!986 and coming back 2014 - Sharing memories of past visit in Israel

Shel Horowitz
Shel Horowitz

For our first trip to Israel, in pre-email 1986, we wrote postally to a peace activist who had been active in the formation of Israel. He wrote back that he’d be out of the country, but we should contact his friends, the Karianis.

Servas hosts in Israel.
Servas hosts in Israel.

They turned out to be an Arab family living in an Arab village in northern Israel. As American Jews, we felt very fortunate to stay with them and experience a side of Israel that most visitors never see.

This warm and gracious family talked frankly about the many difficulties they experienced as Arabs in a Jewish state, and it felt like we were participating in the original vision of Servas as a peace organization.

When we returned to Israel in 2014, we tried to track them down but weren’t successful. One of the families we did stay with on that second visit was a Dutch couple who had emigrated after World War II.

Ruth and Abel were one of only three Jewish households in the Druze village of Pequ’in. They walked us around the village to meet some of their neighbors.

Everybody we encountered knew them, including Abu the Chicken Man, who served us coffee on his terrace and entertained us with stories about supplying the local population with fresh eggs. Several other people wanted to serve us coffee also, but there is a limit to how much coffee we could drink in one morning.

It turned out that Ruth and Abel were the caretakers of the 2000-year-old carob tree directly below their hilltop home that nourished Jewish patriot Shimon Bar Yochai during the 12 years he hid out from the Romans in a nearby cave, just after the time of Christ. It is still bearing fruit and I got to chew on a carob pod from a tree that had been alive in Christ’s lifetime.

As former refugees, Ruth and Abel were also acutely aware of the situation of Arabs in Israel. Abel took us to an Arab village, forcibly evacuated and then destroyed in the 1948 war. Now, it’s Bar-Am National Park, where one man was conducting an Occupy movement on the roof of the one remaining building: the Orthodox church.

Most Servas visits are far less somber, though.

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