Cooking brings Israelis and Egyptians to the table in Rome

ANSA Italian news agency, Wednesday 21 Sep 2011

Although issues are simmering across the Mediterranean, Jews and Muslims share things in common around the table, explains the Egyptian staff and Israeli owners of Ba-Ghetto, a restaurant in Rome

Co-existence comes through cooking, perhaps even more than through sharing a table. Harmony can be found in the kitchen, during the preparation of falafels, houmous, couscous, bamia, carciofi alla giudia (Jewish-style artichokes particular to Rome) and fried brains.

Many restaurants in Rome offer Middle Eastern dishes or Roman Jewish specialities, but there are far fewer in which Israeli owners are happy to take on Egyptian staff, especially when thoughts turn to the other side of the Mediterranean, where tension in both countries has risen in the last few days. In the heart of Rome's Jewish ghetto, the restaurant Ba'Ghetto seems an oasis of peace. Victor and Mina, two of the five waiters working in the restaurant, are young Copts who were hired a little over two months ago and are happy to be working for the four Dabush brothers: Ilan, Avi, Eran and Amit.

The Dabush brothers, who own two other restaurants in the capital, have an Egyptian mother and a father of Libyan descent.

They have both Italian and Israeli citizenship. They follow a simple principle. "It doesn't matter if the person asking for a job is Tunisian, Moroccan or Egyptian. The important thing is that the person is good at their job," Ilan explains.

Twenty-two-year old Mina is overcome with emotion as she tells of her joy at being taken on by the Dabush brothers. "I feel very good here and, to be honest, I really don't have a sense of all the suspicions that could result from the international tension," she says.

Ba'Ghetto is popular with politicians, journalists and actors, but also among rabbis and high clerics. Yet it is also frequented by Muslim customers. "Our dishes fully respect the rules of the kashrut (the set of Jewish dietary laws)," Ilan says, "but perhaps the most pleasing thing is when Muslim customers sit down and ask us if our cuisine is really kosher [and therefore halal, which is also imposed by the dictates of Islam]".

So the table can bring people together, but it is not taken for granted that divisions will be overcome, as politics manages to find a way in between the pots and pans. "At table we are all friends, but unfortunately we then get up and return to our own ideas," the owner says.

The Rome ghetto is currently celebrating the night of Kabbalah, which opened the fourth edition of the Festival of Jewish Culture.

"We are also taking part in the event, extending the opening of our kitchen by about three hours," said Ilan.

From 17-21 September the event features a series of cultural events - music, theatre, tastings and literary events - snaking through the squares, streets and alleys of the ghetto uninterrupted between 20:30 and 02:30 in the morning. The aim of the event is to raise awareness of Jewish Rome and Jewish culture among the wider public.

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