Today, we spent the day learning about the Druze community in Israel. The Druze are a very special group of people - a subset of the population of the State of Israel. They are Arabic speaking, esoteric, ethno-religious group that broke from the Muslim religion many years ago in Egypt. They are citizens of Israel and the only Arabic speaking group that serves in Israel's defense forces. The Druze are highly loyal to the State of Israel; many of them who are in the Israel Defense Forces actually serve as border guards due to their courageous nature and their nationalistic fervor. The Druze have a religion that is largely secret. There are two important aspects of the Druze religion that we do know about: 1) It is monotheistic and the people tend to believe in many prophets; and 2) There is a deep belief in reincarnation. That is, the people believe that their bodies are only "shells" of the soul, and the soul "travels" from one body to another over the generations.
Today we went to two different Druze villages in the same region - about 30 minutes or so from Haifa. The villages are: Osfiya and Daliyat al-Karmel. The villages are located high in the mountains - unusual for Arab villages which are generally lower in the hills. However because the Druze are such a trusted and trusting population in Israel, they are given the advantage of living high up in the hills and help protect the State and the neighborhoods and villages in the area.
The first stop we made today was to a beautiful park and vista point which introduced us to the region. There was an entire herd of goats being shepherded by a Druze man, dressed in traditional Druze dress. Then we went to a Druze cemetery which was fascinating and taught us a great deal about the Druze ideas of reincarnation. According to Druze tradition, when someone dies, they place the body in a mausoleum-like structure for one year. By the end of that first year, the body has decayed. What is left of the body is removed from the mausoleum and any remaining bones are placed in a common pit or ditch. However, when a Druze has served in the IDF or the police, his body is buried in the same way that Jews and Jewish soldiers are buried, including Jewish inscriptions on the headstones. It is as if the souls of those who serve the Jewish State are themselves Jewish! What an amazing concept: that they feel like Jews and that they are treated by the State of Israel with high respect and honor.
After the cemetery we went to Osfiya where we met our Druze guides who showed us around their village and pointed out their place of prayer and worship. We learned that men and women have separate areas in their sanctuary, but that there is full equality between men and women in the tradition. Actually, women are more highly educated than their male counterparts. There is a high value placed on learning - both secular and religious -- and there are many Druze who matriculate in Israel's universities at the highest levels. We learned that the religion is only known to those who are "religious," and that anyone can choose to be religious if they wish. The "religious" and the "secular" Druze live together, are part of the same family, and do not judge one another. We went to the home of the Druze guide who showed us around. She is a secular woman who is 24 years old. She is newly married to a secular man who is from a neighboring Druze village. Only the woman's mother is "religious." The rest of her family are all secular.
We actually had lunch in our guide's parents' home. She is a fabulous cook and baker; everything was made from scratch. Salads, Kebab, lentils, tomato/eggplant and chick-peas, warm breads, hummus (homemade!), rice and chicken, delicious Druze tea, and sweets for dessert. It was a delicious meal and the hospitality was actually "Biblical" in its scope!
When we were finished with lunch, we headed back to Haifa -- full but satisfied.
Tomorrow is our last day in Haifa....we have had a wonderful time here. Our American students have been terrific - and the Israeli students and their families have been extremely gracious hosts. We feel very fortunate to have such wonderful adults and teens as our partners at the Hugim High School.
A few words from some of our teen travelers:
"Today we got to experience the Druze towns and villages -- from where and how they live to where they rest in peace."
"Today was fun! I learned about the culture of the Druze people and their living styles and their beliefs."
"Today we visited a Druze home and ate some delicious food including three different kids of pita, hummus, rice and noodles with chicken!"
"I had an amazing time today with everyone! I learned so much about the Druze!"
"I learned about the Druze people and their religion, history, relationship to Islam, role in the Zionist movement, and their food!"
"Today was really interesting. I enjoyed learning about the Druze religion and how their members have the choice between being religious and secular. Furthermore, the food was fantabulous."
"I learned a lot about the Druze religion and they separated from the Muslims and are not Jews but are still part of the state of Israel"
"I learned that the Druze believe that the soul of someone who died comes back in a newborn baby."
More tomorrow...good night!
Rabbi Lisa Eiduson