My name is Jessica, but back home, I was called bint Rhoda, the daughter of Rhoda. I am half Palestinian - my mother grew up in Nazareth, and is an Israeli Arab. I am also half American - my father grew up in the Midwest. I have grown up between worlds, living in both the Arab and Western world. I am a follower of Christ, and am privileged to be a part of long line of descendants of Arab Christians whose faith was first sparked at Pentecost.
I am also the mother of three, and married to the cleverest and kindest person I know, my husband Jason. I love the old ways -- old books, classical methods of eduction, ancient faith and now also, traditional foods.
I am bint Rhoda, the daughter of Rhoda, and that is the title that I wear proudly. My mother is a gifted cook, a generous hostess, and a bold and courageous woman. I am honored to be called her daughter. In the kitchen, she is proficient and creative, and she is widely known as an excellent cook. She never stops experimenting in the kitchen (if only she wrote things down!), and adds her own touch to every dish, from American to Arab.
Food as Home
I have so many wonderful memories of real food from my childhood - my love affair with french baguettes, butter, and fromage blanc when we lived in France, the sandy warm loaves of Arabic bread spread between me and my sister in the backseat of our family's Fiat when we lived in Cairo, picking ripe figs, plums, grapes from our garden in Jerusalem, stuffing grape leaves with my grandmother, dipping my bread into bowls of hot strawberry jam with my cousins in Bethlehem, sitting in countless living rooms, where bowls of salted pistachios and oranges, and cups of sweet mint tea were passed around ceremonially . . .
I could go on and on. But I will stop before I get too hungry.
It has also been such a pleasure to have the flavors and foods of my home in my home again. It has been a delight to see my children develop a love for the foods that I once ate, to scoop their labani up with their khubiz, to eat maqloubi and shorabat addas with pleasure and to declare to others, We are Arabs.
Exiles write the best books about home, so they say. I think that exiles also cook the best dishes from home. And yet, it is bittersweet because these foods are a celebration of my people, a people who love to eat and dance and sing but who are still under occupation. In such a place, we still have to eat, we still have to break our bread, and we still name our dishes and call them our own.
Food as Nourishment
It was a few years ago now, when I saw my picture with my new family and saw that I was more than just tired. I saw it in the eyes of the woman smiling back at me, in the dark circles below and the faded skin. I felt it in the way I moved about, that there was something missing inside, that no matter how much I rested or tried to care for myself, something was missing.
I started a journey into wholeness, into health, and not in the lose-ten-pounds-so-that-you'll-look-awesome-this-summer kind of way. Through it all, as I read and learned and experimented in the kitchen, I found peace. Peace with my own body, as my strength started to return. Peace with my world, as I could say something about the food industry in the way I spent my food budget. Peace with my roots, as I found myself eating the same foods that my mother and my grandmother fed me.
Peace, as I bowed my head to thank God for my food. And when I asked Him to bless it and to allow it to nourish our bodies, I was finally asking for this sincerely.
I believe in nourishment. I believe that nourishment is about feeding the soul as much as it is about feeding the body.
I believe that the foods that nourish our bodies are the foods that have have grown generation upon generation of peoples into strong healthy nations, not the food that our grocery stores are trying to sell us.
I believe that there is something mysterious about the way food sustains and feeds us. As much information as you can find about food (and there is a lot!), I think that we still eat by faith, much like the Israelites did in the desert, when they ate the bread of heaven and called it "manna," or "what is it?"
I know so very little. I have so much to learn. I hope that you will join me, teach me, nourish me as I walk down this path. I could use the company.