When Yasmine opened a direct message on her Instagram account with a link to an article, she was flabbergasted. “I can’t actually be reading this,” she thought. “This can’t be a real article.”
The article in question, titled “Why I Accused Israel Of Cultural Genocide,” was in response to a controversial tweet from celebrity chef Rachael Ray featuring a picture of stuffed grape leaves, hummus, and various dips with the caption “Israeli nite.” Many Arabs called out Ray for insinuating that their cultural cuisine belonged to Israel, which led to an internet flood of hot takes and polarizing opinions on which culture hummus actually belongs to.
Damn it @rachaelray. This is cultural #genocide. It’s not #Israeli food. It’s #Arab (#Lebanese, #Palestinian, #Syrian, #Jordanian). First the Israelis take the land & ethnically cleanse it of Arabs. Now they take their food & culture & claim it’s theirs too! #Shame. https://t.co/1nDXlcfRHA
— James J. Zogby (@jjz1600) December 26, 2017
After reading the article, there were two routes Yasmine, who is an office manager by day, could take: She could write an educational post to refute the claim that Middle Eastern food belongs exclusively to one culture, or she could use humor. She chose the latter.
Yasmine, 36, brings a unique diversity to conversations about Jewish identity and food: Her mom is of Ashkenazi descent, her father is hails from a Bukharan Jewish and Syrian Jewish background, and her husband is African-American. She’s made it her mission to educate Jews and non-Jews alike about Jewish politics and culture through Ethnically Jewish, an Instagram account she runs with her friend Ronit (though that account is currently on hiatus).
As Yasmine explains, many people don’t discuss or even know about the forced exodus of Jews like her from Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and many North African countries, after 1948. Her grandparents were some of the Jews who were forced to leave their homes even earlier, in the 1930s. To fill the gap in knowledge, she and Ronit wrote Jews: Unwhitewashed, a book that accompanies their blog and gives an in-depth overview of Jewish ethnicity, history, and anti-Semitism.
But educating doesn’t always go as planned. After being inundated with hateful, anti-Semitic messages on Instagram about Jews appropriating hummus and Israel committing cultural genocide, the Jewish mother of two decided to make a statement the best way she knew how — through food.
At first, Yasmine set out to share 30 days of “joyful Jewish posts” on her personal Instagram account @quarter.water.dreams. But when her third Instagram post — an image of herself Photoshopped over a bowl of hummus — exploded, she decided to continue focusing on food.
Mizrahi Jews, whose families lived side by side Arabs for generations, aren’t appropriating anyone’s culture, Yasmine says. Hummus is part of their cultures just as much as it is a part of Arabic culture. “Jews and Arabs… we’re genetic cousins!” she says. “We lived together for thousands of years, maybe not peacefully, but we have that cultural fusion, and we all eat shakshuka and hummus.”
Jewish food will continue to be the focal point of Yasmine’s personal Instagram account, but she’ll also share different parts of her multifaceted culture that people tend to overlook, like jewelry, clothing, and music. And there’s a deeper message there, too. Whenever there’s conflict between Jews and Arabs, Ashkenazi Jews are usually at the forefront of the conservation, Yasmine says, which leaves Mizrahi Jews like herself feeling erased. Sharing silly photographs of traditional Mizrahi Jewish food is her attempt to bring her people back into the conversation. “This was my way of saying, ‘Hey, I see you, we’re valid, and let’s find some joy in this not ideal situation.” And while her previous content focused on anti-Semitism, this is a welcome and necessary shift for Yasmine: “I’m trying to center myself and give myself some joy back because I was getting so wrapped up and it’s not healthy to do that.”
So, which foods give Yasmine the most joy? Israeli Bissli snacks, even though she is sadly allergic to them. “If I open a bag, my childhood is in my face and I can taste the outside,” she says.
As for the rest of her family, Yasmine’s non-Jewish husband is obsessed with chopped liver (bet you haven’t heard that one before), and while her kids are averse to some of her childhood favorites, they love hummus and challah. “If you don’t like challah then it’s really bad,” the Jewish mom said.
Jewish food has always been a source of comfort, and now Yasmine is using it in an innovative way to share beloved Jewish food beyond just matzah ball soup and brisket. And it’s not just for Jews. This has also been a way for her husband, his family, and their sons to better understand her diverse Jewish background.
And if nothing else, “It’s just funny to see someone sitting on a piece of challah bread,” Yasmine says.