The Arab-Jewish Team Making Fresh, Seasonal Ice Cream

Three years ago, Adam Ziv and Alaa Sawitat opened their ice cream parlor, Buza, in Tarshiha. Now they’re opening a new production plant and visitors' center in Kibbutz Sasa and a second shop in Tel Aviv.

Dan Peretz

It’s early on a summer morning at Kibbutz Sasa, which overlooks the lushness of the Meron mountain ridge. None of the three kibbutzim situated on the northern tip of the Merom Hagalil area – Sasa, Yiron and Baram – have undergone privatization. “They’re so far from the center of the country,” laughs Adam Ziv, who grew up in Sasa, “that all the new things never make it up here. They still have volunteers on Baram, for god’s sake.”

Ziv established the Buza ice cream brand together with Alaa Sawitat from Tarshiha. The building that once housed the kibbutz dairy is about to be inaugurated as Buza’s new production plant and visitors’ center. A large crowd of employees and family and friends has gathered to celebrate the big day.

Plum ice cream: This is the first flavor to be produced at the new center, in accordance with the season and the local produce. Thousands of fresh plums trucked in from the Hula Valley are being rinsed, put in bowls and placed at work stations. The silvery-purple skins glimmer in the soft light coming through the windows, and Buza’s “communes” of women prepare to set to work slicing into the fruit’s crimson flesh. “It kind of reminds me of the classic kibbutz ‘commune,’ the place where they took in the kibbutz laundry, and which became synonymous with women’s gossip,” murmurs Ziv while beholding the sight. The women who work here at turning the locally grown fruit into ice cream come from the nearby Arab and Jewish communities. Among them is Yukia (Pnina Kishinovsky), who was Ziv’s caretaker in the kibbutz children’s house (“I didn’t know they had communal children’s houses on the kibbutzim,” says Sawitat).

Three years ago, Ziv and Sawitat opened Buza (Arabic for “ice cream”) in Tarshiha (“A Cold Peace,” Haaretz Magazine, October 2012). “Buza’s first branch to open here” proclaimed the sign they hung up in Tarshiha back then. Even Sawitat, Ziv’s business partner and an owner of the Aluma restaurant in Ma’alot-Tarshiha, had to laugh at their big dreams. But now here they are, opening a new plant and a new shop in Tel Aviv as well.

“Three years ago when I went around telling people that I was opening an ice cream parlor in an Arab town in the north, everyone thought I was crazy. Today it feels like the shop has been there forever, and the same goes for my friendship with Alaa,” says Ziv. “Back then I said in an interview that we weren’t doing coexistence, we were just doing. And I really feel that businesses like ours can act as a bridge. There are so many overlapping circles of life now because of this business, things you hardly ever see elsewhere in today’s Israel.”

Dan Peretz

On the evening of the center’s opening, about two weeks after the plant went into production, many people from Sasa and Tarshiha who have become friends were there. “It felt as if Sasa and Tarshiha had gotten married. In the end, life comes down to the simple things, like sitting together under a tree and eating ice cream,” says Ziv. “It’s just so natural that you don’t think about it and it doesn’t feel forced. Just think how many more of these circles could be created if there were another 10 or 100 business like ours. I went from zero belief that this sort of connection could change anything to total belief in it. I would love to be able to start a foundation that would support the creation of many more joint Jewish-Arab businesses.”

The main impetus for the new production plant in Sasa came from the need to expand. Besides running thriving shops in Tarshiha and at Goma Junction, and developing seasonal flavors, the company has also been in demand from catering companies (including that of Erez Komarovsky), as well as from chefs and restaurants requesting special ice creams and sorbets (Azura, in Jerusalem, for instance, serves a pistachio sorbet created especially for it by Buza). And there’s also the new Tel Aviv shop, of course.

“The goal is to increase our production capacity while maintaining the quality,” says Ziv. “For me, the things that determine quality ice cream are the ingredients – I take great pride in the ties we’ve developed over the last few years with local farmers and producers, the recipe and the freshness. To meet these parameters we’ve divided the process in two. We do the first part at the Sasa center, and then the ice cream mixtures, which arrive in chilled bags, are put into the machines at the end points. We did a year of testing to make sure it works, and I don’t know anyone who can taste any difference between ice creams made by this process and ice creams that are made all in one place from start to finish.”

Dan Peretz

Tel Aviv scene

It’s late evening in mid-August on Hahashmonaim Street in Tel Aviv, a few hours before the opening of Buza’s new ice cream parlor. Work is proceeding feverishly in the narrow rectangular space. As the brutal heat wave continues, air-conditioning is still being installed and friends and family are helping with the final set-up. By the window facing the street, pastry chef Michal Bouton is busy preparing special flavored cones (cinnamon and cardamom; savory chocolate, and more) that will be on offer along with regular cones. The machines start to produce fresh ice cream: a fragrant lychee sorbet; fig mascarpone; and a cashew-flavored ice cream with salty toffee. Ziv and Sawitat also plan to sell homemade pastes that can be used to make ice cream themselves (“If people learned how to make pasta and bake bread at home, they can also learn how to make ice cream, and we want to give them all the tools to do so”).

The long narrow corridor of the Tel Aviv ice cream shop leads out to the new plaza between Hahashmonaim and Ha’arba’a streets, surrounded by high-rises and a typical Tel Aviv view. “Kikar Givon is the official name. I wonder what nickname people here will end up giving it,” says Ziv. “We initially wanted to open the ice cream shop in Jaffa, that seemed like our natural place, but I fell in love with this location and with the way the ordinary façade leads out to a surprise, to an urban piazza, like in Italy.”

The young gelato maker, who three years ago declared that he was making his home in the north, has recently rented a Tel Aviv apartment, and splits his time between the two places. (“It’s not easy being a 29-year-old up north. It’s a missing demographic, aside from people who’ve already settled down and are focused on having a family”). At the visitors’ center on his native kibbutz, they’ve also begun to offer special ice cream-making workshops for different age groups, ranging from the very young to adults. These must be scheduled in advance.

Buza visitors’ center, Kibbutz Sasa, (04) 691—8880; Buza, 91 Hahashmonaim St., Tel Aviv, (03) 546—5295