Zac Waller and his family.
(photo credit: MIRA LEVY)
It’s a long way from Tennessee to the West Bank settlement of Psagot, but love of both wine and Israel goes a long way to bridging the gaps for Brayden and Zac Waller.
The Tennessee brothers are the spark behind the Christian organization Hayovel, who brought a group of volunteers to work at the Psagot Winery during Operation Protective Edge at harvest time.
The help couldn’t have come at a better time, as many winery staff members were called to reserve duty at the beginning of the conflict. And the boutique winery, founded and run by CEO Yaakov Berg, has been one of Hayovel’s biggest fans.
Indeed, Berg provided the Wallers with a place to stay on their first visit to Israel over a decade ago.
And when the volunteer program began to get off the ground, there were sometimes 80 people staying in Berg’s home.
The Wallers’ expanding group of volunteers hail from eight countries, for programs ranging from three to 12 weeks. Many of these volunteers have little if any experience in the wine sector, but feel that “farming is farming,” and look to help in any way possible.
According to the Wallers, Hayovel tries to provide its volunteers with an experience that bridges the physical labor of working the Land of Israel and learning about its biblical significance.
“God has called us to do this, but also to share what we have learned,” the brothers explained, claiming that “Israel’s biblical importance and significance to God” is an inspiration for their work.
Their mission sees them spending more than five months each year in Israel, where their lifestyle is different from their rural Tennessee existence.
“Moving from a 16-hectare (40-acre) farm to living in an apartment was a big adjustment at first,” said Zac Waller.
Despite the month-long conflict that has taken place during the current group’s stay, there weren’t any cancellations or dropouts among the volunteers, the brothers said. In fact, it strengthened their desire to be in Israel and support the country at war, and when presented with an option to return home, they quickly responded with, “If there is any time, now is the time to show our support.”
“It came as a surprise to see how life goes on and continues,” Zac said, when asked about the biggest difference from his experience a year ago.
Another change the Wallers experience every year is the winery’s expansion. Psagot, located within eyeshot of Ramallah and overlooking the mountains of Jordan, has grown quite along the lines of their annual volunteers. Since its founding in 2003, the winery has expanded from a 3,000-bottle harvest to over 200,000 bottles.
Berg stressed the care and attention put into every step of the harvest, but also attributed the passion the staff displays for its work to Psagot’s location.
“There is a connection between the vines that grow here and the land they lie on,” he explained.
It’s a linkage that the Wallers and Hayovel’s volunteers clearly see, and it’s what keeps them coming back every year. That – and the feeling they are doing something good for Israel and the Jewish people.
As Zac Waller says, “It’s important to see the good things over the bad, because it’s the positive that most people tend to miss.” •