What Jews Can Learn From Druze About Happiness

Residents of the Druze village of Yanuah say they're happy, and that Jews need to learn to be more content with what they have. But are they hiding their pain?

Roy (Chicky) Arad
Roy Arad
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Roy (Chicky) Arad
Roy Arad

I hitchhike to the Druze village of Yanuah from the nearby village of Jatt, northeast of Acre. Because of the war in Syria, there is something of a Druze awakening and the roofs are decked with many colorful Druze flags. The person who gives me the lift from the hitching post is a Druze fellow called Dan Amir, who was born with the name Zeidan Amar. He works in Los Angeles as an engineering project director and is here for a visit to his birthplace. I immediately try to find out if he is really as optimistic as Haaretz's Rosh Hashanah survey indicates.

“I am the symbol of the optimism in the world,” he declares. “It comes from my childhood. You go around and you see only green. This is the most beautiful place to live. Anyone who is wise has to be optimistic.”

He connects optimism to the Druze religion: “We have a boundless belief in what God has written as fate. This is what God has given and who am I to disagree with God? Even at work they tell me that I am psychologically stronger than others. When the other employees are anxious about big jobs, to me everything looks simple and easy. I didn’t create and build this world, I’ve just carried on and others will carry on from me.”

When I ask him about the situation in Syria he says, “There are problems in Uganda and Mexico. Everywhere in the world it hurts, but what can I do?”

Ice cream

Zeidan (or Dan) drops me off at the local ice cream parlor, La Glacière. The saleswoman, Wijdan Qatima, 25, who is studying for a degree in interior design, eagerly reports on her optimism. “We take life easily. We live the present and don’t think about the future. Every day that goes by I am happier in my studies. Everyone around me is pressured to get a degree, and I am enjoying the studies.”

The work at the ice cream parlor, a family business, is also a pleasure for her despite the long hours: “I work from 10 in the morning till midnight and I am happy. It’s an opportunity to meet people and talk with them.”

Here, the first opposition to the findings of Haaretz's Rosh Hashanah survey is revealed: One of the employees at the ice cream parlor says that indeed he was born optimistic but his military service as a cook for eight years made him irritable. A group from Daliat al-Carmel, whose members are prepared to identify themselves only as the Halabi family, comes into the shop. “We are not happy at all, but rather angry that they are always expropriating lands from us,” says one of the men. “I feel that the Jews treat Arabs better than they treat the Druze. They expropriate more of our lands.”

Druze, members of a secretive and ancient sect, are the most content Israeli citizens.Credit: Leo Atelman

One of the women leaps in to rebut what he has said, saying that she is optimistic on a personal level, yet still worried: “My daughter is starting to study medicine soon and I am worried that they will be racist towards her the way they are towards the Arabs. We are not Arabs, we are Druze who support Israel.”

It’s all good

I wander around Yanuah, going into businesses to pester people. I enter Ghoula Nail Art, where Ghoula Seif is busily filing artificial nails for a local girl named Amal. “Why shouldn’t I be happy?” says the nail artist as the machine sprays bits of plastic off the girl’s pinky. “Thank God. I have a wonderful family, children and a house. The community is modest and happy with what it has. I am 31 and I’ve had this business for six years now. This is my limit, I don’t want more than this.”

Amal, however, says, “I don’t have a husband or children, and that’s good too.”

“We are always satisfied without a lot,” affirms Sleiman Basis, 88, from Daliat al-Carmel. “It’s what keeps us happy. I am content with what I have and I enjoy life. Whatever happens is welcome. I have married off all my children. Not a single one of them owes even a shekel on a mortgage. I made them contractors and they are happy in life, they don’t have any problems.”

I tell him the Jews have what to learn from the Druze. “The Jews need to learn to accept reality,” he says. “Whatever you have, be content with it. You aren’t going to be happy if you are always wanting more and more. There is no such thing. You get what you have coming to you. That is what is written by the Creator of the Universe. After all, I can’t be a tycoon, so why should I worry myself?” 

Ra’aya Latif, 20, who works at her family’s Alhalal Bakery and is studying civil engineering, says that low expectations lead to happiness. “We aim at getting ahead but we are content with little,” she says. “Jews always want more. They are pressured because they are not content with what they have.”

I ask her about attitudes towards women in her society. “There are men who are happy that their wife works and there are those who aren’t,” she says. “I am engaged to someone who is glad I am going to be a civil engineer.”

Repressed bearing

However M., a Druze student who lives in Haifa, goes against the grain. She says she can pick out the Druze women at the university she attends by their repressed bearing. “It’s small, village society,” says M. “If we say things are bad, they will gossip about us. My mother acts like a sad case with her Jewish friends but in the village she goes all out to show how good she feels about her life.”

A snazzy car stops in the street and I talk with Nabiyeh Qatimi, who turns out to be the owner of La Glacière. Half his body is paralyzed from fighting in last year’s Operation Protective Edge, but the smile functions very well. “Every day that goes by I am happier than I was the day before,” he says. “Everything is perfectly fine. I am in pain 24 hours a day but the medications help. Among the Druze people, we help one another and in that way the difficulties pass.”