Two meshuganas (“ridiculous guys” in Yiddish) came up with an idea that borders on lunacy and turned it into a successful project and the fulfillment of a dream. Not just any dream, but one that breaks down borders and goes way beyond expectations.
My husband Aviel is one, and the other meshugana is Oren Shalom. As a young soldier, Aviel trained in the Negev Desert over 30 years ago and grew to love the solitude of the wilderness. The isolated settlement of Ezuz on the border with Egypt that to reach you drive to what looks like the end of the earth and turn left, where you come to a water tower and two tents on a hill. A magnet for Aviel. Oren and his brother Ronen settled not far away on a dune by a well about 15 years ago. There they co-founded the settlement of Beer Milka, also at the end of the world, only on the right. Together with Oren’s wife Revital, they built a house and today they have five children.
Oren and Aviel met at one of the summer desert camps in the Negev that Israel Today used to hold for young people from all over the world. Aviel was surprised to learn that Oren lived in the area where he had spent so much of his army service. Ideas were shared that led to prayers and a dream was born: to make the desert green again, just as the prophets foresaw. Aviel shared the vision with loyal friends in Israel and abroad, and he and Oren went to work. That’s how it all began about 12 years ago, just a few hundred meters from the Egyptian border. First came grape vines and a vineyard, then the olive grove.
But not only Aviel and Oren were crazy enough to try, many people abroad followed the call and vision of the “prophets.” It’s true, crazy people can be contagious. Partners believed in this project to make the desert green and put down roots in the country by planting grapevines and olive trees. The physical distance did not separate them from their dream to make Israel’s wasteland bloom.
Nothing could stop their firm commitment to fulfill the biblical promise. I know how difficult these times were for Aviel and Oren. Everyone had their job in this wild plan. Oren had to cope with the extreme climate and terrain on-site, while Aviel had to finance the annual expenses for irrigation, tools and nets against swarms of locusts. Planting is easy, keeping vineyards and olive groves alive in the desert is much harder and more expensive. But every time I’m down there, I’m amazed at how God made this possible. Just unbelievable. If Aviel and Oren hadn’t met and brought their dream to pass, the wasteland would have won.
The visions of the prophets from thousands of years ago are coming true even as Isaiah said: “The desert and wasteland will rejoice, and the steppe will rejoice and bloom like a daffodil field.” In another place the prophet Amos described: “And they will rebuild the devastated cities and live in them, plant vineyards and drink their wine, plant gardens and enjoy their fruits.”
God’s Word is true and remains forever. In Israel and abroad people are now drinking the desert wine we named Simeon after the inheritance he received in the region. A delicious taste of Israel that has spread around the world. Next year, according to the biblical command, the olives may be harvested for the first time, from which fine olive oil is to be made. Despite all the difficulties in the wilderness, 25 hectares (300,000 sq. yards) are now green. It started with two meshuganas here in the desert and with even more abroad. “Whoever does not believe in miracles is not a realist,” as our first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion liked to say.