Shlomi Mayer (left) and Ali Khattib are two of the chefs featured in Breaking Bread. (Photo: Cohen Media Group)


A recipe for bridging differences

Breaking Bread, a new documentary by Beth Elise Hawk, BA’89, shines a spotlight on a unique food festival in Israel in which Arab and Jewish chefs join forces to bring new life to old recipes. The word “mouthwatering” appears frequently in reviews of the film.

Story by Dinah Zeldin

April 2022

In her recent directorial debut Breaking Bread, Beth Elise Hawk, BA’89, offers a rare glimpse of Arab-Jewish relationships in Israel, while serving up a feast for the eyes.

The feature-length documentary focuses on the A-Sham Festival, a three-day event in Haifa, Israel, founded by microbiologist Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, the first Arab-Israeli to win on the country’s popular version of MasterChef, a televised cooking competition. The food festival pairs Arab and Jewish chefs and has them collaborate on resurrecting a traditional dish from the region in the hopes of building bridges between their disparate communities.

Hawk, a self-proclaimed foodie and a long-time cooking show fan, follows participating chefs from their colourful hometowns, to busy kitchens, to the bustle of the food festival, offering a behind-the-scenes look at food and friendships in the making.

Breaking Bread documents the blossoming of an unlikely friendship between heavily-tattooed Shlomi Mayer, who lives to keep his grandfather’s post-Second World War recipes alive at Haifa’s Mayaan Habira restaurant, and the sleek and fashionable Ali Khattib, a fine dining chef from the village of Ghajar, which straddles the Israeli and Lebanese border, who dreams of running a restaurant celebrating his grandmother’s Syrian cuisine.

The film also offers profound reflections on identity from Atamna-Ismaeel, who grew up in a Palestinian village but studied at a Hebrew school. All this while making the audience crave hummus – Hawk recommends having some nearby when watching.

“This film is not going to solve world peace,” says Hawk. “But it is certainly a good start to share a meal, and bond with each other through our commonalities instead of focussing on our differences.”

Breaking Bread was an official selection at more than 65 festivals around the world, including the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, the New York Jewish Film Festival and the Aspen Film Festival. It has won three awards, including the Napa Valley Film Festival 2019 Audience Award for “Favorite Culinary Cinema Film.”

“I was thinking, maybe it will play a film festival or two and be available online, but it’s just been nutty. It’s like a dream come true. I am so grateful,” says Hawk.

The documentary has also played in theatres in more than 70 cities across North America, attracting the attention of film critics. The Los Angeles Times says the film “makes a mouthwatering case for dinner table diplomacy,” while The Wrap says that Hawk’s “enthusiasm, and general sense of joy, shine through clearly from start to finish.”

“It’s like a needle in a haystack for an indie film, especially a documentary, to get a theatrical release,” Hawk says.

She raised money from family and friends to cover the costs of the film’s production, and self-financed the rest of the process.

“I lived in a glorified dorm, and I had a two-person crew. People are asking: ‘How did you get such amazing food cinematography?’ And that’s thanks to my cinematographer, Ofer Ben Yehuda,” she says. “We didn’t have [fancy] lighting or food stylists. It was just the three of us driving around in a car. We had a blast.”

Breaking Bread took almost two years to edit. “With a proper budget it would have gone faster, but I needed the time anyway,” Hawk explains. “Making a documentary is such an interesting creative process: the film gets written in the editing room.

“I’ve sort of come full circle,” says Hawk, who was an English and history major at McGill. “My English focus was theatre, and I was very involved. I did a lot of theatre, and was a DJ on Radio McGill and sometimes at Gert’s.”

After completing her undergraduate studies, the Montreal-born Hawk left her hometown to attend NYU law school. Upon graduation, she moved to Los Angeles, where she worked first as a litigator, then as a business and legal affairs attorney at The Walt Disney Company.

“But I always felt that I wanted to play more in the creative lane, so I went off to be an independent producer,” Hawk says. She was the executive producer of the MTV series Eye Candy, and produced the German soccer documentary Fan-Demanium. “I was very hands-on. And that was basically my film school.”

Hawk says she didn’t plan on becoming a director. “I heard this story, I loved this story, and I had to tell it,” she explains.

According to Hawk, every step on her career path was instrumental in getting her where she is today. “All the things I learned along the way suddenly make sense,” she says. “I’m so happy to have found this, it feels like what I was meant to do.”

Currently, Hawk is working on a cookbook featuring recipes from Breaking Bread and has two more projects in the pipeline: a TV-show inspired by the film, which will highlight “humanity” in kitchens around the world, and a film connected to the Violins of Hope – a collection of restored instruments played by Jews before and during World War II.

To buy tickets or online streaming access to Breaking Bread, or to sign-up for the upcoming cookbook, visit

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