Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Shopping, Jewish ethnicity and tea

Another blog tonight because we just went to the supermarket! This was quite an experience. From much of what I had heard about Israel I expected everything to be very western and much like Britain - I should have known this was not really the case. The supermarket - which in my faltering Hebrew I can deduce is named Machsoni Khamot Chinom - was in a group of shops including clothes and stationers, and quite dirty but thrumming with activity. There was a young and quite small guard who checked everyones' bags going in. It was eye-opening to see the variety of people there, and I felt happy to see the strident multiculturalism of Israel proper. Here were people of all shades, blondes, arabs, blacks, Hasidim, all together, about a third wearing the kippur and again this was people of all kinds. There were several people of distinctly west African appearance. It was wonderful to see this, something which is often not made obvious about Israeli society: that it truly is a functioning multicultural nation but with a unifying factor which is partially religious but still transcends this. The sheer amount of different people who have been incorporated into Israeli identity is fascinating. I was aware of the Ethiopian Jews before coming here, as well as the well-known Ashkenazim-Sephardim-Mizrahim triumvirate but looking deeper into the history of Israel opens up a plethora of different communities, many from Africa, but also from China, India and Yemen, who all share in the simple fact of Jewish identity and have all been welcomed at different times, into Israeli citizenship under the Right of Return.

There is something particularly fascinating about this for me: that Judaism (or perhaps more properly, Hebraism, for Judea was only the kingdom of one tribe of the twelve who shared the Torah) has expanded to embrace all nations and all lands, is not confined within racial or cultural boundaries but cuts across all of them. That one small people from this tiny land have effectively united the people of all the world via their diaspora and now their reincorporation into a functioning democratic state speaks of the essential unity of all humankind, of the ability to identify across cultural, national, racial and historical lines and the ability to unite without losing individual differences in a bland melting pot. Jewish identity is not exclusive: it does not refute other identities but actively embraces them. No one is just Jewish, but a Morrocan, Iraqi, Russian or Igbo Jew, and each of these communities has their own distinct heritage and traditions.

This article on Wikipedia gives some interesting background information on Jewish racial diversity.

Anyway, I bought Soya milk, some English breakfast tea, some chocolate and a salty spicy snack (really I wanted Bombay Mix but this was asking too much). This came to 42 Shekhels, about #7 (where's the pound sign on this damn netbook?). Expensive but worth it just for the first cup of real tea in 7 days. Usually we drink a freshly brewed tea from the wormwood that grows outside. This, despite my preconceptions, is not hallucinogenic - I know because we've drunk quite a lot of it by now.

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