“The cheese is kasher,” the young waiter said, using the Hebrew pronunciation, as I took my time choosing from the breakfast buffet at the Days Hotel in Hounslow.
The waiter, whose nametag bore the unfamiliar moniker Inteaze, proceeded to inform me that kasher food and food for Muslims is essentially the same.
“The slaughter is the same,” he said, drawing a finger across his neck. “Only the prayer is different.”
My husband and I were in Hounslow because we prefer to break up the long flight from Israel to California with an overnight stay. But because the layover was too short for us to see anything in London, there was no point in going all the way into the city. So I chose this hotel, which is a bargain at under $90 per night (not including breakfast) and is only a few stops on the Underground from Heathrow.
Inteaze (In-tee-AAZ), it turned out, is from Mauritius, and he knew of the existence of the Jewish cemetery there, a fact he found puzzling because almost no Jews remain on the island. There had been a Jewish community there for a brief period, I explained.
Some 1,600 Jews who were trying to escape Nazi Europe by coming to Palestine in 1940 were refused entry by the British and detained in Mauritius, where 128 of them died of tropical diseases and harsh conditions and were buried in the St. Martins Jewish Cemetery. In August 1945 the British allowed the remainder to return to Palestine. A few dozen still live on the island.
The friendly waiter said he’d learned about kosher food while working at a Club Med resort in Eilat some years before. Another thing he’d learned there was that Jews don’t cook from sundown on Friday until Saturday night, and he knew the greeting “Shabbat shalom” (Sabbath peace).
When he came to our table to pour our tea, he smilingly tried to explain the relationship between Islam and Judaism.
“They are very similar,” he began. ”God loves the Jews very much,” he continued. “That is what the Quran says.”
“But they made a mistake,” my husband interjected.
“Two mistakes,” Inteaze corrected him. “First, God told them, ‘No fishing on Friday,’ but they went fishing.”
That was one mistake I had never heard of; I’ll have to look it up.
“The second is that he told them to believe in his prophet, Muhammad, but they did not.”
And so we finished our tea, wished each other well, took our mistakes, and headed back to Heathrow.
Text copyright 2011 by Esther Hecht. No portion of this text may be reproduced without the express permission of Esther Hecht.