A day after Obama made his Mideast speech in Cairo I went to dinner theatre at my daughter’s middle school. The lunch school tables were set up around the cafeteria with white table cloths on them for that special school dinner theatre feel. Since we got there early, my parents and I sat at an empty table. As the room started to fill up one woman and her two young children sat next to me. Then, when it was already quite full, another family joined the table; there was a husband, wife, two older sons and a grandmother with a kerchief tied around her head.
I’m not sure how they got onto this, but it turned out that the woman next to me is Iranian and the husband and his mother on the other side of the table are also Iranian. It seems that people have sensors about people from the old country or maybe they detect a slight vocal inflection, in any case, they immediately identified themselves as homies. The woman sitting next to me saw my daughter and asked if we were Iranian too. No, I said, she’s Israeli. Well, we’re all from the same part of the world, she commented. I didn’t tell her that on all sides of the little Israeli’s family we’re from Eastern or Central Europe because my family is originally (just go back a few centuries and then a few more centuries) from that part of the world.
After the first act the woman next to me and I were served our cheese tortellini because neither of us went for the meat lasagna; she commented on how Muslims and Jews both eschew pork and shellfish. Yes, we both commented again on the similarities and how we’re from the same part of the world. Which made me think of Mideast peace and how it’s so easy to hate someone or deny someone or ignore someone or harm someone when she is never sitting down to share a child’s play and a meal on paper plates.
Obama and all the other politicians can say what they want about the Middle East, and even pieces of paper can be signed, but until there is sharing of lives around tables, there will never be peace. In conflict studies there is something called negative peace; that’s where the sides don’t fight, but they don’t exactly partake together. Surely the paper signing is a goal and one that seems so far into the future because, honestly, having yet another American president trying to bully everyone to do what he wants is not the path to peace. I remember one day in class (for my master’s in conflict studies) we were bandying around the idea for a project that would involve baking bread and sharing it, how that would bring Jewish and Arab women together for a real peace conference, not the men with their weapons and hot tempers.
Could a kind of shared meal be an indicator? Could all of the interreligious dialogue and work be an indicator? Could a student who is Palestinian and a teacher who is Israeli be an indicator? Could humanity be an indicator? Could the throwing of weight and desire for power and control be a negative indicator? Could an intense desire to protect one’s own above all others be a negative indicator? What will it take for the men who control the delivery of flour, at whatever level, to realize that breaking bread together might be the ultimate goal? What will it take for tears to overpower rage and fear? What will it take for people to realize that we all break, but we don’t have to?
Maybe we all need to go into the desert to wander for forty years to see what is really worthwhile in a life. Maybe the longer we are away from the desert the more we forget about what is essential, about how we need each other to survive, about how we each have different skills that are necessary for survival. Maybe we need to know that an oasis is communal, as are the sands and dust storms.
And those on the same side who are not on the same side, need to make those same realizations too. A somewhat related metaphor applies: there are as many opinions as there are ways to cook, but there's only one way to eat. What's more important: getting sustenance or how it's flavored?