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How Hummus Brings People Together

by Matt Schiavenza
3 February 2017

Hummus, a tangy dish made from chickpea, tahini, lemon juice, and cumin, is one of the world's most popular foods, one found on restaurant menus and in supermarkets everywhere. But can hummus also bring people together? The new film Hummus! The Movie explores this question by examining the lives of three Israelis whose lives revolve around the sauce: Sohela, a Muslim woman in Acre; Jalil, a Christian Arab from Ramle; and Eliyahu, a Jewish man living on a farm in the Galilee mountains.

Asia Society caught up with Raphael Shore, a rabbi and executive producer of Hummus! The Movie, to discuss the film, its characters, and why hummus is a uniter, not a diver.

Asia Society: Why do you think hummus has become so internationally famous? What do you think makes it so universally beloved?

Raphael Shore: Everyone loves hummus. It’s healthy, inexpensive, filling and even vegan. It’s really today’s superfood. That’s why Hummus! The Movie is lighting up film festivals around the world. It’s a story about hummus; the people who love it, the people who make it — a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew. They’re passionate about hummus, and that passion comes through in this film.  

How does hummus help bridge divides in the Middle East?

Hummus! The Movie is set in Israel, a diverse place where people are free to disagree. But one thing that brings them together is hummus. If people can agree about hummus, perhaps they can agree about other things. Societies around the world that embrace diversity tend to find strength in their diversity. Perhaps the recipe for peace and unity can be found by putting our differences aside and coming together around a plate of hummus.

What inspired you to make this film?

We wanted to tell a new kind of story about Israel and its diverse people: Christians, Jews, and Muslims. The one thing that unites them is hummus. They may disagree whose hummus is best, but at least they’re at the table. That’s what this film is about: different people coming together, around hummus, and telling a new kind of story about Israel and its diverse people.

How did you decide to focus on Eliyahu, Sohela, and Jalil? Did you know about them beforehand or simply encounter them by chance?

The characters of the film really unfolded before us as we made the film. Living close to the Arab Israeli village of Abu Gosh, famous for its hummus, the director [Oren Rosenfeld] went there seeking to interview some of its famous purveyors. Essentially from there, the characters really came about from different leads and coincidences. In Abu Gosh, we learned about Sohela, a Muslim woman in Acre who not only ran her own establishment but also employs 10 men! The connection to her was immediate, we recognized that she was our star. She even joked that she thought we were going to film her for one afternoon but ended up staying three years. 

Meeting Jalil was also luck. We were filming in the area around Jerusalem and asked a local where to find the area’s best hummus, and he replied that his cousin who lives 20 minutes away has a restaurant with the best. We packed up and again found another amazing story. 

Meeting our last main character, Eliyahu Shmueli, was also a fun story. We had heard rumors of an observant Jewish man living in the mountains of the Galilee that makes the best hummus ever by using home-grown chickpeas using spring water that he brings every day on a donkey from a nearby valley. Turns out his method was a little more conventional (he doesn’t grow the beans) but his story was just as compelling.

If there is one thing everyone should know about hummus, what is it? What do you want people to get from watching your movie?

It unites, it divides — it’s delicious!

Please see the trailer for Hummus! The Movie above.