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(photo credit: Lydia Aisenberg)
For many, taking care of the garden is a necessary task. For others, it is a serious hobby. For Naji Abbas, a Druse living in the lower Galilee, caring for his enormous, enchanting garden has become a way of life for him and his wife and the couple's five children.
Julis is a large, attractive village founded in the 16th century and home to some 5,000 Druse Israeli citizens. Abbas resides in an extension to the home built by his late father, and close to where his grandfather also lived.
"My grandfather began to develop the garden around the site of the family well, and my father helped him. Together they planted a great deal of the original garden before we began to extend it," explains Abbas, spreading his arms wide over the terraced gem of a garden, called Al-Mona, after his mother.
From outside the walled Abbas abode there is little evidence of the wonders within. Walking through the arched entrance, one immediately feels the crossover from the dusty street outside. Immaculately clean pathways leading through small and large arches and over narrow wooden bridges with a trickling stream of water gurgling beneath beckon and whet one's appetite for more.
Hidden among the greenery, one meets enormous sculptured snakes, eagles and other animals. None too ferocious-looking reptiles actually make the visitor smile - broadly.
Emerging from the twisting arched pathway, we arrived at the main courtyard of the Abbas home. On the opposite side of the courtyard, shaded by enormous trees, stands a small stone building arranged to resemble a stable, with a swing hanging from the rafters inside.
A young Druse couple clad in wedding splendor are having their photos taken, the bride gently swinging to and fro and the groom straddled nonchalantly across a bale of hay behind her but not looking as comfortable and his future wife. Mona's garden has become a popular venue for local Druse wedding photograph albums, and Abbas doesn't ask for payment. "Just seeing these young couples in their wedding attire come and enjoy all that the garden has to offer is enough reward for us," he explains.
Following him down to the next terrace, we pass through another arch - this one in a thick stone wall - and more terraces appear below on the slope of the deep valley where the Abbas home stands. In one section is a wooden building made to look like a small railway station waiting room, with train tracks leading off to another end of the terrace, all rich in plants and fruit trees.
We traverse another wooden building containing artifacts from the kitchens and farmyards of previous generations of the Abbas family, then enter another wonderful courtyard. A huge wooden waterwheel - of the type once seen near flour mills - churns up a pool of water, with some of the water diverted through narrow channels to other parts of the garden.
What isn't used to water the trees and vegetation is recycled - not a drop goes to waste in Mona's garden.
"We take care of the garden almost like it's one of our children," says Abbas. When he suddenly spots a plastic bottle stuck behind one of the wood sculpted benches, he bends down, pulls it out and, muttering under his breath about previous guests, shoves the bottle deep into his pocket.
Apart from developing the garden into a sculpture park featuring exotic fruits and plants, Abbas is also a collector of Druse memorabilia. He hopes to open a museum in Julis dedicated to Druse history, way of life, and their sworn allegiance to the State of Israel.
"In l956, prime minister Ben-Gurion met with the leadership of the Druse people here in Israel; and since that year, Druse have been serving in the army, police force and all spheres of civil service in Israel with pride. I want to show and share that pride with others outside the Druse, as well, of course for our own future generations," says Abbas, a former career soldier who now lives on a disability pension following an injury incurred while serving in the IDF.
Artifacts, photographs, paintings and documents pertaining to his family and village and the Druse in general are all waiting for the day that a suitable place will be available for him to put them on display.
The skeleton of a building under construction next door to the Abbas home is intended to become a small hotel and restaurant. Who knows? - the museum might be the next building once the guest house and eatery are up and running, and, he says, hopefully turning a little profit.
After a tour of the terraces and detailed explanation about the flowers, fauna and fables, it is coffee and sweetmeats time. The soft-spoken Abbas is joined by his wife and a son on the small courtyard in front of the family abode, pride in their homegrown jewel of Julis showing on their faces.
"Like our children, the garden flourishes on love and tender care and, in turn, repays us with tranquility and beauty," says Naji Abbas the former soldier, gardener par excellence and proud Druse who also sees himself as a guardian - not only of his grandfather's heritage but of all Druse communities in Israel.