A group of young and idealistic immigrants recently purchased the land and hope to turn it into an ecological farm and center for education and wellness.


 LOOKING OUT at the horizon from Chevra  Eco Farm. (photo credit: Eli Ben Ze’ev)
LOOKING OUT at the horizon from Chevra Eco Farm.(photo credit: Eli Ben Ze’ev)

A lush tract of land in Israel’s North has an untouched charm and a lot of potential. It is the future site of Chevra Eco Farm, located one hill over from Safed on a hillside of the village of Birya.

A group of young and idealistic immigrants recently purchased the land and hope to turn it into an ecological farm and center for education and wellness. “We do this now, not in spite of but because of the national collective feelings of uncertainty about the future in wake of Oct. 7 and the subsequent war,” they explain.

The Magazine spoke to Ariela Solomon, and husband and wife team Aviel Friedman and Shira Kaplan-Friedman about their vision.

“Our goal is to plant hundreds of fruit trees, a vineyard, and a regenerative food forest to create a natural and beautiful outdoor space for education, teaching, and healing,” Friedman said.

The plan had been in the works for several years but only recently came to “fruition.”

 AVIEL FRIEDMAN teaches syntropic agricultural and how it connects to the Torah.  (credit: Shira Kaplan-Friedman)
AVIEL FRIEDMAN teaches syntropic agricultural and how it connects to the Torah. (credit: Shira Kaplan-Friedman)

From hi-tech to farm tech

“I’ve been working in high-pressure jobs for the past 17 years,” stated Solomon, a successful hi-tech worker who emigrated from the United States in 2011. Things got tough for her family of nine following the coronavirus pandemic, the economic downturn, and finally the war.

“Even prior to Oct. 7, I was feeling like I didn’t have time for my kids because I had to be at work and hit my targets. Then the attacks happened and everything stopped,” she said.

“The sadness and grief is overwhelming. Something has got to change here. I took some time to pause, think, and be in nature, and to actively process what we have all been going through. I think that what is actually needed now is healing. Humans don’t realize what they need to do to heal because we have to jump back up and go back to work,” Solomon said.

“We need rest, sunshine, water, to touch the earth, to be away from our phones, move our bodies, and eat healthy. We are so far away from that right now that we are suffering a mental health crisis. And now with war, people are suffering more than ever mentally,” Solomon said. “That is when the Chevra Eco Farm came to the forefront: to get into the mode of healing through nature and building for the future.”

“Everyone felt vulnerable,” Friedman explained. “People wanted to leave, and that is understandable. Many of my co-workers expressed uncertainty and pessimism.”

“There was probably the same sentiment in 1947 right before the establishment of the state,” he said. “A lot of people were determined and excited. But there will always be those warning we cannot succeed.”

Friedman sees this as an opportunity to choose optimism. “This is a new wave of settling the land, getting back to the dirt and trees,” he said. “The mitzvah of Yishuv ha’aretz, settling the land, doesn’t necessarily mean owning your dream home. Just planting a tree and taking care of a few square meters of plants works, too.

“This is an invitation to all Jews in Israel and around the world to come and be a part of it with us: work the land and get the positive juices flowing again,” Friedman said.

Close-knit chevra

Friedman met his wife, Shira, as a customer at her clothing store, Trumpeldor Vintage, in the quaint, historic Nahlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem. After they got married, they co-owned the shop for over seven years. Solomon was a neighbor who frequented the store in search of vintage treasures. 

A close-knit community developed among the English-speaking immigrants in Nahlaot. But dreams of a more pastoral life led them to continue their journey together in an outlying rural area close to Jerusalem. That’s when they honed their skills in planting and gardening.

But as the years went on, needs have evolved, and their next step is to create a new community in the North.

History of Birya

The Jewish community of Birya dates back to the Second Temple period. Various Jewish sages lived there during the Mishnaic and Talmudic period, among them Rabbi Elazar Ish Biriya. An ancient tomb is located there attributed to Benaiah, son of Jehoiada, one of King David’s mighty warriors, as well as Rabbi Yehuda Bar Illiya, whose tomb is adjacent to the future farm.

Rabbi Joseph Karo, who compiled the Shulchan Aruch, lived there in the 16th century.

Dream of a Holocaust victim

In the 1890s, the early pioneers purchased land in the region and established a modern agricultural community. Various iterations of the community came and went through the 1940s up until the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948.

Chevra Eco Farm is being established on land that was owned by the grandson of a victim of the Holocaust. The grandfather came to the Land of Israel from Poland in 1935 and purchased land with the dream of some day establishing a farm there, but his business back in Poland needed to be attended to. He was murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust. 

His son made it out alive and inherited the land which the grandson eventually came to sell. But the grandfather’s will stated that if any land was sold, it could only be to buy another plot of land in Israel. So the grandson used the inheritance to purchase land in Birya.

“It was exactly what we were looking for,” said Solomon, “and we hope to fulfill his grandfather’s dream.”

When the Friedmans closed their vintage store and moved to Moshav Beit Meir, Aviel took his passion for gardening to the next level. He became certified in regenerative agricultural design and began teaching groups ranging from yeshiva students to hi-tech workers.

“I look forward to implementing what I’ve learned, along with continuing to teach about foraging, wild edibles, syntropic agricultural and how it connects to the Torah and the Land of Israel,” he said.

Solomon also took up a passion for gardening and raising chickens. She founded the community garden in her neighborhood. She previously worked at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens as director of development.

“The pain [of the war] will likely never go away, and the suffering of the nation is intense right now, but we need to try to shift the focus from death and destruction to rebuilding and securing our future,” she said. “This project is giving me life, and it has the potential to help a lot of people re-focus.”

AS FOR Shira Kaplan-Friedman, her Israel adventure started when she left South Africa for Jerusalem at age 21. It wasn’t too long after she became owner of Trumpeldor Vintage Clothing that Aviel joined her there. “Avi and I have always been a team,” she said. “Now we are raising children and, hopefully, morale.”

Shira is also now a beekeeper. “We collected fresh honey for Rosh Hashanah,” she said. “And Avi harvests and crushes olive oil for our Hanukkah lights and learned to make amazing wine, which we use each Shabbat for Kiddush, as well as for Pesach and Purim.

“I have connected to nature since childhood and always felt close to wildlife,” Shira explained. She hopes to educate people to be comfortable with and compassionate toward the natural world.

“Now we have little kids who are curious about nature and love insects and animals. I think that becoming a good person in this world starts with being taught to be compassionate and mindful of the world around us. We need to raise a generation of mindful people, starting in childhood, teaching them how to interact with all living things,” she explained.

“Although Nahlaot was crowded, it was a huge part of our lives, and we had a strong sense of community. The moshav, Beit Meir, had endless green space, but something always felt lacking,” she said.

Because theirs was a second-hand shop, it made the Friedmans more ecologically minded. “You become sensitive to waste, where things come from and where they go. It changed our lifestyle of how we eat and shop.” They hope to transfer those values to the future farm. “So many things overlapped and prepped us for this moment.”

In the first week of a crowdfunding campaign, the farm raised over $10,000 and is targeting to raise more. The funds will be used to begin terracing – an ancient method of farming unique to such regions, dating back thousands of years – and to develop the land. It seems people are ready to support forward-looking projects that provide positivity for the future.

The three hope to shift the focus from the death and destruction. “I was definitely on Team Hopeless for a while,” Shira said, “but this gives us a ray of light at the end of a very dark tunnel – and I think it’s really important that we share this with people and invite them to join us.” 

For more information, visit https://chevrafarms.com/