How does a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn become a shepherd in the hills of the Shomron?
Not quickly and not without studying the figures! Twenty-six-year-old Eli Weiss (aka Eliyahu Meir Hakohen), one of four siblings, grew up in a Modern Orthodox home. His father is an accountant; his mother, a neuroscience researcher, bookkeeper and now real estate manager; his older sister a registered nurse; his younger brother a graphic designer. His youngest sister is still in yeshiva high school. All his friends trekked the conventional Jewish path and became doctors and lawyers.
Not Eli. His perfunctory year in yeshiva in Israel morphed into nine as he strengthened his love of learning. In 2006, when it was clear that Eli was not going to walk the conventional path, his business-minded uncle, who had always swum against the tide (perhaps it’s in the genes), decided to expose Eli to ideas that were definitely outside the box. After touring the land, he suggested that Eli consider becoming a vintner. But wine making didn’t draw him. Then he suggested partnering up with a shepherd who was raising sheep in Aish Kodesh, then a ten-family collection of caravans near Shilo, one of the largest cities in the Shomron. “After looking over the figures, I had to admit that the business looked appealing,” says Eli. “But I was still skeptical. Maybe I’d still become an accountant.”
A year later, his uncle once again approached him with the idea of sheep farming. So Eli rented a car and drove to Aish Kodesh. “I spoke ten words of Hebrew. Avichai Suisa, the owner of the sheep farm, spoke ten words of English and a rapid-fire Hebrew,” Eli says. “Luckily, I had a translator with me,” he adds. Despite the language barrier, Eli was drawn to the idea. “For me, it began as a good business opportunity,” he admits. Avichai, whose father is in the cell phone business, had become a shepherd for ideological reasons. “He sees shepherding as the quintessential Jewish occupation – the Avos were shepherds and when the third Beis HaMikdash is built, his dream is to provide the sheep for the korbanos, sacrifices,” says Eli. Now, three years and 330 sheep later, the partners see that the successful combination of business savvy and ideology is growing a flourishing sheep farm: Haikar Hasimcha. The name means happy farmer, but the inherent play on words (ikar with an aleph means farmer; with an ayin, it means the main part) hints to the farm’s future: “At the moment, there are 45 sheep farms in the Shomron and one is bigger than ours,” says Eli. “We aim to become the biggest.”
Move Over Please
Six months after Eli and Avichai made arrangements with Aish HaKodesh giving them the rights to a large swath of grazing lands, the shepherds were asked to leave: Aish Kodesh had decided to dedicate the land to housing and not agriculture. Hashem helped and the partners were able to move to Chavat Yishuv Hadaat, a larger yishuv a short distance away. Here they were given a generous 130 dunams of grazing land – much more than they had had in Aish Kodesh. Two or three months later, the Israeli Government reallocated the shepherds’ former land in Aish Kodesh to a neighboring Arab village. “The buildings were razed and the land ploughed to make way for an Arab wheat field,” says Eli. “Had we stayed behind, we’d have lost everything. Hashem had definitely helped us.”
Just a Regular Day
Shepherding in the Shomron isn’t your usual kind of shepherding – despite his business-minded beginnings, Eli has discovered that a strong ideological impetus powers the job. “The Shomron has a good share of Arab villages and Bedoiun tribes. Everyone is essentially competing for the land,” explains Eli. “By maintaining a constant presence with our herds, we’re protecting the land for the establishment of future Jewish settlements.”