Everyone has big, idealistic, often exotic dreams, but only a few realize them. Dan (DanDan) Bolotin and his wife Lilach, his soulmate, are definitely among those lucky few. They live with their four children, in a Garden of Eden they created in the Northern Negev, between Netivot and Ofakim, in what was the biblical Land of Gerar. They have 2,700 dunams (over 667 acres) of land, which is part farm, part animal sanctuary, part playground, part camping and tzimmer site, with a home they built themselves at the center.
Bolotin, 65, originally from Tel Aviv, near Habima Theater, had a dream of working in agriculture and living in an isolated area. His wife Lilach, 54, originally from Ramat HaSharon had a dream of raising gorillas. They met when, as part of his research for his master’s degree, DanDan needed volunteers to gather therapeutic plants in Namibia, and Lilach came aboard. Then she went to volunteer with orphaned gorillas in Cameroon for six months.
This was clearly a couple with the same mindset and aspirations. They married in a party, but when their religious neighbor, Buki (Baruch) Adiri, from the adjacent farm said that they need a Jewish wedding, and Lilach’s father also said it was important to him, Adiri performed the chuppah and kiddushin. There were 500 people in attendance. Bolotin had forgotten to buy the ring so his mother gave him one and she knew enough to make sure he bought it from her.
Adiri, 79, and also from Tel Aviv, owns the Naama Farm (an acronym of his children’s names). He says that everyone who is born in Israel dreams of having a farm, but only 1% of them realize that dream. Adiri became religious when fighting in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and he saw that, “Hashem was with us.” He is the religious go-to person for the Bolotins, who, although being secular, keep Shemittah and make sure their produce subscribes to Torah law so that it’s kosher.
Before her stint caring for gorillas, Lilach was a soloist with the Bat-Dor Ballet Company in Tel Aviv and she still carries herself like a graceful dancer. But today she works as a psychologist. She worked for many year at Hosen, a non-profit, treating people in nearby Sderot suffering from trauma, and today works in Beer Sheva with adults recovering from sexual abuse.
“The people in Sderot originally came there to take advantage of the economical breaks of living in the South,” she says. “But they are still there today, despite the security situation, because they are a close-knit and supportive community.”
Aside from growing crops, herding goats, taking care of the animals in his sanctuary, and taking care of his guests, Bolotin gives tours of his farm to schools and groups, lectures about his experiences, among them living in the Amazon near Ecuador, with the isolated indigenous Waorani tribe for 5 years, as part of his Master’s Degree, and leads groups, through Eco Israel Tours, to far flung and exotic locations like Madagascar, Ecuador, and Antarctica. He does from 4 to 6 trips a year, each for several weeks. In fact he was in Madagascar when the war broke out October 7.
Being out in the wilderness (4 kilometers down a bumpy dirt road off the highway), in a seemingly endless farmland there is no air raid siren. Bolotin’s family heard about the war when a missile fell on their property and started a fire. Their 18-year-old son Eitam, was awakened at about 6:00 a.m. by the missile. He clamored out of bed to put out the fire with hoses, together with their Thai worker. Lilach tried calling the fire department but there was nothing they could do, they were so overwhelmed.
Another missile fell on their camping site, which cleared out in minutes. Thank G-d, very little damage was caused by the missiles. A few minutes later, Lilach got a call telling them that terrorists had infiltrated Israel. The Bolotins don’t have television or listen to radio so they hear the news as it happens (to them).
It was a miracle. If the missile had fallen one meter in any direction, it could have ended in fatalities. On the neighboring Adiri farm, a missile fell in a shed but miraculously didn’t explode.
Bolotin has a collection of fragments from the missiles and the iron dome that fall on his property.
The Bolotins have four children, three girls and a boy (who is about to enlist in a fighting unit) all named after aspects of nature Ofek (Horizon) is 24, Eshel (Tamarisk) is 22, Eitam (Fish Eagle is 18) and Navat (Sprout) is 15. Along with Bolotin’s tourist excursions, he and his wife have always traveled with their children once or twice a year.
“I like to live on the edge,” says Lilach and love for adventure and risk-taking seems to be something that runs in the family. So does life off the beaten track.
The farm grows crops of Kobo cactus, olives, and wheat (together with Adiri). In his spare time, Bolotin loves to add to the building of his home, and personal sanctuary, bringing in telephone poles, stairs from a lifeguard platform, and eclectic bits and pieces, which he also uses to help renovate his animal cages. He’s built everything himself over the 25 years he’s been living there, apart from the original caravans of his home.
The property also has a yoga/dance studio, a taboon oven, a dining room for small events, and a tree house (a real one).
The Bolotins have a herd of goats which also serve as therapeutic animals to groups who come and visit. Nine dogs roam the property.
DanDan has a wild animal sanctuary and those animals native to Israel, he tries to reintroduce into the wild. Bolotin either rescues them or receives them from petting zoos that close down, usually on kibbutzim.
Among his menagerie are a wolf, a coati, a caracal, rabbits, guinea pigs, deer, turtles, 3 lemurs, a jackal, bats, birds, and turtles. Some of the food to feed them, he gets from Maassrot.
The Bolotins are used to the sound of missiles falling. Lilach says that the only one who is afraid of the noise of explosions is their large dog Chetz (arrow). The rest of them have grown used to it.
Bolotin has many interesting collections besides missile fragments like animal skulls and cast off antlers from his deer.
The Bolotins love their pastoral and peaceful existence (aside from the rockets), surrounded by breathtaking nature.
DanDan is good-natured, and industrious with a sense of humor and a sense of adventure. Lilach calls her husband, a man who makes dreams come true for himself and for others.
Well, I know he made some of mine come true; I’ve always wanted to pet a wolf and a coati. I asked him to let me know if he ever gets a bear. He says it’s unlikely but, really, for a man who makes dreams come true, anything is possible.
With thanks to Tzion Geller and Joshua Israel Geller for their help.
All pictures courtesy of DanDan and Lilach Bolotin, Rosally Saltsman, Joshua Israel Geller and Ira Meltzer.