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We’re All Laotian Now

His Israeli restaurant targeted by bigots, one German chef gets creative

Liel Leibovitz
October 10, 2016
Jules / Flickr
Lao cuisine: sticky rice, BBQ meat, And laapJules / Flickr
Jules / Flickr
Lao cuisine: sticky rice, BBQ meat, And laapJules / Flickr

Florian Gleibs is not Israeli. He spent some time in Haifa as a young man, and when he returned home to Munich and got into the restaurant business, he decided to open an Israeli restaurant. Because he was blessed with that inimitable German sense of humor, he called the restaurant Schmock.

Last week, after 16 years in business, Gleibs shut Schmock down.

It wasn’t that people didn’t like his marinated beef carpaccio with mint and labne, or his eggplants with fried watermelon. It was just that Schmock came to be seen as an emblem for everything Israeli, and everything Israeli came to be seen as a stand-in for everything Jewish, and neither were particularly popular in Munich.

“People from the educated, well-off middle class have decided to hold me responsible as a representative of Israel, according to the motto: ‘What you people are doing is nothing different than what we Germans did back then [in the Holocaust],’” he told a German newspaper. More and more frequently, people confronted Gleibs in the street by chanting anti-Semitic ditties. More and more frequently, they penalized his business by refusing to come and enjoy sumsum tuna or a delicious entrecote with Jerusalem artichokes. Furious, Gleibs put a sign up that told the world exactly where Schmock stood on the issues: “We are not involved with politics,” it read. It didn’t help. Business slowed to a trickle, until Schmock was no more. In its stead, Gleibs now plans on opening a Laotian restaurant.

Next time you’re accosted with anti-Semitic bile, then, don’t lose your cool: just do as Gleibs did, look the bigot straight in the eye, and say, with all the confidence you can muster, “mi van thidi,” or Lao for “have a nice day.” We’re all Laotian now.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.