From rags to riches

A household name, she is affectionately known throughout Israel as “Safta (Grandma) Jamila.” Born and raised in a Druze family in the Galilee village 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, she was already a mother of 5. 

Druze are a minority group in Israel who are faithful citizens with heir own unique traditions and secret sacred texts. Conservative to the core, in those days Druze life meant that the men went out to work and every woman stayed at home to cook, clean and raise the kids. Circumstance bred necessity. Providing for so many children meant that Safta Jamila had to find work. With so many children to feed, in her little spare time she began to experimenting from olives to make natural soap. Metaphorically speaking, she made lemonade from lemons. In reality she made high quality and unique soap from the oil of the olive trees in her village. 

Safta Jamila’s village of Pek’iin is famous for the Jewish family who can trace their continued presence in the Land since the destruction of the Temple. It 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 also warmly tells of her own childhood when as a young child, she was wrapped up in a blanket by her mother and taken the surrounding fields. There in the cool of the evening her mother taught her all about the various healing elements of herbs and spices, many remedies of which are also found in the Mishna and the likes of Rambam.

Safta Jamila has become so successful in Israel that her business even appears on the app WAZE. She sells her products throughout the world – including ten Arab states! Safta Jamila has built an empire, and she is not about to retire. 

In her 80’s and with 15 grandchildren, it would be understandable if she found it time to step down. But no such thing. She is too busy traveling modestly to the likes of Holland, Japan, England and Poland, to pick up awards for the quality of her natural products which include hand cream, foot balm, face serum, soaps and oils – and are marketed as “Jamila’s Secret.”

Safta Jamila is cherished not just for her products but for her values of hard work and a strong commitment to her family and nation. She uses her trips abroad to tell the audience that before she could even read or write, she was the first Druze woman to go out to work. She was the first Druze woman to build a business from scratch. 

She is mostly found in her shop in Peki’in receiving hundreds of Israeli tourists who visit her every year. She also receives thousands of letters thanking her for her “miracle products,” which her customers say have cleared up their various ailments. A modest and astute woman, Safta Jamila is only thankful she could help. She is neither a doctor or a nurse and would never dream to market her products as medicinal or miraculous. If the customers rave about her products as “miraculous,” then so be it. In her eyes, the wise and modest Grandma, “just” makes soap.