Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, an Arab woman with a PhD in marine microbiology, has won Israel’s highest honor for an amateur chef—the title of Master Chef. “The moment they announced it, I couldn’t contain my joy…it means I’ll be able to fulfill my dream.” That dream, says Atamna-Ismaeel, is to open an Arab-Jewish cooking school in her area of northern Israel.
“Near my village there are a lot of Arab towns and Jewish towns—it’s a mixed area, but it’s very sad,” she said. “Although we live very close to each other, there are very limited connections and few friendships between Jews and Arabs here.”
Atamna-Ismaeel beat out thousands of Israelis who came to audition for one of 14 spots. She formed a close friendship with an unlikely candidate—an ultra-Orthodox British rabbi named Josh Steele, who was eliminated halfway through the competition. “She is the first Israeli Palestinian I’ve had a close relationship with,” Steele said. “She calls me every Friday to wish me a good Sabbath. We can talk for hours.” Atamna-Ismaeel says that her friendship with Steele shows the power of food to bring people together.
Atamna-Ismaeel specializes in modern Arab cuisine—taking traditional Arab cuisine and giving it a modern twist. She uses a lot of traditional Arab foods like fava beans (ful in Arabic), tahini, and eggplant to create dishes that are visually enticing as well as delicious.
She hopes her cooking school will start to break down barriers that still exist between Arabs and Jews. “I’m just Nof and I can’t solve the Arab-Israeli conflict,” she said. “But all change starts with small acts. If I can bring a few hundred Arabs and Jews to my school, and break down some stereotypes, I will be glad. Through food, you can bring people together in a good atmosphere and they can begin to understand each other.”
Source: Excerpts of article by Linda Gradstein, The Media Line
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