Where the heart is

An Israeli Arab family combines traditional Arab craftsmanship with modern sophistication.

taibaeh real 88 298 (photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
taibaeh real 88 298
(photo credit: Eyal Izhar)
I had wanted to visit a home in Taibe, the Israeli Arab town next to Kochav Yair, for some time, but had put it off because I am greatly attached to my hub caps - the town has some very attractive areas, but it also has a reputation for a certain amount of lawlessness. So when my friend Noreen, who lives there, told me not only that she had found a suitable house to photograph, but also that she would come and collect me in her car, I jumped at the idea. The house belongs to Rula and Ali Yassin, a young couple with five small children, friends of Noreen and her husband. As Noreen was born and raised in the United States, where her Taibe-born parents went to live in 1952, she speaks perfect English but no Hebrew. Rula speaks Hebrew but no English. The two friends converse in Arabic, although Noreen's is American-accented. All in all it was a polyglot encounter. Rula tells me they have lived in the house for four years. They bought a half-dunam of land in what might be described as the Beverly Hills of Taibe, and built upwards rather than across, so there would be plenty of rooms for the growing young family. Ali is a teacher and also runs a computer office, while Rula runs the home and helps out in the office, too. Before having their own home, Rula and Ali lived with his parents on the second floor of their house. They dreamed of having their own place for many years, and when the opportunity finally arose, they designed it with care to utilize every part. "It cost a lot of money," says Rula, "so none of it could be just for show." While not aiming for an Arab look - "we chose things we liked," says Rula - the house has unmistakable elements one is unlikely to find in a non-Arab house. The ceilings are very high, and the windows are arched, but it is the choice of furnishings and the distribution of rooms that make this a typical Muslim home. For one thing, there is a formal salon on one side and a less formal one on the other, an element that seems to crop up in Arab homes. It's a little like the Victorian ideal of the parlor, kept in untouched splendor for when the really important guests arrive. It's furnished with a maroon leather suite on which lie cushions resplendent with gold, green, red and crimson hues. The coffee table in the center holds a vase of daisies, while in the corner a grandfather clock stands as though surveying the scene. "I like it, every hour it sings," says Rula. Two enormous Ali Baba jars serve as a room divider. To the right of these are the informal sitting room and the dining room, which is covered in vases of flowers to mark the occasion of Rula giving birth to her fifth child a few days before our visit. The dining room is practically the first one to be seen after the front door opens, and this is apparently common in Arab homes, perhaps to emphasize the importance of hospitality. The open wood kitchen with a blue pane of glass in the back window is immaculate. This is partially explained by the fact that Rula has an outhouse with another complete kitchen, so the main kitchen can be kept in its pristine state. We go upstairs to a very large landing furnished as a sitting room, and here the children can watch television and do their homework. All the children's bedrooms are together in a separate wing while the master bedroom with its own balcony, walk-in closets and bathroom en suite is up another half staircase. Finally we go up another flight of stairs to the roof level, where Rula has a laundry room, complete with an ironing board, a place to dry washing and a view of the land for miles around. For Noreen, who has lived in New York, Nigeria and Peru, and who was even a uniformed schoolgirl in England at one time, coming to live in Taibe completes a circle. Her father left the town to study and has a PhD in biochemistry. Thanks to his work, the family has moved all around the world, and Noreen came back to Taibe because of her marriage, as her husband's family never left. New York, Taibe. Home is where the heart is. As Rula says, "there are good and less good areas in every town."