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Angels in Gaza

I love falafel, love listening to the sizzling sound of it frying in oil. When I was a little girl, my mother and I would take bus number 40 or 42 to Jaffa just to eat falafel, then we would walk back home via Jerusalem Boulevard. Today I sit on a rock in the South of France, the flies and mites roving round my face as I try to understand the meanings of the words. On the corner of Wolfson and Herzl streets, there was a synagogue on the third floor. I thought it was a place that atones all sins, where they would celebrate bar mitzvahs and we would eat arbes, cooked chickpeas with lots of salt and pepper. My father used to laugh and say, “Don’t eat too much, arbes will give you gas!”

When I was all grown up, I went looking for angels in Gaza. I met the dervishes. I do not forget the sound of their reed flutes and their stories of love for Rumi. We drank tea and ate fruit. The dervish looked like a god and had the eyes of Apollo, the kind that can see far into the distance. When we went out, he took me with him to a falafel stand. In Gaza, I experienced a dervish angel with eyes so blue that all of the world’s goodness melted into his eyeball, falafel street stands, and the big blue sky. I know he noticed me. Today I freeze with shame whenever bad words are linked to this place.

Later, I began my personal journey through stormy blue spaces in search of smooth stones, moss, fishermen voices, ships, the solemn crunch of sizzling chickpeas, and the search for meaning. This wandering in the philosophical and mythological expanses led me to the dialectic method that requires a partnership of at least two who wonder from within about an ethical derivative, in order to find an answer to this existence, while seeking responsibility for the other within this circle in which we live.

Not in vain did Plato choose to call his great epic Symposium. During the banquet held at the symposium, Socrates gives his speech on the love of goodness and the love of wisdom and Eros and the path to virtue. We were all raised on mythical consciousnesses associated with the Tree of Knowledge, with good and with evil. God forbids man from eating from the fruit of the tree, all the transcendental norms manifest in the yield of the fruit and its flavor. Man did not do as God commanded and ate from the apple. This is the beginning of an ethical struggle, and the eating that ensues removes some type of partition between God and the  urge for existential freedom in the world of Adam and Eve. Choosing to eat from the apple causes them to later surrender to the boundaries of the substantial world.

Cain and Abel. Both brought offerings to God, their offerings being food. One brings meat, the other fruit and vegetables. God wants the produce of one and refuses the other. Does God recognize the lack of authenticity in Cain’s offering? Does Abel’s offering hint at a genuine existence originating in an authentic existence? Does food serve as an ethical modification and as an expression of some true existence of the individual? Cain kills Abel, it is the first murder perpetrated as an expression of a personal insult originating from a food offering.

The dervish in Gaza served me fruit, the skies were clear. There was a tenderness in his hands. He spoke of God and my body breathed. I deciphered myself in the hand extended to me with half of an apple, which he had cut earlier with a small kitchen knife. The place transformed into a Socratic banquet, we ate an apple from the same plate and talked. After that the water in the glass was so cold, the space of the room was transparent and we were all exposed to the same air and the same food. Outside, at the falafel stand, in this same flavor of one fate, I understood why God had refused Cain’s offering. These myths tell of all the meanings of the matters of food.

The dervish with the blue eyes exposed us, and just like a work of art, the food exposes us to statements of ethics, psychology, and identity that shape us within a long tradition of gatherers, growers, bakers and cooks, poets and scientists, together embroidering the human race into the same inner experience, where language can only define what the palate and the soul accentuate. Our role is to gather food and create equality as well as a connection linking mankind with phenomenology and a possible ethics, because eating is a primordial act, a mythical act. Food is the language, tongue, palate, and Logos that humans need, and each individual is the creative architect who transforms it into an act of the senses and of aesthetics.

Mythologies, they are an existential cargo through which we are supposed to experience the limits of our understanding and our senses and the openness towards the other and the different. The voice of conscience rolled itself out before me at that falafel stand and in the dervish sheikh’s blue eyes immersed with mystery. The eating was authentic, an infinite event of an ecstatic nature that produced a dialectical encounter filled with faith, for which ethics is the commitment to the other. A dialectic of humaneness and meaning found in one apple and in one falafel stand in the middle of a busy street. The inauthentic person seeks only futile chatter, about food too. The preoccupation with belonging instead of dialectic meaning reflects man’s decay through the use of language and tongue. Whose is the hummus? This is a linguistic engrossment that attacks us with feelings of alienation. The hummus and falafel, the apple, are to me the voice of conscience that points at the individual person, through the authenticity of the simple act of eating.

The dialectics and the search are not about who owns hummus but rather about you and I. It is a direct appeal to the other, with an affinity that eliminates all separateness, because both you and I have already eaten from the forbidden fruit and are now in dialogue where each of us grants the other this ethical claim for the right to exist, to equality, and to love. The phenomenology and meaning, the dialogue and the love, look at us through the textures of food, which are intended to bring hearts closer together, in this dimension, of the future.