Torat Eretz Yisrael

It is the life we want, no more and no less than that, our own life feeding on our own vital sources, in the fields and under the skies of our Homeland, a life based on our own physical and mental labors; we want vital energy and spiritual richness from this living source. We come to our Homeland in order to be planted in our natural soil from which we have been uprooted, to strike our roots deep into its life-giving substances and to stretch out our branches in the sustaining and creating air and sunlight of the Homeland. Other peoples can manage to live in any fashion, in the homelands from which they have never been uprooted, but we must first learn to know the soil and ready it for our transplantation. We must study the climate in which we are to grow and produce. We, who have been torn away from nature, who have lost the savor of natural living — if we desire life, we must establish a new relationship with nature; we must open a new account with it. (A.D. Gordon, Our Tasks Ahead [1920])

When I learn, I like to savor the text. I read it, and then let it sit there for a few moments, hanging, potent and delectable, before I start dissecting the language and thinking deeply about the subtleties and implications. I try to allow for a pregnant pause when teaching, as well, so that others can share in that brief silence — I see them first reeling from the initial impact, then marveling over the concept. What a joy to watch others’ joy! It is always the text that delivers — entirely on its own, with only some short explanatory words tossed in here and there — and it is my greatest happiness to share such beauty with others.

Recently, I’ve been seeking out new texts. The selection above, for instance, from “secular prophet” Aaron David Gordon — that one required some time and quiet space for me to feel its full weight. It lacks the power of a biblical or midrashic passage, to be certain, but its relevance to both a period of history that I’ve come to deeply admire, as well as its current application to my personal life, have me gobsmacked.

When I guide, I let the land talk to me. It always has what to say, and I’m happy to listen, so that I have something to share with the people who have come to experience the land along with me. I make sure to give pause and proper silence then, too, so that others can take in the encounter on their terms. The land speaks with its perfect, nuanced language to each one of us separately. If we listen carefully enough, everyone understands what it is trying to say, each of us in our own way. I must take care, in teaching and in guiding, to let the text and the land speak for themselves, so that each person can develop and nurture his own unique relationship with what he is studying or the region he is encountering.

Recently, I’ve been looking at the land differently. My focus had always been archaeology, particularly the interplay of Bible and Land, as well as Second-Temple history and Land. Of late I’ve been devouring memoirs of the early zionists, principally of the fiery Second Aliyah period, and their modern contribution to our land, and analyses of soil and weather conditions in the north. This, for instance, is my riveting nightstand read (I’m not being facetious; it’s really fascinating):

“Changes of Settlement in the Eastern Lower Galilee, 1800-1978” (Arieh Bitan)

Torah and Eretz Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael v’Torah…תורת הארץ. The two are so deeply intertwined in my experience, though exposure to one began well before the other. Those formative years of Torah study were the ציונים בדרך, the signposts to a destination that I’d never visited. There was much I thought I understood, and much more that I knew I did not — age and circumstance hadn’t yet granted me sufficient exposure, training, maturity, patience or caution. (They still haven’t, in some aspects.) But making Israel my home planted me in the resting-place that those signposts all point to, clearing away much of the misunderstanding, steadily nurturing my desire to draw deeper and deeper from that מעיין נובע that is תורת ארץ ישראל.

What exactly is Torat Eretz Yisrael? Is it Torah taught in the Land of Israel, or Talmud Torah developed by scholars who are native to Israel? Perhaps it is something else entirely: an interweaving of text and land, where knowing the Land helps me know the Torah, and knowing the Torah helps me know the Land. Maybe only a deep, elemental knowledge of living on and in Eretz Yisrael — that easy and organic understanding of place that we associate with “being at home” — affords someone the opportunity to understand the Torah, and have a profound relationship with the Torah, in the most intimate of ways.

Decades back, we began our love story with this land, and now are starting a new chapter in our story, one that will be written in chicken coops and aquaponic hothouses, in boots dirty with manure and arms aching from olive harvest — and where the day-to-day will involve separating trumot and ma’asrot, the intricacies of the halachot of shmittah, the very real applications of pe’ah and ma’aser beheima.

…החקלאות, הלא היא אצל כל העמים רק גורם כלכלי חיוני פשוט. אבל העם אשר הנושא שלו כולו הוא קודש קדשים, וארצו ושפתו וכל ערכיו כולם קודש הם… – הרי גם חקלאותו כולה היא ספוגת קודש. (מאמרי הראי”ה ח”א עמ’ 179-181)
Agriculture is nothing more than an essential economic agent among the peoples of the world. But for the nation whose every aspect is the Holy of Holies, and its land and language, and all of its values, are all holy…, then even its agriculture is saturated with holiness.

I cannot help but feel that this next chapter must be one that will deepen our intuitive understanding of the Torah. It is one thing to be able to confidently speak of the nature of the places where our Avot lived, where the tribes settled and the events of the Torah and Jewish history played out. It is another to have firsthand, immediate knowledge of kedushat Eretz Yisrael as expressed through sustained exposure to mitzvot hateluyot ba’aretz (agrarian-based mitzvot).

The years I’ve been engaged in Talmud Torat Eretz Yisrael — learning, teaching, guiding, writing — have been filled with contemplative pauses, so that I can take in the full impact of what needs to be absorbed. Now it’s time to fill this new chapter with fresh texts to pour over and let steep.
Come sit with this poem by R’ Kook for a while, and afterwards let us talk of תורת ארץ ישראל:

Existence, whisper to me a secret!
“I have life — please partake —
“If you have a heart beating blood, not yet polluted by the poison of despair.
“But if your heart is closed,” whispers Existence to me,
“And my beauty doesn’t enrapture you,
Then turn away from me — I am forbidden to you.
“If every delicate chirp, all living beauty
Doesn’t inspire a holy song, but instead rouses within you a foreign fire
Turn well away from me, since I am forbidden to you.

A generation will rise
And will sing for beauty, and for life, and for endless renewal,
Nursed from the dew of heaven…
From the glory of the Carmel and the Sharon
The living nation will listen to the manifold secrets of Existence
And the delicate song and gorgeousness of life will be filled with a holy light
And Existence will be drawn to say:
My chosen ones, to you I am permitted!

(With special thanks to R’ Yosef Bronstein)

Little Boxes Made of Ticky-Tacky

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes made of ticky tacky,

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes all the same.

There’s a green one and a pink one

And a blue one and a yellow one,

And they’re all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same.

I remember the moment when we decided to cancel our subscription to Mekor Rishon. MR is a popular newspaper geared towards the national-religious population in Israel, and was a virtual “right of passage” for new olim determined to practice their Hebrew (at least on the weekends) and be “in the know.”

We were sitting on the couch on a Friday night, each struggling with our chosen section, asking our kids how to translate just about every third word, when Ira announced, “That’s it, we’re done.” He hands me an ad printed in MR for a Joseph Kaufmann jacket with the tagline ג׳וסף קאפמן: המעיל הרשמי של המגזר״” (“Joseph Kaufmann: The Official Jacket of the [National-Religious] Sector”).

From the Joseph Kaufmann website

This was the final straw for Ira. “How can a migzar have an ‘official jacket?’”

His incredulity was a build-up of years living as a dati (religious) Jew, in a society where exhaustive introspection and analysis by different subgroups cause many to retreat to their corners in tightly defined and hotly defended “sectors.” Each sector has its own hashkafa (world outlook), its own schools, its own yeshivot, its own territory, its own haircovering, its own dress code, its own vacation spots, its own biases, and now apparently its own winter apparel.

We were at a crossroads, finding ourselves lost in the cramped discussions of skirt lengths, where was the proper place for a television set in the home (salon or bedroom?), hearing neighborhood teens described as “stronger” or “weaker” depending on their dress or kippah. Our local girls’ high school presents itself on parents’ night as philosophically “segurim”: closed, cut off from broader society, not geared towards students who might need or want to have difficult conversations about Judaism and halacha. And, of course, the inescapable “women’s issues”: should the girls have a shorter school day than the boys, because their involvement in Talmud Torah isn’t as rigorous? Can a shul allow for women to dance with a Sefer Torah on Simchat Torah? Must the mechitza have an opaque curtain from shoulder height-up, or is lace sufficient? Can a woman give a shiur to a mixed audience? Hours and hours of analysis, argument, discussion of confines, red lines, slippery slopes, tired tropes — there’s an artifice to all this talk, a self-importance we assign to our opinions, an emptiness to the endless dissections. We were suffocating under the narrowness of it all, feeling the heaviness of that Joseph Kaufmann jacket.

And the people in the houses

All went to the university,

Where they were put in boxes

And they came out all the same,

And there’s doctors and lawyers,

And business executives,

And they’re all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same.

We cancelled our Mikor Rishon subscription and, along with it, any investment we had made till then of time and headspace devoted to making sure that our little box of ticky-tacky looked just the same as everyone else’s (nothing against MR — it’s a good paper, and a great way to practice your Hebrew, but the cancellation was just part of a general distancing from the whole concept of migzareyut [sectarianism].)  We are working hard to break away from defining our relationship to HaKadosh Baruch Hu through social expectations and conventions. Halacha, yes — the contract Ira and I have with the Divine is through our behavior as Jews who are trying to abide to the best of our ability by halacha. But since the contemporary obsession with “types” and “flavors” overwhelmingly manifests itself in externals, we are firmly “post-sectarian,” past caring about the labeling assigned to and by sectors; we are moving beyond the artificial divides that leave us so unsettled.

(Do you also grow weary, if you are a religious Jew, when contemplating our silly sentimentalities, the grave importance we randomly assign to certain markers which place us in one sector or another? Where’s the variety of experience? Why are we encouraging our kids to go into boxes, and come out all the same — hopefully wearing the Joseph Kaufmann jacket?)

Imagine, then, sitting across from the principal of the school that we’ll be sending some of our children to next year, when he offers, unbid: “It’s important to understand something about the north that’s very different from people’s experiences in the merkaz. I, too, moved from the center of the country — Bet Shemesh, specifically — to assume this position seven years ago, and discovered something marvelous about life up here. We are one large school here at Kibbutz Lavi, encompassing the whole swath of what it means to be dati in our day, and we’re not reluctant about that reality or in any way pushing a pluralistic agenda from an ideological perspective. To be dati in our region is just to be dati, whatever that means to each family. Everyone gives in a little bit, everyone bends, so that we can all naturally and easily be together as one. You’ll sense it here, once you move. There’s an openness: to the place, to the space, and to each other.”

These are the heroes of Israel gracing the walls of the school at Kibbutz Lavi: Nechama Leibowitz, Miriam Peretz, Harav Kappach, HaRabbanit Kappach, Harav Shalom Mesas

Ira and I looked at each other then, smiles broadening on both of our faces, as we breathed out “yes, that’s what we’re hoping for.” We’ll continue to build our little box on the hillside, as we have these last two decades, but this time hopefully what we manage to nurture and produce will be far from the same.

One of our kids surveying his new home

Broadening My Reading List

I have always had alarmingly narrow interests, especially when it comes to reading material. My shelves are bursting with anything related to the following topics, and little else:


  • Bible
  • Ancient History (Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Levant)
  • Biblical Archaeology
  • Land of Israel
  • Jewish History, especially Second Temple-related materials
  • Of late, History of Zionism and the State of Israel


…aaaaaannnnnndddddd, that’s the sum and total of it. When I think of the great forest out there, I haven’t really tasted of the many fruits — my grove is more of a narrow, dense, thicket that I’m utterly immersed in, and don’t really want to leave, if I’m honest with myself. But venture forth I must, to sample those other fruits and bring them back to my grove. What to do with them once at home base, I’m not quite sure. Graft them onto what I already know? Whip up some tasty new, complex recipes? How the adventures of missionaries in Africa can help me understand and teach Sefer Shmot, I’m not yet sure, but my intuition tells me it’s time to find out.  


It had been years since I picked up a work of fiction, any of the classics, poetry (aside from classical medieval piyyut), poly-sci, anthropologies, humor, etc. Pretty pathetic, right? So on the eve of my fortieth birthday, I asked my Facebook hive to weigh in with suggestions of good reads that would expand my horizons. Thanks to wise friends and sage advice, I’ve added the following volumes to my library, among others: Thinking, Fast and Slow (Kahanemann), The Craftsman (Sennett), The Historian (Kostova), Oryx and Crake (Atwood), Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (See), The Secret Life of Bees (Kidd), The Stranger (Camus), Ficciones (Borges — admittedly, I haven’t read any of his stories yet).


[What I’ll never get to, but the rest of my family reads in spades and more than makes up for my disinterest: science fiction and fantasy. The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter. That’s one bustan (orchard) that I don’t think I’ll ever want to enter.]


Our move has forced my hand to stock a different type of reading material. Today’s cart from the Book Depository was so startlingly unlike any prior purchase we’ve made that I felt it deserved its own blog post. Here are my most recent acquisitions:

At least once a day, Ira and I repeat to ourselves: We know nothing. But maybe this time next year, God willing, we’ll know a lot more about just how little we knew at the beginning of this journey.

Would love if you shared a snapshot of your most recent book order!


On Leaving “Greater Jerusalem”: Our Final Chanukah in the Merkaz

Many olim (immigrants) consider proximity to Jerusalem when they are deciding on which community is right for them. “Jerusalem or Bust” is an understandable attitude for those who choose to leave their homes abroad and settle here; after all, Jerusalem is so broad as to encompass our collective national vision and aspirations, and yet so intimate as to rouse each individual Jew to a passionate, intensely personal relationship with the city. Thousands of years and as many voices have tried to articulate both aspects, the national and the personal; the most acclaimed and accomplished spend lifetimes trying to get it just right, and not everyone succeeds, though seemingly everyone tries. I’m not even going to try — there’s a still, small voice that has streamed forth from Jerusalem since the days of our forefathers, so very quiet and pure, inimitable and indescribable, and all I can do is listen.

“Old Jerusalem Behind the Olive Tree” by Alex Levin.

We are moving far away from Jerusalem, our capital city, currently a mere fifteen minute drive from our house in Maale Adumim. Our three older children attend schools in Jerusalem; I work there, and Ira frequents there. Our commute in via the Naomi Shemer tunnel crosses the Mount of Olives, and the height differential has us looking down at the Temple Mount if we catch a red light (and we’re not otherwise occupied by checking our phones — yes, even Har HaBayit can become pedestrian if it’s part of your morning drive). We live within the hallowed 15-mile radius of Jerusalem, a sacred space defined by the Talmud:

What determines a distant road (how far away from the Temple must you be so as to enjoy the deferment of Pesach Sheni, which allows one who is too far from the Temple the option of offering his Pesach sacrifice a month late)? From the town of Modiin and beyond, or a like distance in any direction — such is the opinion of R’ Akiva…R’ Ula said: From Modiin to Jerusalem is 15 miles. (Pesahim 93b)

From Modiin and inwards (towards Jerusalem), (all potters) are trustworthy regarding (the purity of) their pottery. From Modiin and outwards (away from Jerusalem), they are not trusted. (Hagiga 25b)

There is a marvelous conceptual link between Jerusalem, city chosen by the Divine as His own nahala, where the word of God issues forth, and Modiin, city of Hasmonean zeal and concern for the Temple, city of the first chag derabbanan, city of the first stirrings of the Oral Law symbolizing the spread outwards, and it is this: it is ok to move away from Jerusalem…but don’t stray too far. It is a blessed pursuit to engage our own critical faculties in studying Torah and applying the law, but any application or novel idea must always be rooted in our ancient sources. You can stretch Jerusalem’s holiness all the way to Modiin — you can develop and create and extend kedusha outwards. But there are outer limits beyond which the holiness of Jerusalem is unrecognizable. The essential message of Chanukah, where we confront the challenge of a beautiful and alien culture of the West that rivals Judaism in its quest for wisdom, is that our wisdom, our Torah, must always be based in the Torah from Zion, and the word of God which comes forth from Jerusalem.

We’ve carved out a niche at the entrance to our home here in Maale Adumim — a house that we didn’t build ourselves, but that has served our family’s intense need for a constant flow of life in and out of our door, which is never locked and rarely even closed. This niche is our homage to Jerusalem. It is inspired by hundreds like it dotting the Holy City, designed to display the chanukiyot of Yerushalmim to all passers-by. This niche serves as a symbol for us of solid rootedness in our mesorah as we are pulled towards initiative and development outwards.

Our new home is far from “Greater Jerusalem,” located instead in the region of the Tannaim and Amora’ei Eretz Yisrael, the landscape where Chazal (our sages) drew inspiration from the Written Law as they developed the Oral Law. We shall be as they once were: discovering newness and beauty in landscapes far away from Jerusalem, all the while determined to keep the Holy City as the centerpiece of our hearts’ yearning and focus.  Maybe we’ll build a new niche in our new home for our chanukiyah as a tangible memory of the City of Golden Light. Jerusalem is the city where we started out as a married couple almost two decades ago, and the city that will always beckon us back — and perhaps even welcome back future generations of our family so they may deepen their own relationships to our Eternal City.

This Chanukah forces the Weissmans to reflect on the gifts that the last eight years of living in close proximity to Jerusalem has afforded us. Here’s what the oldest five of us (the ones with intense and sustained regular exposure to Jerusalem) are prepared to share about what we will remember most strongly, and what we will miss the most:

Ira: Jerusalem is basically the source of all meaning in my life. It is there that I was moved to reconnect to my roots, overlooking Har Habayit in 11th grade singing Yerushalayim Shel Zahav. It is there that I found a sustainable, mature, intelligent derech in Torah with my dear Rebbe, Rav Matis, שליט״א. It is where Tamar and I began our life together in Eretz Yisrael (in mercaz klitah Beit Canada).

Tamar: I’ll remember the scent of Bayit ve’Gan, where I began my journey in Torat E”Y, and the scent of the Old City, where I began my journey as a wife and mother. Places that will never leave me, even as I move onwards: the 4th-floor stacks in the HU library on Mt. Scopus, some extremely memorable meals at the excellent restaurants there, the shuk, our very first apartment, R’ Matis’ shiur room in B”K Menachem Tzion.

Ruvi (age 17, 12th grade): You’re asking the impossible. Jerusalem is always in my heart, I’m there all the time, and though I’m leaving next year for at least four years, this city can never truly leave me.

Kayla (age 16, 10th grade): I’m staying on for the next two years in Jerusalem, so I’m not going to be missing it! But if you’re asking me what I love most about Jerusalem, it’s that every religion can feel spiritually connected to it, meaning that it is truly the holiest place in the world.

Bat-Chen (age 14, 8th grade): I will remember Jerusalem for its history that I’ve been studying for the past two years, and how everyone belongs to Jerusalem. You can find all different types of people there, and they all belong. Jerusalem is really important to me because we fought so hard and long for it, and finally it’s ours, and we only fight for something that’s very dear to us.

If I forget You, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her skill. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I ever fail to remember you, if I don’t raise Jerusalem over my highest joy. (Psalms 137:5-6)

We shall never forget you, city of Golden Light, city of the still, small voice! Chanukah Sameach.

When Your Mispar Zehut is Six Digits

The process of signing a contract to purchase a nahala requires a full stomach and empty bladder: be prepared to sit for hours, and bring along some Advil for the inevitable cramped hand. We literally signed hundreds of papers, four copies of a very complicated contract. The Reichs sat opposite us; when we each finished a copy, we’d exchange and continue the tedious signage.


Ira’s eye wandered to Chana Reich’s mispar zehut (identification number) and noticed that something was amiss: instead of the expected nine numbers which citizens of Israel are issued at birth, hers had only six digits.


“Why of course!” she said. “Do you know how old I am?”


It was at that moment that an element of this move surfaced, one that had lurked at the edges my consciousness over the long summer of negotiations and was now taking on real substance: the people who live in Sde Ilan, our new moshav, are very, very different from us. Many of them are old-timers, founders of the community back when the State was first established, born when the yishuv numbered fewer than a million citizens, necessitating no more than 6 digits.

draft card for Aryeh Ben-Gurion, one of the founders of Kibbutz Bet HaShittah, nephew of David Ben-Gurion

Fun Fact: Legend has it that citizen #000001 was Ben-Gurion himself (not true — that number was randomly given to an ordinary citizen from Migdal HaEmek, who has since passed away).  

Ben-Gurion’s Mapai (Mifleget Poalei E”Y, his political party) membership card — here he was issued the first one. I love how under ‘occupation,’ he wrote: “agricultural laborer, currently Prime Minister”

We made aliyah in 2001, and we were given 9-digit identification numbers. Not only are the vatikim (old-timers) in Sde Ilan significantly older than us — they have lived through a history that we know about only via a collective national memory which we encountered for the first time as young adults, as a newly-engaged couple and newly-minted citizens of Israel. We both grew up as fully American Jews, neither of us much exposed to the history of the modern State of Israel in our formative years beyond the very rudimentary. Those missing three digits from our zehut numbers symbolize our late appearance on the scene. We have a lot of catching up to do.

Chaim Weizmann’s teudat zehut. Note that under physical description is written “solid,” and under hair color, “seivah” (good old age; a euphemism for white)

Many of the present residents of Sde Ilan are the children of the moshav’s founders, as well as others who joined the community upwards of 40 years ago. There are very few olim (immigrants). These moshavniks are people who either wrote the chalutz (pioneering) narrative themselves, inked by their own sweat and blood, or they are the sons, steeped in the stories, songs, and general culture of the “six digit-ers.” Many grew up with the Tnuva dairy trucks entering their family farms empty and leaving full; many saw calves birthed and sheep sheared and chickens slaughtered while themselves still in diapers. All of these moshav families have fought and sacrificed in all of Israel’s wars — in the battles preceding the War of Independence.


There we sat, with our nine digits, feeling for the first time the full weight and stark foreignness of Chana’s abbreviated mispar zehut. I thought of a Shabbat that we had spent on the moshav last year, hosted for the Friday evening meal by one of the Sons. He had grown up on the moshav, married and stayed on as a farmer. His parents were founders. His wife was from Metulla — her grandfather had been one of the founders of that town, back in 1896. Ira and I sat there in their living room, the “forever-immigrants,” having foregone any real assimilation into Israeli society until this point. Why did you move to Israel, they asked, out of real curiosity. I wasn’t sure that they had ever really spoken with an oleh before, and our past was their great unknown.


And yet, as I wrote my nine-digit mispar zehut over and over again on a contract that would bind me with these six-and-seven-digiters, I felt at peace. It will be hard diving into a complete immersion of language and culture that we have, frankly, been somewhat buffered against by the safe anglo/borgeois cocoon of the cosmopolitan Merkaz. (Our older sabra kids, though, exasperated by their parents’ “anglo ways,” cannot wait!)  I can’t say that I’ll surrender my mother tongue completely, since I’ve had forty years of speaking, writing and thinking in English, but I will submit to a place that does not offer the comforting safety net of familiarity. Our future is with a community that speaks no English and has few, if any, non-native-born Israelis among them.

You can’t measure a Jew’s connection to Eretz Yisrael in six or nine digits — each and every one of us who cast our lot with our nation and receive a teudat zehut is really Citizen # 000001, as tied to this land as was Ben-Gurion. In time we’ll learn the slang, the innuendos, nuances and subtleties of a deeply native community, and all of that will just serve to make us feel more comfortable and at home in the moshav. To surrender fully to that adventure and challenge requires a certain grit and resolve; I’m still working on that. But the peace that I felt as a “6-er” entrusted us “9-ers” to carry on with her little corner of Eretz Yisrael was due to our sense of belonging to this Land, a belonging that surpasses our current adjustment challenges and is rooted in a time that predates that first issuance of teudot zehut by thousands of years.

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

I was a heavy eight months pregnant with our seventh child when we first met with Geveret (Mrs.) Reich at her nahala in Sde Ilan. I couldn’t walk much at that point, but never mind — had I been a spry college student overseas for a kibbutz adventure, I probably wouldn’t have been able to keep up with this octogenarian. Chana Reich is a slight woman, but her delicate stature belies an imposing stamina and a formidable will.

As Chana strode through her property in the heat of July, it seemed as though the years themselves were melting away. She had lived in Sde Ilan for upwards of half a century — she had seen the history that I cherish so deeply and am insatiably curious about unfold at a breathtaking pace. She proudly showed the details of her life’s work to Ira, while I hung back and took it all in.

(Ira later pointed out the absolute pleasure of listening to an old-time professional Hebrew teacher speak Hebrew — have you ever noticed how measured the pace of their enunciation is, how exacting the pronunciation, how sparingly and simply they communicate? It’s like butter. A S.Y. Agnon story read aloud. Worlds apart from the furious velocity of modern Hebrew, where I will always have to ask for the speaker to repeat himself, never quite catching his meaning the first time ‘round.)

After they toured the property, we all sat down in the dusty kitchen of the home she hasn’t lived in for a decade to talk about who we were, and who they were. Chana Tzippora Yaffe and Yaakov Reich met in the early 50’s at the newly-established moshav of Sde Ilan (established in 1949). She was a Hebrew teacher, recruited by the Ministry of Education to move from Jerusalem to the periphery where they were in desperate need of educators (she randomly chose Sde Ilan from a list, as she liked the name). There she met Yaakov, one of the six Reich boys who had moved with their parents from Haifa to Sde Ilan in the “From the City to the Village” campaign.

The Reichs were Hungarian survivors of the Holocaust who arrived in Palestine from Budapest shortly after the war. Yaakov and Chana raised four children in their nahala, two girls and two boys, none of whom stayed on as moshavniks. After Yaakov passed away, Chana went to live with one of her sons in Tel Aviv.

Chana and Yaakov Reich’s wedding license

Why does any of this matter to us? It’s not like we cared much about the family history of the couple from whom we purchased our house in Maale Adumim nine years ago — nor did I take more than a polite interest in the stories of any of the other homes that we have lived in. The difference lies in what this move means to us, what owning a nahala means:

ההבדל בין הקנאה ונחלה הוא עצום. המקנה מעביר, אמנם, את החפץ לרשותו של הקונה, אבל העברת רשות זו אינה יוצרת שום יחס אישי ושום קשר פנימי בין המקנה והקונה. מה שאין כן בהנחלה. המנחיל מעמיד את הנוחל תחתיו. והנוחל קם תחתיו של המנחיל. ומתוך כך ההנחלה יוצרת יחס פנימי בין המנחיל והנוחל.

The difference between a kinyan (purchase) and a nahala (legacy) is vast. A seller transfers the object to the possession of the buyer, but such a transfer does not create a personal relationship or internal bond between the seller and buyer. This is not true of a nahala. There, the benefactor appoints the beneficiary in his stead, and the beneficiary assumes the status of his benefactor. Thus, a nahala forges an intimate relationship between benefactor and beneficiary.
— R’ Yitzchak Hutner, Pachad Yitzchak (Shavuot), 16:10

The fact that we did not inherit this land, but bought it — and the fact that “nahala” as an Israeli legal term refers narrowly to a plot of agricultural land with residences for the farmer and his children, and not more broadly as R’ Hutner had intended it — changes nothing in the acute relevance of this passage from the Pachad Yitzchak. This land is both technically a nahala and is, far more profoundly, a legacy. We have been entrusted by the family that had originally tended this land to care for the field that will outlive us, and which we can never truly own, any more than they ever owned it.

The Reich’s relationship to the nahala that they built with the sweat and grit of real chalutzim (pioneers) — “you should have seen Yaakov and me, days and days with a wagon, clearing off the stones from the land so that it could be tilled!” — is a critical chapter in the story of this particular area of Eretz Yisrael, this specific place whose character has been formed through the ages by Yael, by Barak, by the tribe of Naphtali, by the Tannaim and the Crusaders and Salakh-a-din and Manya Shochat and David Gruen (later known as Ben-Gurion). There is much to tell of what this specific tract of land has witnessed, and much to dream about what will be with this nahala in the eager yet inexperienced hands of its new caretakers.

What buying a nahala really means is continuing a relationship with the land — through this, we realize the intimate personal relationship between those that have come before, and those that shall come after. Our dreams are Chana’s dreams — “I am giving the responsibility now to you — if you weren’t you, if I hadn’t met you and been reassured that you cared as deeply as I do about this land, that then we wouldn’t have a deal!”

The morning that we signed the contract, Ira and I went to Kever Rachel. Rachel Imeinu is most accessible to us — and since we are moving to her Naphtali’s nahala (tribal territory), we started our day speaking to God and thinking of Rachel. Is your throat still choked, Rachel Imeinu? The Reichs have cleared your son’s nahala from all of those stones and planted gorgeous olive trees, and now we will tend those trees and plant more trees, and learn and teach about being deeply rooted, no longer on the way, as you always were. Here we are, Rachel Imeinu — dry your eyes, come and collect eggs with us and laugh at the kids’ videos about life with sheep and cabbages and chickens. Be rooted, finally — יש תקוה לאחריתך. Hashem, bless Your Land, bless those who are passionate about your Land, bless the faithful who observe the mitzvot You granted to those who tend Your Land. With this, we set out for Tel Aviv, where Chana Reich was waiting for us.

Next installment: When Your Mispar Zehut is Six Digits, plus How to Buy a Nahala

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 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[ref]Tribal Lands: The Twelve Tribes of Israel in their Ancestral Territories (Renana Press, 2015).[/ref], “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.)

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….”[ref]R’ Matis Weinberg, Frameworks: Genesis, 100-101.[/ref] 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,, 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

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.


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.