Down On The Farm
Israel Correspondent
Moshav Mevo Modi’im — Looks can be deceiving, and that is definitely the case at this semi-rural community known as Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s moshav. When, over Sukkot, my husband and I brought our second graders to the moshav, halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, my first thought was “this looks kind of dumpy.” Given the moshav’s popularity with music lovers and those seeking Shabbat hospitality, I was expecting the huge green lawns and tidy houses of a well-heeled kibbutz. At first glance the moshav seemed more like a hodgepodge of unimpressive homes and farmsteads. How, I wondered, would we find enough to do with our inquisitive 7-year-olds? My concerns vanished the moment we entered the wonderful garden of the Chai Family Eco Farm, where an assortment of lovely plants, small animals and arts-and-crafts stations awaited us and several other families. British-born Judy Avraham Chai and her husband Shapir own the farm, and they started the afternoon’s activities with a short history lesson. In the time of the Maccabees, the area served as a stronghold overlooking the ancient highway to what is now Tel Aviv, and archaeologists have uncovered numerous artifacts, including some that Shapir allowed us to touch. The moshav has a small but tranquil antiquities park full of mostly Byzantine ruins. Although two groups of pioneers had tried to settle the land before Rabbi Carlebach arrived in 1976, the lack of infrastructure — and, back then, neighbors — dissuaded them from staying. The English-speakers who accompanied Rabbi Carlebach could best be described as “spiritual hippies”: creative, artistic and filled with the desire to create a welcoming religious community in the Jewish homeland. The history lesson completed, we were invited into the Chais’ backyard farm, where parrots, chickens and other fowl live alongside several goats, sheep and a donkey. The experience was totally hands on — parents and children were encouraged to play with the animals, and we soon found parrots climbing on shoulders and chewing on hats. Judy brought out a goat and invited us to milk it. A few minutes later, after heating up the milk, Judy helped us transform it, with some vinegar hyssop and salt, into delicious cheese. We watched yarn get spun from sheep wool, then went to work at the clay table, using everyday objects to create medallions for a wind chime or to serve as a personal seal (provided you’re one of the few people who still sends letters). At another crafts table we created lovely cards by placing delicate flower petals on a piece of wax paper (just as New Yorkers do with autumn leaves), augmented by some wax crayon shavings and feathers. Judy placed another piece of waxed paper on top and gently ironed until the colors shone. We were then taken on a low-impact walking tour of the moshav, starting with the small, hand-painted synagogue and ending with an outside glimpse of Rabbi Carlebach’s house. At the synagogue — its women’s section at the rear is actually a cozy tent — we met Yitzhak Ben-Yehuda, the artist whose classically inspired murals, with scenes of nature and biblical texts, decorate the shul’s walls. He also sells his artwork. Also at the tiny shul, musician Ben Zion Solomon and two of his talented grown sons (some perform in the Moshav Band, Soul Farm and Hamakor) performed a few Carlebach songs, including a wonderful, little-known niggun that Rabbi Carlebach wrote while living in Brooklyn. “It was written in Crown Heights. It disappeared from the public for a long time, but it was rediscovered on a tape,” Solomon explained. “Rav Carlebach was close to the Lubavitcher rabbi you know.” I could have listened to the Solomons forever, but Judy wisely took us to the nearby Byzantine ruins, with its wine and olive press, where the dozen-or-so kids in the group could run free. Afterward, we briefly stood outside the simple house Carlebach lived in during the final years of his life, then visited the studio of Sarah Naftaly, a moshav silversmith and jewelry artist. Because our particular tour did not include a moshav lunch, we ate our sandwiches in the shul’s sukkah while the kids played in the playground next door. We relaxed the way you can only relax in the country and didn’t check our watches even once. Before heading to our car we strolled back to the Chai farm, where we retrieved our art projects and bid farewell to the animals. The hours had flown by. Barbara Gross from Boca Raton, Fla., who was visiting the farm with her daughter and grandchildren, (aged 5, 7, 10 and 12) called the tour “fabulous. I’d highly recommend it. Every time Judy spoke her whole face lit up. Everyone here has so much passion for what they do, and you understand how they chose this way of life.” Not our way of life, but a day definitely well spent. Tours that include a healthy lunch cost $50 per person; $30 without lunch. Large-group discounts are available, and local Israelis pay less. For more information, call 972-544-283-646 or 972-8-926-4680;