Farming couple fights to keep Ben-Gurion’s dream alive

Tracey and Rob Ben Or set out to become modern-day agricultural pioneers in an ancient land.

Tracey and Rob Ben Or (photo credit: Courtesy)
Tracey and Rob Ben Or
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Tracey and Rob Ben Or look like your average modern, hipster couple: Rob is tattooed, Tracey constantly updates her Instagram.
But the newlyweds, who both immigrated from America to Israel and now live in Hod Hasharon, have set out to partake in one of the most ancient professions known to mankind... farming. In fact, the couple spent three weeks in July traveling across the globe, hopping from organic farm to organic farm, meeting the people who run them, learning about the farming trade, and making plans to create a farm of their very own. They dubbed their trip “a farmingmoon.”
Spending their honeymoon visiting farms was something the two had agreed upon wholeheartedly. “Instead of sitting on a beach all day, which neither one of us really enjoys, we thought we’d rather do something that’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip and meet people and see their farms,” Tracey explains.
But for the Ben Ors, the goal of the trip wasn’t just to learn about farming, but to take what they gained abroad and to bring it back to Israel in order to start an organic farm in the Jewish state.
As Rob sees it, raising crops and working on a farm in Israel is as Zionist as “Hatikvah” and the novel Exodus. “Farming is literally what the country was founded on. It’s who we are,” he says.
“That’s how we defined the country,” Rob explains, describing the scene in 1948: “It was like, ‘We’re gonna send out a bunch of 20-year-olds with rifles, build a stockade to put some of them in, and the rest are going to start farming.’ That’s how the country was built.
“And for me, to have children here, to operate a farm here… it’s the optimal scenario,” Rob says.
A proud secular Midwestern American Jew with a culinary background, Rob made the decision one day to head to Israel to pursue a life that felt more meaningful, a life that felt more selfless than the career-driven lifestyle he was living in Chicago. He made aliyah, served for two years in the Paratroopers Brigade and then settled down in Tel Aviv, eventually owning his own restaurant.
All the while, he had a special interest in the Zionists of old, the secular founders of the country like David Ben-Gurion, who believed in the importance of creating a modern, democratic country for the Jews. A man who also dreamed of “making the desert bloom.”
His hopes of working the land and farming his own food were therefore never too far out of mind, and as he worked in the kitchen he couldn’t help but wonder about the parts of the meat he wasn’t using and the origins and pesticide-use of the vegetables he was dicing.
Meanwhile, Tracey also always had dreams of owning a farm. As a child in Long Island, she remembers telling her mother about her farm aspirations.
ALTHOUGH SHE grew up Reform, the driven Tracey really became interested in Israel and Judaism once she went to college while studying in Fordham University, a Catholic school. It was there that she realized she was different, and where she became inspired to study Torah. She eventually came to Israel through Taglit-Birthright and then made aliyah, completing her MBA at Tel Aviv University.
Following her studies, with her juvenile dreams of farming still on her now-adult mind, she decided to spend time working on a kibbutz in northern Israel before moving back to New York to start a wedding planning business.
It was a few years later, while Tracey was visiting from New York, that the two young, hip American Israelis met at a wedding in Tel Aviv.
For Rob and Tracey it was pretty much love at first sight. Although she was leaving the very next day, the two promised to keep in touch. Somehow they did, maintaining a long-term relationship for two years before Tracey finally headed – once again – back to the Holy Land.
The couple, having bonded over their shared dreams of owning a farm, rented a small home with a backyard in Hod Hasharon in order to try their hand at tilling the soil, working the land, growing corn, fennel, tomatoes and raising some hens.
“There’s nothing like it,” says Rob, “to pick corn off the stalk – we don’t even cook it. It is so sweet and so juicy. It is the best raw.”
And it was here, surrounded by friends and family and hens and homegrown organic vegetables that Rob tearfully wed Tracey underneath their very own pomegranate tree.
Tracey had found farms to visit on their farmingmoon in Italy, England and the East Coast of the United States. She sought out farmers who led small productions that had cage-free animals and organic, pesticide-free crops.
Now, a few months later and having returned from their trip, the two agree their trip was a success. The couple learned enough about organic farming to discover exactly the type of farm they aspire to own – an organic dairy farm. They continue to speak with role models who are helping them see and plan a future for themselves as farmers in Israel and look forward to spending autumn as newlyweds in their quaint Hod Hasharon home, and to the brassicas the season will bring: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower – as well as their personal favorite: more sweet, juicy corn eaten right off the stalk.
The couple's website and podcast can be seen at havatbenor.com.