Wearing a colorful, sleeveless and skintight blouse and sporting several artistic tattoos, Barkan resident and boutique chocolatier Sharon Kahane hardly looks like the stereotypical “settler.”

Kahane, who grew up in Tel Aviv, moved out to Barkan, located in the Ariel bloc, along with her husband and children and now runs her own homebased business producing and selling some of the most delectable and high quality homemade chocolates available in Israel today.

Kahane recently gave a chocolate-making demonstration to a busload of over 30 guests, both Anglo Israelis and tourists from abroad, as part of a unique full-day tour of Judea and Samaria arranged by the One Israel Fund organization, whose mission is to improve quality of life, provide advocacy and increase security for the residents of Judea and Samaria.

While many Jews and Christian Zionists come to Judea and Samaria seeking a spiritual link to ancient religious, biblical, or archeological sites in places like Hebron, Shilo or Beit El, this trip not only delved into the past, but put a great emphasis on the contributions and innovations the residents of Judea and Samaria are making to the people of Israel and people around the world in the present, and hopefully for many years to come.

Group organizers unabashedly marketed the trip as “Hedonism in the hills,” desiring to get the message out that “being a settler is hip.” In addition to the chocolate boutique stop in Barkan, the group took part in wine tastings at three award-winning boutique wineries, visited an organic honey farm, sampled fresh goat cheeses and other dairy products and ended the day with an all-you-can-eat sunset festival of meat and wine, overlooking the hills and vineyards of the Binyamin region.

I tagged along on the trip since I felt it was extremely necessary to be a part of this day of pleasuring the senses – for journalistic purposes only, of course.

By the end of the trip not only were all participants extremely giggly and well-fed, but had experienced first-hand that despite the mainstream media’s overwhelming focus on the area as a hot-bed of conflict and extremism, in reality – and similar to the title of a new guide book about tours and trips in Judea and Samaria, the truth is that Yesha is Fun.

Marc Prowisor, director of security projects for One Israel, who lives in Shiloh and coordinated the trip, started the morning by explaining to the group that while the term “settler” has developed into such a negative and condescending slur, he actually takes pride in being dubbed a settler “because of all the good coming out of the area, whether it’s the number of settlers in elite army units, or all of the agricultural developments – what we’re producing is the pride of the people of the State of Israel.”

But even during this day of great fun, there was room to discuss the issues.

Kahane, who hopes to open a small café alongside her chocolate factory, says that she is proud of where she lives and doesn’t care about others who automatically have a false perception of who she is based on geography.

“If they want to buy chocolate from me, great, and if they don’t they don’t,” she says.

According to Eve Harow, who was the group’s tour guide for the day, herself a resident of Judea, it’s ironic that the extreme left wing has such a problem with the “settlements” when the Barkan Industrial Zone just a few blocks away from Kahane’s property “houses factories whose employees are 50 percent local Arabs.” Harow adds that the “coexistence that is happening here is certainly not taking place in Tel Aviv.”

Prowisor tells the group “how much the yishuvim [settlements] add to the quality of life of the local Arabs,” whether it’s employment or emergency medical care, explaining that Arabs usually request for Israeli medics during emergencies since “they would rather be in an Israeli hospital than a Palestinian Authority hospital in Nablus.”

One fact that becomes obvious to the group while standing on Kahane’s back porch with a clear view of the Tel Aviv skyline on the horizon is how risky it would be to turn over the highlands of Judea and Samaria to the PA, when according to Harow “70% of Israel’s population lives just down below, between Gadera and Hadera.”

By the time the tipsy bunch arrives at the second winery of the day, located on Givat Harel between Eli and Shilo, it becomes more difficult to focus on the educational and religious aspects of winemaking being explained by the local wine-master. Instead, people are busy snapping photos of the breathtaking, luscious green panoramic hilltop views as a constant, cool and strong mountain breeze blows through this now “buzzing” group.

After even more wine and fresh cheese it’s off to Ofra to prepare for the dinner feast. On this short ride, most doze off.

In Ofra, the group is greeted with a gourmet dinner of succulent and freshly carved beef and lamb, fresh salads, rice, and mouth-watering breads. And yes, of course, more wine, courtesy of the local winery. After dinner public thank-yous abound, and it’s back on the bus for a 30-minute “sobering-up” ride to Jerusalem, where the tour concludes.

Bottles are clinking at every bump and pothole along the way, as most guests made sure to stock up on wines, honey and even olive oil for the upcoming holidays.

All in all, the tour was a great success – truly a win-win for the local businesses, who sold their wares throughout the day, and for the consumers who came home with goodies.

But more than anything, the day was a success for the entire “settler” movement, which succeeded in educating yet another busload of visitors about who they really are.

The writer is a freelance journalist, a children's author, and host of Reality Bytes Radio on www.israelnationalradio.com


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