Cultural gems in the Galilee

Enjoy a warm welcome and discover the rich heritage of the Druze and Circassians during Succot.

By
October 2, 2012 13:15
Pita

Making pita near Isfiya. (photo credit: www.goisrael.com)

For many Israelis, Succot is a time to hit the road, get out of town and explore some hitherto unknown part of the country. Vacationers could do worse than head for the Druze and Circassian villages of the Galilee to take a closer look at the local cultures and customs and, naturally, wrap their molars around some tasty vittles, too.

The Druze villages of Daliyatal- Karmel and Isfiya are planning to do their best to keep visitors engaged and well fed, while offering them some of the local folklore.

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Daliyat-al-Karmel has been striving to bring in visitors from far and wide by offering a varied program of activities based on a traditional way of life, with some added ad-hoc tourist attractions. For three days during Succot, October 4- 6, the Druze village will stage the annual Ahalan Wesahalan (Welcome) Festival, which is designed to expose the community’s ethnic roots to Jewish Israelis, as well as welcoming tourists into residents’ homes, where they can expect to savor all manner of homemade Druze delicacies, from pastries to dairy-based dishes, special pita and fruit and vegetable offerings.

According to tour guide and festival director Nuzhat Awat, things are going well. “Last year we hoped to get around 50,000 visitors, and we actually got over 55,000. It is a wonderful opportunity for us to introduce people from all over Israel to our way of life, our traditions and our folklore.”

On the subject of the latter, the annual Ahalan Wesahalan Festival program also includes music and other entertainment slots, such as the traditional debka music instrumental and vocal art form. “We are inviting the whole of Israel to come to see what we have to offer in Daliyat,” Awat continues. “People will be able to come to the main building of the village where there is a lot of information about us, and there will be guided tours around the central part of the village every hour on the hour.”

There will also be an arts and crafts fair, with stalls bearing a wide selection of local handmade items, as well as live entertainment. “On the Friday [October 5] there will be a stage with a two-hour show, from 5 to 7 p.m., which we hope will enlighten the audiences about our traditions and customs and about the music and dance that are an important part of our way of life,” says Awat.

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“There will also be women along the way who will read people’s coffee cups, and we hope to bring our traditions to life for the visitors. We do get people coming to Daliyat on the weekends, but we hope a lot more will come to see us during the festival.”

Meanwhile, just down the road, the nearby Druze village of Isfiya will also put on its finest and open its doors – actually windows – to everyone between October 1 and October 3.

“Last year we called the event Isfiya, Opening Doors, but we have called this year’s festival Isfiya, Windows to a View,” explains local tour guide and Tourism and Culture Department director Tamar Saker. “One of the amazing things about Isfiya is that wherever you stop you get a different view and can enjoy a different landscape. Every few meters you see something you didn’t see before. It’s as if you open a window onto a different view each time.”

Saker recommends coming to the village in as calm a mood as possible. “If you rush around trying to cram in as much as possible, you are going to miss a lot of the great perspectives you get from the village,” she states. “Take a deep breath and enjoy the village over time.

That’s the best way to get the most out of a visit to Isfiya.”

Besides the magnificent views, the festival will feature all sorts of food stalls, with pita and goat labaneh, candy stalls and all sorts of local pastries. In addition, three homes in the village will open their doors – and windows – to visitors, who will be able to enjoy the local edibles at their leisure.

There is also a varied programs of tours on offer at Isfiya, including a partly hands-on experiential walk through the nearby olive-tree valley, a tour of the local grazing areas and a guided tour around the various cultivated sections in the hilly area around the village.

Visitors looking for a more proactive experience can get into some goat and sheep herding, and even try their hand at milking. Other attractions include cycling, ATV spins and horse and donkey riding.

Saker feels it is high time the village became better known.

“It is a perfect tourist attraction, with its beautiful buildings and wonderful views,” she says. “There is an ancient oil press and a heritage center.

People come to eat in our restaurants, but we want to show the public that there is more to Isfiya than just food.”

Farther north, in the Upper Galilee village of Rehaniya, visitors who venture this far can get a glimpse of the Circassian way of life. The Circassian community originates from the Caucasian Mountains area of the then Russian Empire. In the mid-19th century, several thousand members of the Circassian community made their way through the expanses of the Ottoman Empire and eventually set up home in four locations – Kafr Kama, Jaba, Caesarea and Rehaniya. “The name of the town comes from the Arabic name for myrtle – reihan – not the Hebrew name for basil,” explains local resident Shauky Khon. “During Succot we will open our heritage center to the general public, and there will be lectures about our way of life twice a day – at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. People should register in advance. The lectures will be about our history, our language, customs, religion and relations between the Circassian and the Jews. There will also be a film,” he says.

Visitors will also be able to get out and about in the village and take a guided tour through the old center and take a look at the unique architectural designs.

Khon will also offer the hospitality of his home to the public.

“My wife will provide traditional refreshments – our special Circassian cheeses and our haluj cheese-filled pastries fried in olive oil,” he says.

There is also a go-cart track at the village, and visitors can stay overnight at local bed-andbreakfast accommodations.

For more information please go to: www.jabel.org.il. or for events at Daliyat-al-Karmel call 052-886-4282 [email protected]. For or events at Isfiya: 054-550-5016, [email protected].

For events at Rehaniya call 050-520-3146, [email protected].

The Story was written in cooperation with The Tourism Ministry, www.goisrael.gov.il


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