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Photo: Madison Dudley/The Media Line
Women and Tales in Jerusalem
Photo: Madison Dudley/The Media Line
Women and Tales in Jerusalem
A unique project called Women and Tales in Jerusalem harnesses the diverse strengths and talents of women, from both ultra-Orthodox and Arab families, to form small businesses of touristic merit and personal gain.
It’s a quiet morning on a hillside in the ancient village of Ein Kerem, perfect for enjoying a breakfast of home-made goat’s milk cheese and freshly baked bread. This is the home of Efrat Giat, a shepherdess turned tour guide who lives in the house where her husband was born, tending to goats and their five children, not necessarily in that order.

 

 

Giat tells the story of her husbands’ parents, who moved to the Yemenite Valley and Ein Kerem in 1949 during Israel’s war of Independence. Her in-laws lived in a small house with no electricity or running water. Since then the house has expanded. The family raised goats and chickens and Giat wants to keep the tradition alive, even if it’s not for monetary gain.

 

“It’s not a business, it’s just for us,” Giat said while cradling a two-week old baby goat in her arms. While raising goats is not for money, Giat’s tourism business is, and it’s booming. The Ministry of Tourism approached her five years ago to join a project titled the Women and Tales in Jerusalem.

 

Efrat Giat holding a baby goat in the backyard of her home in Ein Kerem (Photo: Madison Dudley/The Media Line
Efrat Giat holding a baby goat in the backyard of her home in Ein Kerem (Photo: Madison Dudley/The Media Line

 

The project started out with 28 women. Today, there are close to 60 women participating, in Jewish Orthodox neighborhoods and Arab neighborhoods around Jerusalem. The goal is to help women start a small tourism business in their homes while offering tourists a unique Jerusalem experience by showcasing their day-to-day life and culture.

 

Each woman’s home offers a different experience; from learning how to make traditional Kurdish food with Dalia Harfoof, to singing Jewish lullabies in the oldest house in Ein Kerem with Shoshana Karbasi, to making traditional baskets and weavings with Hadar Klideman.

 

Sitting on wooden benches in a Byzantine-era home, Klideman passes around some hand-made crafts produced in her shop, everything from naturally dyed wool clothing for babies to traditional French embroidery.

“Here we try to combine the old world with the new world we are in,” Klideman said.

 

She comes from a family of artists and married an artist. It was only logical for her to continue on the path of creation and open her own shop “so women can be together and make things together.”

“We need to collect knowledge from the world,” Klideman told The Media Line, “It will take time.”

 

Many participants in the program, like Klideman, have centered their experiences around women.

 

The projects in these neighborhoods offer tourists a chance to see a part of Jerusalem that is harder to access.

 

A year and a half ago, Naomi Miller began to open her home to tour groups in a joint effort with the Jerusalem Heritage Experience. Miller did not want to run a business by herself, so she teamed up with other women in her neighborhood through the local community center in the Bukharan quarter of Jerusalem.

 

At 46, Miller has 12 children and 13 grandchildren, with three more on the way. She still makes time to host a group at least once a month. For $32 per person, Miller will cook a three-course meal, complete with traditional Jewish dishes and dessert.

 

“People want to come to a community and meet with local people,” said Orly Ben Aharon, the Advisor to Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat on the Advancement of Women. “This project is very unique.”

 

Aharon said that Barkat wants to increase the number of tourists to the city, and Aharon, along with the Senior Director of Policy and Planning Strategy for the Israel Ministry of Tourism, Mina Ganem, saw an opportunity to exhibit the best Jerusalem has to offer through the diversity of its women.

 

The Jerusalem Municipality and Ministry of Tourism said they would pitch in by supplying workshops to help get these small businesses started, advertise the tours on their website and help organize meetings between the women two to three times a year.

 

“It was a win-win-win situation,” Ganem said. When the project was first announced organizers expected about 20 women to show up to the informational meeting. But 200 women came and the initial meeting was extended to two days.

 

Aharon said it wasn’t hard to get women interested in the program because they understand that they can earn money.

 

“Most of the women have never worked before or are retired,” Aharon said, “But they still want to work.”

 

Depending on how much a woman in the program works, she could make between $1,000 to over $2,000 a month, about the minimum wage for a full-time job in Israel.

 

One of the main points of the project is to empower women around Jerusalem. Mayoral advisor Aharon said there is no competition or animosity between those who participate in the project. “They are doing it together, it creates a stronger community,” she told The Media Line.

 

Samira Aliyan, an Arab Muslim woman living in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa, is one of nine Arab women who are participating.

 

Aliyan and her husband moved to Beit Safafa when she was 17. Their home, now several stories high, was originally just one room with an external commode and kitchen and no running water or electricity. The house grew in size to accommodate their growing family, and Aliyan’s style grew with it, turning a single stone room into an ornate home. It is decorated with leather couches, Arab art and extravagant vases and table settings; perfect for wining and dining a visiting group of travelers.

 

As guests eat home-made baklava and sip freshly brewed coffee from tiny serving mugs, Aliyan talks of falling in love with her husband and moving to Jerusalem. Unlike many women who start the program, Aliyan didn’t attend a course in hospitality. Her husband worked as a head waiter in hotels around Jerusalem and helped Aliyan learn everything she needed to know.

 

Reprinted with permission from The Media Line.

 

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