The class is taught by a professional cooking teacher, together with a translator, who translates the lessons into sign language. As they knead bread and stir sauces together, a group of hearing-impaired young Israelis have left their cultural differences outside the kitchen door.
The group includes a Bedouin from the Negev, Druze from the Galilee, new immigrants from the Ukraine and Ethiopia , an Arab Israeli from the north, as well as many Jewish Israelis.
These students, pursuing a professional cooking certificate at the Amal Hasharon boarding school Kfar Saba, all say that their common goal and their common challenge of navigating their way in a hearing world binds them together.
The cooking program currently has 50 students from all sectors and regions of Israel, according to Pnina Ginsburg, who runs the program. Despite the fact that the group is so culturally diverse, they all communicate in Israeli sign language, which allows them to bridge the cultural divide better than their hearing counterparts.
“We deaf people are all brothers and we are all united,” says Nassim Al-Karvani, a 18 year old Bedouin from the town of Rahat in the Negev.
The students graduate from the program with a Grade One Israeli Cooking Certificate, which qualifies them for a job as a chef’s assistant in a restaurant. From this point, they are able to work their way up the ladder via a series of apprenticeships and examinations until they become full-fledged chefs. Graduates of the school are on their way to working their way up this ladder.
Avraham Yafet, the deputy principal of the school and in charge of the cooking department, proudly pulls out of his wallet photographs of feasts that the students have cooked, and tells of students who are successfully employed and who have even won international competitions.
The class is taught by a professional cooking teacher, together with a translator, who translates the lessons into sign language.
“Cooking is a profession that you have to see and not hear, so being deaf is not really an impediment to the students learning,” says the group’s teacher, 53-year-old Flora Ohana. “I have the translator, I talk with my hands a great deal, demonstrate and write on the blackboard. Slowly I’m learning sign language too.”
She has warm words for her students. “They are special in their sensitivity and their dedication. I’ve never had such warm, giving students.”
Kessania Stritzin, 20 years old from Nahariya, came to Israel three years ago from the Ukraine, too old to attend special education in the regular school system. After tutoring in Israeli sign, she enrolled in the cooking class, which she sees as a “fun and interesting” profession.
The students learn to cook the cuisines of all ethnicities. During the holiday of Ramadan, they all joined to prepare the traditional post-Ramadan feasts. Each day of Ramadan, the Jewish students would wrap the food and send it home with their Moslem counterparts so they could eat it after sundown.
“Doing the cooking while I was fasting wasn’t so hard,” said, Taufick Al-Tarish, 20, from the village of Houria. “Also in our village we need to cook big meals in anticipation of breaking the Ramadan fast in the evening so it doesn’t bother me.”
He says that the atmosphere in the class is friendly and accepting. “There may be people who believe that all Moslems are murderers and terrorists, but my friends here know me and know how to make the distinction.”