Women at the top
A visit to Druse villages in the North reveals enlightening insights into the modern yet traditional culture.
Druse Photo: Ariellah Aflalo
Girl power is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the Druse in Israel, but Druse women now hold powerful positions at work and manage to live modern lives without forgetting the traditions.
One of the first women to make the change is Nuzhat Awad, the first female Druse tour guide and a role model for young girls in her community.
It was she who arranged a tour for a group of journalists to meet other Druse women who, like her, take matters into their own hands and make the change.
Awad, who lives in Daliat al- Carmel, met us at one of the roundabouts in the village.
Daliya, as it is known by locals, is one of the more modern villages.
Awad, a young mother of two, manages to lead tours in the Carmel and Galilee area and the Golan Heights. “I was born for the job,” she says, and explains that her name Nuzhat means “to travel, to love and enjoy life.” And she does.
“I always knew that this was what I wanted to do. My inspiration is my father, who used to take us on trips every Saturday.
We went everywhere. He also backed me in every decision I made, especially when I wanted to become a guide. My husband, who is in the Navy, a pioneer in his own right, supports my chosen path.”
She decided to take us on a tour to meet her peers and friends – Druse women who break free of the conventions and change their worlds.
In Daliat al-Carmel we met Botaina Halabi, a young woman who runs an art gallery where she exhibits her own work. Halabi worked in legal aid until a few years ago when, after seeing a film about the Holocaust, was so moved by the eyes of the survivors that she started painting images inspired by the film. She has since met many survivors, gone on visits around the country and abroad and gave one of her paintings to Yad Vashem to be displayed. She says it is important for young Druse to learn about the pain of the Jewish people but also for the Jewish people not to forget. She for one cannot get those haunting images out of her head. Her house has now become a stopping point for tourists and students alike.
Another artist in the village who opened her house to us was Hiyam Mustaffa, who paints mostly images of Druse women. She gladly invites visitors to take a short art class in her beautiful garden but is rather reluctant to sell her impressive works.
Usfiya is located next to Daliat al-Carmel. It is a beautiful old village that was built over ruins of an ancient Jewish village. In the center of the old part we met Rajaa Kase Mansur, who asked us to enter her small and enchanting Center for the Preservation of the Druse Heritage. Over a cup of herb and spice tea and traditional cakes, visitors can look at the displays and learn about the village life past and present, learn a little about the secretive Druse religion and history. This is a part of the tour of the old village center that most tourists go through.
Farther north in Yirka we met Ayat Salame, who works on the local council, helping women in her community to develop their own businesses.
“I want to empower our women, to help them build their businesses and support their families while abiding by the laws of our religion,” she says. This is no easy matter, as many religious Druse women will not go out to work or deal with the public.
“We encourage them to develop businesses that allow them to do what they know best – cook, embroider or weave – yet maintain a business plan and develop their market,” says Salame.
Not far from Yirka is the beautiful village of Beit Jann, which is located on the slopes of Mount Meron. Here the air is sweet and cool year round. In the winter it snows very often, making it a perfect spot to tour throughout the year.
Dr. Ziad Dabour teaches pharmacology at the medical center in Safed. After retiring from the army, where he served for many years as chief pharmacist, Dabour went back to his childhood love of the local herbs, an understanding he received as a child from the older women in his family.
Nowadays he combines it with his knowledge of skin therapy and biocosmetics to produce cosmetic creams and soaps, as well as other natural products. The creams and serums are made from herbal extracts produced on the premises from locally grown herbs and flowers. The medical center, surrounded by a lovely herb garden, is situated high in the hills, and visitors are invited to drink herbal infusions and learn about the therapeutic qualities of the different plants, the production and ideology behind the products.
The center is run by Dabour’s wife, Nazihaa, an academic who is in charge of the production and management of the center. Entrance to the center is free. A lecture costs NIS 20 to NIS 30.
No visit to a Druse village would be complete without a taste of the delicious food.
Many of the women we met run either a restaurant or a bed-and-breakfast in their homes. An excellent and authentic home enterprise is run by Amal Dabour (Dr.Dabour’s sister), who cooks the traditional food her Lebanese grandmother taught her to prepare, using wild herbs she gathers in the mountains. She cooks and her husband, who has a day job in a local community center, waits the tables.
The food is very special, and we learned that she makes her own spice mixes from scratch as well. There are more than a dozen salads, many vegetable dishes, stuffed leaves of all kinds and the Druse specialty, mansaf, which, we were told, is a must in any traditional Druse kitchen. Visitors should order in advance. When they reach the village, Amal’s son meets them at the entrance of the village and leads the way.
For those who keep kosher but want to sample the famous Druse hospitality and enjoy a complete tour, the Nations and Flavors organization in Usfiya provides just that for groups and families.
All food is cooked and served in the traditional way, by the hosts at their homes, but is kosher and supervised.
Very tired, we reached the Touch the Sky bed-and-breakfast at Hadiya Abu Haya’s home, located at the highest point of Beit Jann. Hadiya (which means “God’s gift”) opens her home and welcomes her guests with a broad smile.
She invited us into her little haven, which is surrounded by thick green woods, with amazing vistas of the Meron area all the way to the sea. The sweet, fresh, cool air is scented with the many roses in the garden.
The rooms, which vary in size, are all equipped with a Jacuzzi and a small kitchenette, and all face a communal garden with a swing chair, a hammock and a barbecue corner.
There is a communal kitchen that is available to the guests, where a hearty breakfast awaited us on the table as we pulled ourselves out of bed after a very good night’s sleep.
Abu Haya says that she sometimes cooks with her guests who ask for the recipes for her delicious homemade salads and cakes.
“We go to the market together, and then we cook.
After that, we go for tours with my husband, Amin, who is a tour guide. My guests are my friends,” she says, “and they keep coming back year after year.”
We all said we would return as well.
Tour guide and organizer
Botaina Halabi Gallery
Rajaa Kase Mansur
Center for the Heritage of the Druse,
Dr. Ziad Dabour
Biocosmetics and garden
Authentic Druse restaurant,
Nations and Flavors
Hadiya Abu Haya
Touch the Sky B&B,