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Despite conflict, Israel-Palestine is not devoid of warmth; or, how the falafel sheds light in the darkness

By Elizabeth Roebke '06 M.Div.

Palestinian guide at a banquet.Places ridden with conflict are not devoid of laughter and warmth. The people of Israel and Palestine assured us of this.

The root of our joy was often the hospitality of the people we met on our journey. They were generous with offers of sweet tea with mint when we visited their homes, bottled water and cookies at meetings, some places in the market offered us student, or even better seminarian discounts, local business were generous in pouring their coffee or gin depending on the setting.

The people we met everyday were kind to us-the random kids posing for us to take their picture, the folks we met in churches, the alumni that took us into their homes.

And I know we shouldn't try to measure generosity or joy that when you do it seems to kill the mood but then we encountered this enigma, this thing that became for us a joy sometimes in the midst of a very hard day-the falafel.

It was early in the trip- our first lunch on the ground, that our trusty tour guide and soon to be friend Elias took us to a restaurant he liked that was just off Manger Square in Bethlehem. And it began.

We started slowly, nibbling away at the falafel, wrapped in warm pita surrounded in hummus, cucumbers, or tomatoes each to our on individual tastes. But then they kept coming. As soon as the first round was gone another plate would appear-the wait staff eager to please the crazy tourists taking pictures of falafel and pita.

For the rest of the trip, when days seemed long and hard, the political situation tenuously clinging to strands of hope, when our minds were filled with walls and borders, checkpoints and ever present machine guns, we could take a moments refuge in a warm, crisp falafel- the travel seminar's version of "self-care". Like Elias, our other trusty tour guide Saheed, brought us- in the midst of walking the Via Dolorosa somewhere between the seventh and eighth stations of the cross-to his favorite falafel restaurant for lunch. When we ate meals at fine restaurants fine lamb and kebab would go to waste since we'd already filled up on falafel during the "salads" course.

Falafel was such an international unspoken sign of generosity and welcome-that one day when Elizabeth Lerohl and I stopped at a stand for lunch-the man ran to another place in the market and got us falafel because he didn't have them at his stand.

In addition to being overwhelmed with the generosity of the people we met in both Israel and the West Bank . We, students of divinity, took numerical measurements.

About five days into the trip we realized what a predominate role these hot fried crushed chick pea balls were going to play in our time abroad. And so we placed bets of how many falafel the group would eat over the course of our stay. We each picked a number- ending up with a range from the low three hundreds to 1,200.

And at the Tel-Aviv airport we gave our personal counts- and after some glitches in the tallying-a winner was announced. With 407 little bundles of generosity, hospitality, and joy-the Rev. Abbott Bailey was dubbed the falafel queen. Assuring that this culinary delight would reign in our memories forever.

And so because of the fun we shared with friends old and new, because we were met more often with smiles than with frowns, because for the people of Israel and Palestine this is everyday life, my prayer is that darkness does not overcome them, that they continue to see light and hope and laughter in small things even trivial things-- like falafel.

My prayer is for all people to know joy.

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