“Shaendl and I are the daughters of two hippie rabbis from Berkeley, California. We grew up in an alternative, renewal Jewish community that was pro-Israel but the Zionist agenda wasn’t pushed on us. We made aliyah to pursue our Zionist and creative dreams,” says Aliya Fastman.
The sisters, Shaendl Davis and Aliya Fastman, are co-proprietors of Citrus & Salt cooking studio in Tel Aviv’s Florentin neighborhood.
Tourists flock to their Israeli cooking classes to learn how to prepare local dishes, while locals like learning the flavors of cuisines from countries the sisters have visited for work or pleasure, such as Italy, Japan, and Thailand.
How two sisters came to Israel and achieved culinary success
Fastman arrived first, in 2010, to serve in the IDF. She had just graduated from UC-Santa Cruz, where she had been active in Israel advocacy groups on a campus rife with antisemitic and anti-Israel sentiment. She spent a year at Hebrew University and fell in love with Israel – and with a campus security guard, Itay, who she married after making aliyah and serving a year in the army.
“After we eloped to Cyprus, I was released [from the IDF] and started working at the King David Hotel in October 2011,” says Fastman. She and her husband are now the parents of Lavi, 4, and Selah, 2.
Davis came for a few months in 2012 to attend culinary school in Jerusalem.
“Then I went back to the States to work. But in the summer of 2014, Aliya and I backpacked around Europe, and it became an unintended Holocaust history tour. That kind of set in my Zionism. I realized how much we need Israel, and I decided to come here.”
Today, the sisters live a mere five-minute walk from each other, Davis in Tel Aviv and Fastman in Givatayim.
Fastman began giving cooking classes in 2016 as a sideline while she earned her master’s degree at Tel Aviv University in conflict resolution and mediation.
“My first student was a chef on a yacht,” she says.
Fastman’s classmates helped her choose the name Citrus & Salt for the nascent business, but she didn’t go into it full-time right away.
From January 2017 to December 2021, Fastman worked at a public relations company. When she became pregnant in 2018, “people started writing to me about cooking classes, and I started teaching out of my house at night and on the weekends, and it scaled up from there.”
Davis, meanwhile, was working at restaurants and bakeries but found the hours and labor difficult. During COVID, she took an office job but that wasn’t for her, either. The right fit seemed to be assisting Fastman with some Citrus & Salt gigs, such as classes for Amazon employees. One of their first joint jobs was running a 60-person sushi class in partnership with Nefesh B’Nefesh.
“I always rope my sister into whatever I’m doing, and she’s very good at it,” says Fastman.
With no incoming tourists, Fastman thought they’d have to “just let this business die with dignity. But it would not. People kept writing us, and we decided to do this full time.”
Two friends of Davis’s, immigrants from Mexico and Panama who make natural soaps and jewelry, approached the sisters about getting a shared studio. They spent much of last year renovating it. These days, Citrus & Salt offers five to 10 classes a week, about 60% of them led by Davis.
The majority of classes are open to kids as young as four. They also offer children’s workshops for birthdays and school holidays upon request, as well as corporate “fun days” and date-night cooking classes. The kosher-style menu at Citrus & Salt varies widely; some of the most popular cuisines are Italian, Moroccan, and Thai.
“We both like the flexibility of being our own bosses,” says Davis. “We go back to California regularly to see our parents, and we wanted to have control over our schedules.”
Fastman teaches about 40% of the classes in the studio – and handles the administrative side of the business so that she can be home with her kids more.
“One of my favorite things about Israel is that everyone loves children. You can bring them anywhere, and everybody is looking out for them,” Fastman says.
“I am always a more paranoid mom in the States, whether that’s justified or not. Even on planes, if it’s full of Israelis I am more relaxed. If there are other Westerners, I am a little more on edge that the kids will disturb them. As the mom of a toddler and a kid on the spectrum, I appreciate the ease in how we are accepted. But at the same time, there is a level of comfort and convenience that is not present here the way it is in the States. I miss that – and Mexican food, obviously!”
Davis says that although she finds the bureaucracy challenging and the cultural norms hard to adjust to, she’s never before experienced the level of social and community coherence she enjoys in Israel.
“Olim [immigrants] really stick together,” she says. “The friends you make are really amazing, and people are always around to spend time with.”
Both sisters are trained mediators.
“Not that we deal with direct conflict in classes, but we do bring together people from all over the world, like Sudan, Argentina, France, and the United States. And you don’t want awkward silences, so both of us got good at facilitating conversations,” explains Fastman.
“I hope that as the studio grows, we will be able to host more events that will connect additional sectors of Israeli society that may not often get the opportunity to be around a table together. After all, we all have to eat, so we might as well do it together.” ■
Aliya Fastman, 34, and Shaendl Davis, 32 From Berkeley, California, to Tel Aviv, 2010 (Aliya) and 2015 (Shaendl)