By Irina Tsukerman
New York – What happens when you take ten young Jewish and Moroccan professionals and bring them together for dinner in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. First they bond over the shortcomings of the overpriced real estate in this part of the world. Then they further their budding relationship by practicing their hipster-dodging skills together while searching for a meal.
Finally, they realize that neither an overcrowded Moroccan place nor a restaurant called “Traif” will do, and settle for what New Yorkers of all backgrounds share with gusto – some great sushi at a delicious unpretentious little place called Mizu. And after finally settling down and having a good laugh, they proceed to get down to business – food, more laughter, and fun. Thanks to the efforts of the Moroccan event planner Simo Elaissaoui and his Jewish counterparts, these young professionals from Morocco and assorted Jewish organizations came together for the first evening of what promises to be an exciting and enjoyable series of monthly social get-togethers. What’s the catch, you may ask? There is none. There is no hidden political agenda. No chaperones. No rules. No barriers. This is how friendships are built.
This new vision of relationship-building will hopefully prove an effective counterweight to the stagnant model of intercultural and interfaith dialogues that have become so popular within the NGO world. These exercises in futility have spread like a plague across Western institutions and have succeeded at one thing – taking all the joy out of interactions among people from different backgrounds. Where “should” comes in, fun ends. Instead of agonizing over which potentially sensitive subjects to avoid, this crowd chose to speak freely about whatever came to mind, tease each other, discuss both the serious and the trivial with equal elation, while chowing down on dish after dish of delicious raw fish and steaks and doing the most New Yorkish thing possible – complaining about the inevitability of death by starvation should the food continue to take its time in being served.
The growing interest in each other, stimulated by exploring a variety of topics, is coming at an opportune time in the strengthening of relations between Morocco and the Jewish communities in other parts of the world. Morocco plays a unique role in offering an unprecedented level of protection for its Jewish community, and in essence, including its Jewish citizens specifically in its constitution, a fact that is being rediscovered both by Moroccans of all backgrounds inside the country and Moroccan and non-Moroccan Jews in the West.
That, however, is to be expected because Morocco has a long-standing tradition not just of tolerance, but also of successful integration of its citizens of all cultural backgrounds in a uniquely diverse society. What is more surprising is that when some of the Jews, some of the Moroccans start speaking Russian.
Discovering that you speak a common language is always beautiful. Finding that you have more than one and in which you can happily gossip about everyone else and share jokes no one else will understand is priceless. And then the bill comes in… actually it doesn’t. The whole crew waits and waits and waits, and continues talking, growing increasingly merry over wine and good food… only to realize than one of their new Moroccan friends has, with incredible grace and modesty, covered the entire bill. The group shuts down the restaurant, leaving happy, stuffed to the gills, and eagerly planning the next outing. The goal is to eat our way through New York – Moroccan, Greek, Russian, and more. Fun tends to have a domino effect. This gathering is already conspiring to start a snowball of friends-raising through future adventures in cultural experiences, both relaxed, and thrilling, well-planned and completely spontaneous. And that’s a kind of avalanche we can all get behind.