A Lesson in Diversity
As a child I was used to the fact that my parents had an eclectic array of friends from all over the world, back then I assumed that everybody was hosting the UN. Every Friday my parents would invite guests for dinner, so together with five children, there was always a festive and buoyant level of commotion in the kitchen. The discussion would swirl around from topic to topic and each guest would add their own accented thoughts.
My mother came from a big family, I mean BIG family, with six brothers and sisters, dozens of aunts, uncles, hundreds of cousins and they made up the framework of her childhood. This network of family stretched from one part of Israel to the next and everyone knew each other, she had a lifeline of support. It was different in New York suburbia, with the Gulisanos to the left and Mrs. LaFever to the right, with their own friends, history and closed door mentality and not interested in that slightly bazaar family with Kurdish music blasting from the windows in the middle of February. My Mom did her best to create an atmosphere she grew up with, that of openness and warmth and she did this by inviting, always inviting even if at times this was never reciprocated. Soon friends began dropping by to say hello and there always someone sitting around the kitchen table.
They came from all nationalities and religions and as a child their stories opened up the beautiful diversity of the world. It showed me how easy it is to be part of this multiethnic environment also but how difficult it is to break preconceived ideas. This usually resulted in one guest leaving our house feeling insulted and bewildered and another who would not be invited back again. In one incidence the sweetest sari draped women from India was asked:
“Why in the world did you convert to Judaism if you were already a Brahmin! Isn’t that the highest caste you can get to in India? How could you get better than that?”
Usually there was a high level of understanding and fascination of one another’s culture. As a teenager I would listen quietly to the conversation:
“…and I turned around and stared right into the eyes of a big white, I couldn’t find my two other diving buddies….”
“My mother fell through the barn roof and the cows began licking her feet, she’s ticklish so it was all that she could do not to laugh, she couldn’t laugh because the Nazi’s were searching for them….”
“In Malaysia I had an arranged marriaged, nobody asked me if I wanted to marry, especially not to that man”
“…Then we hit the whites, one of the canoes capsized, we realized we went over the waterfall by mistake!”
It was about sharing and listening, and slowly my mother’s food began reflecting the ethnicities of the guests-curried chicken, green salad with vinaigrette, chicken soup, tandoori chicken, roast beef, rice with raisons- recipes were always exchanged and if the food was never exactly gourmet it was tasty, colorful and always plentiful. Most of all, the food was as diversified and interesting as our guests. I miss those dinners.