In my long and diverse touring career, I have guided all kinds. Just name them; Jews and Christians of every stripe, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and probably lots of others I wasn’t aware of – but never Druze, so very prominent in the news lately.

This week I can add Druze to my list. It was a fascinating experience.


(The Druze are a religious minority that lives in the mountainous areas of Israel, Lebanon and Syria. Their religion is one that broke away from Islam in the eleventh century. Because of the fatal consequences of heresy, details of their faith have remained a “secret” Until today,only the initiated,”religious” among them are privy to the secrets.

They have their own attire and facial hair to distinguish them. The initiated women too have their own attire (not facial hair…)
One can not convert into this secret faith.
A small group, they have never had national aspirations and are happy to serve the country they live in and so serve with distinction in the Israeli army as they do in the Syrian army..
They are a hardy agrarian people who know well how to defend their honor and rights.)

I received a call from an organization called “Im Eshkachech”(If I forget). Their aim is to bring as many Israelis to Jerusalem in order to strengthen their ties to the city. This week is the one hundred eleventh anniversary of Theodore Herzl’s passing and groups were arriving from all over the country to the ceremony on Mount Herzl.

When I first spoke on the phone to the one in charge of this Druze group, he made it clear to me that they definitely want to include the Har Nof neighborhood in their itinerary. They wanted to see where their fellow villager,policeman Zaidan Saif was killed by Muslim terrorists as he was called to the scene of the terror attack in the “Kehilla Benei Torah” shul.

Last November two Arabs, who had worked in the Jewish neighborhood, stormed the shul with hatchets, cleavers and pistols. Four men were butchered in their teffilin and talit. The Druze officer was stuck down as he eliminated the terrorists

When I heard the request from the Druze organizer, I realized there was a very personal side to this for me.
My cousin, Aryeh Kupinsky was one of the four victims.
When I shared this with him, there was silence on the other side of the phone. This was not going to be just a regular tour of Yerushalayim.

As I entered the bus and introduced myself, I realized that the women sat in the back and the men in front. Some were dressed in traditional dress and some in regular attire.

We drove straight away to the shul. I had very little time to organise any kind of reception for them but I was amazed how successful
I was in enlisting a number of people who were there during the attack as medical and emergency teams.
As we drove through the neighborhood, I was asked if Arabs still dare enter the area after the attack. I said sure, they even work in the shul where it happened. I could see from the incredulous looks that they realized we are from different planets.

An ambulance dedicated to the four victims and the Druze cop was brought and displayed for them.
A medic who was first on the scene addressed the group in perfect Arabic, as he was a Syrian Jew who came to Israel a few years ago.
The physician in whose arms, Zaidan died, called to share her feelings with them.
The people in the shul had no problem with our unusual group walking in and being shown around as the many young men continued their Torah study. Very touching.

One of the Druze elders (the one with the colorful big kippa and huge mustache – apparently privy to secrets ) was very surprised that there was no guard at the door after what had happened.
Sensible question.
The Jewish hosts mumbled something about the high cost and impossibility of guarding everything all the time.
I broke the silence by observing that there are after all, no guards in mosques. At that, both the Druze and Jews laughed,”Of course, no one threatens them”.
Silence again.
I broke it again again by suggesting then that Kahane was right.
They responded together like a choir; “Of course Kahane was right!”
Farmers and Torah scholars – both get it.

After this highlight of our tour we continued with the regularly scheduled program.

I had a chance to get to speak to Druze. I spoke to young and old, the initiated and the regular folk. Men and women (not the initiated ones)
They don’t like being called Arabs ( though they are). Clearly they do not want to associate with the Arab (Muslim) enemy and the ever restive Muslim Israelis – their neighbors.

I asked the elder what he thought of Christians and Muslims. He said the Christians are at least gentleman and educated (though I understand that there is plenty of bad blood between them and jealousy of them. In Israel they are not a threat, unlike in Lebanon)
And Muslims? Never to be trusted,barbarians. I can not let my daughter loose among them. They fear them because of their greater numbers.
I did not ask, but I know what the answer would be to “And the Jews”? It would be,” educated, advanced, kind, good fighters when they have to be, but totally naive.
I did not have to ask.
When Israel was born, the Druze were at the very bottom of Arab society. By hanging on to Israel’s coat tails they have become the envy of all other Arabs – and the object of their hate.

I asked one of the teens, what are you? “I am a Druze in my blood!” This is not a naive bunch.

They do not speak Hebrew very well, especially the girls. The men learn it well enough in the army. The women are jealously isolated.
One teen was very proud to inform me that he studied in a Jewish school for six years and no one even suspects that he is Druze! He has many Jewish friends.

I noticed that a good number of the teens were into body building. Some of the girls were wrapped in the clothes of the “religious” and others were heavily made up and were fit into to very fashionable attire , anything but traditional clothing.
I asked the elder what is the meaning of this dichotomy.
He indeed lamented the weakening of tradition among the youth but said each Druze can choose between a secular or religious path. Apparently there are high expectations and restrictions for the religious and very little for the others.

And do the others go to heaven?
He said , the Druze believe that every one repents and becomes “religious” before death.
Simple choice, no?
I asked him about communal prayer. They pray twice a week, that is the religious Only the initiated enter their house of prayer. Their holy book must only be hand written and very few are allowed access to it.
I asked why their prophet of choice is Jethro, father in law of Moshe?. Either he did not know or he would not share the secret. Now I really want to know!
Are they the original Midianites? Again I was left wondering. Did he know?

I get the impression that there might be more mystique and tradition than content to my quest for answers.

They all have total respect for the community elders.Their word is law in the villages.

They had a great thirst for Jewish history and Torah concepts. Clearly the most basic Jewish concepts and history was never learned by them. The elder thirstily wrote down all I was saying. The women in the back of the bus were not expected to be taking part much in what was going on.

As we were sitting under a tree I suddenly heard the scariest shouting right behind me. One of the older men went berserk on one of the body builder teens. He rushed the youngster as he removed his glasses, prepared for what looked like a fight to the death. The younger one did not back down and took his glasses off as well. Both were yelling , cursing and threatening when some of the elders including a woman and another body builder separated them. I am pretty sure this is a ritual of “honor” ritual of some sort, very common in the Mid East.

I understood the elders pleading with the two, not to shame the Druze in front of the guide. They were concerned about public opinion.They knew that Jews would not be impressed with this “honor or death” display.
I was very embarrassed for them.They looked at me sheepishly and I tried to keep as low a profile as possible.

Eventually the woman explained to me that the older person thought that the younger was making light of him and disrespecting him. Boy did that launch him!

Now I understood the Druze reputation . It’s good to have when you are a minority in the Mid East. You can’t afford to be a lamb amongst wolves.

When we came to Mount Herzl and the ceremony, the group leader made it clear to the teens that they represented the Druze and he would tolerate no misbehavior. He did not ask, he yelled gestured and got blue in the face.
Were they such a tough group or was this normal communication? I think the latter. I see it all the time amongst the Muslims.
Indeed they were the most disciplined group waiting on line in twos and hardly spoke in deference to their no nonsense leader(who is a great guy by the way).

It was now my turn to feel embarrassed.

The entrance was not administered in perfect order.Israel is in the Mid East after all. Groups passed ours as we waited quietly. I demanded that our group be allowed in already and was met by the disinterested half threatening response of the incapable staff. My Druze counter part was even mpre determined that we enter, Now!
He was right. It was a typical Israeli “balagan” – chaos.

I some how diffused the powder keg and we entered.
Rafa and I fought “shoulder to shoulder” for our rights
I was embarrassed for MY people now.
Score even.

When I left, I was made to feel like one of the tribe and now have a place to stay in the Galilee when ever I choose..

What a country!


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Shalom Pollack, a veteran Israeli tour guide, served in the Israeli Navy and lectures on the Mideast.