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September 1, 2015 | 17th Elul 5775

Shabbat Shalom

Galilee Diary #480, March 3, 2010
Marc Rosenstein

You shall destroy all the peoples that the Lord your God delivers to you, showing them no pity. And you shall not worship their gods, for that would be a snare to you.

--Deuteronomy 7:16

Six months ago, our daughter Ilana, seeking a non-urban, inexpensive apartment near Haifa, moved to the Druze Arab village of Usfiya. This town is just beyond the outskirts of Haifa as you go south along the top of the Carmel ridge, less than ten minutes from Haifa University. Because of its location it has been considered as a sort of suburb of Haifa for decades - and yet, for all its development and its economic interdependence with Haifa, it retains many features of a rural Arab village.

The Druze constitute about 10% of Israel's million Arab citizens. They believe that the founder of their religion was Moses' father-in-law Jethro, and thus it antedates Islam (the shrine of Jethro's tomb, in the mountains above Tiberias, called Nebi Shuaib, is a major pilgrimage site); on the other hand, historians argue that the religion was founded in Egypt in the 11 th century as a split-off from Islam; persecuted by the Muslims, the Druze ultimately concentrated their communities in the mountains of what later became Lebanon and Syria (where the vast majority live today) and northern Israel. The two southernmost Druze villages in Israel are Usfiya and its neighbor, Daliyat el-Carmel. After 1948 the Druze leadership agreed that Druze men would be subject to the Israeli military draft, and indeed, they have served with distinction in all branches of the army since then. That is perhaps the reason that many Jewish Israelis don't define them as Arabs. It is quite common for Arab villages in Israel to be of mixed religion, and indeed, Usfiya is home to some Moslem and Christian Arab families, as well as quite a few Jews, especially university students.

Ilana's spacious, airy apartment is attached to a single family home belonging to a young couple (+ two little kids and a dog); Nasrin is a guidance counselor; Alaa is a career army officer, marathon runner, and PhD candidate in history. His father was until his recent retirement the director of education for the Israel National Parks Authority. His brother and family live next door. They are the picture of middle-class life and aspirations, friendly and hospitable, busy with all the demands of modern life but still finding time to tend the garden and fruit trees and chickens - for this is, after all, not a suburb, but a village. They appear to live quite comfortably in two very different cultures, two languages - they seem to have had the talent and/or luck to succeed at and even enjoy living on the cultural seam.

We spent last Shabbat there, on a beautiful spring-like winter day. We took a hike down a nearby valley, walking through a densely oak-shaded canyon where the smell of moss reminded us of hikes in the old country, out to expanses of rolling meadows dotted with wildflowers, where shepherds tended their flocks and farmers tended their tractors. It is not for nothing that parts of the Carmel range are nicknamed "little Switzerland." As we climbed back up a different valley toward the main highway from Haifa, we began to encounter groups of Jewish families hiking, and when we got to the road, there were Jewish and Arab families picnicking under every tree. The village itself was one big traffic jam: Usfiya and Daliyah are major Shabbat outing destinations for residents of Haifa and even Tel Aviv. Daliyah has a well-developed crafts market; in Usfiya the attractions are furniture stores, plant nurseries, and restaurants. As we walked along the strip of stores I noticed that while the spoken language in Usfiya is Arabic, the signs on the shops were almost entirely in Hebrew.

Could it be that we are on the way to creating some kind of shared Israeli culture here after all - with economic forces driving the process?

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