Tunisian Passover Fourma

IMG_0002One of the staples of the Tunisian table is the fourma, or molded noodle dish. Cooked noodles are mixed with spiced meat or vegetables. Eggs are beaten and used to bind the noodle mixture. The casserole is baked and served at any meal, hot or cold. The Jews of Tunisia have a special fourma recipe that they prepare for Passover.

Tunisian Jews eat kitniyot (grains and legumes) during Passover. The starch in the Passover fourma is rice, which has been carefully picked over and cleaned to make sure that there is no chametz in it. Those of you who don’t eat kitniyot during Passover may substitute the rice in the recipe for boiled, diced potatoes or matza farfel.

IMG_0007Passover Fourma
Adapted from Laurent

  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • 1 Lb. ground beef
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • 4 eggs, whisked
  • 1 bunch parsley, minced
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet.
  3. Brown the onion.
  4. Add the ground beef.
  5. Season with ground cinnamon, salt, and pepper.
  6. Mix in the parsley.
  7. Set aside and allow to cool.
  8. In a large bowl mix the rice, marinara sauce, meat, and eggs.
  9. Pour the mixture into an oiled casserole dish.
  10. Bake for about 45 minutes.
  11. Serve with harissa and a crispy green salad.

Can Tunisia Remain a Tourist Haven After ISIL Attack?

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The Bardo National Museum. Photo by Alexandre Moreau.

I take the terrorist attack on tourists outside the Bardo Museum in Tunis personally. Very personally.

My husband, a Tunisian national, who has been an American citizen since 1999, happened to be in Tunisia, visiting his parents, when the gun-toting attackers started mowing down day-tourists as they exited their bus in front of the world-famous museum.

When I finally got through to my husband to find out where he was, in relation to the attack, he was shocked to hear the news. He knew nothing about it until I shared the information.

My sister-in-law Diane had called early in the morning, after watching CNN, to find out if my husband was safe. It was a frantic morning till I was able to get through to him.

Since tourism is the main component of Tunisia’s economy, ISIL, or whoever is responsible for the murderous attack, surely hit their mark. The tourist trade was finally coming back after the “revolution” that set Tunisia on the path to democracy, but created a lot of questions and challenges and slowed down tourism for several years.

My first trip to Tunisia was in 1995 with a delegation of twelve national leaders of American Jewish Congress. In fact, The Philadelphia Jewish Voice’s vice president, Ken Myers, his wife Susan and I represented the Pennsylvania region on that trip, which had us meeting with leadership in Tunisia, then Jordan, and finally in Israel.

I always have a distinct advantage in visiting Tunisia, the former French colony, as I speak French fluently. And although in recent years, English classes have been included in Tunisia’s education system, back in 1995, very few of the leaders, most of whom had attended university in France, spoke English. So I was usually the interpreter.

Who would ever have suspected that violence of this level, the attack on people simply getting out of a tourist bus and entering the Bardo to admire the world’s greatest collection of Greek and Roman mosaics? Oh, yes, the head of an opposition party had been gunned down in front of his home about a year ago, which was shocking enough. But 19 or 20 victims at one time? And dozens more wounded? Tourists from a dozen countries? Spreading fear across all of Europe — and America? This was some vicious act out of a “B” movie.

The Charlie Hebdo and Cacher Hyper Marche murders in Paris had just about faded when Tunis was moved to front and center of the international attention. Because things had settled down in Tunisia in the past couple of years, even with a revolving door of government officials, the security detail for the museum, which is next door to the Parliament building, was relaxed. There were still guards for the Parliament, but the museum was not seen as a “target.”

My visits to Tunisia subsequent to the AJC delegation included five more trips, two of them as a guest of the government’s tourism agency, designed for journalists. But I must confess that I have declined my husband’s invitations to accompany him to visit his parents, ever since the revolution in 2011. Yes, the Tunisian Arab Spring is referred to as the model for Muslim countries, throwing off dictatorships and opting for democracy. But you cannot just paste a layer of “democracy” over centuries of non-participation in government decisions.

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El Ghriba synagogue. Photo by Chapultepec.

The reaction of the president and prime minister of Tunisia was instant and strong, vowing to fight against terrorism and terrorists in their country and elsewhere. The U.S., England and France joined in their support for Tunisia’s official reaction to the horror.

Only about 1100 Jews are left in the Tunisia, but many of them, like some of our Tunisian friends, also own homes in Paris and spend half the year there. Others travel to the U.S., Israel, England and France on business. Basically, the Jews in Tunisia are located in two main areas: Tunis, the capital, and the island of Djerba, with one of the world’s oldest synagogues.

Djerban Jews are quite insular, and Orthodox, with schools for girls and schools for boys. I have visited these and admired them, although the girls are not encouraged to pursue higher education. Most of the Djerban Jews are shopkeepers, craftsmen, jewelers, and leather goods impresarios.

However, the dozens of wounded tourists from many countries, those who survived the Bardo assault, will probably serve as a warning to lots of others who wanted to go to Tunisia, either for a day-trip off their cruise ship, or for a week or two at a lovely, and very reasonable hotel, with everything included.

We have to wait and see what the ramifications are for the U.S. and European countries, now that ISIL has decided that killing sprees spread their message and attract new killers. But the instant demonstration by thousands of Tunisians who spilled into the streets of the capital to tell the world that they will not tolerate ISIL in their country, and will hunt them down and punish them, was a heartening scene. I hope to be able to return to Tunisia in the near future.

Dispelling Rumors in Tunisia

Bonnie Squires

Today the president of the Jewish community in Tunisia, Roger Bismuth, informed AFP (Agence France Press) that no anti-Semitic act has been signaled in Tunisia since the start of the popular revolution.

Cautioning against a rumor that surfaced on Tuesday regarding a fire in a synagogue, Mr. Bismuth declared “at no time were the Tunisian Jews either a target of attacks or targets of foul comments during this revolution.”

The chief of the Tunisian Jewish community, which numbers 1600 persons, stated a “formal denial” of “a rumor describing a fire in a synagogue” on Monday evening in El Hamma, near the coastal town of Gabes (south east). He added that “There is no synagogue in El Hamma. There is a mausoleum for a great Rabbi, which is a site of pilgrimage. Monday night several buildings in the region were the target of vandalism and the guard house of the mausoleum was vandalized and a few chairs stolen.”

The Jewish community in itself was not a target. He explained that “A building of the UGTT (the main Tunisian labor union) was vandalized, and so were other buildings.”

More after the jump.
“We need to be very careful with rumors. Some are trying to make us believe that there is an intention to attack synagogues. That is not true.” He insisted, “We are neither worried, nor did we request special security protection from the government because we are convinced that there is no reason to do so.”

Tuesday, several leaders in the local Jewish community mistakenly confirmed to AFP and AP (Africa Press) a fire in the synagogue at El Hamma, after allegations were made by an Anti-Semitism watch-dog group in Paris.

Several officers in the Tunisian league for human rights denied these allegations and warned against the multitudes of rumors of different kind circulating in the country while security was not totally re-established.  

Reflections on President Obama’s State of the Union Message

— Bonnie Squires

President Barack Obama spoke in his State of the Union address about the election in Sudan and the revolution in Tunisia:

Recent events have shown us that what sets us apart must not just be our power — it must be the purpose behind it. In South Sudan — with our assistance — the people were finally able to vote for independence after years of war. Thousands lined up before dawn. People danced in the streets. One man who lost four of his brothers at war summed up the scene around him: “This was a battlefield for most of my life. Now we want to be free.”

We saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.

We must never forget that the things we’ve struggled for, and fought for, live in the hearts of people everywhere. And we must always remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this struggle are the men and women who serve our country.

My husband, a native of Tunisia, who has been following events there minute by minute with great interest, using the internet, Skype, and emails to communicate with family and friends in that North African nation, certainly perked up when he heard President Obama stand with the democratic desire of the Tunisian populace.

Earlier in the evening, before hearing the President’s speech, we had been to the Dona Gracia chapter of Hadassah in center city, where our friend Jerry Sorkin, who runs a touring agency called TunisUSA, and who was flying to Tunisia the very next day, gave an edifying lecture on the history of the Jewish community in Tunisia and the unique nature of the Tunisian psyche.

Unlike other Arab countries, Tunisia has always lived side by side with their Jewish citizens.  In fact, there is a Jewish senator in the Tunisian Parliament.  And Tunisians who have migrated to France and Israel feel comfortable in returning to Tunisia once or twice a year to celebrate Jewish holidays.

In analyzing the unfolding events of the Tunisian revolution, Sorkin pointed out that there have not been any examples of Tunisian turning against Tunisian, no example of hostility against other countries, no incidents of anti-Semitic behavior.

Senator Bob Casey spoke to members of the media by phone after the President’s remarks, and I got a chance to ask him his reaction to the President’s comments on Tunisia.

Senator Casey is the Chairman of the Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs Subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee which has jurisdiction over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Israel and the Middle East.  So he must be watching events unfolding in Tunisia with particular interest.

Senator Casey said that, regarding the Tunisia question, there was “bipartisan consensus.”  He continued,

Whether it is Tunisia or democratic movements in Iran or around the world, we’ve always been a beacon of light for the democratic forces.  And that continues in our support for the people of Tunisia – it’s a situation in a place that bears a lot of watching and vigilance.  I think it was very important that the President, with the full support of the Congress,  as you saw, is in full support of Tunisia.

More after the jump.
Although Senator Casey called it “a very strong speech, especially about jobs,” he wants to look more closely at the President’s pledge to cut domestic spending for the next five years.  Casey wants to see how this might impact on Pennsylvania.

He expressed great pride that the President and Mrs. Obama had three people from Pennsylvania seated in places of honor, plus the mention of Scranton, the birthplace of Vice President Biden, and the hometown of Senator Casey was well. Casey pointed out that, even though Brandon Ford, the junior from West Philadelphia High School’s Automotive Academy was not mentioned in the President’s speech, he was seated on the front row of the First Lady’s box.  

Although Casey and Senator Pat Toomey, the new Republican senator, had originally planned to sit together in the chamber for the State of the Union address, there were no seats left together.  So they did walk in together, and Toomey made it a pint to come find Casey after the speech so they could walk out together.

In a lighter vein, Senator Casey pointed out that the President did not predict the outcome of the Super Bowl, but Casey expressed confidence that the Pittsburgh Steelers will win.