Like many immigrant families, Tzvia Alankari’s parents and grandparents settled in Beit Shemesh in the 1950s after making aliyah (immigrating to Israel) from Morocco, her mother’s family from Casablanca by way of the Atlas Mountains and her father’s from Tangier.

Born in Jerusalem, Tzvia grew up in Beit Shemesh. She studied to become a dance instructor and went on to teach folk dancing, serve as a dance leader during her army service in the Israel Defense Forces’ entertainment troupe and eventually teach dance as an emissary in Jewish communities abroad.

Upon returning to Israel in 1983, Tzvia married and started a family on Moshav Beit Meir, also in the Mateh Yehuda region, where she raised two daughters and a son. Following her divorce in 1993, however, she returned to Beit Shemesh, remarried and gave birth to another son.

Throughout the years, Tzvia taught art, dance, swimming and sports in local schools. In 2006, she opened her own center for arts and creativity in Beit Shemesh, where she now teaches art. Creativity, however, flows through Tzvia not only in her dance and visual arts, but also in her love of food and cooking. Likewise, her experience as a teacher translates into warmth and generosity in the role of chef and host.

Growing up close to her maternal grandmother, Yakut Crispel, Tzvia mastered Moroccan and Sephardic cuisines and gained a deep appreciation for food. Her sisters were similarly captivated, and most of them now carry out food professions of their own, including catering and baking. Though five of Tzvia’s eight siblings live abroad, they share their recipes across oceans and time zones.

Cooking with her grandmother inspired Tzvia to enroll in a cooking course at the Plaza Hotel in Tel Aviv, which she completed in 1999. Since then, she has turned her kitchen into a classroom as well, holding cooking classes for girls before their bat mitzvah celebrations and workshops for parents and teachers in the community.

Tzvia’s Moroccan roots show through when she hosts a Friday night Shabbat dinner, a multi-course affair featuring an appetizer followed by several entrees, side salads and an assortment of homemade desserts. Her creativity as well as her diverse background and environment also make an appearance in her kitchen, especially with unique dishes like fish-stuffed red peppers served in a tomato-chickpea sauce, a nod to the flavors of both Morocco and Spain.

Among Moroccans, fish is typically reserved for first courses, while meat-based dishes—pies, stews, and stuffed vegetables—come later on the Shabbat menu. In Tzvia’s family, and for other Sephardic cooks, the fish is prepared first on Friday morning to guarantee that the first course is ready before the others.

For Tzvia, the Shabbat meal in particular gives her a blank canvas for expressing her creativity through her food. And her table, like her classroom, gives her guests the opportunity to smell, taste, share and enjoy a delightful experience.