Blogging Through Israel: Where to Begin?
Our host explains the tenets of the Druze faith in Peki’in, Israel
When I signed up on this blogging trip through Israel, I was under the assumption that I’d actually have some time to blog. But I’m here for a week and the country is the size of New Jersey, so they’ve scheduled us to the point where little time is left for sleeping, never mind blogging. But it is kind of a kick to be introduced around Israel as a blogger. Apparently, from the people I’ve spoken to, blogs are not as popular here as they are in the States, so our group’s visit was the subject of an article in the local paper. Tomorrow, they’re planning to follow us on the local news channel. Apparently, we’re kind of a big deal.
When we arrived in Haifa, the Minister of Tourism mentioned that religious diversity was one of the most endearing features of her city. But in truth, I’ve found the layers of religiosity throughout the country to be fascinating so far. Our first taste was a visit to the Bahá’i Gardens, an exquisite 19-tiered network of landscaped terraces that cascade down the center of Haifa. In the middle is the Golden Dome where worshippers practice the Bahá’i faith, which holds that the many prophets that have appeared to different religions throughout time – be it Muhammed, Jesus, Buddha, or Moses– all share God’s message and have served as educators to spread his word. The Gardens themselves are postcard perfect, and it’s fitting as the faith holds that your worship in part should take place outside, communing with nature. In contrast, going inside the Golden Dome is incredibly stark. It’s a white space that’s surprisingly small inside.
You can hopscotch through religious history easily in Haifa, as just a few minutes away from the gardens is the Stella Maris Church, built onto the side of Mt. Carmel, the origin of the Carmelite order of nuns. The altar of the church is built on top of a cave that is said to be the hiding place of the prophet Elijiah, when he was seeking to avoid persecution from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. It seemed a bit Harry Potter-like to have a cave set in the midst of an otherwise austere church, but I quickly learned that it wouldn’t be the most interesting thing I’d see all day.
So far, one of the highlights of my trip was a visit to the village of Peki’in, which is home to a large population of Druze followers. If Stella Maris was Harry Potter, the visit to the Druze village was a bit like Lord of the Rings. We were introduced to our host, Kamal Abbas, and escorted inside the home of his great-grandfather, who had served as the village leader, or mukhtar, and whose home is kept exactly as it has been for decades (one telling detail was a tapestry depicting President John F. Kennedy on the wall, which was apparently given to the mukhtar by an U.S. ambassador). The space itself was cave-like, with three major rooms lined with benches, and ephemera of all kinds – clocks, chickens, woven baskets, and trinkets – lining the walls. Over an amazing lunch of eggplant, hummus, chicken, stuffed eggplant, cinnamon-dusted rice, and veal and lamb meatballs, and some amazing mint tea that is my new obsession, Kamal explained some of the basic tenets of his religion. It began as an offshoot of Islam, when the Shiites and Sunnis split, and was long practiced in secret, to avoid persecution by the Muslims in Persia. Its followers speak Arabic, and it was described to us as a combination of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The majority of the Druze now live in Israel, though there are over 2 million around the world. In 1953, after 1,000 years of persecution, Israel recognized Druze as a separate religion, and the Druze now serve in the Israeli army and have a strong relationship with the Zionist movement.
Despite the somewhat rundown nature of the town, I was enthralled throughout my visit, and our host was both incredibly gracious and eager to share the history of his beliefs. It was an fabulous opportunity, one that I would highly recommend doing if you can arrange to get a group together for lunch. Contact the Israeli Ministry of Tourism for more information about scheduling a visit.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Next up: Ruins, markets, offroading, and finding the home of Kabbalah.
Photos by Janelle Nanos