Gap Year in Israel: Acco is like a Bowl of Hummus

— by Ivan Levingston

I love living in Acco. The city is a true crossroads, a blend of ancient and new architecture, Arab and Jewish culture, all situated on the Mediterranean coast. Teaching English and volunteering with kids here during the day and falling asleep in my beach-front apartment with my fellow volunteers every night has so far made for an amazing gap year. We came here as part of Tzofim Ma’ase Olam. The true beauty of Acco is that even though it is an internationally recognized UNESCO World Heritage city, it still remains a humble place full of good people. No place better embodies the ethos of Acco than my favorite spot in the city, the famous Hummus Said (SA-eed) restaurant.

More after the jump.
Although known throughout Israel as the tastiest hummus, Hummus Said has only three items on the menu. Whether you want plain hummus, or hummus with beans (ful), or a chunky chick-pea and tahini mixture (meshousha), or any combination of the three, it will only cost you 15 NIS (about 4 dollars). The unlimited refills of hummus, pita, Turkish coffee and tea all combine to make it a dream come true for hungry teenagers on a volunteer budget. The speedy service and simple d├ęcor are all representative of Acco’s no-frills feel.

For one-time visitors, that might be enough, but as a frequent (too frequent, some might say) patron, what keeps me coming back is the atmosphere. Despite the hundreds of customers that pass through Said every week, I feel important there. The waiters always make sure to hug or high-five me when I come in and ask how I’m doing. They’ll joke about my friend’s recent haircut or how weak our handshakes are, ask how we’ve been, and then guide us to our table. While we wait to order, we might ask Neezar to translate a word into Arabic for us, or ask him how his guitar-playing is going. Wherever I sit in the restaurant, it’s a guarantee that Adham will wait on my table and bring me my usual without even letting me order. After a hearty bowl or two of hummus and some Arabic tea, my friends and I say goodbye and leave, always leaving a trail of baffled Israelis who wonder how these American 19-year-olds are such good friends with the Arab waiters of the famous Hummus Said.

As my friends and I walk back along the beach, pausing to sit on the ancient walls overlooking the sea and let the massive quantities of hummus we have just inhaled settle, I feel so fortunate to be living in this historic and beautiful city that cares about me as much as I care about it.

Ivan Levingston is a 19-year old who was born in New York City and grew up in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia. After graduating from Barrack Hebrew Academy, he decided to spend this current year volunteering as part of the Ma’ase Olam-Tzofim gap year program in Acco. Ivan is enrolled at Harvard University.

The Great Latke-Hamantaschen Debate

Austan Goolsbee, former chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers and Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, advocates for the latke at the 61st annual Latke-Hamantashen Debate on November 26, 2007.

Gary Tubb, Professor in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago, advocates for the hamantashen at the 62nd annual Latke-Hamantashen Debate on November 25, 2008.

By Hannah Lee

Since 1946, the intellectual nerds at the University of Chicago have had fun giving annual mock-serious presentations on the relative merits of the fried latke versus the baked hamantaschen.  Its popularity has spread to other campuses, including Kenyon College, Middlebury College, Stanford Law School, George Washington University, Amherst College, Swarthmore College, Williams College, Wesleyan University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Brandeis University, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, the University of Minnesota, Mount Holyoke, Bowdoin College, UCSD, Haverford College, Johns Hopkins University, University of Denver, Buntport Theater, and one secondary school Milton Academy.  Yeshiva University held its own debate for the first time on November 22nd and Team Hamantasch won.

I learned about these annual debates when my daughter enrolled at the University of Chicago and was even invited to serve as banner-carrier.  This year’s debate was re-labelled  “Sixty-Five and Never Retiring: A debate over Social Security like no other,” but I think the more fun symposia are on the original topic of food preferences.  The “The Great Latke-Hamantash Debate” published in 2005 by the University of Chicago Press and edited by Ruth Fredman Cernea includes “Consolations of the Latke” delivered by Philosophy Professor Ted Cohen at the 1976 Latke-Hamantash Debate.  

So, which do you prefer: the latke or the hamantaschen?