Who are the Druze? The Druze are an Arabic-speaking minority in Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. They have their own secret monotheistic religion that was often persecuted by Muslim rulers.
By their creed, they are loyal to the state they live in. Druze serve in the Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian, and Israeli armies. In Israel, they voluntarily signed a pact with the state for their sons to be drafted into the army. Other Arabic-speakers are not legally obligated (some choose to volunteer). It’s important to note that in Israel, many Druze simply identify as Druze and not as Arabs due to their Zionism, their previous persecution by Muslims, and societal pressure to distinguish themselves from the Arab minority.
Today I went to Daliat al-Karmel, a Druze village, to see what they’re all about. First off, this place is gorgeous:
I started off the day by buying local Druze music. Or as I like to call it, Druzic. (The puns are innumerable- just think, if Druze drank, you could have a “Druze booze cruise”!) At this little hole-in-the-wall shop, I got three CD’s by local singers in Arabic- two pop CD’s and one of wedding/folk music. I can’t wait to pop them in my iPod. If your only experience in a Druze village is eating hummus, you are an awful tourist. Go try something new that expands your cultural boundaries.
I did go eat amazing Druze food, including the best kubbeh I’ve ever had. For my American friends who’ve traveled in the South- it somehow tasted like hush puppies but better. My waiter was an 18 year old man who was very excited to hear me speaking Arabic and also told me all about how he’s going into the army in December.
Then I wandered around and ended up at a Druze holy site- the cave of the Prophet Abu Ibrahim. The Druze visitors kiss the doorway as they enter, much like Jews kiss mezuzahs. Everyone must take off their shoes and wear long sleeves, including men (some women put a long-sleeved shirt on me). I wandered into this stone cave where there were candles. I was all alone, so I spoke out loud to God. We had a good conversation. It was one of the most spiritual moments I’ve ever had. Me and God alone in a cave in a Druze village.
Then I came out and went to a memorial for Druze soldiers who were killed while serving in the IDF. I was so moved. These are non-Jews whose community chose to put their lives on the line to protect my right as a Jew to live here and their right to live in peace. 80% of Druze men serve in the Israeli military, a higher percentage than Jews. As I stood at the wall of names, I said Kaddish out loud for these brave men as the breeze swooshed by and you could almost hear their souls rustling in the trees. Another powerful spiritual experience.
The memorial is a reminder that not all Jews are Zionists and not all Zionists are Jews. I’ve met a number of Jewish anti/non-Zionists in Tel Aviv. Some are disaffected Israelis born here who are looking for a better life in another country or have political qualms. I can understand that to an extent even if I disagree- this place can be difficult economically and there are real religious and political issues here. Other anti-Zionists here are olim (new immigrants). Now this frustrates the hell out of me. You want to take advantage of the fact that you’re Jewish to receive money from the state, citizenship, and a free flight. Then, you want to go around telling everyone how you’re not a Zionist? You might not be a Zionist but you are a hypocrite. Criticizing Israel out of the spirit of bettering the country is democracy. Demonizing us is not. Our people didn’t die for you to have the opportunity to enjoy the privileges of being Israeli only to use that privilege to trash us. Against Zionism? Then don’t come to Zion. There are plenty of English teaching jobs in Korea.
Meanwhile, non-Jews like Druze put their lives on the line for us to survive. And at great cost. There are even some Druze who are pushing back against military service because of the tensions it creates with their Arab neighbors and because of poorly-funded municipalities. All Jews should become “Jews for Druze” (I’ve loved that name for years) and help our brethren feel appreciated for their sacrifices.
Before I headed off, I stopped into a store for some water. As often happens with me here in Israel, this became a three hour Arabic and Hebrew discussion with a local Druze family. Samir’s family runs the store. In his own words, he is a secular Druze (something I’ve never heard of but piqued my curiosity). His wife is a devout Druze woman. According to Samir, this is legitimate in their community, but if it were the other way around, it’d be perceived as problematic. He said this was very much “inside baseball” and I loved the insight he was sharing. All his children are secular Druze and are doing some combination of army and school. His daughter is studying to be an engineer.
I explained to him I was a Reform Jew (which surprisingly he understood- more than some Jews here I’ve met!). As we were talking about spirituality and identity, I actually did something very brave and came out to him as gay. In the middle of a rural Druze village. I was nervous about his response, but to be honest, he barely made note of it. We just continued our great conversation as his wife plied me with walnut-stuffed dates. We even exchanged numbers and he said he’d invite me to a local wedding sometime. Interesting things do happen here!
In short, we’re taught in the U.S. not to generalize about people. And usually I agree. But in this case, I’ll make an exception: Druze are awesome. I love them. They are righteous gentiles who support my people and my right to live in my homeland. And they make delicious food. I will support them as well. They’ve earned it. If you’re Israeli or Jewish or just a good person, support this fascinating minority. We should never take such friends for granted.