Israel is known as a country of an ingathering of exiles, whose inhabitants have come from all over the world. Israel is also known as a country that is an ethnic mosaic, with several minority groups that are different than the majority of the population in their religion, nationality, language, culture, ethnic origin and/or historic identity.
Such are the Circassians, and ethnic minority concentrated in two villages in Israel: Reikhaniya in the Upper Galilee and Kafr Kama in the Lower Galilee. This group numbers over 3,500 people, about 2,800 of whom live in Kafr Kama. The Circassians came to Israel in somewhat surprising circumstances. They are Sunni Muslims, originally from the Caucus Mountains, and call themselves Adyghe. In the 19th century the Russians conquered their homeland and many thousands fled.
To their surprise, they received assistance from the Ottoman Sultan, who settled them in the areas he ruled, including the Land of Israel. This led to the establishment of Kafr Kama in 1876. Over the decades the village’s residents have always served in the army. The Ottomans recruited the village’s men to their army, during the British Mandate some of them served as Israeli guards, and lent a hand to illegal Jewish immigration. Since Israel’s establishment, they have served in the IDF. The Circassians are also involved in the Israeli economy and Israeli society, while at the same time preserving their unique culture and their language.
Visitors to the village experience a taste of the Circassian culture. In the centre of the village are a few charming basalt houses (from the Ottoman period), built in a different style than the Arab houses here. The mosque in the centre of the village has a square tower, as opposed to the round towers in most Muslim villages. The mosque houses a centre for Circassian heritage. In the courtyard of the Ha’aron family’s home in the village the remains of a sixth century church have been discovered, with two mosaic floors featuring designs of plants and animals, as well as a Greek inscription with the names of the church officials.