The first global Week of Hakarat Hatov (Gratitude) for the Druze Defenders of Israel culminates on Shabbat when Jews around the world read the section of the Torah named after Jethro, the non-Jewish father-in-law of Moses and ancestor of the Druze. The week, was an initiative of the Int’l Friends of the Israeli-Druze Veterans Association.
Dr. Michael Cohen, the Strategic Management Consultant for the Israeli Druze Veterans Association, got involved after realizing how much the Druze contribute to Israel and how little is being done to recognize their efforts.
The Druze serve with honor in all branches of the Israeli security services,” Dr. Cohen told Breaking Israel News. “We want to help them after their service.”
Since the establishment of the state of Israel, the Druze have been volunteering in the IDF. In 1956, following an agreement with the head of the Druze community, a law was passed obligating Druze men to join the IDF. Today, 83% of Druze men serve in the military, with 60% serving in combat units—rates that are higher than those of the Jewish population.
Druze officers have attained high ranks in Israel’s security force. But this service has come at a high price. Over 505 have fallen serving in the IDF and over 1,500 were injured
“Most friends of Israel, Jews and non-Jews, have never heard of the Druze,” Dr. Cohen said. “If they have, they rarely understand the significant role the Druze play in modern Israel, in our security and in all levels of our society.”
Many would be surprised to discover that the number of Druze parliament members usually exceeds their proportion in the Israeli population, and they are integrated within several political parties.
“The current generation of Druze are paving the way for the next generation to accompany Israel even further,” Dr. Cohen said. “But this connection goes back to Mount Sinai.”
Druze consider themselves the descendants of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law. According to Nachmanides, a leading medieval Jewish scholar, the descendants of Jethro receive a portion of land in Israel, specifically the fertile land surrounding Jericho, just like the tribes of Jacob, and they assisted in conquering the land when the Jews entered, 40 years after Sinai. Also, according to Jewish tradition, Jethro’s granddaughter married Pinchas, the son of Elazar the son of Aaron, the High Priest.
“Not only are Moses’ children from Tzippora, Jethro’s daughter, and their descendants, part of Israel, but any Kohen (Jewish man of the priestly cate) descended from Pinchas is also descended from Jethro,” Dr. Cohen (himself descended from Aaron and possibly from Pinchas) noted. “Jethro was a priest of Midian. According to Jewish tradition, he tested every religion in the world. He was respected by all the nations as an expert in how to worship God. At Mount Sinai, he declared to the world that he was with the Jews.”
“He also taught Moses how not to be a despotic leader,” Dr. Coehn said. “And he taught him another important lesson for a leader; how to delegate responsibility.”
Despite accompanying the Jews since Mount Sinai, little is known about the Druze. 143,000 Druze live in villages scattered around northern Israel and have a principle of not seeking to rule, but rather to aid their host country. A religious minority everywhere they live, they are secretive about their religious teachings. Some of what is known is inaccurate.
“Druze is the name westerners gave them,” Dr. Cohen explained. “They call themselves Muwaḥḥidūn from the Arabic/Hebrew, Yachad (together), Yachid (only), Meyuchad (special), Yichud (uniqueness). In English it would be translated as Unitarian but as are all translations, much is lost on the way,” Dr. Cohen lamented. “They consider themselves to be at one with nature, at one with the land, at one with God, and at one with their people.”
The response to the first Hakarat Hatov initiative has been overwhelming. Israeli leaders and representatives from more than 50 countries responded. Each day this week featured a different manner of ‘thanks.’ On Sunday, churches in Africa, South and North America, and Europe responded with special prayer and study sessions focusing on the Druze. On Monday, the leadership of the Druze Waqf were received as special guests at special ceremonies at the Western Wall and at the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem, meeting with government officials. Tuesday, Druze leaders met with media representatives from several countries. On Wednesday, schools from countries around the world took the time to learn about the Druze and Jethro, and to thank them. Ambassadors from the World Jewish Congress dedicated Thursday to honoring the Druze, passing on the message to their respective countries.
“We hope that this Shabbat, synagogues around the world will focus the Torah learning on the descendants of Jethro,” Dr. Cohen said. “It can be as simple as saying ‘Shukran'(‘thank you’ in Arabic).
Much like Jews, the Druze are a persecuted group in the Middle East. With fewer than 1 million Druze around the world – Syria is home to the majority of them (approximately 600,000) – with Lebanon and Israel following with populations of 200,000 and 150,000 respectively. Most Druze ethnically identify as Arabs but are considered infidels by Islam and, as such, have been targeted for attack by Islamist groups like Al-Nusra and ISIS in Syria.
The organization can be contacted via its website or through the Twitter hashtag #ShukranDruze2020 .