For the first time in history, the Other Israel Film Festival will be presenting four events relating to the Druze Culture, right here in New York City. For those not familiar, Druze is a secret religion separate, yet an offshoot of Islam. The Druze live in the Middle East and tend to support the country in which they live. There are Israeli Druze, who have cousins who are Syrian Druze. They are a closed religion with many firm and unique beliefs. But only the few religious members of the tribe get to learn the full meaning of their beliefs. This makes for fascinating dinner conversation. If only we knew more about this secret religion.
The Druze Village is often a popular stop on Birthright-Israel trips as well as Israeli school trips. It is a convenient way to embrace multiculturalism in Israel as the Druze in most villages in Israel serve in the Israeli Army and although they are not Jewish, are big supporters of the Jewish state. More importantly, the Druze villages are tourist attractions because it is a great opportunity to taste the wonderful cuisine of this unique group at one of the main street restaurants.
New York is lucky enough to be home to the wonderful Druze restaurant Gazala's. Gazala, a Druze from the Israeli village of Dalet Al Carmel, will be catering the opening night celebration at The JCC in Manhattan with a one-of-a-kind kosher variation of her cooking. When I approached Gazala for the festival, I caught her attention by sharing with her that the festival will feature the first feature film made by and about an Israeli Druze. The film is named Arabani.
She had never heard of it, even though it turns out the director is from her village -- which is one big family. Seems a secretive religion makes for a secretive community as well. She told me how protective the Druze are of their religion and culture and how little people really know about the true history of the Druze. She in fact noted not to trust your simple Google search and dreams of putting together a book with some facts on the history of the religion, but not disclosing religious secrets.
I was very nervous that Gazala would not approve of the film and find it too exposing. Even though the film simply tells a story of a Druze man attempting to be embraced by his village after marrying out, I thought it might hit too close to home. Much to my pleasure, she approved of the film and agreed to cater the opening night celebration.
Also at the festival, Adi Adwan, the director of the film will also be in participation, and will share a true story as part of a one of a Moth Storytelling event on the topic of "A Fish Out of Water." Being an Arab-Druze in Israel makes you twice if not triple the outsider.
To further complicate the political situation of the Druze, Israel conquered a few Druze villages from Syria in 1967 and annexed the Golan to be officially part of Israel, offering all the residents citizenship. Only 10 percent accepted officially and the rest still consider themselves loyal to Syria. This complex picture, along with the recent developments in Syrian loyalty, are brought to light in the American premiere of the documentary Apples of the Golan, about Syrian Druze living in Israel and their relationship to Syria.
This is all just part of the dozens of films and events taking place at this year's Other Israel Film Festival, which focuses on the topic of minority populations within Israeli society. It is rare to have a film on the topic of Druze culture, and to have a festival in New York that presents four events on this topic is unheard of. I assumed this would be an easy sell to the press and public. I mean, wouldn't everyone be interested in an opportunity to learn more about this insular religion? But the responses were not as overwhelming as I hoped.
I asked someone why this is not of more interest. I mean, this is a secret religion that believes in reincarnation and keeps unique traditions in the heart of the heated Middle-East. The answer was: The world does not care about the Druze.
Because the Druze get along with all the countries in which they dwell, in some ways they are overlooked. Maybe if they protested more, or fought for their own country as a cause, maybe they would get more coverage in the news. Ultimately, this is the price of having a secret religion that simply embraces the countries in which they live. Maybe they need more celebrities in their secret religion.