Introduction to Wandering 28: Cheeses and Caves in the Southern Lowlands

Tzedek owns the Ella Farm in the southern lowlands coming from the Be’er Sheva Valley. Rumor has it that the place arose in many struggles on the ground, in front of the manager, in front of hostile neighbors. Justice is silent, he is not a man of words, he is a man of work. On the round, green hills stand several stone houses and sheds of barns and barns. Passers-by who come to the farm’s cheese shop do not meet people, but a refrigerator with large jars of yogurt and an abundance of Camembert, Berry, Bulgarian and other cheeses, a sign with the prices of the cheeses by weight, and an open cash register. They choose the slice they coveted, weigh, calculate and leave cash or transfer in a beat. My trailer is parked in the heart of a yellow chrysanthemum field, next to the hay barn and adjacent to the developing development area of ​​the brown cows. “Black and white cows are for milk” Justice told me and explained to me “The walls are for meat. We only have walls, and there are goats for milk. In front of the pastoral farm on the east side stretches the separation fence between Jews and Arabs. Beyond the fence there is a village, Al Burj named. An ancient crusader fortress and its ruins built a dwelling house. Below the fortress I notice cave houses. A stone wall with an arched opening seals each cave. I would like to go there, knock on the door and go in to see such a cave house. “You spoiled the view here with the fence” I say To right and pointing east. “We built it five or six years ago and maybe more, and severed the connection between the farm and the village. Palestinian shepherds work with me here. I was looking for Israeli shepherds, but there is no one at all, everyone wants to be a manager. “Justice says,” On the other hand, there are no thefts here as there used to be. “

The extensive fields of the farm, fifteen thousand acres of round hills, shrouded in green plumage of grasses and last color spots of late spring

The extensive fields of the farm, fifteen thousand acres of round hills, shrouded in green plumage of grasses and last color spots of late spring

First light. Sounds of kak and siskin wake me up. In the goat dairy the light came on. Justice and Muhammad the shepherd fill the manger with corn kernels and the goats rush in and invest a head in the food. Meanwhile, the milking machines are attached to the puffy udders. Two hundred and eighty milks pass under their skilled hands in less than an hour leaving in a container close to four hundred liters of milk. “There are four hundred goats here,” says Muhammad, “but not all of them give milk, some are young and pregnant and just continents that do not milk.” I ask Muhammad where he acquired the knowledge of herding and he replies to me picturesquely “I was born in a flock”. After milking they go out to pasture. The end of spring is now and swarms of goats and herds of cows are roaming the rest of the green.
The milk flows from the container in long tubes to the dairy. Two young volunteers dressed in sterile overalls and gloves handle cheeses. Shmuel the hunchback walks around like a magician with a white robe, a bowl with a variety of bags in his hands and he sprinkles magic powder into the fresh milk containers. It produces a rich variety of eighteen different and delicious cheeses to lick the lips, in addition to fine yogurt.

The goat cheese revolution

Brief history of goat cheeses: In 1990, goat breeders gathered in our country for an urgent meeting and the issue was what to do with goat milk. The large dairies that worked with cow’s milk did not want to mess with the goats anymore, too little and there is no demand. There were about eighty breeders in the country at the time, and a dozen of them were on the committee of the Nokdim Association and were debating what could be done with this milk other than pouring it. The reputation of goat milk was then at a low ebb. The only ones who raised goats in the country were immigrants from Yemen who kept them in their backyard and drank their milk. The dominant goat would sprinkle its urine on the females for territorial marking and the smell of urine mingled with the smell of milk. No one in the country knew how to make good quality cheeses. The association with the support of the shepherds came out with a brave decision to take it upon themselves to promote the issue of goat milk. They brought in a French expert in the production of sheep cheeses, held seminars and some of the goat breeders came to study the Torah, and they first invested in the marketing of sheep cheeses. Gradually the health benefits of goat milk became clear compared to other milk and demand for goat cheese and yogurt began. The supply of cheese nowadays is growing day by day but fails to meet demand.

Justice and Muhammad the shepherd fill the manger with corn kernels and the goats rush in and invest a head in the food.  Meanwhile, the milking machines are attached to the puffy udders

Justice and Muhammad the shepherd fill the manger with corn kernels and the goats rush in and invest a head in the food. Meanwhile, the milking machines are attached to the puffy udders

A brief history of goat cheeses

A brief history of goat cheeses

At dusk towards evening the farm looks like in fairy tales, sheep and goats and lots of patches and goats bumping and jumping around them, chickens flying and sitting on shelves in the walls for a night’s rest.  The shepherd moves among them all with a pitchfork and spreads straw on the ground a dry and pleasant substrate for everyone.  A quiet night descends on the farm of the goddess

At dusk towards evening the farm looks like in fairy tales, sheep and goats and lots of patches and goats bumping and jumping around them, chickens flying and sitting on shelves in the walls for a night’s rest. The shepherd moves among them all with a pitchfork and spreads straw on the ground a dry and pleasant substrate for everyone. A quiet night descends on the farm of the goddess

It is worth noting that the goat cheese revolution took place in parallel and in parallel with the wine revolution, in those years. Not for nothing are cheese and wine evenings going together all these years.
The shepherds went out with the cows and goats to graze in the extensive fields of the farm, fifteen thousand acres of round hills, wrapped in green feathers of grass and last color spots of late spring. I got in a jeep and drove over the farm to the hills of the southern lowlands. Nature is here in front of you. Seven Israeli deer escaped from a show run across the horizon. A rapist, probably a heel, was sitting on a stone by the side of the road and as I approached next to him flew lazily. A group of suspicious storks did the same.
In a small valley between the hills, at the end of a pine grove, I met Amar from the Abu Kaf clan, and with him two boys from the family who were busy shearing wool from a sheep. Amar knows Tzedek and Muhammad and asked me to send a message that he wants to buy goats. “We make gas in the spring that will not be hot for the sheep, and this year we start early so we do not work hard when Ramadan enters. But I prefer to graze goats today. We have nothing to do with the wool anyway, throw it away, it must not be left in the field because then we will be fined by the inspectors. “I gather the goat’s hair and weave tents out of it. Sheep wool would make rugs, blankets. Today we buy everything ready, no one knows how to weave goat hair or sheep’s wool. We also hardly milk and only a few women know how to make cheese.”

In front of the pastoral farm on the east side, the separation fence between Jews and Arabs is stretched.  Beyond the fence there is a village, to Burj named.  At its center is an ancient wall of a Crusader fortress and on its ruins we built a dwelling house.

In front of the pastoral farm on the east side, the separation fence between Jews and Arabs is stretched. Beyond the fence there is a village, to Burj named. At its center is an ancient wall of a Crusader fortress and on its ruins we built a dwelling house.

Amar Abu Kaf has shed all the frustration of traditional people who feel that their culture has lost its validity. “So why are you raising sheep anyway” I asked him. “We sell goats, one to two months old for about NIS 1,500. “Or they sell an old sheep for meat for about NIS 1,200, that’s how an animal is. If you want to slaughter, go to Jazer, the butcher, and pay him a hundred shekels and get meat cut that nicely.”
Amar poured and relaxed and made tea. He got up and groped through it looking at the ground and came back with some fennel leaves. “That’s how we like to drink the tea here, sweet with fennel, and if there is no fennel then hyssop is also good. The goats finished the fennel, they also like to gnaw it, but I found some.”
He poured the tea into glasses and so we sat quietly and watched his herd. Storks walked around the margins near the sheep and pecked at the grass. “You know why storks come to sheep all the time” he asked and immediately sweetened the answer for me. “It’s to hunt insects that jump that the sheep won’t step on.”
At dusk towards evening the farm looks like in fairy tales, sheep and goats and lots of patches and goats bumping and jumping around them, chickens flying and sitting on shelves in the walls for a night’s rest. The shepherd moves among them all with a pitchfork and spreads straw on the ground a dry and pleasant substrate for everyone. A quiet night descends on the farm of the goddess.
South of the goddess farm and the nearby religious settlement of Shomria is Khirbet Zak. For a few years a guy named Dudi settled on the archeological site and with his handiwork set up a tourist and agriculture farm in the heart of the remains. For a moment the settlement of Lahia was established, the winery and the press returned to producing wine and olive oil. Visitors ate pita and lava, drank coffee or tea and wine and stretched out to relax in front of the stunning view of the lowlands. After several years and a lot of work the farm was closed by court order, my uncle went home and the ruin returned to her estate like many ruins laden with many years of history, from first and second house settlements through Bar Kochba, Roman and Byzantine settlements to abandoned Arab villages and their inhabitants fled and were expelled in the War of Independence in 48.

Crawl in hiding caves

Khirbet a-Shekef north of the Ella Farm was a prosperous agricultural village whose Arab inhabitants came from the town of Dura in the Hebron Mountains and built it on ancient ruins about two hundred years ago. During the war, the village was emptied of its inhabitants, some of its houses were destroyed and the place returned to appear as an archeological site. I entered through a doorway with a stone arch into a small house and discovered that the house opened into a large cave. I shone around me. There was a small opening in the cave wall with a narrow hole and someone piled stones at the base of the wall so that it was possible to crawl inside. Settlers in the lowlands two thousand years ago used to carve caves in the relatively soft cardboard rock and make living rooms, workshops that served as winepresses and oil and oil mills, spaces that plastered them for water storage, and even underground nests for growing pigeons, for food, or for messaging. Or for the production of natural fertilizer from the excrement for cultivation of agricultural fields. When the Bar Kochba revolt was about to take place, the settlers prepared hiding caves from the Romans and connected them with burrows between them.

A stone wall with an arched opening seals each cave.  I would like to go there, knock on the door and go in to see such a cave house

A stone wall with an arched opening seals each cave. I would like to go there, knock on the door and go in to see such a cave house

I wore a headlamp and crawled on all fours in a cave that wound inside the rock.  I reached a small, not high square room, but I could stretch my limbs in it

I wore a headlamp and crawled on all fours in a cave that wound inside the rock. I reached a small, not high square room, but I could stretch my limbs in it


For many years I was a resident of Kfar Uria in the Judean Plain area and in every spare moment I would go out with a flashlight and map to get to know new caves among the thousands of man-made caves of the lowlands. Nadav and Itamar, my sons, joined me on an adventure of crawling in caves and getting to cool underground rooms, columbarium caves for raising pigeons, until after an hour or more we would see sunlight again. One day we all came back with dozens of itchy bites all over our bodies and since then the crawling has more or less ended. Now I was filled with curiosity and nostalgia, I climbed the pile of stones and with the strength of my hands I pulled myself into the cave. I wore a headlamp and crawled on all fours in a cave that wound inside the rock. I reached a small, not high square room, but I could stretch my limbs in it. Two more caves came out of the room. I picked one of them and kept crawling inside. The quarrying ended abruptly, perhaps this was the moment when the Romans infiltrated the rebel trenches and eliminated them. The people of Israel suffered a great defeat in the Bar Kochba revolt, many fell on their swords or were killed by the Romans. It was enough for the Romans to lay siege and sit in the openings of the caves, to light bonfires and suffocating smoke for the rebels to crawl out to their suffocated and helpless deaths.
I felt my breathing heavy, was hot in the pit. I took off my shirt and crawled back into the great room. A sense of disappointment permeated me. Not bad, I comforted myself. I will return here with a friend or with Nadav and Itamar and again we will crawl nicely together, as before.
I came out in a dazzling afternoon sunlight. The clothes on my hands and face were covered in whitish chalky dust. The sweat creaked in the white layer of gleaming tanning furrows. I went to bathe in Be’er Shem Tov.
This is how it is when living in a trailer and the showers are shortened because water is a limited resource. The value of immersion in springs in nature is strengthened, no less than the value of mikveh among the religious.

A small jump into the clear and cold water and I together with some big frogs and colorful fish enjoy together the coolness in the heat of the day

A small jump into the clear and cold water and I together with some big frogs and colorful fish enjoy together the coolness in the heat of the day

The well descends to the depths of the earth near a small wadi in front of the ruins of the Byzantine Beit Levya and not far from the separation fence. In blessed years the rain wells overflow. This year the water level dropped to half a meter below the rim of the well. As the heat of the day and the sweat and the dust of the caves this is the perfect place of purity. A little jump into the clear and cold water and I together with some big frogs and colorful fish enjoy together the coolness in the heat of a day.


Source: כתבות – מסע אחר by www.masa.co.il.

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