This blog post is written by Daniel, a Yahel fellow living in Lod.
On a recent weekend excursion, I and a few Yahelnikim attended a trip up north to the Druze village of Yarka with a travel/hiking group known as Holy Local Aliens. The “Aliens” group arranges trips for people of all backgrounds, including Jews, Arabs, and international travelers of all kinds. On this past trip, we spent the weekend camping, hiking in the area, and touring Yarka, all hosted by local Druze residents.
What was most unique was the vast array of backgrounds and identities comprising our group. There were Israeli Jews, both secular and religious, as well Diaspora Jews from the US, France, and Eastern Europe; there were foreigners from all over the world including Italy and the Philippines; there were Arab Muslims observing the holy month of Ramadan, and of course, our local Arab Druze hosts. Walking around the camping grounds, you were just as likely to hear Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, or French in the background as you were to hear English; from all corners you could hear discussions about Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and the Druze faith.
On Friday evening, as the sun set over Yarka, the sense of both diversity and unity amongst the group came further into focus. A few Jewish and Arab Aliens set up an eruv (a halakhic enclosure allowing observant Jews to carry objects on Shabbat) around the camping site. Then Jewish (and non-Jewish) members gathered for Kabbalat Shabbat. After bringing in Shabbat together and completing the Shabbat blessings, we were presented with a home-cooked meal of traditional Druze food, including maqluba, mujaddara, and more. We then enjoyed our Shabbat meal, as the Muslims in the group celebrated Iftar for the evening, all of us together giving thanks to our Druze hosts.
Again conversation broke out between our diverse encampment, touching on topics such as the purpose of fasting physically and spiritually during Ramadan and the relationship between Druze who consider themselves secular and those who are religious, not to mention an in-depth discussion about the nuanced differences in the meaning of the term Ars in Hebrew and Arabic.*
There are some moments that strike you as truly remarkable. Before coming here I seemingly could not have found myself amongst people so disparate yet so connected at the same time. Rarely, if ever, has such a group of diverse locals and foreigners gathered together in shared religious and cultural celebration. Nor is it likely that such a group will gather together in the future—unless we, intentionally, make it so.
*In common Hebrew slang, Ars (ערס) is a derogatory term for stereotypical lower-class Israeli men; it originates from the Arabic word Ars (عرص) meaning ‘pimp.’