A goat farmer, lured by the green Galilee

Avi Yankelevitch, who runs an eco-tourist goat farm in the Galilee, comes from an archetypal Israeli pioneer family – European Jews, enchanted by the land they feel called on to work.

Evan Bryant
Avi Yankelevitch pours hot goat milk through a strainer. His daughter, Hadar Barkai, turns the milk into rich cheese for the meals she provides for hikers on the Jesus Trail, which passes near their village of Ilaniya in the Galilee region of Israel.

Avi Yankelevitch, a burly goat farmer, shows us the way to our yurt and then whips out his pocketknife to cut a passion fruit straight off the bush. He offers it to us on the palm of his thick, weathered hand. 

He and his family never intended to be farmers. 

If it wasn't for David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister – somewhat akin to George Washington in Israeli terms – they probably never would have ended up in the rural village of Ilaniya, located on the Sea of Galilee, halfway between the hills of Nazareth and Capernaum.

But while Mr. Yankelevitch’s mother, a Romanian immigrant, was working as a housekeeper for the Israeli president in Jerusalem in the early days of Israel’s existence, she had the opportunity to meet Mr. Ben Gurion.

Why in the world was she living in Jerusalem, the prime minister asked. He encouraged her to move to the beautiful village where he had worked as a farm laborer in the 1920s as one of those early Zionists who cultivated not only the land, but the new ideal of the Jew as a tan, strong pioneer.

“She couldn’t refuse, and here we are,” says Mr. Yankelevitch. 

He got his start in farming by growing carnations, and once had the largest goat farm in the country, with 120 goats, but had to close it in the 1980s because farm banks collapsed. 

Today, he runs an eco-lodge and organic goat farm –  named “Yaroz Az,” which has the double meaning of green goat and intense green – with his daughter, Hadar Barkai, and her husband. They started the initiative when they heard that an Israeli entrepreneur and his American hiking buddy were launching the Jesus Trail, aimed at bringing pilgrims into the countryside where Jesus walked and not just to a select few places where the tour buses unload. The idea was to help boost small businesses, and thus help the Galilee’s depressed rural economy gain new life.

“We hope that the Jesus Trail will develop and it will be like El Camino de Santiago in Spain,” says Yankelevitch, referring to The Way of St. James, a major Christian pilgrimage route. 

For more on the Jesus Trail and Yarok Az, read here.

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