Real Israel: Talmudic thoughts and food

A trip to the Golan Heights provides an outing on a different level.

Golan woman (photo credit: Liat Collins)
Golan woman
(photo credit: Liat Collins)
You can’t go back in time, but you can certainly slow things down, as I discovered during a recent visit to the Bellofri farm on Moshav Kidmat Zvi, near Katzrin.
Bellofri, run by Tami and Babi Kabalo, is a tourism enterprise with its very own, special flavor – part of that flavor being homemade cheeses and wines washed down with ample helpings of philosophy.
“It’s based on two central principles,” explains Tami, “recycling and a strong link to Jewish and Israeli traditions.”
The Kabalos arrived in Kidmat Zvi 30 years ago when the site was just an empty plot of land amid the beauty of the Golan. It was Zionism that took them so far from their previous home in Beersheba.
“We were raised on the youth movement slogan: ‘Aleh vehagshem,’ [Go up and make it real] so that’s what we did,” says Tami.
And in a way, that’s what they continue to do, amid vineyards and orchards of cherries, apples and pears.
Developing their land as a tourism site – though undoubtedly a business – is nonetheless a way for the Kabalos to share their dreams with others.
Tami and Babi, both in their 50s, talk with passion about their work – and about each other – so it is surprising to learn of its prosaic background.
“We have four children and when they left home I was badly hit by empty-nest syndrome,” says Tami.
“A split second before I became certifiably insane, we began opening our home to tourists. We also took lots of courses and began to share these too.”
The Kabalos proved talented in complementary fields. Babi studied the crafts of making stained glass and jewelry. Tami studied sculpture. Babi makes wines, Tami cheeses. They serve the food in the restaurant Babi built using what he could find, hence the special character that comes from combining local wood and the dark volcanic rock of the Golan. The plates are Tami’s handmade ceramic dishes. The food is delicious (there is no kashrut certificate as they are open on Shabbat, but the kitchen is dairy only).
While Babi gives a guided tour of the winery and galleries to couples who drop by for a visit – they also offer courses in their various fields – Tami and I chat. Since Tami has a master’s degree in Jewish philosophy and she still teaches at a local high school, our conversation quickly covers many fields, from education to the religious-secular divide, the role of philosophy and life’s shocks and surprises. Aided by the combined relaxing effect of the wine and scenery, the “personal touch” quickly becomes personal indeed.
At some point I follow Tami into the kitchen where she needs to drain the water from the feta cheese she is preparing. The range of cheeses is named after their young granddaughter, Noam, Tami notes proudly. How did she get into the cheese making business? “Well, first we got the goats and then we needed to do something with them.”
For, among the “recycling” projects, is a petting corner full of rescued animals. My nine-year-old son, who had been escorted by the Kabalos’ young neighbor, Sagi, is eager to introduce me to the goats, donkeys and sheep, each with its own story – one wounded by a Katyusha in the Second Lebanon War, one which escaped from a truck on its way to slaughter, one found abandoned and hurt.
Another attraction for children is the reconstruction of ancient farming methods – the millstone of the olive press is operated by the donkey, “the one with four legs,” as Tami puts it. Each point is accompanied by an explanation of Jewish principles and traditions. As kids work in the granary, for example, they learn that everything has a value – even the chaff – and are taught about the tradition of charity; the bread making teaches the value of hard work, and the well serves as a reminder of the importance of community.
A look at the visitors’ book shows several expressions of gratitude from American Jews who have visited on bar/bat mitzva trips, sometimes getting a drasha from Tami, a teacher rather than preacher.
“It’s a very Israeli experience,” says Babi.
Among the most Israeli aspects has to be the wine cellar – an old Syrian bunker now housing rows of bottles carrying the label Ein Nashut, the name of the Second Temple-period synagogue whose remnants can be seen nearby.
THE GOLAN is not the place for a rushed day trip, so it was decided that we would sleep over at Kibbutz Ortal. Last-minute (and nonpaying) guests during the busy Succot holiday season, we were given one of the simpler rooms which was all we needed: clean, comfortable, air-conditioned with cable TV, a coffee corner and shower.
The next day, my son saw the luxury wooden holiday cabins equipped with a giant Jacuzzi and flat plasma TV, leaving him with aspirations for a future visit. I was reminded of Yediot Aharonot columnist Lihi Lapid’s insight that Israel’s water shortage could probably be solved if there were tzimmerim without Jacuzzis, which tempt families who carefully save water at home to waste it on vacation.
Admittedly the nighttime entertainment possibilities on the kibbutz are somewhat limited, although spa treatments can be ordered in advance to the cabins. One of the novelties for many visitors is eating in the traditional kibbutz communal dining room. Ortal also offers visits to its 800-cow computerized dairy. It is a moo-ving and vaguely mesmerizing experience: The cows step through a revolving gate onto a slowly rotating, completely automated milking parlor. For those who prefer their animals in a more natural environment than a giant computerized roundabout, wolves can be heard howling at night (safely beyond the kibbutz fence).
In the morning, we do a quick tour around the kibbutz and are enchanted by the kibbutz horses that gallop past, the majesty of Mount Bental and, in the distance, a row of wind turbines.
Those with more time can perhaps visit Gamla, the Masada of the North and a stunning nature reserve, go bird-spotting in the Hula or take in some of the many archeological sites in the area.
As we descended from the Heights on our way home, we got a view of the Kinneret which reminded me why it inspired poets like Rahel.
Jerusalemites can hardly complain about a lack of ancient or religious sites, but a trip to the Golan Heights, especially accompanied by good food and philosophical discussions, provides a different perspective.
Details of the Kabalos’ farm can be found at: Workshops require prior coordination. For info on Kibbutz Ortal: