Travel

What We Learned At Lunch In The Old Village of Isfiya

WHO knew you can get a kosher meal in a Druze village? Azmi Azmi, a knowledgeable and amicable Druze tour guide, welcomed members of the American Jewish Press Association to Isfiya, a Druze village on Mount Carmel. He led us to a guest house in the quaint Old Village section of town where a typical Mideast lunch was already on the tables. He said thousands of tourists come here, including students from the University of Haifa nearby.

Isfiya

It was a drizzling day in January. No one carried an umbrella so we were glad to be indoors for the afternoon. On the wall was the Druze five-colored flag symbolizing their principles: green for nature, red for the land, yellow for sunlight, blue for the sky, and white for purity. On the next wall was a framed rabbinical certificate attesting to the kashrut of the kitchen.

Azmi Azmi
Entrance to the guest house

The Druze number more than a million spread out in the Galilee, the Golan and the bordering countries of Lebanon and Syria. Plus another million in the rest of the world. “We don’t have a homeland,” Azmi said. “We don’t believe in borders or holy places.”

The Druze population in Isfiya is 12,000. Azmi said that 80 percent of the Druze serve in the IDF compared to 65 percent of Israelis who serve. “We have five Druze serving as pilots. That’s why the Jews consider the Druze their only friends.”

Lunch at a Druze guest house

An offshoot of Shia Islam, the Druze abstain from pork, and don’t mix meat and dairy (like the Jews, curiously).

“We believe in reincarnation,” Azmi said. “Death is the end of one part and the beginning of another part. We are reborn as people, never as animals.”

A Druze meal

The Druze are divided in religious and nonreligious. You make a choice at age 15. If you opt for religious you give up “smoking, alcohol, disco, movies, swimming and traveling.” If you choose to be nonreligious you are secular and you can swim, smoke and drink.

Azmi described the Druze worship place as a simple empty room, no lights, you sit on the floor. There is no kneeling. “Our holy book is called Chochma (Wisdom). I’m not religious so I’m not allowed to read the book or even touch it.”

Back from the marketplace
Everyone’s an actor
Isfiya house

Druze don’t fast, or pray five times a day like traditional Muslims. “You have one wife only,” Azmi said. “Even that is sometimes too much.”