A Vineyard in Shomron

by Moshe Dann (January 2013)

"We're going to make grape juice," my 22 year old nine-month pregnant daughter, Ayelet, announced as my son-in-law, Akiva, arrived at their hilltop caravan, two old metal shipping containers connected by a roof, his pick-up truck loaded with boxes of grapes.   

He had just picked the grapes from a vineyard which he shares with a neighbor, Ephriam, who lives nearby in a recently finished home they'd built together. Across the valley, newly-built outskirts of Nablus, the ancient city of Shechem stretch across the mountaintops. On a clear day, one can see the Mediterranean, a glittering sliver of blue in the distance. Wind fluttered through newly washed clothes hanging over a portable drying rack.

"Want to help?" Akiva asked, unloading the sweet-smelling boxes, setting them on the hard, dusty ground.

"Why not," I obliged, and joined them. Eliaykim and Zadok, my almost 4 and 2-year old grandsons gathered around empty buckets, plucking and eating.

For the next two hours we separated grapes from their stems until several large pails were overflowing. After dumping the contents into a small plastic wading pool, Akiva and Ephriam washed their feet and jumped in, stomping and singing Psalms.

"With your feet?" I queried, watching them mash the pulp.

"This way the pits won't break; it makes the juice bitter," Akiva explained. "Then we strain off the juice."

"And wine?"

"We'll put what's left into those barrels," he said, pointing to several large blue containers, "and by Pesach, we'll have wine."

I thought of the Haftarah for the Second Day of Rosh Hashanah, Jeremiah's prophecy amidst exile and destruction: "You will plant vineyards on the mountains of Shomron (Samaria) …" A vision, the ingathering of the Jewish people, prelude to Redemption.  

But that was long ago, I thought, walking along the dirt road to a spot which I'd been excavating.

Scraping away weeds, earth and stones, I'd found hundreds of mosaic tiles and, cut into the bedrock, the outline of a floor with a spout on its lowest side that led into a large hole.

Why were there so many mosaic tiles here amidst stones and scrub brush? Mosaic floors were typical of fancy living during the Second Temple/Roman period two thousand years ago, or during the Talmudic/Byzantine period a few hundred years later. But these tiles weren't colored and they were all the same dull brownish grey.  

Some months before, Akiva had found a large pit in the area, about two meters deep and a meter and a half across, that had been filled with stones. Why the hole? A small ancient cistern, perhaps? But there was no lime coating indicating it had once held water.

Digging out bush and bramble revealed an uneven stone floor, about three meters square, more than twice the size of the plastic grape-filled wading pool in which Akiva and Ephriam were still sloshing and singing.

Watching them dance, I suddenly understood the answer to my questions: mosaic tiles might have been set on the stone floor to create a smooth, water-proof surface for crushing grapes.

And the pit? Lowering myself inside, I imagined holding a jug to collect juice. Sealed and stored there, the jars would be protected from the harsh sun, tax collectors and bandits. A turtle crawled into an opening near my feet. Where did that hole lead and who stood in the place where I was now? 

When I looked up, Eliyakim was standing above me.

"Saba (grandpa)," he asked looking down at me with concern, "what are you doing there?" 

Grunting, I climbed out and brushed off. Handing him a tile, I explained that thousands of years ago, Jews made wine in this place, just like his father was doing now, in the hills of Shomron and the mountains of Ephriam.

Turning the tile in his tiny fingers, he looked up. "Where's the wine?" he asked.

"We'll make it," I promised, "soon, a land flowing with milk and honey…and wine."

"And chocolate?" He grinned.

"And chocolate, too!"  I picked him up and swung him around.

Holding him in my arms, I remembered Jeremiah: "So says the Lord: Refrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. And there is hope for your future, says the Lord, and the children shall come back to their own border."

In front of their newly built home, Akiva poured cement into the foundation that would become a porch. While still wet, Ayelet took some of the tiles we'd found and placed them carefully in the floor, spelling out in Hebrew: "Baruchim Haba'im" -- Blessed are those who enter.

And blessed are grandfathers who wait for wine.

The author is a writer and journalist living in Jerusalem.   

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