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On Gourd in the Golan

Gourd lamp created by Aviva Levine

If you are searching for a novel way to vacation or celebrate, seriously consider the Golan. Only a two-and-a-half hour drive from Tel Aviv, one feels one has entered another region, an unfamiliar terrain, which indeed it is. The basalt plateau is different from the sandy Negev, the verdant coastal plains and the hills of the Shomron and Jerusalem, and there is a quiet there which belies the intensity and tenacity of its residents.

Among the natural and archaeological attractions in the Golan are the towns, settlements and moshavim there. One of them is Moshav Nov, home to the Levine family, who were written up last year in the local "Shishi BaGolan" newsletter as a model of an ecologically and environmentally friendly family. They lead a "green" life, growing organic produce and fruit trees, disposing waste in a composter and feeding peelings and leftovers to their small animals. They separate all their garbage - plastics, glass, metal, paper, bottles, cartons, old clothes and batteries and pulverize garden trimmings, incorporating the mulch as compost in their yard. They use water from their air conditioners to wash their hands and water from washing vegetables for their garden. They educate others to do the same, giving talks to schools, and instructions to those who would like to learn.

In addition, they have built guest houses (tzimmerim) to host families and couples for Shabbat and during the week, which can include menus that are organic, vegetarian or even conventional - according to the preferences of the guests. They offer guided tours of the moshav and the surrounding area and conduct workshops on creative recycling, arts and crafts with gourds and even lessons in Tai Chi.

For Aviva Levine, who has been living in Nov with her family since 1991, this is another world from the England where she was born 65 years ago. She came to the nascent State of Israel as a little girl with her fervently Zionist family in 1951 and always considered herself a Sabra. The family settled first in Netanya, then Ramat Chen and then Jerusalem, where her father worked as an architect and her mother as a chemist at the Hebrew University after her children had grown up.

"Jerusalem was a small city, then, with Jordan as its border," says Aviva. "We could walk the length of the city in a few hours. I was 17 when the Six-Day-War broke out. Weeks before, our teachers had been called up for army duty. My father was sorely disappointed that because he had been wounded at Normandy during WWII he could not join the army here. Within a few days, Jerusalem's borders expanded and the city began to grow. I completed high school, and unfortunately my obstinacy in speaking only Hebrew throughout my youth was evident in the mark I received in my English Bagrut."

After completing her National Service in Kibbutz Shaalvim and getting her first and second degrees in microbiology from the Hebrew University, Aviva started working in research. During this time she met and married Ari, an American oleh, a speech therapist getting a second degree in special education. At first they communicated in English, but Hebrew soon prevailed. A conscientious objector in the U.S. during the Vietnam War, Ari enthusiastically joined Tzahal and did his army service during this time. 

Aviva Levine amongst her trelised gourds

Upon completing their studies, the couple and their two children became emissaries for the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) in Baltimore, where their third daughter was born. After two years there, the children were conversing in English and the Levines realized it was time to return to Israel—this time to the Golan. It was a decision which would change the course of their lives.

Their friends were shocked; how could an academic couple go to the Golan and not to a place which would further their careers?

After living in Moshav Keshet for 11 years they moved to Moshav Nov. "We developed other aspects of our lives here which had nothing to do with our formal studies," says Aviva. "We became involved in the creative arts and with organic agriculture. We had five more children and learned to live a simpler, healthier life in a village rather than in a city." Ari's earlier years as a hippy in the States would now influence, color and add another dimension to the lives of his family.

Aviva taught new immigrants from the Former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, but primarily taught biology in the high school yeshiva in Hispin, next to Nov. She gave classes to the National Service girls and managed a family business of guest houses in her backyard. In the meantime, Ari worked in agriculture while continuing his work as a speech therapist and widening his professional horizons by first becoming an accredited psychotherapist and later receiving his PhD from Bar Ilan University in the faculty of Brain Sciences.

Today Ari works mainly in his Center in Carmiel for psychotherapy and speech therapy and, of course, cultivates his own land. Aviva, now a retired teacher, manages the guest houses. She visits her father often in Jerusalem and is very absorbed with her artwork involving the gourds which they have planted against their fence. Once dried and cleaned, the gourds become the basis for Aviva's extraordinary, decorative artwork and crafts with which she adorns her homeand also sells. In addition, she knits colorful plastic bags together, recycling and creating another life for them as umbrellas and sculptures.

They have also built a charming hut for their grandchildren, who love to visit. 

An outdoor lampshade crocheted from recycled plastic bags


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Saturday, 18 May 2024

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