Sharing a meal has long been a symbol of sharing more than food.

Sharing a meal has long been a symbol of sharing more than food. Engaging in one of our most basic human activities together reminds us of the essential things we all have in common: a need for nourishment. The food we eat gets broken down into energy and material for our cells — it becomes a part of our bodies. By sharing food with someone we might consider an enemy, we become in some ways consubstantial with them, made up of the same things. Dust, bones, oxygen, hummus.

This mix of symbolism and literalism is part of the power of the communion meal too. Much of traditional Christian worship is about sharing and aligning our basic humanness: matching our breath and words in song; sharing in one loaf as a symbol of our unity; confessing sin; accepting forgiveness. Sharing in Christ’s body makes us one body spiritually. Paul even refers to us as the body of Christ. Beautifully, there’s something physical, molecular, that we share as a consequence of the experience as well.

In the Holy Land, part of the intractability of the conflict is about what is shared: so much traditional and religious meaning in too few square miles. But perhaps peace can also be found in that overlap and sharing. I’ve seen God heal rifts over a meal before.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Worship, Other Religions, News & Politics, World