Nestled away and nearly completely hidden deep inside the Gush Etzion forest,
52-year-old Susan Levin spends her days inside a 50-meter building measuring and
mixing, boiling and bottling.
With her hair always covered and her long
skirt nearly hitting the floor, one might assume Levin is perhaps busy cooking
up some matzo ball soup in bulk, maybe as a caterer for weddings or
In actuality Levin, who made aliya from the US six years
ago, and was looking for a change in career, is the one and only female
“settler” brewster in all of Judea and Samaria and is the co-owner of the Lone
Tree Brewery, a boutique beer manufacturing plant which produces eight kinds of
high-quality suds with an average output totaling 800-bottles per
Levin says that she is “proud and, even more so, privileged to be
able to call Gush Etzion her home,” for its rich Jewish history, and is grateful
to be producing “a completely natural and healthy product” that has been a
staple of nearly every civilization throughout history.
While beer perhaps has gotten a negative reputation over the years thanks to
college fraternity parties gone wild, Levin explains that beer, which today is
the number one consumed beverage worldwide, actually saved lives in England at
the turn of the 17th century during the beginning of British pub
“Since the water in England was so polluted at the time,” she
explains, “the people who drank water might never have made it to work. However,
those that stopped for a pint at their local pub on their way to work – because
beer is boiled, which kills the bacteria in the liquid, lived to see another
day. There is no doubt that beer curbed disease and early death at the
Fast-forward to the year 2012, within Israel’s so-called
“settlement movement,” often portrayed in the media as an area of radicalism and
violent conflict, or in some camps both locally and abroad viewed as the “main
obstacle to peace.”
Levin scoffs at the notion that her presence is the
reason that Arabs and Jews are still at war. She says that in fact her visitors,
who travel to the Gush for tours of her brewery and tastings on a regular basis
from places like Tel-Aviv and Haifa, sometimes arrive “with preconceived
notions, only to discover that this is one of the most peaceful places in all of
the Land of Israel.”
In addition to local guests, Levin says that she
hosts visitors from abroad who sometimes call her up to two months in advance to
book tours and tastings.
SO HOW did this mother of three, with no
previous brewing experience other than making beer as a hobby for her own
consumption, decide to undertake this venture? “I was looking for a way to build
something,” she says, “to plant roots in the Land of Israel, and it dawned on me
that the microbrew market in Israel was not fully developed, so I decided to
give it a shot.”
In 2010, after perfecting her craft, she along with a
business partner opened a small factory, and began selling her product. Her
selection of ales includes various styles – three British, two American, one
Belgian, one stout and the house special – an Israeli blend of pomegranate-date
Each bottle features its own scale on the back to let the consumer
know how bitter the blend is, from one (least bitter) to five (most bitter). The
logo on each bottle is a single tree, representing the “Etz Haboded,” the
historic “lone oak tree,” which has been a symbol of Gush Etzion for hundreds of
years, and recently a representation of the return and re-establishment of
Jewish communities in the area after 19 years of inaccessibility following the
fall of the Gush during War of Independence.
The near-panoramic view from
Levin’s brewery door, which is usually always wide open, is
On a clear day, one can see Israel’s coastline from Tel
Aviv to Ashdod down to Ashkelon. Also clearly visible are Beitar-Ilit, Tzur
Hadassah and Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem neighborhood.
“I am blessed to live
and to work in a place where I can gaze over the hills of Judea, see the
mountains, and the coast, and become inspired by the beauty and peacefulness of
the land,” Levin says. She adds, “When I am in the midst of brewing, producing a
natural product, I become in concert with the Land and its surroundings, which
is a perfect match.”
One of her greatest senses of satisfaction, admits
Levin, is when “visitors from Tel Aviv come here and see how normal life is in
Gush Etzion, or when we go to the annual beer exposition in Tel Aviv, and we are
the only ‘settler’ brewery represented, and I’m the only woman brewster around.
That’s a great feeling.”
While she doesn’t know the exact number of
visitors to the brewery, she says that “hundreds have come from all parts of
Israel, and all over the world.”
Levin takes her beer-making very
“Brewing is an art, a science,” she says. “I’m not some young
24-year-old out of the army, looking to brew as a hobby. This is a full-time
In fact, Levin says she works “a job and a half” since she also
puts in about 20 hours a week as the assistant to the director of Jerusalem’s
prestigious Ma’ale School of Film.
According to Levin, who describes
herself as a “proud, and very low-key ‘settler,’” she has gotten almost nothing
but positive feedback from her customers.
“We are right there in the
market with the other boutique beers in the country,” she says.
given me the opportunity to tell the story of how our people became a people,
which is especially relevant in this area of the country. Here I am prancing
around making beer 40 years after the original ‘settlers’ sacrificed and gave
their blood, which flows through this land, so that I can be here.
is no question that this area is our land. We don’t ask, ‘can we live here in
the Gush?’ we ask ‘where do you like living here?’ Being able to brew here and
to live here is a gift I received with no down payment. I feel like I am now
spending a good chunk of my life, with the privilege of paying back, what nobody
asked me to pay for.”The writer is a media expert, freelance journalist
and the host of Reality-Bytes Radio on www.israelnationalradio.com.
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