Professor William (Bill) Miles has just returned from a semester in Israel where he was embedded for four months in a Druze village in the Upper Galilee within eyeshot of Lebanon. His research project, “Almost a Mother Tongue,” explores the teaching and learning of Hebrew within the Druze sector of the Israeli educational system. A research grant from the Israel Institute and a sabbatical leave from the College of Social Sciences and Humanities made Prof. Miles’ trip possible.
The Druze are a tiny religious minority in Israel who embody many paradoxes. Their mother tongue is Arabic, yet they outperform Jewish high schoolers in their performance on the bagrut, Israel’s matriculation exams. Their religious brethren live in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, yet they are drafted into, and serve with distinction in, Tsahal, the Israeli military. They jealously guard the secrets of their religion, yet hospitality to strangers of all religions is a key component of their culture. During his semester, Professor Miles was particularly struck by the teaching of Tanakh (the Jewish Bible) in Druze middle and high school classes; by the intensity of Druze identification with the Jewish people and the State of Israel; and the sending of Druze high schoolers on a Holocaust education and memorial mission to Poland. Given systematic targeting by ISIS of the Druze in Syria today, fears of another genocide directly link Druze learning about the Shoah with their concerns for their survival in the broader Middle East.
Professor Miles’s fieldwork raised new reflections about religious identity in Israel (Jewish and not), the meaning of Zionism (for Israeli Jews and not), and the role of non-Jewish religion in a postmodern Israel.
Read the rest of the Fall 2015 Haverim Newsletter here.