Day tour of Minorities in the Galil


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Middle East » Israel » North District » Tiberias
April 27th 2016
Published: July 3rd 2016
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We were staying in the Galil to celebrate the Passover in Tiberias near Lake Kinneret also known as the Sea of Gallilee. Our friend and tour guide Rina Yellin came up with an idea for a day tour in that area. This was her second outing to visit various minority religious sites in the north of Israel, this time in the area southwest of the Kinneret. (See our blog "Day drive around the Carmel in Israel" on 13 Jaunuary 2016 for the first tour with Rina.) So we set off with our matzo picnic to our first stop.



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Today was the major holiday of the Druze community. So we set off to Nabi Shu’abe. Translated into English this is the Tomb of Jethro, the prophet on which the Druze religion is founded. Jethro (Yitro in Hebrew) was the father-in-law of Moses. Jews regard Jethro as a very wise man who was important to Moses and who imparted advice to Moses on how to govern. He is so important that he has a Torah portion named after him - Yitro - which contains the giving of the Ten Commandments.



The tomb is situated at the top of a hill near Kfar Hittim. The shrine is contained in a beautiful white building. To enter the tomb we had to ensure that our legs and arms and heads were covered and shoes off, both men and women. The tomb is covered with green material. Even those Druze who are not religious come to the shrine on this holiday in order to kiss the tomb and to pay their respects. In a niche at the back of the room where the tomb is situated is a footprint which is said to be that of Jethro.



The whole place was so serene and peaceful until all hell broke loose. Suddenly from nowhere a man ran into the tomb with his shoes on and head uncovered being chased by a number of men yelling at him. There was mayhem outside the room as everything stopped for the men to take off their shoes and don cloaks with hoods and then they raced into the room. It would transpire that this man is a local Muslim Arab who had driven into a group of children playing in the grounds beneath the tomb area. Fortunately none were killed nor seriously injured this time. The men pulled the man out of the tomb and formed a circle round him whilst others were trying to punch him. They then locked him in the office until the police arrived. We went back to our cars to drive down to the picnic grounds, and noticed that in the meantime the Druze had stoned his unoccupied car and smashed it up.



In the grounds we sat at a picnic bench whilst our guide told us about the relationship between the Druze and the local Muslim Arabs. It is not good. These Arabs want the Druze out of the area and often drive their motorcycles around the grounds causing a disturbance.



Apart from that problem, we also learnt more about the Druze. The Druze religion is secret and only those who are religious may learn the ways of the religion and read the sacred books. At the age of 15 children are given the choice of whether or not to be religious. If they decide to be secular they may decide later in life to become religious and to learn about the religion. If one marries out of the religion one is immediately sent out of the village and cut off from being a Druze, but not necessarily from their families. So no matter how wealthy or important the person who married out (like Amal Alamuddin, wife of George Clooney) there is no readmittance to the village or religion. Druze are loyal to their host country, so we learnt that it is compulsory (by order of the elders of the Druze) for all the Israeli Druze children to serve in the Israel Defence Force (IDF).



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After that excitement and discovery, it was back in the car and off to Kfar Kama. That is one of the two villages established by Circassians in Israel. About 3,000 Circassians live in Kfar Kama, and another 1,000 live in Rehaniya, which they settled in 1876 and 1873 respectively. Circassia was a Christian nation on the northeastern shore of the Black Sea. In the nineteenth century the Russians conquered the entire area and exiled them to the Ottoman empire, where converted to become Sunni Muslims. Currently there are about 3-4 million Circassians.





We saw a film about the history of the Circassians which showed how they lived. The men were warriors and were trained in warfare from their youth. The boys were sent to live with a “foster” family where their "father" was a teacher of warfare, from a very early age. They then went back home when they had learnt everything there was to learn. The film also showed the Circassians today and how they are trying to get back to their homeland. Today, Circassians are scattered around the world and there are large communities in Syria, Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia and Israel as well as the US.



We watched Circassian dancing. Boys and girls meet at dancing events, so serious importance is placed on learning the traditional dances and performing them proficiently.







After the dancing we were shown around the museum by a very knowledgeable Circassian guide. He spoke several languages and was able to describe Circassian life which has changed little. Many of the old customs are upheld. The village is democratic in that no decision is taken without consulting the entire village. One of the striking things about our guide was his mop of ginger hair which he brought to our attention.



Circassians stand tall and walk tall. Their bodies are trained from birth to develop a straight spine, which starts when they sleep on their backs in rigid cribs. These sleeping arrangements are strictly regulated and the babies are not allowed to sleep without some form of adult supervision. The children are instilled with a sense of pride of being Circassion from birth. So if a child misbehaves it is reminded that this is not the behaviour expected of a Circassian. The way of life has not changed much from the outset of their history but they do make full use of modern technology and they do live in the 21st century. Something which really surprised us was that the Circassians serve in the IDF. They are conscripted in the same way as all Israeli citizens.

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From there it was back to the cars where we ate our picnic matzo lunches before setting off for our final tour venue of the day.



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Our final stop was Yardenit. Yardenit is on the southernmost tip of the Kinneret and is on the bank of the River Jordan. It is not quite the place where John the Baptist baptised his followers, but has become associated with the tradition. Every year over half a million pilgrims come from all around the world to be baptised. There is no church on the premises. The pilgrims are baptised in white robes. These are usually plain white and can be rented or purchased at the site. However, we saw some pilgrims in beautiful but tastefully decorated robes. These were Coptic Christians from Egypt who had made their pilgrimage from Egypt to this traditional baptismal site.



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After this stop we said farewell to our tour guide Rina (rina@IsraelComplete.com) and thanked her for a very interesting day out.



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We returned to our holiday hotel "Europa 1917" in Tiberias. Originally built in that year, it has been renovated as a very comfortable small hotel. With only 30 guest rooms it was not crowded or noisy, even though many families with children and an additional teenage group were in attendance for the week. The hotel is not situated on the beach, but rather a few blocks up the hill from the hustle and bustle. Service was very good and personal, and the (Passover) food was excellent. Our room had a balcony overlooking the hotel plaza, which reminded us of the scene from Romeo and Juliet.

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