Cleveland, Israeli Cooking Circle
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Article reprinted with permission from The Plain Dealer.
By Debbi Snook, The Plain Dealer
Visiting Israeli cook Bat Zion Yona picked up a piece of Josie Peric's savory, Croatian-style strudel and gave it a taste.
"It's good, very good," she said. "I've only had sweet strudels before, but this is good."
Down the buffet table at the falafel tray, Cleveland cook and community organizer Vel Scott nibbled on the chickpea sandwich made by Yona and the other Israelis, enjoying the sesame seed sauce and marinated vegetables, but especially the freshly made pita bread.
"It tastes like the Parker House rolls my mother used to make," she said.
All this would be enough for a simple exchange of cultures if it were not part of a much bigger picture. Jewish Federation of Cleveland and the St. Clair Superior Development Corporation recently held the private party at the Slovenian National Home to celebrate their growing relationship. Each hopes to build abilities and understanding between them, with food as a major player.
Already, the federation's largest tutoring program takes place at Case Elementary School in the traditionally Eastern European neighborhood near East 55th Street and Superior Avenue in Cleveland. The foundation also shares community building tactics it learned from Bridge to the Future, a program it supports in Beit Shean, its sister city in Israel.
Oren Baratz, the federation's vice president for external affairs, said it's part of a belief that citizenship "bears a responsibility beyond the larger Jewish community."
Hence, St. Clair-Superior's adoption of two earlier federation-inspired "cooking circle" programs including a "Cook with a Cop," where police and residents worked together on a meal in the Slovenian home's kitchen.
"Cooking together is a way to break down barriers," said Michael Fleming, a former chef who heads the neighborhood organization. His group also sponsored a similar person-to-person event among black and white residents of St. Clair-Superior.
In both of those sessions, talk of religion and politics were off the table. Other lively conversations took place, Fleming said, while participants came up with the idea to cook smoked European-styled sausages with collards.
Fleming would also like to adopt, "Tables & Tales," another Israeli practice he learned from the federation, where home cooks host meals for tourists. The program has grown in Beit Shean, said Baratz, where some 15 cooks have made food, shared cultures and helped build a tourism industry in a city known for its antiquities.
Fleming said he knows there's a mountain of regulations that might stand in the way of such a program here, but he holds out hope of launching it someday. Neighborhoods are not just top-down government entities, he said.
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"Many things happen in Cleveland because of word of mouth."
Hanna Agiv, Etty Valinaamat and Bat Zion Yona – the cooks who visited Cleveland for the celebration party – have participated in Tables & Tales.
Valinaamat said she likes the way the program builds relationships.
"People love to talk with us," she said. "They pay us, but they come back."