The Master Chef TV program, Israel’s main reality television cooking show that features a competition on who can cook best, has concluded with title of master chef being bestowed to Tom Franz, a German convert to Judaism who presently is a lawyer. Second place went to Salma Fiyumi, an Israeli Arab Muslim nurse with a masters’ degree who lives in Kfar Kassem, and third place went to Jackie Azoulay, a religious woman from the haredi city of Elad. The winners of the Master Chef TV program represent the diversity of Israeli society, and demonstrate how Israel, as a democratic state, values pluralism. An Arab Muslim woman who wears hijab would not win second place in a cooking competition in an apartheid state.

Tom Franz has an interesting life story. He made Aliyah to Israel at the age of 30, after undergoing a formal conversion to Judaism. Tom Franz was born and raised into a Christian family in Germany. Yet, he felt Judaism is where he belonged, so he got circumcised as an adult, started to keep kosher and observe Shabbat, and married a Jewish Israeli woman named Dana. Interestingly, he was more knowledgeable about the Jewish faith than his wife. According to Dana, “I was in shock. I realized that this person dreamed of being a Jew and knows a thousand times more than me about Judaism.” Dana, who was raised in a secular family, was inspired by Tom to keep kosher and to live a more observant lifestyle.

Yet the story of Salma Fiyumi is no less moving than that of Tom Franz. To the surprise of many television viewers, Salma Fiyumi formed a very good friendship with Elinor Rahamim, a Jewish resident of Tekoah in Judea and Samaria, during the master chef competition. Salma Fiyumi stated, “I don’t judge people by looks. Some people radiate goodness and you fall in love with them right away. Lots of people noticed my connection to Elinor because they thought we had similar personalities.” Elinor Rahamim likewise asserted, “When I met Salma, I saw a wonderful person. I didn’t see a flag, I saw a person.”

Salma Fiyumi is not the first Israeli Arab to have been successful on an Israeli reality television program. On Project Y, Israel’s first reality television program, the winner was a young Israeli Arab named Faris Huri. In 2006, Niral Karantinji, a young Muslim woman from Haifa, was the winner of “Israel’s Next Top Model,” where she shattered traditional stereotypes about Muslim women. A couple of years ago, an Arab woman named Futna Jaber, who owned a restaurant in Jaffa, became a House Mate on Big Brother and later went on to become a celebrity on talk shows and cooking shows. And on the Israeli show “A star is born,” which features talented new vocalists; Miriam Tukan performed Israeli songs with a thick Arabic accent and amazed both viewers and judges, who ranked her ninth place.

Besides having starred on Israeli reality TV, Salma Fiyumi is very happy to be living in Israel, especially upon witnessing what is happening in other Arab countries, such as Syria, where 60,000 Syrians have been slaughtered and human rights are violated on a daily basis. Salma Fiyumi declared, “Right now, when I see what goes on in Arab countries – I don’t think I would like to live anywhere else. There’s more order here than what we see in other places around the world. We feel good here. I have a life, work, people I know and love.”

Even when Operation Pillar of Defense broke out, Salma Fiyumi and Elinor Rahamim maintained their friendship, thus demonstrating that there are Arabs who want to live in peace next to Israelis. Salma Fiyumi even claimed, “I heard some responses from people living in Gaza who said they didn’t want to be a part of all this war.” Elinor Rahamim concurred, “We want to live in peace, without sirens, without wars. And it all begins with the common people.”

By Rachel Avraham