How do Israel’s frontier farms keep the Heart of Israel beating safe and strong?
The beeping of his alarm clock wakes David up at five. Well before dawn, he’s climbed out of bed, gotten dressed in his ratty-shirt, baggy cargo pants, and work boots, and stepped outside to start the day. He likes the quiet hours that give him time to think about how much his life has changed in just a few short years. He and his friends walk to the sheep pens, saddle up on their horses, and with the help of their sheep dogs begin the day.
They approach the ridge of their hillside, just east of the biblical town of Shiloh, and watch the sun begin to creep past the horizon in the deep Jordan River valley below them. Just six years ago, these hills were overtaken by roving bands of Bedouin, but today David and his friends wander the land as the farmhands of Malachei Hashalom, “The Angels of Peace” ranch. Over the years, David has gained an appreciation for these early hours of the day, before the rest of the world stirs, when it’s just him, his fellow farmhands, and the herd. As the barns and the living quarters fade from sight behind them, he imagines that aside from his clothes, his phone, and his army watch, there’s not much to distinguish him from the ancient Hebrews that shepherded across these hills millenia before him.
As the boys return the herd to their pens, the farm’s manager, Elhanan, drives up to greet them. While he doesn’t live on the farm, he spends more time here than at home – managing an operation like the Angels of Peace is a truly demanding job, and Elhanan is all-in. For him, it’s much more than just a livestock ranch – he’s turned the farm into a home away from home for these boys, many of whom lived on the fringes of society as dropouts and troublemakers before they found their way here. At Angels of Peace, shepherding, building, and teamwork have straightened these young men out and helped them to find direction in their complicated lives – David is only one of the dozens of boys whose lives have been turned around.
After their morning prayers and a hearty breakfast, the real work begins. While some boys go to work with the cattle in the stables, David joins Elhanan to work on a new structure for the farm’s operation. Out here on the frontier, construction is no simple feat – the most basic necessities of water, electricity, and insulation are a unique challenge here, where everything is exposed to the elements. Sweltering summer heat rises from the valley and biting winter chills trail down from the hilltops to make solid construction even more essential – for the staff and for the livestock. David has picked up some serious skills in electricity, plumbing, and construction in his time on the farm, skills that he hopes to one day use to build himself a house here on the frontier.
As the sun reaches its peak, everyone breaks for lunch and a brief break during the hottest hours of the day. Over these communal meals, the regular staff and their youthful farmhands get to know each other better, and Elhanan takes extra interest in some of the newer guys. One young man, sixteen years old, bounced between half a dozen schools before dropping out. His hyperactive personality just wasn’t cut out for traditional schooling, but in the more hands-on farm work that he’s found at the Angels of Peace, he’s come into himself as a hard worker, and a loyal friend. Some days, in the afternoon, Elhanan works with him to study for his matriculation exam since he didn’t complete his high school diploma. Another boy just finished high school. He used to come to the farm on weekends and evenings to help out, and get his hands dirty with some manual labor, but since graduating he’s been on the farm full time while he waits to draft to the military in the fall. In the meantime, he’s apprenticing at Angels of Peace to learn carpentry, and hopes to open up his own business after he finishes his military service. The farm gives these young men the opportunity to take responsibility for their lives by taking responsibility for their work, and has made a lasting impact on the futures of dozens of young men.
After an afternoon of hard work, with the livestock and around the farm, the team settles down for the evening, but their job is never done. While the workload is far lighter after dark, life on the frontier has never been just nine-to-five. Elhanan recalls rushing back to the farm from his home one night, through pouring rain and biting winds, to help one of the sheep give birth. Despite his exhaustion and the cold, it was a profound experience for him, to be a part of bringing life to the farm in such a unique way. These are formative experiences, for seasoned men like Elhanan as much as for the young farmhands.
But the nights on the frontier contain a darker side as well. Around the clock, the farm has guards tasked with protecting the staff and the livestock from dangerous neighbors, be they thieves or armed killers. The Angels of Peace try their best to remain true to their name – they’ve developed amicable relationships with many of the neighbors, returning lost livestock and helping to jumpstart dead car batteries. But with the high geopolitical tension and limited government authority over these frontier hills, peace is not always an option, and these ranchers know how to stand their ground when necessary. Elhanan and the other adults make a point of handling such scuffles themselves, without letting the boys get involved. Putting these kids in the middle of a scuffle is the opposite of the education that the farm hopes to provide for them.
They also coordinate their responses closely with the local security forces. Despite the public perception that such farms are outside the law, and run counter to the national establishment, the truth is far more nuanced. The Angels of Peace see themselves as emissaries of the nation, standing at the front to keep the Heart of Israel beating strong for all of Israel.
That’s where you come in. As we approach Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, you have a chance to be an essential partner to the Angels of Peace in the coming year. For such a critical project in the Heart of Israel, security is essential. With the constant threats in the region, the Angels of Peace farm needs to stay ahead of the game with state of the art security equipment, including advanced cameras and drones that are far beyond their operating budget. But with your help, they can continue their essential work – changing lives and protecting the Heart of Israel. Join us today to help tame the Wild West of the Middle East. Click here to donate!