New York food firm promotes peace by selling spreads and sauces from Israel

March 29, 1995|By Marilynn Marter | Marilynn Marter,Knight-Ridder News Service

Repeat after me:

Moshe Pupik and Ali Mishmunken.

Bet there's a smile forming around the names before you get them out of your mouth.

That, in part, is what Daniel Lubetzky had in mind when he came up with the cute characters to promote a serious line of specialty-food condiments and sauces from Israel.

Moshe Pupik and Ali Mishmunken's World Famous condiments and sauces, to be exact, feature a multipurpose sun-dried tomato "sprate" (a product useful as a spread-sauce-paste-pate), plus a saucy olive spread, and a zesty basil-pesto sauce good for pastas, pizzas and a multitude of condiment and cooking uses. (All are 7.4 ounces, priced at $5.95.)

A sun-dried, ground-olive seasoning blend to sprinkle directly on foods or add to sauces ($6.95 for 3.5 ounces) is another winner.

The foodstuffs are the result of a joint economic venture between Arabs and Jews -- one intended to promote peace along with profits. It is the first of many joint efforts between former enemies planned by the Peace Works Inc., a New York-based import firm dedicated to supporting such initiatives.

For Mr. Lubetzky, 26, who founded the firm just one year ago and is its president, it was a simple matter of putting theory into practice.

"It's an idea I had for many years, using the economy as a means to promote peace," said the Mexico-born entrepreneur. His Trinity University and Stanford Law School studies focused on that concept.

He believes that if the economic stakes are high enough, people will choose working together over fighting each other. Profitable partnerships and steady jobs, he contends, give former enemies a vested interest in peace.

Finding a sun-dried tomato spread that he loved in Israel led to his business. "That's what got me started," he said. "I kept going back for more."

When the limited supply dried up, so to speak, he found the company that had made the spread -- fortuitously an Israeli-Arab partnership. The company became Peace Works' first venture partner.

The newly named and labeled food line now includes a selection of olives with unusual fillings: orange peel; lime and celery; Mediterranean pesto; za'atar (hyssop); and sesame seeds and tahini ($4.95 for 4.4 ounces).

There are extra-virgin olive oil in an art-ceramic bottle ($14.95 for 14 ounces) and sun-dried tomatoes, both dry and in olive oil. Several additional products -- sun-dried tomato seasoning, red pepper sauce, a cilantro spread -- are to be introduced in the coming months.

Certified kosher, Moshe & Ali products are all natural and vegetarian with no preservatives, additives or coloring, and no meat or dairy ingredients. The primary ingredients are grown, and the recipes processed and bottled, in the Middle East.

Moshe Pupik, drawn as a bearded Jewish chef, is the Yiddish equivalent of "John Doe" (literally, Moses Bellybutton). Ali Mishmunken is shown on the products as an Arab magician; Mishmunken is the Arab word for "impossible" -- or "No way!"

"Moshe Pupik is a comic expression, used in jokes to describe someone kind of clumsy but innocent," Mr. Lubetzky explained. "In Spanish, we use Pepito."

Tales of these foes-turned-friends are printed on the products' labels and hangtags. One tag tells of foods that so enchanted rival armies that the soldiers turned their swords not into plowshares but into spoons -- and used the spoons to eat the captivating spreads.

"I woke up at 4 a.m. one morning, couldn't sleep, and the first three stories just came into my head," Mr. Lubetzky recalled.

An instinctive entrepreneur, he was doing magic shows at age 10 in Mexico City and he's been working in and out of school ever since. At 15, he moved with his family to San Antonio. "It opened my eyes. In Mexico, I lived in a closed society," he said.

His goal now is open interaction between peoples. And, yes, the Peace Works is itself an Arab-Jewish venture, led by Mr. Lubetzky, his cousin Eduardo and a Lebanese-Mexican friend, Daniel Miguel Mimmari.

"They provided the model for cooperation in my early youth," Mr. Lubetzky said. "They are [now] partners and have their own textile factory."

The model for Mr. Lubetzky's work ethic, however, is clearly his father.

"My father came to Mexico from Germany after the war [World War II]. He was in a concentration camp as a child. In Mexico, he worked hard and became an importer and international businessman. He speaks nine languages. "I only speak five well. And I'm learning Japanese. I started with all the opportunities. He started with nothing."

Five percent of the Peace Works' profits fund workshops on tolerance (led by the Arab-Israel Institute for Economic Cooperation). The remainder is to be invested in more joint ventures, including several already in the works in the Middle East and others proposed in Mexico, South Africa, California and New York.

Moshe Pupik & Ali Mishmunken's condiments, sauces and seasonings are sold at gourmet, natural food and specialty stores in metropolitan areas nationwide. For stores in your area, call the Peace Works Inc. at (800) 732-2321.

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