Hearing the stories of the 5 Ethiopian Israelis who traveled with us made me rethink some of my priorities and what I appreciate. Walking in the Semien Mountain Range at night with no map or flashlight? Seriously? How dare I ever complain about anything. This was a life-changing experience. What could have left these folks bitter and weak has made them stronger and all the more generous in spirit. The true spirit of the Ethiopians is one of gentleness, kindness and peace. How unfortunate that such wonderful humans have had to endure such terrible misfortune!
There are approximately 8000 Falash Mura people in Ethiopia waiting and hoping to leave. Many converted to Christianity for the sake of survival. The most recent group to leave in 2017 was 1300 people. 2700 had applied through their Israel relatives. 500 were rejected. 900 are still waiting to see if they will go to Israel in 2018 and there is no approved Israeli budget yet. To learn more read about the dilemma of who is Jewish and who isn't, you can check out Law of Return.
Next Location: Hurfeish, Israel, a Druze Village
I went to Hurfeish and lived with two separate Druze families for 4 days. I was sent here by the Metro West Jewish Federation of New Jersey to prepare 8 Lacemakers for a trip to the United States.
The Druze are the nicest, most hospitable folks I have ever known. Upon entering a Druze home, out comes coffee with cardamom or tea with fresh mint, fresh fruits, cakes, cookies, and nuts. And you must partake or you will insult these kind souls.
The Druze originated at the end of the 10th century in Egypt, a monotheistic, secretive religion blending Islam, Hindu and Greek philosophies. Families all live together until the kids marry and move into their own homes, which are either next door or around the block. Family is a central value in this village. They are not Muslim. Marrying outside the religion is not accepted. They have a choice in choosing whether or not to live a fully religious life. They believe in reincarnation. Their sacred text is called Kitab Al Hikma (Epistles of Wisdom). There are no Druze clergy, ceremonies or rituals as they believe that would distract from one’s connection with God. Druze women may seek higher education and employment. Druze villages exist in Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. They adapt fully in their adopted homelands and are a very close-knit, family-oriented people. The Druze in Israel speak Hebrew and Arabic. There are about two million Druze in the world.
There are about 6700 people in this village. And about 2 Million in the world, which includes the United States.
Teaching English And Learning About The "Lacemakers"
The “Lacemakers” was initiated by a woman named Afaf Faris, who leads a group of 70 women who meet every Monday for 2 hours to crochet, knit, sew, embroider and share their lives. The “Lacemakers” make hats, sweaters, scarves, gloves, socks, key chains, handbags and sell them from a very old stone building on one of the oldest cobblestone streets in the village. They contribute to the family income which gives them a sense of purpose and pride.
When they travel to the United States with either a husband, father or brother as is the Druze custom, they will be hosted by various families in the community. For most of them, airplane travel will be a new experience.
To learn more about the "Lacemakers" check out this article: www.bbc.com/travel/story/20160808-the-women-who-never-leave-home
I also had the opportunity to teach English to some of the Druze kids in Elementary School B in Hurfeish. The 5th and 6th graders were very enthusiastic and excited to practice speaking English with me and each other. We played some games, created little skits in English and enjoyed the chocolate snacks I handed out after the lessons were completed. Now I am working on an email exchange between some of those students and some here in the U.S. so they can learn about each others’ cultures and speak with one another in English.
Stay tuned for my next post about Arad and Ofakim, Israel.
Miriam Seiden is a cultural explorer who loves to write about her living bridges around the world.