The Many Faces of Israel
This morning, it seemed like the rain would finally fall. As we assembled at the school, a drizzle was already gathering. But it was just a tease – while skies were gray for much of the morning, the weather stayed relatively cool and dry; perfect for another expedition. Throughout the day, Evyatar’s stalwart presence, resourcefulness and gentle good humor brought additional sparkle to our trip!
Regretfully, several of our students picked up minor bugs. Rabbi Lisa graciously volunteered to be the one to watch over two of them at our hotel so that I could accompany the others on our visit to the Druze community near Haifa. (I’m glad to say that both students are now reporting that they feel much better after a day of rest).
Today was a field trip for the 10th grade Hugim students; we packed two busses to visit Isfiya (the Druze village). On the way, we stopped to offer our respects at a memorial to a former Hugim student whose life was lost in the War of Attrition with Egypt in 1970. The Israeli students were subdued as their teachers shared the story with them. The beauty of the location made the starkness of the lesson all the more powerful. It was a moment of real contrast; our students are looking ahead to college while their Israeli counterparts know that enlisting in the army or national service is in their future.
Climbing back up the hill, we were surprised to see a goatherd gathering his flocks right behind our busses! It was just another moment that reminded us that life in modern Israel remains strongly connected to the ancient past.
Our next stop was at a Druze military cemetery. Some of us were surprised to learn that, unlike Arab-Israelis, all Druze serve in the Israeli army. While the Israeli students engaged in fieldwork, we took the opportunity to relax and share a snack.
Once back on the busses, it was a short trip to Daliyat al Carmel, a center of Druze life and culture. Liron, one of the Israeli teachers, shared her knowledge and warmth with us as she offered us background into Druze history, spirituality and presence in modern Israel.
Some of our students were captivated by a dilemma facing Druze of the region, who traditionally offer their loyalty to the country in which they are living. This means that Syrian or Lebanese Druze and Israeli Druze have fought against their brethren in the many struggles afflicting the region. Given the strong emphasis that the Jewish people have placed on a sense of responsibility for one another, this tragic situation felt all the more poignant to us.
From a military training ground high on a hill (a traditional location for Druze settlements) we walked through the village to the center of town. Israeli and American students paired up to tour the area and sample local foods. (This was my first time sampling knafeh – I was assured by my Israeli counterparts that this extremely sweet, cheese-based treat contains only a single calorie… which is completely absorbed by its ice-cream topping!)
Editors note: the quality of a Knafeh is first and foremost measured by the plate it is served on. The cheaper-looking the paper plate is - the better the Knafeh. As un-green as it may be, keep away from places that serve Knafeh on washable dishes.
Regretfully, due to a scheduling mix-up, we didn’t have the opportunity to visit at length with Nasrine, who had hosted HiBuR groups in the past. Instead, her uncle took us on a tour of the peak of the Druze village. We were treated to steaming cups of cinnamon tea as we learned how life in a traditional Druze home was arranged right up through the mid 20th-century.
After a short walking tour of this oldest past of the Druze settlement, we were driven to a restaurant specializing in “Druze fast-food”. Stuffed cabbage, sweet and spicy pepper, lamb, potatoes and various salads gave us a lot of choices!
Following a leisurely lunch, we took the bus back to Haifa where our students joined with their hosts for Tzofim – the Israeli scouting organization. After a day of learning about other cultures, an afternoon of play and a quick visit to the Grand Canyon (Haifa's so appropriately-named mall) seemed to be just what everyone needed!
Tomorrow will be our last full day in Haifa, and a chance to show our appreciation to the local families who welcomed us with open arms, cooked for us, drove us around, and all together made our students forget they are 5,000 miles from home. While our hosts will be traveling with us for the weekend, several of our students shared that they’ll regret leaving this beautiful, welcoming city. That said, excitement is very high for visiting Masada and the Dead Sea. We’ll look forward to continuing to share our adventures with you!
Rabbi Josh Breindel
In Their Own Words
Thanks to Jasper and Ben K for assembling today's photos and quotes!