Dailyat al-Karmel

Druze five-color flag representing their five prophets.

Druze five-color flag representing their five prophets.

Frequently I hear reference to the “Druze village” on Mount Carmel, which summons a bunch of quaint huts in which the Druze peacefully paint pottery and bake their distinctive flatbread, which they serve topped with lebaneh (like sour cream cheese), tart zatar spice mix, olive oil, and fresh parsley. Driving through the sprawling “village” with its endless modern concrete apartments and houses, I realized my concept of a village didn’t quite match reality. We got off on the commercial strip, surrounded by souvenir shops and restaurants.

Dailyat al-Karmel is a town situated at the top of Mount Carmel, populated by Druze people. The Druze are a group that broke off from Islam over a thousand years ago to form their own syncretic religion. One of their tenets is obedience to and respect of the government wherever they reside, explaining why the Druze have fully participated in Israeli society, including serving in the military in the various wars. They are also known for their hospitality, which we experienced firsthand.

After walking up the commercial street, where you can find colorful textiles sold beside tacky statues (most notably a figurine of a seductively posed alien), we wandered onto a side street and found ourselves in front of a massive concrete domed structure. What was this place–a bomb shelter? A religious structure? No, it was a basketball court, as explained by the maintenance man who appeared to either guide us or shoo us off the property. Beside this odd dome were several tanks, apparently part of a war memorial. Sergey found this to be a romantic photo op.

Tanks near the giant dome

Tanks near the giant dome

Continuing our wanderings, I spotted a sign advertising Arabic coffee and we approached the building. To our surprise, rather than a café, we seemed to have stepped into someone’s living room. Sundry chairs stood around a large room, including stiff-backed chairs, armchairs, and couches. “Do you serve coffee?” we asked the man at the door, whose name was Zeedan. “Yes, yes,” he said, ushering us in. We sat down in some wicker armchairs and he poured us coffee in the usual miniature paper cups. Next came strawberries (in Israel, winter is strawberry season), and then baklava. Then he sat down beside us. This was unusual restaurant behavior, but he seemed to want to greet and talk to us. Unfortunately, the language barrier made conversation difficult beyond communicating where we were from, but at least we were able to write our names and notes in the gigantic guestbook he handed us, which had the notes of people from all over the world. It was strange to think that this sleepy town would be a crossroads for so many travelers, but nevertheless, the photographs cluttering the walls evidenced the acclaim of this town and this restaurant. One showed the president of Israel shaking Zeedan’s hand.

After some time chatting among ourselves, we decided to depart. When we asked for the bill, we were told it was all on the house. How very strange we felt not paying for our snack, and how charmed to be hosted so graciously, strangers as we were to Zeedan and his family! I guess that is wherein lies the secret to why this town can still be dubbed a “village”–despite the SUVs wending through its narrow lanes and the modernity all around, it retains a neighborly, hospitable culture.