One of the good things about having so many ethnic communities in the country is that you get to experience all kinds of cultural customs and, naturally, gastronomic delights. The Druse and Circassian communities certainly do their best to titillate our palates, as well as extend a warm welcoming hand to visitors.
As spring takes a foothold, the north of the country becomes a magnet for people from all over the country looking to roam the verdant flower-festooned vistas of the Galilee. The visual and edible joys, as well as hospitality, of the Druse and Circassian communities of the North are being proffered to everyone over the Passover and Easter period, with a rich program of activities and a range of accommodation possibilities laid on at 14 Druse and two Circassian villages, under the umbrella of the Kfar Bikartem program. The name of the venture comprises a play on the Hebrew word for “village” (kfar) and “already” (kvar), while, in the context, “bikartem” poses the question “Have you visited?” The tourism framework incorporates free guided tours of various spots around the Galilee, such as Rama, which is located on a hilltop between Karmiel and Safed. The village is home to Druse, Christian and Muslim communities, and the guided visit there focuses on the harmonious relations enjoyed by the members of the different religions, as well as the spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.
Naturally, tasty fortification will be laid on for the visitors. Local restaurants will offer tour participants reduced rates. In addition, a fascinating session with local artists will take place at a local gallery. The program on the first day also takes in a procession of local Scouts, a visit to the local Greek Orthodox Church and a fireworks display.
Tours will take place on April 19 and 20 and will set out at 11 a.m. from the piazza in front of the local municipality. To register in advance, call Magdi Faraj at 052-838-8143.
The Kfar Bikartem venture takes in all kinds of folklore and heritage elements.
Much of this is being undertaken by women. A few kilometers to the north of Rama, the Druse village of Hurfeish is home to the Lace Embroiderers, a collective of local women who engage in traditional handicrafts. Visitors can watch the embroiderers produce their intricate creations and get an eyeful of some of the works produced by previous generations, as well as contemporary products, and chat with the artisans while sipping herbal tea and munching on homemade cakes.
You can also select an embroidery creation or two to take home with you from the items on display. For more information, call Afaf Ganem at 050-686-9439.
And there is more feminine aesthetic endeavor on offer at the Druse village of Julis in the Western Galilee, courtesy of Sorgot Atid (Knitting a Future), a group of 17 women who convene every week to practice age-old knitting skills with added modern techniques. The fruits of their labor can be viewed at the Druse Heritage Center in Julis. Visits can be arranged by calling 050-620-4457.
Julis will also host the Village Flavors event on April 26. The one-day festival features a wide range of Druse cuisine, including cooking workshops, as well as storytelling sessions, musical slots and free guided tours along the alleyways of the village. The day will close with a traditional debka dance performance. The local Druse Heritage Museum will also offer free admission on the day. For registration and details, call Adnan Kvishi at 054-789-0557.
Spring is also the time of year when the festival calendar pushes up a gear, and the Druse village of Yirka, just northeast of Julis, will hold its Spring Festival – Music and Folklore at Yirka on April 17 to 19. The dates coincide with Passover and with the holiday that celebrates the Druse prophet Shueib.
The festival program takes in dance and music, workshops and drumming circles, community sing-along sessions, classical music, chamber music and ethnic groups.
The latter will include Druse and Circassian ensembles from local villages. Several dance troupes will exhibit their skills, such as the Alon Yizre’el Dance Company and the Rim-el-Golan group. There will also be free guided tours of the village that will include open-house encounters with musicians, music workshops and a concert, as well as a cooking workshop. For registration and details, call Sallach Sallach at 054-442-0301.
The picturesque Druse village of Peki’in, to the north of Rama, is also well worth a visit. From April 15 to 17, there will be 90-minute guided tours place throughout the day. They will take in the charming alleyways of the village with its Druse, Muslim, Christian and Jewish inhabitants. The tour guides will inform visitors about the history of the place, and there will be a stopoff at a late 19th-century synagogue and the ruins of an ancient Jewish place of study, as well as a visit to the village spring, with its ancient mulberry tree, and a view of a 19thcentury church that was built on a Byzantine site. The tour participants will also get a close look at The Teacher’s House, which was home to Maalem Hana, the famed local Christian teacher, and at the restored flour mill. For information, call 057-768- 4751 or (04) 688-5438.
And if you’re looking to make a few days of your Galilean foray, there is a wide range of inexpensive and pleasant Druse and Circassian accommodation possibilities available throughout the region. For example, The House in the Orchard B&B in Julis incorporates four units around a wide courtyard and offers a charming view of an olive grove. For reservations: 054-287-39797; 052-924-4817; and email@example.com.
Over at the Druse village of Beit Jann, near Mount Meron, the Al-Jarmak 2000 guest house offers spacious, wheelchair-accessible accommodation units for couples and families. For reservations: (04) 980-2692; 050-247-9604; and http://al2000.com.
Meanwhile, the Anan B&B at Hurfeish offers accommodation for families and groups, with authentic Druse cuisine and lovely views of the region’s hilly landscapes.
For reservations, call (04) 997-3587 or 050-694-8590. For more information about the Kfar Bikartem program: www.jabel.org.il and the Kfar Bikartem Facebook page.
This article was made possible with the help of the Israel Ministry of Tourism (www.goisrael.gov.il and www.goisrael.com).