Sunday, December 26, 2010

A roll this side of heaven

The notion of anyone suffering from actual food shortage in modern Israel feels counterintuitive. But hunger is here

Barbara Sofer
The Human Spirit/JPost
24 December '10

Chicken or entrecote, the waiter asks. At the elegant Eden in the Water hall on Kibbutz Nir Eliahu, near Kfar Saba, the table is set, with transparent square candles burning bright on a dark tablecloth, matching serving dishes offer olive tapenade and tomato pesto, hot pita for dipping.

I’ve already opted for the mullet appetizer. I’m not really hungry. After all, it’s Saturday night, and on Shabbat I’ve eaten three abundant meals at home in the company of family and friends. I go with the vegetarian option.

Not hungry. Tonight I’m feeling particularly grateful that I’ve never known real hunger. It’s an evening about those among us who wake up every morning without the certainty that they’ll get a meal today. Those who rely on the kindness of strangers for a simple sandwich.

Food used to be scarce in pre-state Israel and the early years of statehood. Not just in biblical times, when Jacob’s sons had to carry back provisions from their brother Joseph in Egypt. Our family trips to Tiberias have always included a visit to the old cemetery where a great-greatgrandfather died of starvation. Sabra friends reminisce about the camps for skinny children.

Israeli salad was invented in kibbutzim like this one, founded by pioneers from Turkey 60 years ago, because a few tomatoes had to make their way equally around the communal dining room. But today, the country exports candysweet cherry tomatoes and seedless persimmons. Supermarket carts are piled high with salmon, broccoli and chocolate pudding. At picnic grounds the scent of grilled kebab rises like a thousand thanksgiving sacrifices.

The notion of anyone suffering from actual food shortage in modern Israel feels counterintuitive.

But hunger is here. Follow home the immigrant teens from the youth villages where they’ve squirreled away food from the dining room to bring to the Shabbat table. Drop by the ubiquitous soup kitchens and meet the elderly and unemployed, grateful for hot lentil soup. Listen to the teachers who can’t get first graders to concentrate and learn their alef bet, they’re simply too hungry. When economists say that the gaps between the haves and have-nots are growing larger, this is what they mean.

(Read full "A roll this side of heaven")

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