Sde Ilan? Never Heard of It.

We all have stories of discovering “blessings in disguise,” where discouraging news turns out fortuitous in ways unexpected. Such was the market crash of 2008, which resulted in massive layoffs, Ira’s included. He had been working in the Ramat Gan bursa (diamond center) for a number of years. His company naturally had to do some belt-tightening, and Ira found himself free to seek new ventures. It was an anxious and uncertain time for many, the Weissmans included.

His is an entrepreneurial spirit, thank God, and after a number of interesting but unsuccessful ideas (among them a promising-sounding baby stroller importing business, and a short-lived company called the Widow’s Mite, involving the sale of ancient coins to Christians), he found his calling back in the diamond world. Ira has built an online business that is entirely nomadic. All the man requires is an internet connection, and he’s set. At the time, though, before diamonds.pro was a glimmer in his eye and those other venture ideas were percolating, we started looking seriously at communities in the north.

The north of the country, both the Galil and the Golan, had always appealed to us. As I wrote in Tribal Lands 1, “It is not only the primal connection to the earth that is part of the human condition; we are also drawn to a particular place because of its qualities, some quantifiable, some nebulously sensed…different parts of the land inspire and resonate in different ways.” For us, the north is broad and expansive, fostering a generous, open spirit among locals and visitors alike. The north is where much of Israel flocks for reprieve from the more congested merkaz, where people can breathe a little more easily and unwind from the tightness of the daily grind.

We were also drawn to the north at the time because we thought of starting a hospitality and tourism business up there. Ira would operate our tzimmerim (guest suites, which is a very popular lodging option in Israel), and I would specialize in guiding the north of the country (I’m a tour guide, licensed as most guides are through the Ministry of Tourism). Our requirements: a community that would be an attractive tourist destination, that would allow for tzimmerim on the property, that had a young and vibrant dati (religious) kehilla, that had at least a few English-speaking families.

Tzimmer in the North (not Sde Ilan)
Another Tzimmer in the North

We set off to visit the communities that looked promising: Mitzpe Netofa, Hazorim, Hispin, Nov, Yonatan, Avnei Eitan, Moreshet, Bet Rimon. For one reason or another, at the time and with those particular criteria, no one place fit the bill. One community had nothing available for sale, and another, located deep in a valley, had a fantastic property but was sweltering during our November visit (all I could think of was how I would possibly survive a summer in that heat). Some places would only allow for tzimmerim appended to the house and not as separate units, which was unappealing to us from a business and lifestyle standpoint. One moshav had lots that were 750m, quite large and definitely affordable, but wouldn’t be suitable for tzimmerim. Another place had a residence requirement of a year before acceptance into the yishuv; only at that point could a family purchase a lot and begin the very lengthy process of building a home. We decided to look elsewhere in the country, and thankfully settled in the wonderful community of Mitzpe Nevo in Maale Adumim.

(A note: I think that these yishuvim and Moshavim are gems, each one. Each has its own flavor and appeal, and all are still terrifically affordable and intimate. As the government invests more resources into developing infrastructure in the north, and as land availability becomes rarer through natural population growth and immigration, these places will flourish, eventually become more popular options and prices will concomitantly rise. Now’s the time to buy in, while prices are still affordable.) http://www.nbn.org.il/go-north/northern-communities/

Fast forward seven years, and circumstances have changed. The dream of moving to the north hasn’t abated, though the search criteria have been overhauled. The requirement for enough land to accommodate tzimmerim was now not the primary decisor; now the determining factor was sufficient land for farming, and its proximity to the house. (That the community have a strong religious element with numerous kids of all ages and an active Bnei Akiva were critical criteria that haven’t changed; that there be a garin [core] of english speakers was no longer an important factor. More on that later…) This narrowed down the search to moshavim alone.

[Farming has supplanted tzimmerim in our aspirations, a turn which will get its own sustained treatment in future posts, but here’s the gist of what draws us to that lifestyle:

In recent years, we’ve come to realize how removed we are from our basics: land, sustenance, even spirit. Modern life has us sitting in front of our computers, commuting in our cars, typing frantically on our phones, scrolling through endless messages and updates. In the most ironic of turns in this hyper-connected world, we acutely feel the distance from our overarching goal: connectedness. We can both now easily articulate that what we seek from our move to the north is groundedness, a rootedness and assuredness in our relationship to the earth to which we all belong, a “unique relationship between human and the field that must outlive him, forever…The earth, adama, is the name of our species, adam, just as “human” is drawn from humus, meaning ‘earth.’ If we lose sight of that, we lose all connection to ourselves and to life….” 2 The ideas of sustaining ourselves through our land, and of connecting more deeply to kedushat ha’Aretz through the agriculturally-based mitzvot, lie at the core of this move, and so the search for farmland was the main element.

Yishuvim are “villages,” ranging in size from a few dozen families to thousands of people. Moshavim generally indicate more of a collective — one is a chaver (official member) of a moshav, whereas a yishuv is entirely private (though many yishuvim, called yishuvim kehilati’m, do strive for a communal feel). The distinct difference between the two is that moshavim are usually agricultural, and the lots available are much larger and spread out than the neatly-planned tighter yishuv layout. Moshavim often also have a collective element, where at least some of the land is jointly owned.

We narrowed our search to moshavim that had a religious feel (active daily minyan and a snif Bnei Akiva with a good number of kids of all ages was a must) and where the farmland (or at least part of the land) was adjacent to the house. We did look at moshavim me’uravim (mixed religious and secular), but the aforementioned requirements took most of them “out of the running.” Which brings us to Sde Ilan…

Ira: Essentially, our search was backwards. We weren’t looking primarily for a community and then checking housing availability in that place, as most people do. Instead, the focus was on finding available land, and then seeing if the community would suit our family. I looked through yad2 for nachalot/meshekim in the north, and then narrowed the available options based on online descriptions of the moshav. I checked for a few years on a regular basis, though we were just talking about it casually and in the abstract.

There’s also a great site, http://www.romgalil.org.il/, which has an exhaustive list of communities in the north here. It allows you to filter by “type” (Yishuv, Kibbutz, Moshav, etc), area (ie, Lower Galil, Jordan Valley, Western Galil, etc), and “character” (Dati, Hiloni, Mixed, or “Other” – aka Arab).

The descriptions aren’t always 100% reliable. A number of moshavim that were previously considered Dati are now not truly Dati. There are some that are listed as Hiloni that are now most definitely Mixed. For many of these moshavim, these descriptions are dynamic and always changing.

Years ago, when I would search through yad2 browsing nachalot, that was more in the realm of fantasy. And when you’re fantasizing, you are, by definition, not thinking realistically. So in those days, I would tell myself that of course we’d be open to living just about anywhere – it doesn’t have to be a Dati moshav. But once this search became practical, and we visited a few moshavim listed on this site as Mixed, we realized we needed a place that would be self defined as Dati. It’s not that we’re looking for a closed atmosphere – quite the opposite is true, in fact. All Jewish life in the north, we have found, is far more open minded than it is in the Mercaz.

Most of the places categorized as Mixed were once Dati, but have since had their passion for mitzvot kind of peter out over the years. This isn’t an atmosphere we wanted to be in.

If you limit your search to truly Dati moshavim with significantly-sized nachalot in the north, you’re left with a fairly short list. If you only consider places with a critical mass of youth for your kids to be friends with, your list gets even smaller (Nov, maybe Avnei Eitan, Sde Ilan, maybe Meron, perhaps a few others I don’t know about). If you take only moshavim that actually have a nahala for sale at the moment, a few more drop off consideration (it’s very very rare for nahalot to go up for sale in most of these places). A critical element, obviously, is that the price has to be realistic. We once saw a nahala for sale in Nov, which we would have definitely otherwise considered, but the price was astronomical. And finally, a wish, but not a hard requirement, was to find a moshav where the agricultural land is adjacent to the residential land (this is much more the exception to the rule).

All of those factors combined pretty much left Sde Ilan as the only real option, so we focused our search on the nachalot available there. Though we considered three different nachalot in Sde Ilan, we were strongly drawn to one in particular.

Aerial View of Sde Ilan

Next up: “We Cleared the Land With Our Own Hands”: What It Means to Buy a Nahala from a Founding Family

Ira and Tamar with the Original Owner of the Nahala

Notes:

  1. Tribal Lands: The Twelve Tribes of Israel in their Ancestral Territories (Renana Press, 2015).
  2. R’ Matis Weinberg, Frameworks: Genesis, 100-101.

Why Move?

Lord, this land just gives and gives of itself. We’ve lived in four different, dynamic communities over the last twenty years — four homes in Jerusalem (including eight months in a merkaz klitah — an absorption center for new olim), a few years in Ra’anana, four years of quality time in Nof Ayalon, the last eight years in Maale Adumim. Each place has its scent (none more potent than the Jewish Quarter, where we spent the first year and a half of our married life). Each place has its rhythms, its aura and character, a personality formed by the landscape and the thousands of years of human settlement that lies just under the wonderland that the Jewish people have created here these last hundred years. We have delighted in the places we’ve called home, gratefully partaking in what each city has uniquely its own to give. It seems that just about every city, yishuv, moshav, kibbutz in Israel is speciated — special, unique, all part of one thriving system yet maintaining its own integrity. We are as dreamers, yet fully awake as our national dreams are coming true.

Ra’anana

That’s not to say that Israel is shangri-la, a perfect utopia with no poverty, corruption or suffering. There’s plenty of that to be had, and much work to be done still. But this land and its people are anything but stagnant and boring. It’s as if the land, in all its marvelous variety, feeds and deepens the variant shades of our national character. You can breathe in deeply from the pungency and pace of Tel Aviv, and an hour later be inhaling the life in Machane Yehuda shuk in Jerusalem — so marvelously different one from the other, each so impactful, as only a scent can be in forming who we are.

Nof Ayalon

Maale Adumim sits just east of Jerusalem in a landscape so removed from the cool, tree-lined streets, the slippery roads and bustle of the busy, noisy capital, but it has a sanctity all its own, a scent entirely different from the ketoret singleness of our holiest city. It has the kedusha of the desert — arousing reverence and wonderment with its silent, bare, rounded hills dropping away to the Dead Sea. A gorgeously-kept place, Maale Adumim, lovingly tended by its dedicated mayor and citizenry, its proximity to Jerusalem providing the necessary balance to keep people from losing themselves in the barrenness of the desert.

People are drawn to Maale Adumim for its uncommon beauty. They spend years here absorbing that beauty into themselves, trying to describe in words what the landscape does to them, how it shifts them deep inside, but there are no words, so they take pictures instead. Thousands of pictures. Sunrises and sunsets, a Shabbat ushered in from the east, purples and oranges bathing the Mount of Olives from the west, rainbows and double rainbows captured here as in no other place. My Facebook feed is awash with these pictures every week.

Sunrise in Ma’aleh Adumim (credit: Jacob Richman)

There are souls that are moved and nurtured by this landscape, and I see that reflected in the eyes of so many of our dear friends here. It took just a hot second for us to sink deeply into Maale Adumim, due just about entirely to the quality of people it draws to its ranks. A city of talented, inspiring and inspired people. Of people who make you laugh till tears roll down your face, of artisans, of sensitive-types — like everywhere else in Israel, we have our whackadoos, too. It’s a holy, quirky, sprawling city, which gives and gives.

(Had we just spent the past number of years in Nof Ayalon, I would speak of its dancing, soulful spirit, of its holy men and women, of children soaring through its streets on bikes with tzitzit and peyot flying, of gentle swaying with closed eyes during tefillot, of a yishuv which gives and gives. Had we just spent the past number of years in Ra’anana, I would speak of boundless chessed, of an energized people whose love of and commitment to country and Am Yisrael makes my breath catch in my throat (even now, so many years later), of pride in what Israel has built, of a city that gives and gives. Had we just spent the past number of years in Jerusalem, I would speak of Torah — fury, gentleness, fire, light, of a giving that is an en sof, without end.)

But it is Maale Adumim that we are parting from, its scent part dry heat, part waftings from the east and the west. Some are sustained and lifted by this scent; they will furiously take pictures, for years to come, to capture what it does for them. I love these people, and I love their pictures. But I have not once picked up a camera the way others have to try and nab the shifting light on these mountains — I have never even thought to do so, and I know what that means.

Tamar: The soul knows what it needs. It knows what it is drawn to, what opens it and awakens a yearning to connect with everything: with God, with people, with the land itself. We’ve lived in different regions of Israel, and we’ve appreciated each one for its unique gifts. But one constant that we keep on returning to over these last twenty years of hoping, planning and dreaming is Israel’s north. It’s the green of the Galil that draws me personally — the green of lush vitality, of underripeness, of potential waiting to be tapped. It is still a wild land, with virgin tels not yet excavated, with sites not yet visited by the masses of tourists, with infrastructure yet to be built. I exaggerate: there are shopping malls and roads, seasoned teachers and professionals, hotels, restaurants, hospitals and rec centers. But it is the last gasp of the periphery, and we live in a time when that window to build up our country and grow our land is fast closing on us. Previous generations have done so much of the work in redeeming this land and in making it bloom, and I want to take part in that enterprise.

Ira: As far back as I can remember in our marriage, whenever we would have free time to travel, we almost always chose to visit the North. And every time we would go, we would talk about how at home and at peace we felt there.  It’s difficult to put into words what brings out those feelings in me (and it’s impossible to do it as eloquently as Tamar). I suppose it’s something about the increased vitality of the land. The fresh smells. The rolling hills. The colors in the Fall. The cleaner air. The open space.

Lately, I’ve been drawn to the idea of living of self-sustaining lifestyle. We want to try producing our own food. This move is about feeling more connected to The Land, and by extension, העושה שמים וארץ, in every way possible.

When dreams come crashing into real life, you can’t help but share…

Welcome to our journal, our record of this year of transition, as we tie up loose ends in the merkaz (central Israel, which we’ve called home these last twenty years) and prepare for our move next summer to a farming moshav up in the lower Galilee, to our own Field of Dreams in Moshav Sde Ilan.

Since floating the possible move for the past half year to friends and family, we’ve been inundated with dozens of queries and questions. So many are interested in what the north — considered the periphery of Israel — has to offer, and even more are interested in learning more about farming in Israel and in feeling more connected to the land. Now that we’ve definitively settled on moving this upcoming summer (Aug 2018), we wanted to commit our reflections, hopes, plans and prayers to record, both to share with anyone who might find this information useful or entertaining, as well as to chronicle this life-changing journey for future generations of our family.

By way of introduction: we’re Ira and Tamar Weissman, “olim vatikim” (not straight-off-the-boat immigrants to Israel). We met in college in the States back in the ‘90s and came straight to Israel right after graduation in summer ‘98. We’ve been living in various different communities here since (barring a short and early two-year stint in the US), most of them with strong and vibrant anglo populations, and all of them in the merkaz. It’s been a long-standing dream of ours to move to the north of this country. Until fairly recently, we dreamed in the abstract, thinking maybe, just maybe, we’d be lucky enough to retire to the north. But a few years ago, Ira started exploring options more earnestly, hoping that he might stumble on something that would work for us sooner than later. Fast-forward a year to an impeccably-appointed lawyer’s office in Tel Aviv, where we looked at each other wide-eyed after hours of signing endless documents and said “Holy cow, we just took the leap of our lives!”

We’re starting off this new year of 5778 having just bought a farm in the Galilee. Join us as we explain our motivations and dreams for our new life, navigate the complexities of purchasing farmland, wade cautiously into the new experiences of living on a moshav, transition a family of seven kids ages 1-17 and two very large dogs to an entirely different lifestyle than any of us are used to, build efficiently, and learn more about sustainable living and environmentally conscious farming.