The Druze, a religious minority that lives in harmony in Israel, is an ethnic group known for their hospitality and warm welcome of visitors. If you have the opportunity, a traditional Druze meal is one of the most delicious experiences known to man!
The 118,000-strong Druze community in Israel represents a rich, ancient culture and faith that has made a great contribution to Israel over the years. Their towns and holy places, located in beautiful mountain settings from Mount Carmel in the west to the Upper Galilee and the Golan Heights in the east, invite visitors to steep themselves in tradition and enjoy traditional hospitality.
One of my favorite spots, considered holy to the Druze can be found at Birket Ram. This tranquil, mysterious pool located on the outskirts of the Druze town of Mas’adeh, has given rise to many stories over the centuries. Its slopes now beautifully cultivated by Druze farmers, it is aptly named Birket Ram – the “high pool” – due to its location in the northern Golan Heights, surrounded by mountains over 3,000 feet above sea level. Its origins are a puzzle, but most geologists believe it is the collapsed crater of a volcano.
A legend about the pool beautifully weaves together geography and human nature: A small hill near Birket Ram is known as Jebel el-Sheikha (“the hill of the sheikh’s wife”), while to the north rises majestic Mount Hermon, nearly 7,000 feet high and known as Jebel el-Sheikh (“the hill of the sheikh”). After many years together, the legend says, the sheikh stopped loving his wife, and Birket Ram is her eye, filled with tears.
The Druze faith, an offshoot of Islam accented by ancient Greek philosophy and other traditions, was founded in Fatimid Egypt at the end of the 10th century. Among the faith’s first leaders were Hamza Ben-Ali and Mohammad al-Darazi. The popular name of the faith, Druze, stems from the latter’s name, however the Druze call themselves Al-Muwahidun, from the Arabic word “unity,” which stresses their monotheism, or Al-Ma’aruf, which comes from the word “knowledge.” The Druze believe that Hamza was the last of those chosen by God to reveal God’s truth to humanity, preceded by Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed.
Eventually, the center of the faith moved from Egypt to Lebanon and Syria and gained new believers, particularly in the region around Mount Hermon. By the mid-11th century, it closed to new members. To this day, one cannot convert to the Druze faith, which believes that Druze souls are continuously reincarnated.
To avoid persecution in its early days, the Druze guarded the secrets of the faith among a select few. To this day these individuals, both men and women, known as “ukal”, are chosen by community leaders based chiefly on their moral lifestyle, and may then delve into the Druze sacred books. Druze religious men can be recognized by their shaven heads, white skullcap and dark pantaloons. Religious women wear dark dresses and white head-scarves.
Other than life-cycle events, the Druze have few ceremonies. They do attend a prayer-house, or hilwa, make vows to God for healing and other needs, and celebrate pilgrimage days to the leaders of their faith, including Nebi Shueib (Jethro), Nebi Yaf’ouri, Nebi Sabalan, Abu Abdullah, El-Khader and Nebi Zakariya. Among their prohibitions are alcohol consumption and gambling. They are fiercely loyal to their home-countries; in Israel, the Druze young men serve in the Israel Defense Forces.
The Druze flag flies at all their holy sites and in their towns, frequently alongside the Israeli flag. The five colors of the flag are said to represent the leader Hamza and the four prime proclaimers of the faith. Another interpretation is that green symbolizes