Over 80-years old and a household name, she is affectionately known as “Safta (Grandma) Jamila.” Born and raised in a Druze family in the Galilee town of Peki’in, Safta Jamila’s life reads like a fairy tale.
Her early years were of wretched poverty. Married at 16, by the time she was 21-years old, she was already a mother of five.
Druze, a minority group, are loyal citizens with their own unique traditions and secret sacred texts. In the early married life of Safta Jamila, it was the Druze men who went out to work and the women who stayed at home to cook, clean and raise the kids. But circumstance bred necessity. Providing for so many children meant that she too had to find work. In the little spare time she had, she began experimenting from olives to make natural soap. Metaphorically speaking, she made lemonade from lemons. In reality she made high quality soap from the oil of the olives.
Safta Jamila’s Pek’iin is famous for the one Jewish family who can trace their continued presence in Israel back to the destruction of the First Temple. The town is also famous for particular carob tree which fed Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his son who hid in a cave nearby to escape the Romans. Safta Jamila knows this story. She tells it to her visitors along with stories of her childhood when she was wrapped up in a blanket by her mother and taken to the surrounding fields. In the cool of the evening it was her mother who taught her about the remedies of herbs and spices found in the Mishna and the works of the Rambam.
Safta Jamila has become so successful that her business appears on Waze. She sells her products throughout the world – including ten Arab states. She has built an empire – and she is not about to retire. With 15 grandchildren, it would be understandable if she found it time to step down. But when there was no lockdown, she was too busy traveling to the likes of Holland, Japan, England and Poland, to pick up awards for the quality of her natural products. Before she could even read or write, not only was she was the first Druze woman to go out to work, she was the first Druze woman to build a business from scratch.
Every year, hundreds of Israelis make it their business to stop by her shop in Peki’in. She also receives thousands of letters thanking her for her “miracle products.” She is neither a doctor or a nurse and would never claim her products are medicinal or miraculous. A modest and astute woman, Safta Jamila is only thankful she can help.
First published here