Naomi Elbinger, Ramat Beit Shemesh
“Jewish girls don’t live on farms.”
When Mum said this to me, there was an undertone of panic in her voice that I wasn’t used to hearing from my easy-going, upbeat mother.
I knew she had nothing against farming, though it was a rather whimsical life-goal for a teenaged girl growing up in a middle-class, largely Jewish suburb of Sydney, Australia. Her real worry was that since there is no Jewish agriculture in Australia, my dream meant closely associating with non-Jews.
She was terrified of where that might lead.
When I moved to Eretz Yisroel as a young adult, I hoped to find a husband with whom I would share a more rural life. But when I brought this up with my teachers in seminary, they warned me about how unrealistic my farm dreams were. Farming is a very hard way to make a living and there are no English-speaking yeshiva guys who want such a lifestyle. Even in Eretz Yisroel, it meant living removed from chadarim and rabbonim and the flow of mainstream frum life.
From both my parents and my teachers I understood that pursuing my farming dreams necessitated compromising my spiritual dreams. Besides that, it was impractical.
I am both spiritual and practical. I got the message.
Soon I met and married my husband, Rabbi Shmuel Yosef Elbinger, who learns in kollel. I have an enterprising nature and I took to the role of primary breadwinner with enthusiasm. Baruch HaShem I was blessed with success in my marketing and web development businesses. I was also zoche to mentor many other entrepreneurs, particularly as a driving force behind the Temech Conference, a huge annual event in Yerushalayim for frum women in business.
Though I accepted the fact that farm life was out of reach, I invested my time in promoting nature education in chadarim and Beis Yaakovs around Eretz Yisroel and that was very rewarding. I dabbled in small-scale homesteading projects. I grew cucumbers and made yogurt. With the flow of years, this grew to encompass keeping egg-laying hens, picking olives for oil, beekeeping, fermenting vegetables and making my own soap.
I was happily busy with my family, my career, and my community work – and yet my farming interests never left me. Instead they only grew.
After we moved into our apartment in Ramat Beit Shemesh four years ago, I took it to the next level, planting 12 fruit trees and building raised beds for 60+ vegetable plants in our small yard.
My goal is not just to grow some food, but to enrich the landscape and develop an ecosystem where native plants, birds and wildlife live in harmony with my family.
Then, about a year-and-a-half ago, I suddenly realized:
I am a farmer.
True, I don’t have rolling acres and a barn. True, I don’t earn my parnassa from it.
I didn’t close my business. I didn’t move to a moshav. I didn’t compromise my spiritual values.
Nevertheless, a farmer I am.
Farming the Land
There is something special about farming in Eretz Yisroel. I have gotten to know some local farmers and they are happy to collaborate with me on projects. They are different from me in lifestyle, but we are all Jews and there is so much that binds us together.
When my backyard farm started to attract attention, I asked Rabbi Doniel Faber, rosh yeshiva of Yeshuos Yisroel in Ramat Beit Shemesh, about whether this measure of “farm fame” was positive for our family. His encouraging answer surprised me.
“So many frum Jews crave a closer connection to nature,” he said. “If they’re from a more open background, they feel they have to stray from their communities to get it. If they’re from a more insular background, they tell themselves ‘This is not for someone like me. There’s no way I can do this.’ That’s also unhealthy. So your message is essential. And when you are doing something for Klal Yisroel you can never have a nezek (harm).”
With that encouragement, I began to run tours and workshops in my backyard, which I call “Bloomah’s City Farm.” (Bloomah is my other name.)
This year I also founded a women’s community farm here in Ramat Beit Shemesh, where women who don’t have gardens come together to plant, nurture and harvest vegetables, to be mekayem the mitzvos ha’teluyos b’aretz and generally have lots of healthy outdoor fun.
Now I am preparing for shmitta, which starts this coming Rosh Hashana (5782). Friends asked if they can purchase a slice of our farm so that they can have a stake in the mitzvah. We agreed to sell it to them for eighteen shekels!
It won’t be easy to cease work in my backyard. At least five times a day I gravitate out there to train a vine or pull a weed or pick a fruit. I love living off my farm. I try never to eat a meal that doesn’t include something I grew myself.
It will be so hard to let it all go to ruin!
I hope I will be able to keep in mind that this is my special zechus. There is no more intimate way to connect to the Land than to touch it with your own hands, to learn its language and cooperate with the forces of Creation to grow something beautiful.
The inspiration it gives me goes hand-in-hand with trusting the imperative to stop for a year.
But for now I am enjoying summer’s bounty.
My mother loves to see all the things we grow and hear about our adventures. She gets nachas from seeing my kids' enthusiasm for it.
Neither of us would have imagined this back in Sydney but...
Jewish girls do live on farms ... in the middle of a beautiful frum community in a rapidly growing city in Eretz Yisroel.
Hold On, Don’t I Know Your Name from Somewhere?
When I talk excitedly about urban farming, sometimes people get confused because they know Naomi Elbinger as the author of the Torah novel Yedidya (co-authored with Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis).
Yedidya is a profound exploration of emunah concepts embedded in a page-turning novel about a yeshiva bochur. It has nothing to do with farming!
To clarify, I am an author as well as an entrepreneur, farmer and kollel wife. There are several reasons why I’ve never regretted following the advice of my parents and teachers to pursue a mainstream lifestyle and career. One of them is that this gave me the skills and opportunity to write Yedidya, which has taken off in such a big way, inspiring and helping Jews around the world!
You can start reading Yedidya free here