We met in high school when we were sixteen, at Heschel High School on the Upper West Side. It is a private school and we were in the same class. There were a 140 kids in our grade. We weren’t that close at first and then we joined some dance committee and we’ve been best friends ever since.
Best friends ever since.
Literally attached at the hip.
Yep. Planning a dance is what brought us together – more like going to Party City buying decorations.
I started a catering company a few months ago so I’m trying to build that right now. I cook Lebanese food. I went to culinary school and I learned classic French cuisine, but I’m cooking the food that I grew up with, the food my mother cooked for us. I’m trying to give it a little bit of a twist like use new modern ingredients and different techniques but I still want those flavors to come across as authentic. I want Middle Easterners who eat it to be reminded of what they ate growing up and also people who don’t know the food to love it.
My mother moved here to New York when she was ten years old from Beirut. My father moved from Beirut when he was seventeen. They’re Jewish so they had to leave and it wasn’t pleasant, they kind of ran away from the country. When they came here I think they obviously had culture shock. They didn’t understand why people were cold, why people weren’t friendly to each other. They didn’t like the food. Obviously the weather was an issue, but they felt safe as Jews in America. Even though they talk about Lebanon all the time and how incredible it is, they never have this need to go back because their freedom and their security is so important. That’s their immigrant mentality: if you are safe in a country then that is all you need. So they love it here. They miss certain aspects of that European-Middle Eastern lifestyle, but New York is definitely home for them.
I think that everyone has a stereotype about Arabs being backwards in a certain way and coming from sandy desert areas. But they were from Beirut, which is this beautiful city in the Middle East. They wore suits every single day. They took care of themselves more than Americans did in a lot of ways and I think that they were surprised that people didn’t see them as that right away.
There’s a Jewish-Lebanese community that built itself in Brooklyn. So they kind of created a bubble for themselves and everyone who immigrated kind of immigrated together. They still live there now and it’s kind of a different world if you go there. Immigrants like to come together and recreate what they had. Some of them integrate better than others and I don’t think my community has really done that. I have this huge desire to maintain that Arab-Jewish heritage, but it’s kind of gone because all the Arab-Jews left the Middle East. I think I want people to be more educated about what it means to be an Arab in general. Nobody knows that there are Arab-Jews. Everyone I meet is like, “I had no idea there were Jews in Lebanon.” Everyone thinks that Arabs are all Muslim. So I think I want people to know what it means to be an Arab, just like what it means to be anybody else. There are different ethnicities, there are different religions within the culture, and there are different languages.
My dad’s family has been in America for 200 years, so they go way back. But I’m first generation on my mom’s side. She was born in Romania. When it was a Communist country, she left to go to Greece for a while. They left communism behind and came to America. Then she went to Israel and lived in Israel for ten years. My mom is made up of a lot of different heritages. She came to America when she was 21, met my dad, and stayed. Her mom was already living here so she came to visit her mom, literally met my dad, and stayed. They met at a bank. That was it. The rest is history. And here I am.
On my mom’s side, I’m a first generation American but on my dad’s side, I’m not. Far from it. My dad’s family is not Jewish. They’re from Massachusetts. They’re very American. Protestants who sort of mind to themselves. Very simple-minded people.
My mom however, she came from Europe and the Middle East, and came with all these different foods. She speaks four languages. It was a big difference from what my dad’s family was like, and they didn’t know how to take her really at first, or ever. They sort of clashed with her a bit. They are overwhelmed by it all. They can’t handle it. So there’s a lot of clashing. We are not the story where it works out and everyone’s open-minded. It has been hard being raised Jewish and then having extended family that don’t consider me Jewish and want to give me Christmas presents and have a Christmas tree in the house even though I don’t identify as Christian. It wasn’t exactly the easiest, it wasn’t like a great melting pot. Times have changed and people are changing but only 25 years ago they had never been exposed to someone like my mom. I’m a little mutt, I really don’t know what I am. Being around Raisie, she so strongly identifies with Lebanese, I’m like, “what am I actually?”