Rescuing a Spring
Top: Ein Sapir pre-restoration (2010). The rocks were dumped by a D-9 bulldozer which was doing construction work on the road above the spring, disregarding its existence. Bottom: Ein Sapir spring today (2020), post-restoration. The spring provides recreation, refreshment and spiritual renewal to many.
Yashar and his small "Slice of Heaven", Ein Kerem
One Thing Leads to Another - Meeting Yashar
Mama Africa Festival
The first time I met Yashar was in summer 2019 at the Mama Africa Festival held at Me’ever, Mizpe Ramon. He was standing on the scaffodling of the “dome”, an image which beckoned me to take a picture of his silhouette against the twilit sky. He liked my picture, which I sent him promptly after we exchanged phones. His name, meaning “honest, direct, straight”, is very unusual, so it stuck in my memory.
Yashar on the Dome at Me’Ever, Mitzpe Ramon, 2019
During the festival, Yashar was always surrounded by his children, which he lovingly attended to. His wife, pregnant again, stayed home.
Yashar and three kids at the time at the Mama Africa festival
Ein Kerem wadi
The second time we met, I was taking a morning stroll around Ein Kerem when I saw a group of guys working in the wadi. Walking down to see what they were up to, Yashar immediately recognized me. He was working with friends and neighbors on a project: restoring the Ein Kerem Stream.
Ein Kerem residents volunteering to improve the stream bed and surroundings.
I now learned that on top of the original wadi restoration project, initiated and led by Noa Weiss and her husband (post in preparation), Yashar and a group of neighbors and friends were now restoring the Ein Kerem stream. For the first time in 40 years, the stream was allowed to flow freely from the holy Miriam’s (Mary’s) Spring into the wadi and the bustan (orchard).
Yashar told me a bit about the project and I, of course, got all excited. It just so happened that on the very same evening, he and the other volunteers were planning a community (village) event – inauguration of the stream and an unraveling of the comemmoration sign (see pic below).
Ein Kerem - The Magical Village
One thing led to another, and we met in person two weeks later, on August 17th, at Yashar and Sofia’s home for an interview about the project.
You can’t separate the person from his work and from his “Little Slice of Heaven”, so I elaborate a bit about Yashar’s environment. Feel free to skip to the spring restoration project if you want to “get to the point”.
Madregot Habikur Rd.
I parked high up in the village and walked down Madregot Habikur Rd., which is first paved and then turns into a lovely atmospheric dirt road. The Visitation Church and the Moscovite Monastery were on the left, and the magnificent Ein Kerem views with the Sisters of Sion Moanastery on my right.
Madregot Habikur Rd. Left: the actual steps up to the Visitation Churh, Ein Kerem. Right: The door in the wall…
Sisters of Sion Monastery, Ein Kerem, viewed from Madregot Habikur Rd.
This is, of course, just a taster of the magic. I have folders-full of Ein Kerem photography waiting to be published, at the right time and with God’s help, as we commonly say.
Yashar Bar Rashi and His Little Slice of Heaven
Down to Earth
Yashar waited for me at the end of the road with the new baby, Sinaya, in arms. Sofia, his wife, was teaching yoga in the upper house.
Yashar waiting for me, Sinaya in arms
We walked through the lot, where Yashar’s mother had her wheat fields (see below). There were a trampoline, animal coops, a loaded hand-made wooden drying rack and various other structures with histories to tell.
Yashar with Sinaya in arms and the dog on the Ein Kerem compound. Left: old animal coops
Children are the blessing
Entrance to Yashar and Sofia’s house with laundry rack, Ein Kerem
The house, built by Yashar himself with the help of friends and siblings, was actually an enhanced tent, built with heavy folding flaps for winter time, which can be quite ferocious in Jerusalem. There were a woodstove, composting toilet, and a small sitting bathtub with shower. Airy, clean and cozy, the living space was continuous with a spacious kitchen. Wood. Cloths.
The bedroom and kids’ rooms were located behind heavy flaps. Children’s sounds could be heard coming from behind the screens – talking, chuckling. Once in a while, one or another emerged into the common living space to get something from the kitchen or a hug from daddy. The kids go to community kindergarten and school.
In one corner, the family cradle hung from the frame. Here Sinaya’s three older siblings also spent their blessed babyhoods’ sleepie times prior to her arrival.
Once Mom came back, Yashar handed her the baby and we sat outside – me, on a wooden bench with flat wide pillows – him, on the Pilates ball.
To my surprise, Yashar started his story telling me about his mother.
Once Upon a Time, a Woman From Vermont Met a Musician From New York
Mary was born and raised Christian in rural Vermont, USA, a descendant of Geroge Washington. When she arrived in Israel, she already had a very strong affiliation to Nature, Land, Earth. The father, Allen, on the other hand, was a New York Jew or, as Yashar put it, a hard core urbanite – musician, artist.
Top: Allen and Mary Gittler with first baby, Rashi, in New York. Bottom, left to right: Tzipora with baby Yashar; Allen (Avraham) with his specially patented guitar; Tzipora (Mary), Yashar’s mom
Mary fell in love, started to read “the books”, learned Torah, connected with the religion. The couple changed their names. Mary became Tzipora, and Allen turned into Avraham (Abraham). Once converted to Judaism, it was she, not her husband, who was the motivating force behind the family’s sojourn to Israel. They made their Aliya with three children, including the 6-month-old baby – Yashar. Once in the Land, two more children were eventually added to the nuclear family.
Avraham kept making music and building guitars. Tzipora worked the land with her own hands, growing wheat, hauling water from the springs, and raising her five children. She still found time to do her art – drawings of scenes from the Bible and The Land.
A kakadu dream
The painting below envisions the “kakadu dream” for Ein Kerem and is part of a series “The Kakadu saving Ein Kerem” The vision is that the spring water come back to the bustan (orhard). Vines and deer drink the water. The kakadu was a bird that lived in Ein Kerem for about ten years and became a communal symbol. Mary called herself Tzipora (Tzipor, in Hebrew – bird) to embody that dream, where the bird will transform the village, saving it from developers and cherishing it as a loving, creative communitry.
A painting by Tzipora Bar Rashi of the kakadu vision for Ein Kerem
Yashar elaborated at length about the period his family lived in Even Sapir, and about “the calling”, which brought mother and son to Ein Kerem.
Once in the village, they initially lived in rented apartments on second stories, but soon realized their need to reach back to the land, to Earth. A complex chain of events led them eventually to a piece of land they believed was “meant for them”.
-Why did you move over here?
Here Yashar’s mom raised wheat on Ein Kerem soil, using ancient growing and processing methods
The Little Slice of Heaven
Grinding the wheat, hauling the water…
“Ima (mom) wanted to eat what actually grew here, what the land brought forth. She gave herself no dispensations, no easy paths, not even industrial irrigation. Wheat does not require irrigation.”
Yashar said that wheat was traditionally grown Ba’al (dryland farming). “Most of the crops people lived from in the past were Ba’al. Wheat used to be the main staple.” I argued that now wheat is irrigated, but double-checking my claim, I found out that even today most wheat in the Northern Negev is, indeed, grown Ba’al.
(Interestingly, the term “Ba’al” has its origin in Cannanite religions, where Ba’al was the god responsible for rain).
“The last seven years of her life (she died a year ago), my mom cooked on live fire, collecting wood from the forest. And she hauled water from the spring – Ein Ashkaf – walking.
“That was in Even Sapir. Then we came here and she found her place. There was a lot of ‘Hashgacha’ (divine supervision). Many people who knew her, opened their hearts to her, and she felt at home. “
At a certain point during the narration, Sinaya was transferred back to us by her mom, who just came back from the class and needed rest and something to eat. We walked up with the baby to the higher grounds, where we sat on a woven straw mat. Next to us were Tsipora’s grinding stones and some sheafs of wheat. I took photos, while Yashar was tending to the baby.
Yashar and baby Sinaya on the land in Ein Kerem
The Wheat, staple food of The Land, grown on site in Ein Kerem.
Yashar: “You know, they found in Massada 2000-year-old wheat and brought it back to life. My mother went through a journey with the land here. The place was a jungle. She started to climb on trees, cutting the branches with saws and axes. For each field she prepared the ground, then sowed the wheat. At 60 years of age, she climbed on trees.
The neighbor asked her what she was doing. She answered: I am planting wheat. He said: it won’t succeed. You are crazy. She said: OK, and continued working.
The wheat eventually reached waist height. Nobody had believed. Mother harvested it with a sickle, then ground it with a grinding stone she bought from an Arab in Hebron. In the end, half the wheat she used in a year she raised herself.
Originally, she had tried to grow the wheat in Hebron, then in Even Sapir, but the project reached its culmination and ultimate success in the beautiful Ein Kerem lot.
Yashar’s mother’s grinding stone. This is how she made the flour
“Ima was making very simple, thin bread and “dashishe”, which is like burgul, broken wheat. The tastier thing in the world. The burgul we have today is wheat that was cooked for hours. The main difference is that the wheat is old. Both burgul and the flour we use are old.
“In Japanese medicine they believe that a grain once you break it, would lose its power within 24 hours. Its essence is gone.
Yashar: She was singing as she ground the wheat on the stones.
Father died 18 years ago. Mother died last year.
Yashar and his wife keep taking care of the wheat.
Ein Sapir Spring - The Restoration
My Initial Interest was Ein Kerem - But the Main Story was Ein Sapir
The story about Ein Kerem had to wait (in preparation). First there was Ein Sapir. Not the first time I seek one thing, only to find a double blessing in another (see a recent example here). Makes life richer!
First things first – Ein Sapir
The need to give back
Six whole years of his life, Yashar dedicated a day a week to work at Ein Sapir. Ein Kerem is just the new baby…
I also connected deeply to the spring when we lived in Even Sapir. I fell in love with the place, came to bathe there all the time. It wasn’t really a spring, more like a puddle, all buried in dirt, soil, stones and rocks.
[Here is a link about water immersion and men in Judaism. OA].
-So you decided to save it?
– One day I came and understood I needed to give love back to this place that gave me so much. I wanted to remunerate it. I waited and waited and waited, asking myself: when will it happen? And then it happened.
The last straw – a burnt couch
A month before I moved here to Ein Keren, I came to the spring and all of a sudden I saw a burned couch right inside. Somebody dumped a couch into the spring and burnt it…
Me: I don’t know what is the thing about sofas and couches. People throw them everywhere.
Yashar: Not a simple period. Our ability to cause harm is the highest it has ever been.
Me: Not just the ability. We cause harm every day.
Yashar: There is Tikkun. Rabbi Nachman said: “If you believe you can spoil, you should also believe that you can mend”.
When I saw that couch, I said: Enough is enough. Tomorrow I am here.
So I came the next day with buckets and tools.
Me: How did you get the couch out?
Yashar: I did not get it out quite yet. I simply started, every time a little more, once a week. After working one time, I understood, though, that this was not a job for one person. This is work for a group, a community, a tribe.
Ein Sapir Spring and The Three Ya-Yas
The Ein Sapir “gang” at rest time.
A week later I came to work. Digging inside. After serveral minutes I heard somebody working behind me in the cave. I turned around to see a young guy about my age. That was about ten years ago, and he said Shalom, and we did not talk too much. He just worked with me. His name was Yair and we are still in touch.
Yair came to the spring to do a juice fast. Built himself a small camp, light living, and now he was at the peak of his fasting – no food, only drinks. He gave everything he had to the work, despite the fast. A week later, he was even thinner, but nonetheless, he worked with me all day.
Several weeks later another friend joined us – Yaron. We became the triple-Ya : Yashar, Yaron, Yair. Then we started coming once a week.
A month later I moved to Ein Kerem, but our connection was very strong, so the three of us kept coming back.
We understood the spring was almost entirely buried 30-40 years before, when development work was done for the moshav.
Me: They did not care, ha!
Yashar: If you don’t drink from the spring…
Me: You don’t care
Yashar: Yes, it’s just another pool
Deep springs in the valleys and the hills
Yashar: This spring before industrialization and the so-called “progress” was the source of life for the whole population
And on a deeper spiritual level, last week’s Torah portion says:
“It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.”(Deutronomy, 11, 12). The eyes of the world are the springs.
Spiritual and physical insurance
Yashar: In Jerusalem, which is the heart of the land and of the world, there are many springs. There is one on the Temple Mount. These springs are a spiritual and physical insurance. The way we take care of them radiates on all the people, the animals, everything.
So when we understood that one D-9 tractor threw one shovel-ful down in the wrong place…
What a disaster, what a destruction
But our luck was that thanks to
Me: The Yayas…
Y:. The burying of the spring was an opportunity to bring it back up to life
Go for it!
Yashar went on to say: When I understood we were taking this seriously, we decided to dedicate a day a week
Me: That was the model for Ein Kerem too…
Y: In parallel, I talked with my mother who at the time got a certain inheritance from her parents, and asked her if she would be willing to support us, donate us a symbolic sum of money, a simple worker’s salary to maintain us on this day we were dedicating to the spring and not working in other places. She smiled at me with her well-known smile and said:
“Go for it” (in English)
and so we did.
Me: Wow, the “rich” American donor
Y: But it was very very basic.
Me: Of course, just joking…
Y: We chose Wednesdays. That was the day which worked for all of us. Every time we came, it became more fun. We would bring food, everybody would chip in something.
And the music…
Me: And music?
Y: And music. We would cook and work for a whole day, unite with nature
Me: I am really ecstatic about your story, Yashar. Amazing.
Y: And it simply became more and more fun. Of course we had all kinds of challenges, some of them simply physical. We had to lift rocks…
Ein Sapir Spring – The Rock
Me (laughing): Did you lift up the couch?
Y: We discovered there were places we needed to dig something like four meters, to get out soil and dirt and rocks and stones
Me: that the D9 dumped in there?
Y: Yes, easily!
Y: They opened a road above, a service road for the moshav.
Me: They are doing works all over the Jerusalem hills, not a corner is left untouched.
Y: We had an iron rule: not using any mechanical tools. Everything manual, handwork. And then one day we found ourselves confronting a huge rock, very very big, and it was down at the bottom, and had to be lifted three meters to be taken out…
Yashar: The beauty was that slowly but surely others joined us. We became “a havura” (a group). There were seven of us in the hard core, and each time more came.
Another place, another time
Y: At the point of getting The Rock out (see pic above), we figured out an ingenious way to do it. We brought wooden boards with which we raised it every time a little bit. We put stones underneath to support it. Each lift was about a centimeter. And we simply found oursevels a whole day with this rock, each time a bit more, a bit more, until it came out. That was an experience. There was a slope we created to make it possible.
Me: Sounds like the building of the pyramids (laughing). Next you can build a Stonehenge in Israel…
Y: Doing this, lifting the rock was an experience we received from a place of deep devotion. Getting out of the normal time and place of the world. We entered another world. Got out of the everyday turmoil of our times. Suddenly we were in another place, another time.
Ein Sapir Spring – the prerogative
This way we worked for six years until we fully exposed the pool. It was not even clear whether the spring was flowing. There was a puddle of water, but there was no flow. The place was called Ein Sapir (ein = spring). Nobody knew what happened with this water, where it went. And then when we reached the bottom of the pool and got out this monumental rock, the spring started flowing.
Me: And did you do anything to protect it?
Yashar: Yes. We restored fallen walls, and there was also awesome ancient work there that existed before we unearthed it – steps and a tunnel…
Yashar: What we discovered was that the flow of the Ein Sapir spring was as strong as the Ein Kerem spring, but people did not know that.
Again, this was our prerogative. We had the opportunity to re-connect to the place.
Me: Do you still pilgrimage there every week?
Y: No, but we, the family, visit there a lot, to immerse. The place is rooted in my heart.
Ein Sapir Spring and Some local politics
Nothing is ever perfect in paradise, and there were some local conflicts with the Moshav committee.
I asked Yashar if they put a sign on the site commemorating and acknowledging what they did. He said they had one, but people took it down. People were scared of the group’s ideas, like bringing the water to the fields, using it to grow crops. Some people even went as far as to say they wished the friends did not salvage the spring:
I did not get into the details, but figured out that people were worried about their lands and also about the potential crowds that would come once the place was opened.
Water a sensitive matter
Yashar: It is the generation. From fear of life, they destroy everything.
When we exposed the pool and all that wonderful place, we discovered there is a conduit which was almost complete. Our dream was to open it and send the water to the fields.
Me: So they were scared you wanted the land? That is understandable.
Y : That was not the issue. But clearly they were in fear, anxiety. Believe me, when you operate from that place, it does not bring about real growth. When it came to opening the conduit, people from the committee started fighting us. And this was the end of the story actually. We felt we put in a lot of work and dedication – 6 years are a meaningful investment of time and energy.
Many people in the Moshav loved what we did. Many older people supported us from the start. There was a woman in the moshav who used to bake bread for us every Wednesday…
Water is always a sensitive matter. Springs are a source of life, so they attract a lot of life, people. And many people indeed started to come. It stressed them. I told them, OK, but it is still a blessing. Let’s see how we can do it in a way that will not stress you, that you can gain from it. It is a blessing for you, not a curse, but they were not willing to listen.
“Not incumbent upon you to finish the task…”
Yashar: We did our job
Me: How goes the saying: “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but
Yashar:”..but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it”. (Mishna Avot 2; 16)
…So slowly slowly we started to release it. By that time all of us became fathers, had families.
We sealed the work there on Shabbat before my father’s death date, and dedicated it for his soul’s journey
Springs and Spirit
Yahsar elaborated further about the spirituality of springs:
The whole point is that water is the source of life. Here in Ein Kerem, the only reason the village was built here was the water source.
Me: Almost all the cities in the world were built over rivers.
Yashar: Jerusalem, City of David, is sitting over a spring…Since what is a water source? An expression of the abundance God brings to the world. Where He allows a spring to bubble, there is also spiritual bubbling.
A spring makes plants possible, agriculture possible. God blesses the place. What is the beauty in a spring? That is flows and does not cease.
Me: There are ups and downs. It is seasonal.
Yashar: It does not stop; it is infinite abundance. This is something modern people do not know how to deal with, since we are used that everything has a meter, a measure, a price.
Yashar: And here you have an abundance that comes all the time, that God supplies indefinitely, and it is there for everybody. What an amazing thing. This expression of life, and its spiritual expression keeps drawing people over here from around the world. The place was part of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. (More about Ein Kerem Spring in the upcoming post).
Ein Sapir Spring - Magnet for the Israeli Water-Seeker
Naturally, I wanted to see Ein Sapir, which I admit I have never heard of before, even though it is close to my home and one of the nicest springs in the Jerusalem area (after Yashar and the Ya-Ya’s restored it…!!!).
The crowds enjoying the restored Ein Sapir Spring on a hot day. Little did they know what it took to make it available to the public, or that the man they should thank for that privilege was right there that day, humbly mingled in the crowd.
We went there with two cars on August 18th, 2020.
Yashar and three of his four kids crammed into his vehicle, while I followed. The road got worse as we got nearer, and to avoid bumping it on a steep ledge, I parked at a little distance and walked.
The noise could be heard from afar.
After the quiet and the high talk about the “eyes of God”, the sacredness of water and the heroic efforts to salvage and rescue the spring, the reality of the place was a big contrast. The site was swarming with people – families, children, couples, singles, with all the noise that this entailed.
The people want water…
Yashar was right. In this dry country, water draws people like a magnet. Give us a small fountain, a tiny stream, any opportunity to wade in some H2O in the middle of summer, and the crowds emerge. That was expecially true this year, following the coronavirus lockdown and the closing of the skies.
I switched gears in my mind, and said to myself: OK, great. As long as they don’t throw garbage (there were a wrapper or two floating in the water already), then sure, yes, why not? Let the people have a sliver of happiness with this bounty coming out of the earth.
And get a taste of the sacred…
And, as Yashar had said, the deeper you went into the cave, the more the sense of mystery and holiness overtook you. Even the loud folk could sense it and got somewhat quieter once the water reached to around their waists.
As in all springs around the Land, ancient structures were always built to contain the water, then divert it into aqueducts and canals, channeling it eventually into fields, gardens and orchards. Yashar and his friends reconstructed some of the walls and conduits, as had been done before them over the generations.
It was a weird feeling – here I was with the man who made it possible for all these people to have this recreational opportunity, unaware of the saga that enabled it – the effort, devotion and dedication that this entailed, or that the man who initiated all that was standing up to his waist in the water right next to them…
There is a concept in Judaism : “secret charity”. The person receiving the charity does not know its source. That is a higher level of the Mitzva.
Ein Sapir Spring Restoration Explained On Location With English Subtitles
To read the English subtitles, you must watch the following videos through You-Tube. Press the link on the bottom right.
More to Come in Communal Restoration Projects:
To receive my upcoming posts: “Restoring the Ein Kerem Wadi and Bustan”, and “Restoring a Sacred Stream – an Ein Kerem Community Project”, and others like them directly to your mailbox:
Community ceremony to comemmorate releasing Ein Kerem stream into the wadi with sign to be posted on site
Note: pictures and texts in this article were published with Yashar’s permission.