In the kitchen of Ahuva Guterman, a Gur Hassid who lives in Mea She'arim, stands an unlikely group of people: a Christian from Texas, a Muslim Arab from the Mount of Olives, and a Christian Arab from Jerusalem. Even more unusual is that the group is learning how to bake Challah -- the special sweet bread baked for the Jewish Sabbath.
"It's a little too sticky," Ehab Sulieman jokes about the dough, as he follows Ahuva's directions for properly braiding the challah.
Sulieman is a tour guide with Breaking Bread Journeys, a new tourism initiative that has brought the eclectic group of visitors together in Guterman's kitchen.
The first private sector Israeli-Palestinian initiative, Breaking Bread Journeys was established by Christina Samara, a Christian Palestinian from Jerusalem, and Elisa Moed, an American-born Israeli Jew, who are both veterans of the tourism industry. Moed, who is the chief executive of the Israel-based Travelujah, and Samara, who owns the Samara Tourist and Travel Agency, first met in 2010 at the Holy Land Marketing Cooperation panel, created and directed by the Office of the Quartet Representative Tony Blair.
Realizing they shared a business and social vision, Moed and Samara resolved to combine forces and offer unique tourism programs for travelers visiting the Holy Land. Today, the Breaking Bread Journeys offers tourists different touring opportunities that directly engage with the diverse people of the region including Yemenite, Moroccan and Hasidic Jews as well as Armenians, Christian and Muslim Arabs, Palestinians and Bedouins.
On this particular day, Moed and Samara have brought a group of Christian tourists to visit Christian holy sites in Bethlehem, a Palestinian home in Beit Safafa and the Gur Hassidic home of Ahuva Guterman in Mea She'arim.
"We cater the tours to fit the different interests of the diverse groups who come to Israel," Moed told Tazpit News Agency.
"The comprehensive programming enables travelers to gain a more in-depth experience of the Holy Land, while engaging them in the unique biblical and cultural heritages that make up this region," Moed adds. "We are looking to create more personal encounters between tourists and local residents."
Breaking Bread Journeys, therefore engages with smaller groups -- anywhere from 10-20 participants, and brings them to the private homes of local citizens to interact and partake in regional cuisine. The groups also visit Christian, Muslim and Jewish historical sites during their journeys.
The project has been granted support by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) via the Samara Tourist and Travel Agency as part of the agency's goal to develop the Palestinian sector and tourism industry on a path to regional stability and peace.
Guterman's home is a favorite spot among many tourists says Samara. The grandmother of 40 grandchildren, Guterman was born in Tel Aviv in 1942. Her parents made aliyah from Poland and bought plots of land in Eretz Yisrael in the 1930s. Eventually, Ahuva moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and raised her six children in Mea She'arim with her husband.
I've done a lot of cooking and cleaning in my life," Guterman said to Tazpit. "But all the work is worth it when Shabbat arrives."
"I'm glad that today I am able to open my home and share my love of Jewish cooking and our traditional lifestyle with others."