News accounts make it look like every Jew and Arab in Israel are mortal enemies. But in truth, tens of dozens of intentional coexistence projects are ongoing, started by Arab and Jewish friends as a means to break through the barriers of distrust and fear. One of the oldest stories starts at a restaurant in Haifa decades ago.
Arab and Jewish friends laughed when the Mattar and Tayar families announced that they would join forces and build a restaurant together. The Mattars were Arab Israeli Christians in the restaurant business, and the Tayars – Israeli Jews skilled in real estate. A perfect combination of talents, they felt. One family could devise the recipes, the other could find the location and create atmosphere.
That was hundreds of thousands of plates of hummous (or do you say hummus?) ago, back in 1965. The Mattars and Tayars scouted out the perfect spot between a vista of the Mediterranean Sea and the Carmel Mountain range in Haifa. Since opening the dream restaurant, they’ve lived through wars, Intifadas and even a devastating terror attack that killed 19 people: family, friends, co-workers and customers.
But their mission of peacemaking through something as common as food, the families found, would be stronger than the hate, terror and conflict they would face. Today the restaurant “Maxim” which translates to “charming” in Hebrew, still serves Arabic-style food based on the recipes of the Mattar family. There you can find all the working man’s food that Israelis who shun McDonalds have come to love: hummous, meat kebabs made from lamb and beef, salads, mejadera and French fries.
While it’s true that Israelis hold reverence for a good plate of hummous, Maxim isn’t just about the food, says Tony, the son of Salim (Salim has since died) and Fairuz – his parents who founded the restaurant with Shabtai, who has also died, and Mireille Tayar back in 65.
Maxim, he says, is a beacon of coexistence in the Middle East. It’s living proof that even in a Middle Eastern country where people are suspicious of the other, Arabs and Jews, religious and non-religious, that friendships and healthy business endeavours can endure and prevail.
“When our families opened the restaurant, it was a lot of work for them, but it became a symbol of how Arabs and Jews can work together,” says Tony. “People came to eat at Maxim just to see if it was true or if was a trick for getting business.” While there are only two faiths behind the grill, Tony says he wouldn’t mind at all having a third partner who would be a Muslim. “To have one more – that would be perfect,” he says.
This is said despite a suicide bombing that took place at Maxim’s in 2003. A witness to the carnage, it took a lot of convincing from Israeli and American friends for Tony to join the effort in rebuilding Maxim. If you go to Maxim today, it might look like the transition was easy, but it wasn’t always the case. After the 2003 suicide bombing in the restaurant Tony lost hope for a while. It took a lot of convincing to put the pieces together. A few months later, he agreed to re-open the restaurant, with a plaque announcing: “We will not allow coexistence to be destroyed.”
“In the beginning, I didn’t want to continue,” says Tony. “I had seen enough and it was very hard to live through what happened there. After that the neighbours, customers and their friends told me I couldn’t stop. To stop means that terror wins.”
After the bombing “I was broken,” Tony says, who with his brother keeps the business going, “but at that moment they convinced me to come back. And we built it again. From the first business day it became business as usual, in terms of customer support. But no money or business will replace the value of the people we lost,” he adds.
The response from the Haifa community, Jewish, Christian and Muslim friends, was phenomenal. Even though there is a trend for restaurants to never reopen after a terror attack, Maxim bucked the trend, and became even stronger with the help of government support, which covered about 20 percent of losses. The rest the families put in from their own pockets.
“We can share our lives before and after the attack, but we continue to pray for peace,” says Tony who offers a recipe for peaceful coexistence, and for hummous.
Maxim’s Hummous Recipe
• 6.5 pounds (3 kilograms) of small-sized dried chickpeas
• 1 tablespoon baking soda
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• 2 tablespoons of salt
• 2 tablespoons of lemon salt
• Half measure of tehina (Amount of tehina equals half the volume of cooked chickpeas)
• Olive oil to garnish
Take 6.5 pounds of dried chickpeas and soak them overnight in cold water, along with baking soda and baking powder. The next morning clean the chickpeas in running water. Drain the water and remove small stones. Adding cold water to cover the chickpeas and then a double amount, vigorously boil the chickpeas in a large pot. After reaching boiling point, turn down heat, and simmer for 3 hours with a lid, until the chickpeas are soft.
When done, strain the chickpeas, and set aside until cold. When cold, put into a food processor, adding raw tehina – about half the volume of the cooked chickpeas. Add in salt, lemon salt, and enough tablespoons of cold water to achieve a thick, but smooth consistency. Spread the hummous on a plate, and garnish with olive oil.
“That’s it. Now you will have lovely hummous”, says Tony.
And a lot of it. Divide the recipe in half if you want a lot less. 😉