Jun 30, 2022
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Baruch Kogan is a remarkable man working hard to heal the land of Israel and, by extension, the people of Israel. One tree at a time and one Jew at a time. 

Kogan was born in Russia and moved to the US with his family at the age of six. As an adult, he served in the military for eight years, completing two tours in Iraq. After university, he worked on reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. One of the projects was rebuilding irrigation infrastructure. After returning to the states, he learned digital fabrication, a profession that he continued after becoming religious and moving to Tapuach West in the Shomron (Samaria) ten years ago. 

“After living here, I realized that too much of the settler movement was focused on real estate and how many people we can put on the ground,” Kogan said. “With very few exceptions, the settler movement was not focused on the actual land. This key aspect was missing. The land is in a degraded state and the symbiotic relationship between the land and the Jews is so strong that we need to address that to really heal the Jews from the exile. This is clear in the Bible.”

“The western approach tends to be to overlook the glaring problems and see only what they want to see. The land is thorns and Arab olive trees and this needs to be addressed. More houses and apartment buildings won’t heal the land.”

“The return from the exile wasn’t just to give Jews a new place to live. Healing the land and healing the people is a part of the return to the Holy Land.”

Kogan is not the type of man who is satisfied by complaining or yelling for someone else to solve the problem. So he went to work. He began experimenting with permaculture in the fields around his home in the Yishuv Ha’Daat community. 

“At that point, it was just proof of concept,” Kogan said. “I didn’t know anything about agriculture. I was experimenting. I was working away from home and had a long commute but I set up a small nursery for trees in the most primitive way possible. Not only didn’t I know what I was doing, but my time and money were extremely limited. But it worked anyway.”

Permaculture requires trees but there were none and he couldn’t afford to buy the trees he needed. If he wanted to heal the land, he would need to grow the trees. But the land was covered with thorns and rocks. So five years ago, when Kogan came home from a day’s work in the office, he went to work on the boulders with wedges and sledgehammers. The shattered rocks were repurposed to protect the new seedlings.

Baruch Kogan (Photo courtesy Kogan)

His efforts paid off and three years ago, Israel365 joined in his vision to heal the Land of Israel. Beginning with small projects, Kogan began planting 10-20 trees at different sites in Judea and Samaria. With the support of the Israel365 community, they managed to complete 50 small projects in their first year, installing rudimentary drip irrigation at each site. Kogan and Israel365 have recently begun focusing on larger projects. 

“The Jewish National Fund works in an entirely different way than we do,” Kogan explained. “The plant almost exclusively pine trees which is a pioneer species. A monoculture of pine trees doesn’t heal the soil. They are good at first but need to be replaced. They are highly flammable and any time an Arab sets fire to a forest, the entire forest goes up in flames. We are focusing on oaks and carob trees, as well as other varieties. It should be self-sustaining and always offer something to harvest. It should be profitable for the people who live there or they won’t maintain it. Pine trees offer shade but not much else. I am trying to build an entire ecosystem, including the earth and the wildlife, and, of course, the Jews.”

One example of a harvestable product not normally considered when planting forests is Tavor oak acorns which Kogan recently harvested from the Hadera forest.

“I bet if you took acorn harvesting seriously and had a decent processing pipeline, you could live the whole year off acorn flour by working for a week or two,” Kogan wrote on his Facebook page.

Acorns (Photo via Emet Nursery’s Facebook page)

“The JNF also does not plant where I plant. They don’t support the hilltop communities in the Biblical heartland. They have their reasons. But we work with people who love the land and want to settle it no matter what.”

This approach culminated in the planting of a large vineyard in Kochav HaShachar in the tribal territory of Benjamin overlooking the Jordan Valley.

“It was unique in that we used only heritage grape vines,” Kogan explained. These are the Marawi grapes, native to Israel. These are the very grapes used to make the wine in the Temples. 

Kogan’s efforts are bearing fruit in more ways than one. He related that for several years, several of his neighbors denigrated his efforts, insisting that he was up against natural forces. At first, they seemed to be correct. But Kogan now sees that his neighbors are beginning to clear the rocks around their houses and outside the fence of the community, preparing the land for planting.

“You can’t convince anyone with words,” Kogan said. “But actions can convince almost anyone.”

Due to Shemittah’s restrictions, his efforts have been curtailed. But Kogan is unstoppable and has taken the opportunity to experiment with hydroponics. 

“Everything I am doing is experimental, developing tool kits for Jews who want to heal the land. Jews need to reconnect with the land; to heal the land and to heal the nation,” Kogan said. “This is the connection we see in the Bible. This is what we need to focus on today.”

Israel365 is pleased to join in Kogan’s vision of healing the land. To read more about Baruch and others like him, visit the Guardians of Israel website.