What We Can Learn From Muslim Cabbies and Jewish Bakers

5 years ago

Did you hear the one about the Muslim taxi driver and the Jewish bagel shop owner? No, it’s not the start of a bar joke, it’s a true story that confirms my belief that breaking bread – or bagels -- can go a long way toward bridging even the deepest cultural rifts. According to the NY Daily News, the 91 year old Coney Island Bialys and Bagels was about to close up shop when two of its biggest fans saved it.

Zafaryab Ali and Peerzada Shah said the first bagels and bialys they ever tasted when they immigrated here from Pakistan more than 16 years ago were made at the Gravesend noshery.

“I felt I had to save this store,” said Ali, 54, who worked for Rozenzweig’s grandson Steve Ross for 11 years, making bagels and bialys by hand, committing to memory the recipes Rosenzweig brought over from the old country.

Image Credit: Ezra.Wolfe, Flickr

The NY Daily News goes on to report that Ali and Shah say that the differences between Muslims and Jews are not important when it comes to making great bagels. And Steve Ross, the grandson of the bakery’s founder, Morris Rosenzweig, says he hopes to see the new owners flourish.The shop will remain kosher.

Food is one of our most basic needs and part of our most sacred ceremonies. Prescriptions about what to eat—or not—are part of many of the world's oldest traditions. Yet, insults about what certain ethnic groups eat are the bread and butter of any bigot’s repertoire. And when we think of charity, the simplest acts involve giving canned food to a shelter or serving at a soup kitchen.

The parable of the Muslim cabbies and the Jewish bagel bakers holds an important lesson to remember as we head toward Thanksgiving and the rest of holiday season. When we stop and share a meal with someone, we see them as another human with needs like our own. And it's hard to stay mad at someone when you're sharing delicious food.

The celebrants at my own family festivities will include me-- an Asian woman who writes about race— relatively new immigrants and those who descended from the colonists, Democrats and Republicans, Christians, Buddhists, Atheists, and perhaps a drag queen or two. Broken down by dietary habits, there will be carnivores, picky toddlers, vegetarians and gourmands.

Like many immigrants of the Chinese diaspora, my family often celebrates Thanksgiving with a combination of roast turkey and sweet rice stuffing. I hope you will welcome whatever foods – and guests – arrive at your holiday table.

It’s the most American thing you can do.

Race and Ethnicity Section Editor Grace Hwang Lynch blogs at HapaMama and A Year (Almost) Without Shopping.

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