University of Haifa International School Student Blog
Did you know religious Druze believe in Reincarnation? Or, that an important part of the Druze culture is hospitality? Read the following post by Michael to learn about his experiences with a Druze family!
The Druze are the most compassionate people in Israel but the least recognized anywhere.This ethnic group is composed of Arabs displaced all about the Fertile Crescent. In order to be Druze, one must be apart of the blood lineage that spans back thousands of years. Druze is not a race, it is a religion. (The differences between race, religion and nationality are commonly ignored in Israel depending on any of the touchy contexts here).
The Druze have five prophets represented by five colors: Red, White, Yellow, Blue and Green. Whether you take a ride in a sheroot ( a small bus that cost 6 shekels or a dollar seventy) or you actually have the pleasure of visiting a Druze village, the Druze star can be seen dangling from some necklace or the Druze flag can be seen flowing proudly in the desert wind either blowing in from the ajar window or from over the tundra of sand or the fields of green.
They believe in reincarnation because earth is heavenly enough. Their Hell is coming back as a non-Druze.
Quintessential Druze culture requires a dedication to hospitality. I had the benefit of witnessing this first hand. It enveloped me. One of the first Israelis that I’ve met here at the University, Tamer Atalla, became a friend and he invited me and some other good people to Yirka, a Druze village in the north of Israel that one could see from the Mount Carmel where this school sits in the clouds. From the school, Yirka is a expanse of brown-white before the mountains that hide Lebanon.
But, Tamer can trace his last name back thousands of years. His family, his people, his clan, his tribe migrated from Lebanon long ago. His last name means “a gift from God” in Arabic. He has thousands of relatives. Everyone seemed to be his uncle or his cousin. Traveling to Yirka, I had preconceived notions of the Druze. This was not the first time I felt the warm embrace of their kindness. My friend Brian and I decided to bring his family a small tapoozini (or kumquat ) tree, in order to return the immense kindness that we anticipated to meet. Mirjam and Leah brought the family a wild assortment of flowers.
Walking up to the door, I saw his mother answer with a smile on her face, one that I saw upon exiting the car that stopped over ten meters away. I scrambled for the Arabic greetings I had just learned in class. I said “Marhaba, kif halik”, which means “Hello, how are you.” She was “Mniha. Alhan wa sahlan” which means “Good. Welcome”. I, then, said “Fiki” which is a reply to her previous address that has various meanings, definitionally ambiguous to the native English speaker. This was the beginning.
She had peppers, tea and so many other plants growing in her garden. However, she did not have a tapoozini tree. We were happy to make a unique addition.
The rest of the day was full of conversation, good tea and coffee, real tea and coffee, pure tea and coffee, fresh fruits and laughs. Dinner consisted of Lamb and Chicken Kebab with Pita Bread, Druze bread, chips (freedom fries for my fellow Amuricans), salted shredded lemon cabbage and other tasty things. That kept me full for the next two days.
The next day, we finally met his family. We went to a part of Yirka where most of the Atalla’s seemed to live. Leaving the car, he pointed to the various houses. This one was his maternal uncle’s, that one his paternal aunt’s, this one his maternal grandmother’s, that one his paternal grandfather’s. We reached his paternal grandfather’s house where maybe fifteen members of his family from a variety of generations sat and ate two types of Druze bread dishes: one with zhatar which is quite similar to oregano and one with “fil-fil”which was nice and spicy. We ate awhile, exchanged words with his family and enjoyed the sun’s gaze. After some time, we climbed up onto the roof of his Grandfather’s house via a ladder who’s weakness could only sustain one person at a time. Looking south from this roof, Haifa University presented itself as a distant toothpick on a far away mound. Looking north, I saw green Lebanon, meek and silent.
We climbed down. I reach the ground first. Tamer’s grandfather in Orthodox Druze dress invited me inside. He had a large white mustache, a white head cloth and a navy blue robe. He led me to the “living room” for lack of a better word. This room was more than any living room. It had a certain foreign serenity.
Along every wall, there were couches dedicated to the comfort of the visitor. (I bet there are more words in Arabic for “hello” than “goodbye”. I realized this walking into this room. With all these chairs, the crucial part of human relations to the Druze has to be the “Hello” and the “Sit down. You are welcome in my home. Relax”. This was the same at Tamer house: many many chairs). We sat down. I looked around and saw Druze history all about the off-white walls. Pictures, paintings, adages, even the family tree from Adam to Muhammad including the myriad of Druze prophets who actually have presence in the Old Testament, the Koran and ancient Greek text. Socrates and Aristotle are believed to have relations to the Druze.
Tamer’s little cousin had big bag full of almonds straight from the tree. These are not almonds from the supermarkets I’ve been to. These were covered by a fuzzy green jacket. The custom was to dip them in salt and then eat them. There was no need to strip the nut from its natural environment. And we drank strong coffee of course.
I said what I could to Tamer’s grandfather, who’s English was nearly nonexistent. My limited Arabic and Hebrew was enough to establish respect between us. He urged me to take more and more almonds and I did with pleasure.
Next we drove to a bushy place. We left the car and continued the trek on foot through muddy lanes and rocky streams while men on bare horse backs trotted past. After fifteen minutes, we reached the source that provided these paths of stone with trickling waters. Around this source, dubbed “the eye” families of Druze, people young and old gathered in recreation on an aesthetically pleasing day in Yirka. (Also, there were horses everywhere. Horse handling has its place in Druze culture.
Children ran five meters before jumping into “the eye”, which was 9 meters deep of pristine, primitive water. Boys towards the end of their teenage years sat on a massive boulder smoking nargila or hookah. The older men and women conversed and laughed over picnic. Some had music, very lively music, good spirited music. The scene felt strangely familiar, distantly familiar.
We all sat, talked, drank tea and coffee under the sunshine. After some time, I chose to wander about the hills and the olive trees.
When I came back and met everyone, we were met by two guys around the age of 18 or 19 riding ATVs. “Want to ride?” asked Tamer. I said yes. Brian rode the other one. We zoomed through streams, mud and jagged beds of rock. Looking to one side or the other, chances were that I would see small enclaves of Druze life. These were people bound by blood and history nourishing each other with food, drink and love. These pleasant scenes of Druze families in nature and levity fast forwarded before me.