By GLORIA DEUTSCH
The Hinawis of Jaffa are not so much a family as a dynasty. Many Jews and Arabs crowd into their two spotlessly clean butcher shops on the main drag, RehovYefet, while the third store in Ramat Aviv is equally popular.
Nicola Hinawi, who lives in this house with his wife Selma, tells me that the business was started by his father exactly 100 years ago, and to celebrate the centenary, the newest store was opened this year. Nicola joined the business after his father died in 1959 and his sons carry on the tradition.
The house, which he thinks is one of the first buildings to be constructed in Jaffa, has been the family home since 1972, except for a few years when they moved to Canada in the '80s. They were very happy to come back to Israel.
"The weather's better, the education for the children is better and we decided they were more likely to listen to us and our opinions in this environment than over there," says Nicola.
After they returned, holding Canadian as well as Israeli citizenship, they decided to renovate the house and make it more suitable for them and their four children.
They transformed many of the elements of the 100-year-old house to their advantage, making use of the very high ceiling, the archways, and the thick walls. The pillars which separate the two parts of the living room were already there, but were made of an ugly concrete. By a clever feat of engineering they were able to exchange them for the attractive Corinthian pillars that stand there now.
In many Arab homes there are often two separate sitting areas, and in the case of the Hinawis there are actually three. The first is directly in line with the entrance, and there we sat to talk about the house while Selma served wonderful cardamom-flavored sweet, black coffee. In this sitting area the ceiling was lowered with wood to hide the air-conditioning pipes.
The formal lounge is built on a raised floor, two steps up from the informal lounge. It is very elegantly furnished with a pair of green crystal vases from Italy and a Bohemian crystal chandelier which looks splendid suspended from the unusually high ceiling.
The opening onto the small garden is an original archway for which the glass doors were specially constructed to continue the theme. The entire floor is done in a white and black marble, called Arabskato, which is found between Turkey and Italy.
"It's not as dainty as Carrara but it's more hard-wearing," explains Selma.
The third sitting area, where the family reads or watches television, has been dug out of the upper level, so that to get into this cozy corner one goes up and then down. The seating, which also doubles as a room divider, has been constructed from stone blocks and concrete. The Druid-like semicircle is covered in cushions for sitting and leaning on, and the whole effect is welcoming and intimate, especially thanks to a fireplace around which the circle was constructed. An ornate, carved wooden mirror from Egypt hangs on the chimney breast, and wedding portraits of the four children embellish the walls.
The dining table is wedged in a wide corridor between the kitchen and the bedrooms, with storage cupboards on either side. For Selma, the kitchen is the heart of the home, and she has made it user-friendly with her own television conveniently perched on the corner unit.
Now that all the offspring have their own homes, the other bedrooms are kept as guest rooms, several furnished in colonial-style wooden furniture which was brought from Canada when the family returned.
On January 13, which is the Greek Orthodox New Year, Selma and Nicola invite the whole extended family to a feast, and more than 50 people crowd into the small house. The long, narrow side of the building, which extends from the entrance to the kitchen, accommodates them all for the meal, which is prepared almost entirely by Selma.
About 10 years ago, the house was used as a location for a Menahem Golan film made in Israel called Killing Streets, starring Alon Aboutboul and Lorenzo Lamas.
Their house was meant to represent the American Embassy in Beirut. The filming was a rather exciting time for the Hinawis, who remember that the street of their home, which, by the way, is right on the sea, was closed for the duration of the shooting.
I found the film on an Internet site listing the 150 worst films of all time. One critic described it as "a malodorous waste of celluloid."
One thing is for sure, however: The "American Embassy" looked really good.
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