Changing Lives and Empowering Women in Jaffa

Not many people open their homes to cook for strangers, but that’s exactly what Alia Dsoki has been doing for over two years, and she’s enjoying every moment.

The Jaffa resident didn’t get much of an education, and has spent most of her life cooking for her husband, her four children, and her eight grandchildren. When her children grew up and left home, Alia suddenly found herself with more free time. She began attending meetings organized by NIF grantee, Arous Elbahar (Bride of the Sea), a nine-year-old organization that empowers Arab women in Jaffa by strengthening their vocational skills. Alia received business consulting for a whole year, helping her understand the potential of home cooking and transforming herself into a businesswoman. She then signed up for EatWith, an online service that allows independent chefs to host customers in their own homes, and began to host paying guests for a traditional Arab meal.

“Before I went to Arous Elbahar I had no idea what I wanted to do – I only went because I heard they organized meetings for Jaffa women,” she explains. “They really helped and directed me – I learned from them how to set up a business, how to do marketing, and how to price my work.”

Alia’s guests come for an evening meal in her home, in a 100-year-old, renovated building, and enjoy meat balls with tehina, a fish dish with rice, chickpeas and turmeric, and maqluba with eggplant. Dinner also comes with a cooking workshop, in which participants learn how to prepare spichah, a pastry with meat or spinach.

“This is the food that I grew up with as a little girl in Ajami, and it’s important for me to take it forward,” Alia says. “Since I started the home cooking, my life has changed completely, and I have much more self-confidence. I sit with the guests, tell them about the food and about life in Jaffa. It’s my greatest pleasure.”

April 2016