With a sparkle in her eye, a traditionally garbed Arab-Israeli mother asked to speak at a recent employee meeting of Cooking Coexistence (“Tavshil Hevrati” in Hebrew), a social business in northern Israel where she’d started her very first job outside the home some six weeks previously.

“We have five children and my husband earns 5,000 shekels [$1,300] a month. My salary from Cooking Coexistence now enables me to buy new clothes for my children and to pay for sending them to afterschool activities,” the woman said, as other women in the group nodded in agreement.

“I had tears in my eyes; it was a very emotional moment,” recalls Allan Chanoch Barkat, founder and chairman of the Dualis Social Investment Fund, which sponsors Cooking Coexistence and other social businesses in Israel.

Cooking Coexistence is an institutional catering business that trains and employs Arab and Jewish women over the age of 35 whom government agencies have identified as chronically underemployed or unemployed.

Started about 18 months ago in a kitchen facility at Kibbutz Givat Chaim near Hadera, Cooking Coexistence supplies meals to underprivileged Arab and Jewish Israeli preschoolers and grade-schoolers through the government’s National School Lunch Program.

Cooking Coexistence has a triple bottom line. Photo courtesy of Dualis Social Investment Fund
Cooking Coexistence has a triple bottom line. Photo courtesy of Dualis Social Investment Fund

Dualis runs Cooking Coexistence in cooperation with Al Fanar (The Lighthouse), which promotes employment in the Arab community under the auspices of JDC-Israel-TEVET. Funding comes from Dualis and several foundations.

Hoping to scale up enough to serve 10,000 children, Barkat launched a Jewcer crowdfunding campaign to promote this unique model to backers outside Israel as a promising key to Israel’s long-term security and sustainability.

He likens the project to giving these women a fishing rod rather than a fish. But steady employment is just one of three legs upon which Cooking Coexistence stands. It also improves child nutrition and fosters friendships between two populations of women who might otherwise never get to know one another.

“The ripple effect that most people don’t realize is what Cooking Coexistence means to the Jewish employees who have never worked with Arabs, and to Arabs who have never worked with Jews. What happens when they go home and tell their families that they are real people and they don’t have horns? That ripple effect, in my mind, is one of the most important aspects of the program,” says Barkat.

The triple bottom line – employment, nutrition and coexistence — makes a social impact across an unusually broad spectrum, he tells ISRAEL21c.

“We’re getting a very big bang for our buck. And our challenge is how to take this initiative and turn it into a long-term sustainable activity to employ more women, provide more meals and bring together Jewish and Arab employees in a closed environment, which is not a trivial issue.”

“The special thing about this place is that we work together, Arabs and Jews, and that we all get along,” one participant says in a video about the program.

“When we stay at home we don’t do anything,” says an Arab employee of Cooking for Coexistence. “Sure, there’s housework, but since we’ve started working outside we’ve started achieving something; we contribute something to society.”

Barkat started Dualis Social Investment Fund after a career in high-tech and as managing partner of Apax Partners, a venture capital-private equity fund in Israel. The nonprofit organization builds and invests in for-profit social businesses similar to a venture capital fund. It focuses on providing personal skills, vocational training, employment and job creation for people on the margins of Israeli society.

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