“Abraham is a notion that half of humankind is believing. It’s a very low common denominator that connects people to something that’s easy to identify with.”
When David Benshabat and his wife Tali moved to Har Amasa almost 20 years ago, the community was small – only ten or eleven families lived in the forested village overlooking the Judean Desert. For many years, David and Tali continued to share their hometown with only a handful of neighbors. Then, about two years ago, newcomers began to pour into the village; and Har Amasa absorbed almost three times as many residents as it had previously contained. The fabric of the town naturally began to change as a diverse community was built beneath the pines. David and Tali found themselves brushing shoulders with musicians, potters, permaculturists, farmers making biodiesel from goat manure… As David is quick to admit with a sly grin, “There are a bunch of crazy people here.” Despite this broad range of interests, though, the Har Amasa community has succeeded in finding shared ground and growing into a close-knit living environment. Commonalities like a desire to live close to the earth in an environmentally conscious manner have helped establish a baseline for mutual understanding.
This knitting together of the residents of Har Amasa is also representative of the ways in which David and Tali have felt their community turning outward and engaging with its surroundings. David believes that his region is uniquely placed in the Middle East. Geographically and demographically, Har Amasa and its environs are characterized by variety. “This area is…if you come and live here, it shows you many challenges,” he explains. “It’s not simple terrain. We’re at a crossroads of different geographies – mountains and desert and forest. And we’re also at a crossroads of different communities, different identities. In a very small square of five by five kilometers, you can find every identity of this region.” David frequently refers to his region as a collage or a “playground of identities”; yet even amidst the different backgrounds surrounding him, he feels deeply connected to all his neighbors by one of his academic passions: the existence of a common linguistic heritage.
David firmly believes that the connectedness of the Semitic languages – specifically, of Hebrew and Arabic – allows him and fellow speakers of those languages to understand both biblical and shared cultural narratives in a uniquely meaningful way. Pointing out that Abraham himself was thinking in Hebrew, David contends that modern speakers of Hebrew have an innate ability to connect to concepts that are contained in the very words of Abraham’s narrative and in other cultural narratives in a profound way; and the presence of many similar structures, features, and words between Semitic languages similarly allows David and many in his community to connect to the narratives of their Arabic-speaking neighbors.
Based on the feeling of shared heritage created by these linguistic ties, David has gone into business with some of those Arabic-speaking neighbors. Together, a group of them produce organic grape juice, diligently ensuring that their production methods don’t harm the earth. On the back of each bottle is their slogan, featuring two Hebrew words – zulatanut and svivatanut, defined as caring for one’s fellowman and caring for the environment. The connection between these words is critical, David says: only by engaging with and connecting to the people living in our communities and cohabiting our space can we find the motivation necessary to properly care for that space.
This mindset is constantly thrusting David and Tali into new settings and communities and identities. But they cherish this turbulence as a part of their Abrahamic heritage. As Tali points out, Abraham was the first person to be called a Hebrew – an Ivri. The word means one who passes or crosses – from one country to another, one people to another, one mentality to another. “This is what our language means,” she says: “To be a nomad in thought, not only in physical geographies.”