Lamb and yogurt are two typical ingredients in the cuisine of Israel’s approximately 145,000 Druze Arabs. But because mixing meat and milk in the same dish is forbidden to Jews according to the Torah’s kosher laws, Druze restaurateur Basma Hino is now using vegan yogurt and labneh in the classic dishes offered in her Noor Restaurant and Café in the Western Galilee village of Julis.
No, Hino did not convert to Judaism. The reason she went to the trouble and expense of turning her restaurant kosher is to feed IDF soldiers stationed in the north.
Packaged meals from Druze café Noor bear a sticker that says, “Together we will win.” Photo courtesy of Noor
The Druze, who practice a monotheistic religion, are concentrated mainly in villages of the Galilee and Golan Heights. They are patriotic Israeli citizens and serve in the military.
Hino’s husband, Marcel, received a brain injury during his reserve army service in 2002. He never got to hold his son, Noor, born four months afterward. Marcel remained in a coma for 13 years before succumbing to his wounds.
“Basma is very untraditional for the Druze community,” says Uri Arnold, the restaurant’s business consultant as well as Hino’s longtime friend and spokesperson to the press.
“Usually, a widow sits at home and isn’t allowed to work. But Basma decided five years ago to get up and go out and open a business. It raised a few eyebrows in Julis.”
It must have raised even more eyebrows when Hino decided to seek kosher certification.
After October 7, Arnold says, Hino cooked and delivered meals to her late husband’s reserve unit that had been activated in the area.
“She saw that half the soldiers didn’t eat because the food was not kosher,” Arnold says.
Refusing to accept that “even one soldier will not touch my food,” Hino said, she decided to try going kosher. “And I did it with pride,” she added in an interview with a local TV station.
With temporary rabbinic certification for prepacked meals, Hino began cooking for IDF soldiers every Monday and also providing free meals to civilian evacuees. Volunteers come to help her. “When weeks and months passed, she saw the love from the people and the soldiers and decided to become kosher permanently. This is very unusual for a Druze restaurant,” said Arnold. “I owned a few kosher restaurants and I helped her as a mentor in the process,” he adds.
IDF soldiers showing appreciation to Basma Hino for providing them with kosher food. Photo courtesy of Noor
Under the supervision of a team from Rabbanut L’Kashrut Artzit, a branch of the national rabbinate that serves Arab villages and other areas without an organized local rabbinate, Hino got Noor’s entire kitchen koshered, bought all new tableware, hired two Jewish cooks and agreed to buy only kosher-certified ingredients. Noor’s kosher certificate was hung with great fanfare on January 2.
Arnold says the Noor menu really didn’t change. The kitchen still serves classic Druze dishes such as mansaf, a mountain of rice topped with lamb; shish barak, an Arab meat ravioli with hot yogurt sauce; and kubbeh nayyeh, Arab lamb tartare.
Breakfast dishes made with vegan cheese at Noor Restaurant & Café in Julis. Photo courtesy of Noor
It’s just that the dairy ingredients have been switched out for vegan substitutes and the meat is purchased from a kosher supplier.
And how is business at Noor?
“The situation in the north is scary,” says Arnold, “but people are coming.”
Produced in association with ISRAEL21c
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