Photo Credit: Jewish Press
Donkey Trail at Kfar Kedem

“Jews have always labored passionately to pass on tradition,” says Menachem Goldberg, visionary and founder of Kfar Kedem, a living history site in the hills of the Galilee on the edge of Hoshaya. “Kfar Kedem immerses all of your senses in the lifestyle of our forefathers who lived during the time of the Mishnah, 1,800 years ago. The experience touches your soul and awakens the values that these forefathers wanted to transmit to every generation,” he says.



Where Am I Heading?

Like many Israelis, Menachem set out to see the world after his army service. His inner compass led him to Brazil. “It was right after the first Lebanon war and I needed quiet time to decide where I was heading in life, so I was elated when the traveling companion my family had insisted I take along backed out after our first Shabbat,” says Menachem. A little time in the jungles of the Amazon brought home what he had felt all along. “I knew that I needed the Torah in my life; any other direction pointed to assimilation,” he says.

Shortly after his return to Israel, Menachem married and settled down in Rishon Letzion, in central Israel. City life, however, held little allure for him. Within months, Menachem and his wife and infant son settled in Hoshaya, perched high on a hill, not far from Tzippori where Rabi Yehuda Hanasi, the compiler of the Mishna, spent time before moving on to Tiberias. Not surprisingly, the location prompted Menachem to combine his love of Torah, people and nature. Twenty-five years ago, Kfar Kedem opened its gates.


Getting Directions

Before the tour begins, Menachem tosses out a question to his visitors. “Why do you come here?” he asks. “Why spend time and money to come to what is portrayed as one of the most dangerous places in the world?” Often, visitors struggle to put their motivations into words. “Even if they cannot express the link they feel to this land, it’s an inextricable part of their DNA and they are motivated to hand it down to their children,” he says “By experiencing how the Jewish people lived then, Jews today feel a fierce pride in their Jewish heritage. They realize that it belongs to them and that they have an obligation to pass it on to their children.”

Menachem Goldberg

Kfar Kedem offers a variety of activities to serve as a link between the past and the present.

A must-do at Kfar Kedem is a donkey ride. “Donkeys were the 4×4 vehicles that our forefathers used to get around,” says Menachem. Sturdy, gentle and with a low fuel consumption, they were a reliable means of transport in the Galilee. In the south, in contrast, people relied on camels. And don’t think that donkeys are stupid…remember Bilam’s donkey?

Want to make wine? Winemaking in Kfar Kedem includes picking grapes and then crushing them with your bare feet. Squeamish? Not after Menachem asks you if you’re sure of the hygiene standards of the last person who cut up the last salad you last ate. “Western thought teaches us that our feet aren’t clean, but it’s our hands that we have to watch out for,” he points out. According to research from the University of Colorado at Boulder, on average, we carry 3,200 bacteria from 150 different species on our hands.

Interested in cold-pressed olive oil? You can make oil by crushing olives in the press and then crushing them in the woven baskets weighed down with stone weights and a wooden beam. And if you’re looking for more, see how the mishna bameh madlikin, which we recite every Friday night, comes alive.

One may not pierce a container of eggshell and fill it with oil and put it over the mouth of the lamp so that it should drip into the lamp, even if it is made of earthenware. But Rabi Yehuda permits it if the potter attached it originally because it is a single vessel.

People used to use a pierced eggshell (or clay vessel) as a spare reservoir with extra fuel for a lamp so that it would burn for longer. Chazal forbade using these because they were not attached to the lamp and they feared that people would remove some of the oil, thus causing the flame to be extinguished earlier. However, if the lamp was fashioned by a potter with an extra reservoir, its use was permitted. Why? “Anyone who used a lamp fashioned with an extra reservoir wouldn’t have been able to remove some of the oil. Suddenly the words of the Mishna come alive,” explains Menachem.

Interested in baking pita? If you arrive during one of the two sowing seasons, you may be lucky enough to start right at the beginning and help plant wheat…if you can budge the heavy yoke that rests on the shoulders of the oxen. Visitors to Kfar Kedem who miss the sowing seasons can grind wheat kernels in the basalt basins and bake pita bread in an iron oven.

You can also visit a goat’s shed and milk your own goat like the ancient shepherds. The faint-hearted will be relieved to know that the goat is first immobilized in a wooden brace where it can snack on pellets as you milk it.

“It’s no coincidence that the leaders of our people (think Moshe Rabbeinu and Dovid HaMelech) started out as shepherds. A shepherd develops devotion and bravery when tending his flock. The Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 2:2) tells us that when Moshe Rabbeinu realized he was missing a lamb, he went in search of it. When he finally found the lamb, he carried it back to the flock. Hashem knew that someone who would care for a lamb in this way would care for his people,” says Menachem.

Ready to make cheese? Fig sap is used to curdle the milk just like it was done back then and then the cheese is drawn off. So no worries about non-kosher rennet here.

Want to spin wool? Try using the type of spindle used in the time of the Mishna. And in the hands-on spinning workshop, rambunctious boys can try out a sling like the one used by Dovid HaMelech – minus the stones, for safety…

If you want to write home about Kfar Kedem, you can always use pigeon mail. Take your homing pigeon home. Then write your letter and roll it into a special capsule that you attach to the pigeon’s leg. Release your pigeon. Kfar Kedem will let you know that your letter arrived safely by scanning it into the computer and emailing it to you. Next time you’re in the area, you can look the original message up in the visitors’ book.

And, finally, you can celebrate the milestones of life, such as a bar mitzvah, in a spacious, open-air pergola overlooking the Galilee.


Heading for Jerusalem

Jewish education succeeds when our children feel a connection to their heritage. “When I decided to give my children the chance to experience aliyah leregel, making the pilgrimage to the Beit HaMikdash, I wanted to make the past relevant by bringing it into the present,” Menachem says. Setting out two weeks before Pesach, just as our forefathers would have done, Menachem and his sons, accompanied by a security jeep and photographer, followed Route 60, a south-north intercity road that stretches from Beersheba to Nazareth. The route is also known as The Road of the Patriarchs because it follows the path of the ancient highway that our forefathers used.

Pigeon Mail on Kfar Kedem

“Since it was raining and cold on the first day, instead of walking for 8 hours, we had to walk for 11. We were five hours short of our destination, when my almost-eight-year-old son thought of riding in the jeep. You won’t be able to say that you walked the way our fathers did, I told him,” recalls Menachem. Ultimately, his son decided that he would rather walk, learning a lesson in perseverance and honesty.

After eight days of walking and Shabbat in a yishuv called Rechalim, the city of Jerusalem shimmered in the distance. Like in any wilderness camp, the children had acquired skills that would serve them well in regular life: leadership, responsibility, teamwork, communication. But there was much more than that. As well as being pretty intensive family time, the aliyah leregel made the past alive and relevant. “Abba, you have set my route for life,” Menachem’s seventeen-year-old son told him.


A Light to the Nations

Jewish visitors aren’t the only ones who visit Kfar Kedem for a taste of the past. Thousands of non-Jews also visit the site every year. Groups come from China, Brazil, Norway, India and almost anywhere else on the globe. “Many of them are Christians who believe that we are the Chosen People, that we are here because Hashem ordered it, and that they must help us,” says Menachem. “I always begin by telling them that Jews have been longing to live in Israel for two thousand years and that our people prayed and died for this dream to come true. I tell them that we have come back to our land. We are living the actualization of our dream and they cannot possibly understand this because they are not Jews. ‘Amen,’ they answer. It’s our land and it’s our duty. ‘Amen,’ they answer. They tell me that they bless the Jewish people because they know that people who bless us will in turn be blessed by G-d.”

As possibly the only Jew with whom these non-Jewish visitors will have meaningful contact, Menachem becomes an ambassador of sorts for the Jewish nation. Once he spoke to a group of a few hundreds of Catholics about a Jew’s responsibility to keep Shabbat.

“I explained that Shabbat comes from the word shvita which means to strike, to cease work. We stop work because we need to bear witness to the world that Hashem created the world.”

The large crowd appreciated Menachem’s words and clapped.


Where Are the Jewish People Heading?

Although 2016 was a year spent battling lymphoma B cell cancer, Menachem’s energy didn’t lag too much. “It was a challenging year, a year that gave me time to think and a year full of faith. I found the strength to forge forward because I believe that Kfar Kedem is a place where Hashem’s message is heard,” he says. “A tourist pays money to get something that he doesn’t have at home.” It can be something physical, like sipping coconut milk on a white beach, or something that reflects values that are important to him. “Kfar Kedem isn’t simply about riding a donkey dressed in clothes that were worn in the time of the Mishna. It’s a journey into the past of your forefathers. Few people today can really make contact with the part of them that longs to belong to something bigger; Kfar Kedem helps you do that.”

* * * * *

Encounter in an Arab Village

Prior to setting out on his aliyah leregel, Menachem went on a reconnaissance tour to plan nightly stopovers. In Emek Yizrael, the Jezreel Valley, he visited the Arab village of Salem. “Spotting an Arab guard who was about seventy years old at the entrance to a cement factory, I asked him to direct me to someone influential in the village, such as the principal of the school. I explained that I’d be journeying on foot and that I’d need a place to sleep and to tether my donkeys. Instead of a name, I got an invitation to his son’s house. Like many Arab houses, the family lives on the second floor intending to fill in the first floor when finances allow. The guard offered me coffee. He mentioned that he had lived in Rishon Lezion and worked on a farm there about 50 years ago. Although he didn’t remember the names of the farm owners, he remembered that he had worked together with a Jewish lad named Shimshon. “The farmer would wake us up to milk his twenty cows by jangling a bell on a string that led to his own house,” he said. My grandparents had owned a farm in Rishon Lezion. On the off chance, I called my father. ‘Did your father wake his two workers with a bell?’ I asked. My father was speechless until he could find the words to ask how I knew about the bell system he had rigged,” Menachem ends his story.


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Rhona Lewis made aliyah more than 20 years ago from Kenya and is now living in Beit Shemesh. A writer and journalist who contributes frequently to The Jewish Press’s Olam Yehudi magazine, she divides her time between her family and her work.