In the Druse village of Usfiya high in the Carmel are seven houses with a
feature quite uncommon in Arab houses: a kashrut certificate on the kitchen
The houses are part of a project for tourists launched 10 years ago
by the organization Nations and Flavors. The houses host groups of visitors who
come to experience authentic Druse hospitality, an experience that for most is
limited to Druse restaurants in the North or stalls selling Druse pita with
According to Ihab Zidane, a 30-year-old native of Usfiya who
often hosts these groups, the experience allows for visitors to gain a more
intimate look at the Druse community. Members of a secretive religion that is an
offshoot of Islam, Druse number around 100,000 and live in a half a dozen
villages in the Galilee and Golan. In spite of their loyalty to the state, most
Jewish Israelis have only the most basic understanding of the
“People hardly know anything about the Druse,” he said. “People
know that the Druse kitchen has very good food and that the Druse serve in the
army and are loyal to the country. These are the two things people know. Israeli
people even ones who grow up in the North know Druse in a very small aspect, a
small angle view. Here it’s very wide open for you to view life in the
Zidane said the idea behind the kosher Druse hospitality “is to
share food and hospitality and knowledge about our religion and our beliefs and
the conflicts we have.
We allow the hospitality to be more like a
dialogue and not just a lecture about the Druse people. In these homes we have
many young students from the village who share with the guests their own point
of view about the Druse religion, their beliefs, conflicts Druse have, the
status of women in the Druse community, all types of things.”
the Druse culinary reputation was put to the test as a middle-aged woman walked
in carrying a giant metal serving tray with well over a dozen plates of homemade
food, including heaping portions of rice with thick chunks of lamb, tabouleh,
fresh humous, eggplant and tehina, dolmas and kebabs, all of it scooped up with
enormous Druse pitas.
“For our guests we always say: ‘We measure your
food by eating, so you must eat a lot. But it makes us happy,’ Zidane said and
poured some juice.
He joked about the hospitality of the Druse, telling
the story of a Chinese who became separated from her tour group while taking
pictures in the village and was found eating dinner with a completely different
family than that with whom the group’s visit had been arranged.
the guest house, the view is stunning.
You can see across the entire
Carmel and take in the lights of Haifa. The smell of fireplaces is inescapable
in the cooler months of the year, providing a reminder that there are actually
places here where people chop firewood and warm up next to their chimney at
Usfiya gained some notoriety in December when a local teen was
blamed for starting the Carmel wildfire that destroyed more than 48,000 dunams
and left 44 people dead. The area where the fire broke out is on the outskirts
of the village, but during a visit it is virtually impossible to notice any sort
of damage. Like other Carmel communities damaged in the fire, Usfiya is hoping
that visitors will realize that the fire may have left its mark, but it didn’t
bring life to a halt.
Usfiya is home to around 24,000 people.
village dates to the 16th century when the Druse arrived in the area, and the
modern village was founded in the 18th century.
In 1930, the remains of a
fifth century Jewish town – Husifa – were found there.
The finds included
an ancient synagogue with a mosaic floor with the words “shalom al Yisrael.” The
town gets its name from this ancient town as well as the word for storm in
Arabic, owing to the strong winds that blow through town in the
The kosher Druse kitchen tour can also be combined with a tour of
the cobblestone streets of the old town, where the town seal with the words
“shalom al Yisrael” is painted on tiles plastered on the stone walls of
buildings hundreds of years old.
Accommodation is limited, though the El
Manzool boutique hotel features six guest rooms decked in Druse-style
The hotel also practices its own rich brand of Druse
hospitality, and if you overeat you don’t have far to walk.
obvious culinary delights and the niceties of strolling around the village, the
cultural learning experience is the greatest aspect of the visit, according to
“Sometimes when people come here and talk to the Druse, they
learn about the conflicts that Druse have as young Israelis and young Druse.
They learn about how they fit in with the society. One of the conflicts we have
is how we are seen by Druse in Syria and Lebanon, who are loyal to the countries
they live in. We are often in a position of being between a rock and a hard
place. We are seen as enemies of their countries but we are also related to them
by faith, religion, and also our family relations.”
Zidane spoke of other
conflicts, like the state’s plan to build gas lines passing through the
village’s agricultural lands, or the way that he is always taken aside for extra
questioning at Ben-Gurion Airport because he has an Arab name, and how that
makes him feel as an officer in an IDF reserve unit.
More than anything
else, Zidane spoke about Druse and the army. This is mainly because it’s what
Israelis most know about the Druse, and what they often want to talk about. Like
other aspects of being Druse, Zidane said it is not all very simple.
think that when people think of Druse, the first thing they think of is the
army. Yes we like the army, we serve in it, but I think all the citizens should
do it, even an Arab Muslim or Christian should. We are loyal and we have proven
it, and now I don’t want to only be treated by this subject. I don’t think we
should stop serving in the army, but it’s not the only thing we can
“Also, we don’t need to prove that we’re loyal to the state anymore;
we’ve already proven it. If we are viewed as the good soldiers and as the good
Arabs and that’s it, then everyone will see us as that. I don’t want to be seen
only in this way. This is why education is important for the
Education is important, according to Zidane, because at the
moment, there are basically three jobs that people work in Usfiya: security
(police, Prisons Service), defense (career army) and agriculture.
any worthwhile learning experience, a visit to Usfiya should leave one with more
questions than before and a greater understanding of how complicated issues of
identity, nation and culture are here.
The appeal of other things, like
homemade mansaff and the comfort of kicking back in a spacious Druse house
overlooking the gorgeous Carmel range, don’t really need to be
In addition to the meal, the visit includes a short tour of
the old town and a lecture/ discussion on the Druse at one of the seven guest
houses. The tour and the meal are for groups of 10 people or more and cost NIS
86-NIS 95 per person depending on the size of the group.
reservations, call Avi at (052) 453- 5100/(04) 839-0125.