Since 2009 Friends of the Holy Land has supported St Martha’s House, the first day care centre for elderly women in Bethlehem, whose ages range from 70 – 90 years. They are mainly widows living alone with no one to care for them.  Many have families that have emigrated and are struggling to establish a new life so are unable to help their parents. Families that remain in the West Bank find the demands on their limited income makes caring for the elderly problematic. Therefore, many of these elderly women live a lonely and isolated existence outside of St Martha’s.

No welfare systems exist in Bethlehem such as state pensions, healthcare or social services to provide a safety net of support. Elderly women living alone are particularly vulnerable to increasing needs for such support. St Martha’s provides a safe and caring environment where they can spend quality time in their latter years and through increased use of IT, share their experience and influence with generations of the future.

Eight specialist staff and volunteers provide nursing support for ongoing healthcare checks, haircare, podiatry and assistance in crafts and cooking skills during the women’s day in St Martha’s. They enjoy a midday meal, board games, embroidery and tending their garden which provides vegetables for the House. Overall, they have the benefit of companionship and the peace of mind that they are not forgotten.

Friends of the Holy Land commits £52,000 per annum to the day to day running costs of St Martha’s House which currently has a core of 28 ladies in regular attendance 4 days a week.

At the onset of Covid 19 St Martha’s had to close initially for two months but since June 1st 2020 has managed to keep open to a regular schedule. This vulnerable group of women has felt even more isolated, marginalised and more susceptible to all of the problems the elderly have faced through Covid 19, particularly their mental and physical wellbeing.


The ladies have provided us with a recipe you might like to try:

Shish-Barak

This dish is very popular among all Palestinian villages and towns as well as being widely loved and craved across the Middle East: shish-barak! Shish-barak is popular mainly on cold winter days. It is basically a ravioli-like dough stuffed with flavorful sautéed ground beef and then cooked in a delicious tangy yogurt sauce. It truly is a dish worth trying!

This recipe is great for people who like to meal prep, as the shish-barak freezes beautifully and is ready to cook in the yogurt sauce at your convenience.


Ground Beef Stuffing

1lb lean ground beef

4-5 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion(finely chopped)

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon arabic all spice

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground cardamom

Recipe: Drizzle the olive oil in a pot and turn on heat to medium, then place the beef and begin to sauté. Once beef is browned, drain the meat excess water in a strainer and return back to the pot. Begin adding the chopped onion as well as all the spices and stir everything well to bring all the flavors together making sure it has cooked thoroughly. Now, your shish-barak beef stuffing is ready. Set aside to cool down completely while prepping the dough mixture.


The Dough:

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon sunflower Oil

1 tablespoon Starch

3/4 cup of water (give or take)

Recipe: Start by placing 2 cups of flour in a mixing bowl, add the salt, oil and starch and gradually add lukewarm water to the mix as needed. You need to mix using your hands. Keep kneading the mixture with your fingers until it comes together and it is not sticking to your fingers. The end result should look like a pizza dough. You might need to add a bit of water if it is too dry . however , add just sprinkle a little extra flour if it is moist. Play around with the dough until you end up with the right consistency. 

Once you are done, you should cover the bowl and let the dough rest for about an hour, as this will help you while rolling out the dough later.

Once your dough has rested, you will need a clean dry counter surface, some extra flour handy, one of your mama’s Turkish coffee cups (or any cookie cutter about 1 inch in diameter) and a rolling pin. Start by sprinkling a bit of flour on your counter to avoid dough from sticking, and break a piece from the dough a handful size and place it on counter. Then, grab your rolling pin and roll out your shish-barak dough to the thickness of a quarter. Next, use your mama’s coffee cup or cookie cutter to cut out your circles. Using the Turkish coffee cup cuts the dough into the perfect bite size. But of course, you can use whatever you have available to you for this step such as a small round cookie cutter or any other pasta cutters.

Begin stuffing the dough by placing it in the palm if your hand. Then put about a 1/4 – 1/2 tsp of beef mix in the center, then seal the dough from end to end creating a crescent shape. (If the dough isn’t closing up nicely, you may wet the inner edges with your fingers with a little bit of water to ensure it has closed properly.)

Next, stick both ends of the dough together with stuffed part facing down and flatten out the sides creating mini hat shaped dumplings and place them on a floured surface. Repeat until you get through all of the dough.

Once your shish-barak is ready, place all of them on a baking sheet and bake them in the oven on 200 degrees for about 10 minutes to harden.

Once they have cooled down, your shish-barak bites are ready to cook or you may choose to freeze them airtight in freezer bags and cook them when ready. If you follow this recipe, you will likely end up with at least 80-100 pieces. Unless you’re inviting family over for dinner, you will find yourself freezing some of them!


Yogurt Sauce

1 tub of 2lb  whole milk yogurt

1 cup water

1 tablespoon of corn starch

1 egg

a handful of peeled garlic

3-4 tablespoons of olive oil

30-40 pieces of Shish-barak

1-2 tablespoons of salt

 Finally, cooking your shish-barak in the yogurt sauce! This last step is the simplest part of the shish-barak recipe. First, you will empty the content of the yogurt in a medium sized pot. Add about a tablespoon of salt, a cup of water mixed in with a tablespoon of starch and one egg. Whisk everything very well and keep on whisking in the same direction continuously under medium heat until the yogurt sauce begins to boil. Once it starts to boil, add in the shish barak pieces and mix them in gently into the yogurt sauce. It will need about 10-15 minutes time for the dough to be fully cooked. Lastly, in a small pan, heat up the olive oil and saute the garlic, add about one tablespoon of salt and let them all saute together until the garlic turns to a beautiful golden color. Drop that into the yogurt sauce.

And voila! Your delicious mouthwatering shish-barak is ready to enjoy.