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Rose of the Galilee

Vered HaGalil, “Rose of the Galilee,” fulfillment of an itinerant dreamer’s vision.

Farming. Horses. People. Personal attachments usually grow slowly but Marcia and I connected with Vered HaGalil, a beyond-unique guest farm in northern Israel, in love-at-first-sight fashion. Situated upon a high terrace of the Dead Sea Transform overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Vered HaGalil was the brainchild of a self-described “itinerant dreamer.” The popular restaurant-farm-vacation spot lies near Korazim (also, Chorazin), an ancient village which, along with Bethsaida and Capernaum, was cited in the gospels of Matthew and Luke as places at which Yeshua (Jesus) performed “mighty works” but, because the people there rejected them, they were cursed. (Matthew 11:20-24; Luke 10:13-15)

That dreamer was Yehuda Avni, who immigrated as a youth to Israel from Chicago, Illinois in 1949. Once in the Land, Avni married a young lady named Yona with whom he settled in Moshav Orot in southern Israel, about six miles east of Ashdod. There, they began farming and raising a family.

However, Yehuda … had aspirations for creating something that at that time, would be a new concept for Israel, something not just for farming and not just for tourism, but rather a bringing together of the things that he loved most: farming, horses and people. Thus began his search for the perfect spot for creating a guest farm. After many long months of searching, Yehuda stood on a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee, a barren landscape strewn with boulders and thistles, but with a beautiful view of the lake, and declared to his children that this was where they would lay down the foundations for their new venture.

…slowly, steadily, year by year, as boulders were moved, trees planted, roses cultivated, cottages constructed, horses sought out, a restaurant established; as people were gathered from around Israel and around the world to help in the creation of the vision, Yehuda saw his dream fulfilled, as the transformation of barren boulder strewn hillside to idyllic resort was accomplished. (Vered Hagalil Guest Farm)

Marcia discovered Yehuda’s life’s work in routine fashion while browsing Booking.com, attracted by its enticing photos and numerous plus reviews. After asking around in Jerusalem, it seemed that everyone we knew had either already visited and loved the place or had heard great things about it. So, soon after, only a little dismayed by our ignorance, we headed north and found, along with goats, cattle, horses, a great restaurant, superb vistas and wonderful hosts, a lot of ancient history and a hidden bit of romance.

First, the history. The ruins of Roman/Byzantine Korazim, now the site of a beautifully maintained National Archaeological Park, lie less than a mile from the Vered HaGalil entrance down Israel’s Highway 8277.  The surviving icons and structures there, some partially restored, are made of black basalt stones and include the remains of a 4th Century AD synagogue where, in 1926, archaeologists discovered the “Seat of Moses,” carved from a basalt block at the site. The ruins are spread over 25 acres, The images below are from our first visit to the park.

Photo by Cliff Keller
Photo by Cliff Keller

Now for the romance. Marcia and I had learned from the guest farm’s website that founder Yehuda Avni, “accomplished dreamer, a valued businessman, and esteemed countryman,” had passed away in February of 2012. Yona, his wife, “always a vital figure throughout the establishment and running of the farm, is still around doing her chores, greeting guests and recommending choice places to visit in Galilee.”

Names Yehuda and Yona inscribed in horse barn's concrete footer.

The names inscribed within the heart, traced in the concrete footer of Vered HaGalil’s horse barn, are the names of the founder, “Yehuda,” and his wife, “Yonah.”

Our discovery came on our second visit to the farm. After an afternoon beside Vered HaGalil’s immaculate swimming pool, then dinner at Tibi’s, the onsite restaurant (in its own right worth the two-hour drive from Jerusalem), we stopped to pet the goats (kind of, they eat shirts) housed in a small pen beside the stables. When we turned to head back to our cabin, we noticed a small inscription traced in the stable’s concrete footer.

Back in 1978.

Imagine our thoughts (and imaginings) upon seeing scrawled there the names of the founders, pioneers and dreamers, Yehuda and Yoni Avni. No doubt on that important, work-filled day four decades earlier, they had stolen a bit of time to charm each other and celebrate, as their stable began to take shape, their shared dream’s becoming a bit more real, their arriving another step closer to turning that overgrown, boulder-strewn hillside into the Rose of the Galilee.

This article originally appeared on Cliff’s blog, Standing by the Gate, October 30, 2018, and is reposted with permission.

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Cliff Keller lives in Jerusalem, Israel with his wife, Marcia after making Aliyah in the spring of 2011 from the United States. His most recent novel is a work of historical biblical fiction entitled The Lion or The Lamb: Samson Ruth and Salvation. Cliff also blogs at Standing by the Gate and has a writing website, goodStories.

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