Christians harvest Jewish grapes

Dozens of American and Canadian volunteers currently harvesting vineyards in Samaria (West Bank) have Jewish locals wondering if not just the grapes – but perhaps the times – are ripening.

The fact that Jewish people have planted vineyards on Samaria’s mountains again after the Diaspora fulfils the words of the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah, recorded about 3000 years ago. However, it is the words of the prophet Isaiah, who predicted that the sons of foreigners would be their vinedressers at the time of the messiah’s coming, that have them optimistic.

Yeshiva HarBracha spokesman Yonatan Behar said it was exciting to see prophesy fulfilled before his eyes.

“Our sages have taught us that during the times of the final redemption, which we are right now in, other nations will come to help build the land of Israel, to help the Jewish nation, and just to fulfil all of the prophesies.”

Tommy and Sherri Waller, Christians from the United States, have harvested in Samaria’s vineyards for the past six years. What started out as a one-time family project has grown into HaYovel Ministries – more than 150 North American volunteers, young and old, paying their own way to make the annual journey.

Tommy Waller said that in response to invitation by local vineyard owners, HaYovel now had a vision to bring 10,000 volunteers to harvest annually.

“We really feel like the word of God is true and that people need to connect to it and people need to come to the land to experience the harvest and the pruning.”

The 3.30am starts, searing temperatures, and risks to personal safety mean it’s not an easy job. Last year volunteers were allegedly attacked by local Arabs youths throwing stones. But the difficulties have not deterred the harvesters from coming. This year they will harvest about 100 acres of vineyards – the equivalent of a staggering 400,000 bottles of wine.

Their help is crucial for local vintners, some of whose fields would not be harvested without them. Vineyard owner Erez Ben Saadon said it was difficult to attract Israeli labour, and regular sabotage of his fields made him cautious of Arab labour.

Even with HaYovel’s help, some fields will be harvested just in time, as grapes literally ripen on the vine. Waller said his volunteers could not keep up with local demand and he hoped to at least double the amount of volunteers next season.

“The Israeli’s are saying, if you don’t come, we’re in trouble. If you don’t come, these vines don’t get harvested.”

So come they do, with their clippers and their instruments, singing worship songs as they work. The upbeat atmosphere is one by-product of their presence, and another is a blessing on the land, according to Ben Saadon.

“When Tommy comes with his friends and family it helps us very much, and because of that we can also sell the grapes because they are better grapes. More vineyards and wineries want to buy the grapes because of it. It’s a real blessing.”

Many locals believe it is a partnership made in heaven, and in Ben Saadon’s view it is no coincidence that the task of harvesting has fallen to gentile Christians at a time that many Jewish Israelis believed could be the final redemption before the messiah came.

“…in the bible it’s written that when Meshiach (Messiah) will come, people from all over the world will come and help Israel, and we believe in it.”

this article was written by Marney Blom and was originally published by Acts News Network on November 1, 2010

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