As an American who moved to Israel about 12 years ago, I’ve always been impressed with agriculture in Israel. I never cease to be amazed by how the Jewish people have succeeded in turning a barren wasteland into an agricultural exporter.
It is particularly impressive for me to see that the flourishing agriculture has been described by the prophets as part of the blessing that will accompany the Jews’ return to their land. “You will again plant grapevines in the mountains of Shomron (Samaria),” says the prophet Jeremiah (31:4). I am lucky to see this prophecy being fulfilled a few times a week as I run through the hilltops covered by vinyards outside of my small Shomron village. Occasionally I am accompanied by a herd of gazelles, a covey of partidge or a hyrax.
But lately I have been seeing other people in the vinyards. The people aren’t locals – they come from far away to help Jewish farmers harvest their grapes in the Shomron. The volunteers leave their homes and jobs for extended periods of time and spend their waking hours in the hot Shomron sun, harvesting grapes. More than 100 volunteers arrive each summer, and together they harvest hundreds of tons of grapes. And the people aren’t even Jewish- they’re Christians.
The Christians have been coming to Israel through Hayovel, a US non-profit organization aimed at assisting Jewish farmers in Israel’s “heartland.” Over the past two harvest seasons, I met some of the volunteers and spoke to them on a few occasions about my experience of making Aliya and living in the Shomron. I am impressed by their sincerity and dedication to a cause that I identify with, making the Shomron flourish. They come with the belief that they are fulfilling the prophecies, “And foreigners will stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien your farmers and your vinedressers.” (Isaiah 60:5)
Unfortunately, not all of the Jews in the Shomron have been so welcoming. Just today I saw signs plastered all over my community that read, “Where there are Christians, there will be no blessing.”
It is true that the Christian volunteers are different than the Jews living in the Shomron and have different beliefs about religion. They believe in a different holy book that we don’t believe in and have different ideas about redemption. However, throughout my many interactions with many volunteers, I have not heard one mention of Jesus or the New Testament. The volunteers understand that the residents of the Shomron are not interested in missionary activity and the volunteers are respectful of our beliefs.
The historical events occurring in Israel over the last 60 years have been encouraging to Jews and non-Jews alike all over the world. Nevertheless, many non-Jews still deny our historical connection to the land of Israel. We must welcome anyone who is willing to support the Jews’ connection to the land and allow them to be a part of the rebirth of the people of Israel in their land. These gentiles will be our ambassadors and advocates when they return home and take their positive experiences of the land back with them.