Members of The Women’s Lace Makers Group were seated in a circle, dressed in their traditional long black apparel, heads covered by the white scarves religious women wear. The customary coffee with cardamom, fruit, and cakes were offered and we accepted, as expected by our hosts.
The old stone building housing the lace makers’ gallery is located on one of the oldest streets in Horfeish, Israel, a village high above sea level overlooking stunning forested landscapes near the Lebanese border. The women’s handcrafted merchandise — from which they eagerly chose gifts for us such as scarves, key chains, and shawls — was beautifully displayed. The giving of gifts and food is part of Druze hospitality, a tradition that
is highly valued.
This is the women’s center where they gather every Monday for two hours to work on their traditional handicrafts of embroidery, knitting, crocheting, and sewing, while enjoying conversation.
The purpose of my visit to Horfeish was to teach conversational English and American cultural norms to a group of eight women who will be visiting the Greater MetroWest community from March 15 to 22. I was there with staff from Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest’s Global Connections department, including Michal Zur and Tayir Azulay.
The gallery of the Women’s Lace Makers Group.
The eight lace makers will each be traveling here with a male chaperone, either a husband, father, or brother, as is the Druze custom, and they will be hosted by various families in the community. For most of them, airplane travel will be a new experience.
I stayed in the village for several days living with two host families. I met daily with the lace makers group, teaching them vocabulary words related to their handiwork. Their knowledge of English was slim due to lack of exposure to the language; the Druze in Israel speak Hebrew and Arabic. My challenge was to help them overcome their nervousness, stressing that being understood was more important than speaking perfect English.
The Lace Makers Group is a cultural and social initiative to advance the Druze women’s status through business. Seventy women participated in this project, which was created and is directed by Afaf Faris, a Druze community member.
The women create and sell items such as shawls, scarves, socks, handbags, sweaters, blankets, and keychains, thereby contributing to their families’ income and developing self-esteem, independence, and camaraderie. Passing their traditional crafts from generation to generation keeps their culture alive and gives participants a sense of purpose and pride.
The ties between Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and Horfeish began as a result of the 2006 Lebanon War, when Druze villages and Israeli cities in the northern Galilee were bombed. “Recognizing the significant contribution that the Druze population makes to the State of Israel through its loyal participation in civil affairs and Israel Defense Forces, our federation connected with the Druze community of Horfeish, providing financial support to help create an emergency volunteer center, assistance to the schools, and a Jewish Agency Youth Futures program for children at risk,” according to Amir Shacham, associate executive vice president, Global Connections.
Displaying lafa, a Druze-made flatbread.
According to Faris, the March trip to the U.S. was inspired by “warm connections bridging our communities,” she said. “We want to show our appreciation to Greater MetroWest not just for helping us financially, but for the lasting friendships between us. You are our family.” The visit is funded by Israel’s Ministry of Culture and federation’s Global Connections department in conjunction with federation’s Women’s Philanthropy.
The Druze faith began at the end of the 10th century in Egypt, a monotheistic, secretive tradition blending Islam, Hinduism, and Greek philosophy. They are not Muslim. Marrying outside the religion is not accepted, but members have a choice of leading a secular or observant lifestyle. The Druze believe in reincarnation and the name of their sacred text is translated from Arabic to mean “Epistles of Wisdom.”
There are no Druze clergy, ceremonies, or rituals, as they believe that would distract from one’s connection with God.
Druze villages exist in Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. They are very close-knit, family-oriented people with a rich and interesting cultural heritage to share.