The Israeli town that time forgot
STANDING IN THE tiny hamlet of Bat Shlomo, it seems that Israel’s muchtrumpeted high-tech boom is old hat. It is lowtech where the growth is really happening. Situated around 20 miles south of Haifa, Bat Shlomo is the spot that history forgot. Like many other Zionist settlements, it was founded in the 1880s by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, who helped residents with their often ill-fated agricultural projects. Most grew, such as the nearby Zichron Yaakov, now a town of around 20,000 people. But Bat Shlomo never expanded beyond the original single street of 12 houses (the neighbouring Bat Shlomo North is completely separate).
There is a shul, but no postcard stands, ice-cream vans, or explanatory signs. The only sound comes from what appears to be a farmyard from the set of Fiddler on the Roof. Hens are wandering around, dogs are barking and a cat purrs on a chair. And for a visitor believing that he has accidentally stepped back in time, the farmer, Ziv Schwartzman, approaches to confirm that, actually, he has.
“Have some cheese,” he says, in the manner of Tevye in Fiddler. He makes it known that he milked the cows and made the cheese by hand, exactly like his Romanian grandfather who bought the house in 1889.
He leads you to a room that displays pictures of his family and their documents from the British and Turkish eras, as well as “artefacts” from his family’s past — the tools for farming, the utensils for making their cheese.
Bat Shlomo has long been considered an anachronism by those living nearby, who in the past preferred to shop for cheese at the supermarket.
But that is all changing. Israeli householders, like consumers elsewhere, want to buy organic, a label that the Schwartzmans can claim simply because they never got round to being anything else. There are always a good number of trendies — some from as far away as Jerusalem — sipping home-brewed cider and carrying away kilograms of cheese, anticipating the impressed oohs and aahs it will solicit from their friends. “You know what you are getting is pure,” says Yehuda Blauman from Tel Aviv. “And yes, it does impress the guests.”
Indeed, Mr Schwartzman confides that he is “selling as much as I can make. People told my father he had it wrong and he should sell through big shops, but now look at us”.
He has no hesitation about capitalising on the nostalgia market. “The Schwartzman farmyard does not believe in progress and innovations,” says his publicity flyer, before advising that people are welcome to arrange a visit — via email.