• Debbie

Soaping in Jerusalem

Updated: Dec 20, 2019


What do I do when I'm on vacation and it's raining monkeys outside? I make soap! My most recent trip to Israel was in December 2016. I was staying part of the time with my aunt in Jerusalem. One of my cousins (auntie's daughter) had been pressing me to teach her how to make soap. But, without my trade tools (soap molds, oils, butters, digital scale, stick blender, etc.) I didn't think I could pull it off. I told my cousin to forget it. She reminded me that determination runs in the family by showing up in the rain at my aunt's house with (almost) all the necessities for soap making. I had no idea where she found lye (sodium hydroxide) which is a necessary ingredient for soap. I can't even find pure lye in Los Angeles. I order it online. The bigger mystery was why the bottle was only half full. What the heck is she doing with lye? That stuff is dangerous! It was none of my business so I left that question alone. My aunt was afraid to let us use the main kitchen. But auntie is a professor and practicing psychologist and has an office with a tiny kitchen underneath her property through a separate entrance. That kitchen, we were allowed to use.

So out we went, in the deluge, slipping around while carrying our supplies. We walked around the property, down the stairs, to the office which is decorated like the inside of a genie's bottle. With no soap molds on hand, my cousin who knew nothing about making soap, bought a silicone baking mold for mini muffins. Perfect! She's so smart.

The soap recipe used only one type of oil...canola; because that's all we had. And cousin didn't know she needed a digital scale; she bought a food scale with a big dial that read numbers in grams and kilos. I had to calibrate the scale and calculate the lye:oil ratio using the metric system. Ugh! Math!

Where there's a will there's a way. I figured it out. We made soap! Nothing fancy, no swirls or colors. Just a bit of my aunt's lavender essential oil for fragrance. I don't recommend soaping without the proper gear (gloves, eye protection, apron, etc.).

I splashed lye water on my hand and was grateful to be wearing gloves. My cousin was required to "stand back!" the whole time. We poured the soap batter in the mold and I crossed my fingers. It wasn't until I returned to Los Angeles that the soap dried, hardened, and as I later learned, was usable. It was reported to me that the soap turned out great. I had a sense of pride knowing I could make soap on the fly without my own supplies and using the metric system instead of our imperial system. I felt capable mainly because I'm a self-taught soaper. Sometimes you have to trust that you know more than you think you do. Still, on my next trip, I'm bringing my digital scale!


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