The Sindyanna Cookery Course

A group of tourists was treated to a unique culinary experience at Sindyanna of Galilee’s Visitors Centre in Kafar Kanna. They had a lunch of traditional Arab cooking with modern additions, emphasizing health food. The tourists so enjoyed the beautifully presented, delicious food that they asked to see the cook, Nasrin Zraiki, and complemented her profusely in person. “I can’t describe how delighted I felt,” says Nasrin, who has recently completed a cookery course with Sindyanna. “It made me really see the benefits of doing the course. The kitchen is a window into different cultures. I hope I can progress with my new profession, and continue helping my family, both financially and socially.”

Nasrin is just one among those who have completed the Sindyanna cookery course, taught by chef Omar Elwan who has turned his love of cooking into a career. He has 21 years of professional experience, including collaborations with chefs from Italy, Spain, Germany and France. Sindyanna’s course was his first time teaching Arab women. He says, “I had previously taught Jewish housewives, who usually want Fusion. They are very well informed and open. Arab women are nostalgic, they want to cook as their mothers and grandmothers did.” He adds, “During the course there was so much positive energy, the women opened themselves to new knowledge. We had a lot of fun and laughter.”

Twelve women took the course, which ended on April 30. There were mostly housewives with no experience cooking outside the home. The course consisted of 15 sessions and covered about 75 recipes: salads, soups, first courses and mains. The focus was natural ingredients and healthy cooking – less flour and salt, less frying, and more awareness of nutritional values. At the start, everything was strange for the women: for example, freekeh, normally a hot dish, was presented as a cold salad. They relearned how to handle ingredients, how to plan and manage cooking for large groups, how to emphasise natural colours and make the food look more appetising. This was not only a powerful personal experience for them, but also a way to train to cook for groups arriving at Sindyanna’s Visitors Centre.

Naheda Zraiki, a mother of five, hesitated before enrolling; she worried about the time spent away from her home and children. But her husband is the only breadwinner, and the family could use another income, so she decided to give it a go. “I admit that at first I had a problem with the chef being a man. In our society, it’s traditional for the woman to do the cooking. It’s considered shameful for a man to be in the kitchen. The course opened new horizons for me, helping me accept things that were previously frowned on. I started to apply my learning and received positive feedback, especially from my husband and daughters.” She adds, laughing, “As in every language, in Arabic too we have a saying that you earn a man’s love through his stomach.”

Randa Sadran is a member of ‘Ors Kanna’, a local group of 35 Christian Orthodox women. For as long as she can remember, she has loved cooking. She studied in Haifa’s Chef college, where she mainly specialised in sweets and deserts. Recently, her family’s needs changed, and so she wanted to develop a new style of cooking. She says, “My daughter studies nutrition in Wingate Institute, and everyone at home is on a diet. With Omar, I learned how to cook with much less oil, it’s healthier and still delicious. I also learned about time management, how to stick to a schedule, be more organised and efficient. The world is changing; I can already see how my daughters’ lives are going to differ from mine. They will all work outside the home and be financially independent.”

Meysar Khamaisi, a mother of three daughters, teaches weaving in Sindyanna’s Visitors Centre. She openly admits that she has never liked cooking, but decided to join the cookery course because she needed an extra income. In addition to her having a new and marketable skill, her family now enjoys the improvement in her home cooking.

Most importantly, she says, “I love the connections I found with other women in the course. I learned that at the end of the day we are all people; there is no difference between us women – Muslim, Christian, or Jewish. Food enables us to connect culturally and socially in a way that’s lacking in our everyday life. Before I came to the Visitors Centre I thought all Jews hated Arabs. Here I understood that many Israeli women actually want to connect with Arab women, and I made good connections. I also lost some of my shyness, and feel more confident to host groups and speak with them.”

Ollah Zraiki, a mother of four, also came to the course because of her work in Sindyanna. “I learned new recipes, how to calculate the amount of food needed. This has been very helpful to me in estimating quantities for groups visiting the Centre. I also learned how to reduce the cost of cooking for my family, how to use up vegetables and leftovers that in the past I would have thrown away.”

Nadera Khouri, heads Ors Kanna, mentioned above. She was searching for a project that would empower women financially, and Sindyanna’s cookery course was a perfect fit. She says, “The women were very happy with the course and did not miss a single session. The atmosphere was very good.”

“Most of the women in our group don’t normally work outside the home. But this doesn’t mean they don’t need an income. The cookery course has taught them modern cuisine, giving them a chance to come out of the home and earn an income. Work is good for the women.”

Translated from Hebrew: Yaara Lahav
Photos: Shoshana Genez