A Growing Movement: American Jews and the Israeli Druze

July 18, 2008 at 4:39 pm | Posted in Integration, Peace Process | Leave a comment

It began shortly after I first landed in Atlanta to take my position as Consul General. Members of the local Jewish population took an interest in my background and started to visit Israel’s Druze communities. Many traveled to my northern Israeli home town of Isfiya, on Mount Carmel. People wanted to know: “what’s this new Druze Consul General ‘made of’” and, “who are these Druze anyway?”

It became a movement. Every other week I received letters and post cards from Jewish families around the Southeast. They had visited one of the Druze communities and were coming back with messages from my friends and loved ones.

For many of these travelers and those who hear their stories, their Druze experience has a profound impact on their lives. They are inspired to get involved in social and educational projects in the Druze community. One Jewish family got so exited after a visit to Horfesh, a Druze town in the Galilee, that the family helped the town build a library in one of the local schools. The Mayor of Horfash informed me that ORT USA was donating ten computerized “Smart Classes” to local Horfash schools; worth $500,000.

One might ask, “Why would Jewish Americans care about the Druze in Israel?” The answer is simple. The Israeli Druze are the mirror image of the American Jews. They are both strong minorities that work diligently to contribute positively and integrate into their country.

The movement for increased partnership between the Druze and American Jews has created strong bonds, in part because the Druze support the Jews and Israel politically. But, the support is more than merely political. The Druze are sacrificing hundreds of their own as Israeli solders, defending Israel and its people. Young Israeli Druze are fighting bravely on the frontlines in the war against terrorism and Islamic extremism.

Every year the Druze welcome thousands of American Jews visiting their villages as part of their “birthright” trip. These students enjoy the warm hospitality of the Druze in Carmel and the Galilee, and many of them remember the Druze part of the trip as the most interesting part of their tour. In return those young Jews are sharing their experiences and making the tiny Druze community very popular around the world. Just try to Google the word “Druze.”

American Jewish involvement with the Israeli Druze is nothing new. I, myself, am a product of American Jewish philanthropy. As a youth I went to my town’s local branch of BBYO, a branch that was supported by a generous American Jewish family. BBYO was one of the reasons that, years later, my town of Isfiya became known as the “town of Ambassadors.” The town had three Ambassadors, including myself, all simultaneously serving the State of Israel on three different continents.

My middle school education at the Leo Buck School in Haifa was the initiative of reform Rabbi Samuels. Rabbi Samuels decided that it was important to invest in the education of young Druze. Even my graduate studies at Harvard University were the product of American Jewish generosity, made possible by the Ohio-based Waxner Foundation. The Waxner Foundation has sent many of Israel’s government officials to Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, one of the best public management schools in the world.

The Druze, with the help of Jewish support, have chosen their path. They stand resolutely on the side of Israel. However, for other minority groups in Israel the future remains uncertain. Today, Israel’s Arab minority is experiencing a struggle between their Martin Luther Kings and their Malcolm X’s, between their moderates who, like the Druze, push for integration and their extremists who push for Palestinian nationalism within Israel, which leads only to violence and instability.

American Jews can make a difference in Israel by getting involved in the social well being of moderate minorities in Israel. By strengthening the ties between these groups and their own, American Jews will bolster the moderates and forever change the course of events in the Middle East. Through support and common understanding more groups can follow the path of the Israeli Druze. As it did with the Druze, this movement of cooperation will allow American Jews to make a constructive contribution to the strength and future of the State of Israel.

Article appeared in the Jewish Daily Forward on May 8th, 2008; and in the Atlanta Jewish Times on May 23rd, 2008

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