Authors: Assaf Gavron
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For Hila, Gali, and Maya
Veteran settler and founder of Ma'aleh Hermesh C. On his farm he grows vegetables and makes cheese. Husband of Rachel and father of Gitit, Yakir, Dvora, Hananiya, Emunah, and Shuv-el.
Gavriel Nehushtan (Gabi Kupper)
Grew up on a kibbutz with his brother, Roni. After a religious awakening he moves to Ma'aleh Hermesh C.
Gabi's elder brother. After years of living in the United States, he arrives at Ma'aleh Hermesh C. penniless.
One of the first settlers of Ma'aleh Hermesh C., and Othniel's right-hand man. Husband of Nehama and father of Boaz, Shneor, and Yemima-Me'ara.
Captain Omer Levkovich
The IDF section commander with oversight of Ma'aleh Hermesh C.
Feisty right-wing patriot and cosmetician. Married to Jean-Marc and hoping to expand the family.
Studying to become a chef. Husband of Shaulit and father of Amalia, Tchelet, and Zvuli.
A young IDF soldier permanently stationed in Ma'aleh Hermesh C.
Teacher and wife (and childhood sweetheart) of Nir.
Wife of Othniel and the first lady of the settlement. Head of the local nursery/kindergarten.
Teenage daughter of Rachel and Othniel.
Othniel's eldest son. Manages the online orders of vegetables and cheese for his father. Second Life enthusiast.
Russian-born math teacher. Wife of Elazar and mother of Nefesh.
correspondent in Jerusalem.
Ma'aleh Hermesh C.'s young loner. Mostly seen on his horse, Killer.
Resident of neighboring Arab village, Kharmish. Roni approaches him about a business venture. Father of Nimer.
Veteran settler who founded Ma'aleh Hermesh C. with Othniel, but left after a falling-out.
Brooklyn-born settler. Shares a trailer with Jehu. The settlement's de facto English translator.
Nachum, Raya, Tehila (Tili), and Shimshon (Shimi): a new family who moved from an established settlement to this new and remote settlement.
Gabi's classmate from a neighboring kibbutz, who reappears later to claim a major role in his life.
Gabi and Roni's adoptive parents on the kibbutz.
Roni and Gabi's uncle, a war veteran who lives in a kibbutz in the Golan Heights.
A kid in the kibbutz, three years younger than Gabi, with whom he has a violent encounter.
Gabi's friends from the kibbutz.
A friend of Roni's from his Tel Aviv days. He always has a new business idea.
IDF's head of Central Command and the most senior commander in the West Bank. An old friend of Othniel's.
Gabi's boss in Florida at the Jewish National Fund.
A former IDF commando who becomes Roni's Wall Street mentor in New York.
n the beginning were the fields.
Back then, Othniel Assis was living in Ma'aleh Hermesh, merrily raising a goat and growing arugula and cherry tomatoes in his backyard. The goat was for his kids, the arugula and tomatoes for his wife Rachel's salads. And Othniel saw that it was good, and he tired of his job as a bookkeeper, and he found himself a small plot of land within the bounds of the settlement, on which to expand his crops. As fate would have it, however, the field bordered the vineyards of another settler whose grapes produced boutique wines that were sold to Tel Aviv's Golden Apple restaurant and other fine-dining establishments, including, the vintner claimed, several in the Dordogne region of France, and in Paris, too. And the vintner turned up his nose, declaring that he had received a permit from the regional council to plant additional vineyards on the very plot of land that had caught Othniel's fancy. The soil, he insisted, along with the cold winters and temperate summer nights, had imbued his grapes with an outstanding quality, a unique
, which produced a full-bodied wine with a nutty aroma.
And so it came to pass that Othniel deferred to the vintner and went out hiking through the surrounding land, for he deeply loved his country, and deeply loved solitude, and deeply loved to pray, and deeply loved to walk. Having left his job, he allowed his beard and hair to grow long, and wore only blue work clothes. He hiked through riverbeds and ravines, and across neighboring hilltops, until he came upon a wide-open plain, which wasn't particularly rocky, and wasn't already occupied by the olive trees of the neighboring Arab village of Kharmish. “Here,” he said, “I will stake out my fields.”
Othniel experimentedâcucumbers and tomatoes, parsley and cilantro, zucchini and eggplant, radishes, and even lettuce. The crops wilted under the hot summer sun and froze stiff in the winter's chill, and also fell victim to mice and desert tortoises. But Othniel persevered, and finally decided on asparagus in the field and mushrooms in a greenhouseâand, of course, the arugula and cherry tomatoes, which Rachel, his wife, and Gitit and Dvora, his daughters, snacked on like they were peanuts.
He duly requested council approval for his farming enterprise, and asked permission to bring a shipping container to the site to serve as both office and warehouse. Because the local military administration required governmental approval for all such plans, barring those that fell under British Mandateâera legislation, Othniel Assis asserted, “Sure, they're Mandate Era; whatever you say, my Jewish brethren,” and promptly received his permits, with the political echelon none the wiser.
Othniel relocated his lone goat to the field, and took out a small loan to purchase five more, which he turned to milking, collecting their fine produce in small pitchers and taking it home to conduct various experiments in churning and cheese-making with Rachel's help. And Othniel dared to dream, and he said to himself, There'll come a day when I will establish a small modern dairy here, and I'll plant vineyards, too, and the winery I set up will surpass that of my former neighbor, and I'll show him what's what, him and his Dordogne!
The World Zionist Organization's Settlement Division required Othniel's signature for a twenty-kilowatt power generator, and he then requested a permit for a guard hut, following an incident with the neighboring Ishmaelites, who had plundered the fruits of his labor. Armed with his Desert Eagle Mark VII pistol, Othniel stood guard now and then, but for the most part the hut remained empty. After all, his harvest had been raided just that one time, after which he rounded up some guys from the settlement, drove into the center of Kharmish, fired some shots in the air, and issued a stern warning to any villager who dared to do the same again.
One member of the posse was Uzi Shimoni, an imposing Jew with a beard to match, and a deep-seated devotion to the Land of Israel. Years earlier, he had studied with Othniel at the same yeshiva high school in Jerusalem, before Othniel left his religious studies in favor of full and
active military service in an elite combat unit. Shimoni appealed to Othniel's heart, and urged him to establish a formal settlement on his land. Othniel, however, was reluctant, because his permit pertained only to a farming enterprise and a guard hut.
“Don't you worry,” said Shimoni.
“But where will you get the money for homes and construction and transport?” Othniel asked.