Meital Ben Ari left her job in the hi-tech industry so she could establish an animal rescue and rehabilitation shelter.
“I’d worked in several fintech companies for many years, but as I’ve always loved animals, I would volunteer my time finding homes for cats,” says Ben Ari, who since 2016, together with Eidit Romano, has been running the Freedom Farm on Moshav Olesh in the Hefer Valley. Romano, who worked as an entrepreneur for 20 years, had a great deal of experience running an international company. She left her job and co-founded the Freedom Farm with Ben Ari. The farm is a shelter and rehabilitation center for animals that had been used for testing in the food industry.
“I used to travel overseas a lot for my work, and my life was very comfortable,” says Ben Ari. Then one day I was watching an interview with Gary Yourofsky, an American Jewish animal rights and vegan activist. He was talking about veganism. I had never heard of it before, so I began investigating. After reading up on veganism, I went straight to my fridge and began throwing away all the meat and animal products I had in there, including the cheese and eggs. From that moment on, I’ve been leading a pure, vegan lifestyle.”
Ben Ari made an extreme change in her life when she began volunteering at a nonprofit called Vegan Friendly. “I spent every free minute I had helping animals,” she explains. “I realized that although I was making a nice salary working in my cushy hi-tech job, my heart just wasn’t in it. Everyone told me I was crazy for leaving such a good job, but I realized that what I wanted to do was dedicate my life to taking care of animals.”
Was it an easy decision for you to quit your job and start a farm?
I was incredibly worried, of course – my legs were trembling. My parents thought I’d gone seriously mental. I knew that if I left my job, I’d probably never get hired again for that type of job. Just three months before I left my job, I’d been promoted and offered a much higher salary. Of course, I found it very difficult telling them that I’d be leaving my job, and they tried to convince me to at least remain in a part-time capacity. I felt with all of my being, however, that I needed to spend every second of the day working on our farm.
Are you still happy with that decision?
A hundred percent. I would not be doing what I am doing today if that weren’t the case. That’s not to say that it doesn’t come with a price because we have taken on a tremendous amount of responsibility. But I can honestly say that this is work that makes my soul sing. I’m a single mother, and I truly believe that if I’d stayed in hi-tech, I would not be able to experience this beautiful life with my children.
OREN SHAMAI left a full-time job as a TV program editor to establish a medicinal herb farm.
Shamai was born in Petah Tikva and lived in Ramat Gan for quite some time. “I worked as a TV show editor for many years, on programs like Sesame Street and Orly and Guy’s morning show,” Shamai explains. “I was miserable, but my bank manager was happy. Now we’ve changed places,” Shamai says with a chuckle.
“My wife, Adva, used to work as an accountant, and now she works as a reflexologist and also sews patchwork quilts. We decided to leave the city and remake our lives here on a moshav.”
What led to that decision?
For some time, we’d wanted to escape city life and start a farm, but we couldn’t figure out how to make that type of life work from a financial point of view. Then my brother-in-law moved to Pit’hat Shalom, and when we went to visit him there, we fell head over heels in love with the desert. The Shamais made a request to join Moshav Pri Gan in the Eshkol Regional Council, and 18 months later they were approved. “In 2012, we moved into an abandoned farm, and I continued working part time for the TV station,” Shamai explains. “Slowly, I began spending more and more hours programming irrigation computers for vegetable fields. Then, I found work in greenhouses where cannabis was grown. At the same time, with help from friends and family, Adva and I began restoring one square meter after another of our new plot of land. Lots of new neighbors also brought us presents.”
The Shamais called their new abode Hemdat Sadot, an agri-tourism and educational venture based on the principles of sustainable agriculture. “We had always dreamed of living in a place where our children would be able to run through the fields, and now our dream has come true. The Moshav Pri Gan community was so welcoming when we arrived. We’ve created a medicinal herb farm. We don’t milk our sheep – we wanted everything to be natural.”
Is there anything you miss from living in the city?
No, not really. I still get to travel around Israel and give lectures about Israeli film and poetry from the Middle Ages. And I go to Tel Aviv every Wednesday and Thursday, so I get my dose of big city action, and then afterward I get to go back to my quiet life on the moshav.
How did your friends and family react when you told them you were moving out to a moshav in the middle of the desert?
They thought I had lost my mind. A few of them even considered trying to get me hospitalized against my will and told me that they were never going to come visit us there, since according to them it was at the end of the world. In the end, they love coming to spend time with us so much that I have to tell them, ‘Go back home!’ I’m the only one in my circle who doesn’t live in central Israel.”
RONEN SHOSHANI left a full-time job in central Israel and moved to the Arava, where he planted a date palm orchard.
“In one day, I fired six employees and I gave up my home,” explains Shoshani, who worked for years as a landscape contractor in central Israel. “Even though I had lots of clients, I decided to close my business and move to the Arava. I had fallen in love with the desert, with the huge agricultural fields and orchards, and the feeling of freedom. When the Second Intifada broke out, some of my clients disappeared. I felt like I’d reached a crossroads and that I needed to make a change in my life.”
In 2004, Shoshani moved to Sapir, a community in the Arava, and began working as a teacher and tour guide who specialized in agriculture and zoology. “I got used to life down here pretty quickly,” Shoshani recalls. “The people were wonderful, and the community was so supportive.”
After two years in Sapir, Shoshani moved to Moshav Ein Tamar in the northern Arava. “I had been dreaming of planting a date orchard. I realize how extreme of a change I’d made in my life, but I see it as a positive and wonderful change. In fact, I think it’s the best decision I’ve ever made in my life. In addition to taking care of my date orchard, I also run an incredible agri-tourism venture called Shoshani’s Dates, in which I lead guided tours. It’s open every day of the year.”
Do you miss living in a big city?
I don’t think so. If I feel like seeing a movie or going to the mall, I drive an hour and a half, enjoy my day out, and then come home at the end of the day to my quiet and beautiful home in the Arava.
GUY ERLICH, a journalist from Jerusalem and an entrepreneur, is a founder of the Balm of Gilead Farm at Kibbutz Almog.
“In my younger days, I worked as a journalist, and I was heavily engaged in social entrepreneurship. My life changed the day I visited the Einot Zukim Nature Reserve, where I learned about the ancient persimmon oil that was produced there in ancient times.”
In 2008, Erlich moved to Kibbutz Almog, situated just north of the Dead Sea, where he established the Balm of Gilead Farm, on which he grows plants that are thought to be the same ones used as incense in the Holy Temple and as balm to heal infections and wounds. Erlich makes honey with the flowers of Boswellia trees that yield frankincense. “At first, I grew everything in a greenhouse. Later on, I began planting seedlings in my orchard. I love my life now. I’m very happy with my choices.”
Was it difficult getting used to this new style of living?
Well, it was certainly complicated. There was a lot of uncertainty, and I had many things to worry about. There were definitely lots of growing pains, and to tell you the truth, they haven’t all completely disappeared.
My kids suffered quite a bit when we moved here. All of a sudden, they were uprooted from their schools and friends and plopped down here in the desert and put into very small classes. They didn’t have so many kids to choose from as friends, and to say they were angry is an understatement – and yes, they were justified in feeling that way.
Life here is pretty different than it is in the city. I feel completely at home here in my orchard, but I can’t say the same thing about how I feel when I go into the kibbutz. On the other hand, I don’t envision myself ever moving back to live in a big city.
DOTAN GOSHEN left the world of hi-tech to make his new life on his organic vegetable garden.
“I worked in hi-tech for 13 years, and my last position was as VP of sales. I was constantly flying overseas for meetings, and I drove a company car,” explains Goshen. “Then one evening around 7:00 p.m., while I was at home spending time with my one-year-old daughter, my boss called. I answered the phone, and he heard my daughter crying in the background. Later that evening, he wrote me an email, berating me for being home at such an early hour, when everyone else was still in the office taking their job seriously. He wrote that the company was at a sensitive time, and he expected me to be putting in 14-hour days if need be. The next morning, I went to speak with him and told him that I understood, but that I had other things I wanted to do with my life.”
In 2012, Goshen moved with his family to Kibbutz Hama’apil in the Hefer Valley. “I planted an organic vegetable garden over 10 acres,” Goshen explains. “We grow 30 to 40 types of vegetables and don’t use any pesticides. Every week, there are different vegetables that are ripe and ready for harvest. We prepare boxes of gorgeous organic produce and deliver them directly to people’s homes. We have clients all across Israel, from the North to the southern tip.”
Were you afraid to make the move?
I was very determined to make this change. From the moment I gave notice to my boss, he kept trying to get me to reconsider. I was adamant, though, that this was not the way I wanted to live and to raise my children. I accepted the fact that apparently I was never going to bring a start-up company to an exit. But I was going to enjoy spending time being home with my family and living my life.
How did people react when you quit your job and told them you were moving to the countryside?
When I was working in Tel Aviv, I would spend hours upon hours in traffic driving to and from work, and that seemed totally normal to me at the time. Nowadays, when I think about driving to Tel Aviv, my fingers start to tingle, and I’m so happy I don’t need to do that anymore.
I have drivers that drive to cities all over the country to distribute our produce to families. I personally never want to have to drive there ever again if I don’t need to. Many people thought I’d lost my mind when they heard I wanted to become a farmer. ‘Who leaves hi-tech?’ they would ask. ‘Who would give up such a good job with such great benefits?’
At this point, I’m glad that so many people told me my cockamamie idea would never work, since it gave me the incentive and drive to make my new venture succeed. Thankfully, my wife told me to follow my dream, no matter how far it takes us.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.