9/02/2008

Melting Pot, Salad Bowl, or Something Else?

America was long known as a ‘melting pot’ for its integration of various minority cultures into an integrated whole. There has historically been a similar pressure in Israel to generate a generic “Israeliness’ that would blur the manifold differences between Jewish ethnicities in Israel. Both attempts, in general, have given way, over the years, to a celebration of multiculturalism that many have begun referring to as a “salad bowl” – a place where different items are mixed together and tossed around (and sometimes are even dressed alike!), and in which differences are preserved to contribute to the overall taste.

There’s a third metaphor, neither melting pot nor salad bowl, which represents an ideal that lies between the other two. I’m talking about that tastiest of Jewish ethnic dishes, cholent. In the cholent pot, identities are preserved but everybody rubs off on everybody else. The onions remain onions, and the barley remains barley, but each absorbs flavor from the other. You have to keep things on a low simmer – too low and there’s no flavor; too hot and it’ll get burnt. And, of course, it doesn’t look like much, but its taste will surprise you.

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