Tunisian experience left impression

first_imgPerhaps the truest words ever spoken by a representative of my government were these, “For the rest of your lives, when there is a story or reference in the news to Tunisia, you will read it.” Yes. He failed to mention that I would also find myself shouting encouragement across both time and space to my cousins fighting so valiantly on the sports pitch of the World Cup. Tunisia lost to Spain, but I say with all the conviction and passion of my New York relatives, “We was robbed!” Jonathan Dobrer is a professor of comparative religion at the University of Judaism in Bel-Air. Write to him by e-mail at [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2Based on my identity as a Jew, I was invited by Jewish families to dinners, to Passover Seders and to an occasional Sabbath. I truly enjoyed being with these very distant cousins from whom I had been figuratively separated for nearly 2,000 years. I was amazed at how familiar we were to each other – in the literal sense of feeling like family. At the homes of my Arab/Muslim colleagues and students, we were met with equal enthusiasm and the same relentless attempt to force-feed us like Strasbourg geese. My Muslim cousins have the same tradition of generous hospitality, humor and family. In fact we were nearly killed with kindness till we learned the social rules. I had an Arab student, Nadia Ben Sheikh, who was the double of my red-haired, freckle-faced sister-in-law. We immediately set the two up as pen pals and were quickly invited to the Ben Sheikh family home for dinner. Huge platters of meat and couscous were served, along with bread, salads and harissa – the really hot pepper puree. We finished the first serving and were contentedly living in a brief fool’s paradise when our plates were re-piled with food. As good guests, we were terrified of wasting food and insulting our generous host. So we finished it again. Oy. Now suffering and stammering in Arabic, in French and in English, we are pleading, swearing and affirming by G-d that we are filled both bodily and spiritually. Our host, seeing our ignorance of local customs, smiles kindly at us, and reveals that their custom dictates that an empty plate is a demand for more food. We must leave some food or they are obligated to replenish – presumably forever! Thus are two equally generous traditions at odds with each other and a natural misunderstanding is remedied by generosity of spirit and the willingness to both teach and learn. I was screaming at the television – nothing terribly unusual about that. But what made my yelling noteworthy was that I was cheering for a World Cup Soccer team. What makes this more unusual is the team for which I was so passionately rooting. I am not a betting man, but I am pretty confident that of all my fellow faculty at the University of Judaism, I was the only one screaming for (not at) an Arab team. Team Tunisia is the object of my unabashed affection. Such is not the power of sport to bring us together, but the power of experience. I spent two years in the Peace Corps living and teaching in Tunisia. I was accepted and befriended by my fellow faculty at the Lyc e and by the families of my students. I was invited to dinners, received home hospitality from my students and was welcomed everywhere I went. Never once was I cursed at for being an American or for being a Jew. And yes, everyone in my town knew I was Jewish – as well as American. last_img read more