The Green Goat

Desperate for a good night’s sleep, I exchange the Jesus Trail for asphalt. I backtrack up the highway to an Israeli hostel. It carries a most curious name: Yarok-Az, or the “Green Goat.” It is advertised as an “eco-friendly organic goat farm.” Such a description will charm a sticky tick out of a tight place. I tug the cinch strap on my pack, set my jaw, and make for a bunk.

Galilean goats browsing on the site of Yodfat (Jotapata).

I’ve seen hundreds of goats in my time. Thousands, maybe. They come one-toned, two-toned, speckled and pin-striped. Some models are low slung and short-legged. Others are long and lean: tree climbers and rock hoppers. I’ve encountered them, their curly horns, and their herders from the jungles of Africa to the dry deserts in Asia. They are remarkably energetic creatures.

Yes, I’ve seen many goats. But never a green one.

Some say that Capra hircus was among the first of the domesticated beasts. Without a doubt, they are a lifeway theme in the story of the Ancient Near East. Goat hair is used for tents, bags, and rugs. Goat milk may be consumed directly or converted to milk, yogurt, or cheese. Goat meat is a staple.

Yes, I have enjoyed their fresh (and even) warm milk; I have gnawed on their legs with my own teeth. But never a green one.

Goats are often mixed with sheep in large herds in the open field. The ratio of animals is not accidental. In harsh environments the goats fair better than the sheep and outnumber their fluffy cousins. Goats are more mobile, less picky, more hardy. They browse rather than graze and are less likely to destroy a pasture, especially in a marginal zone.

Yes, I’ve counted many goats. But never a green one.

Animal bones from the archaeological site. Image from here.

On archaeological digs, I’ve watched the mystery of “bone-reading.” To the trained eye, the difference between the physical remains of chickens, poodles, cows, and “sheep-goat” are obvious. Butcher marks can be identified if you know where to look.

Yes, I’ve experienced many sheep-goat remains. But never a green one.

Ok. This one is pretty green (or my readers will be). This poor fellow lost his head (or his body) in Jordan’s great eastern desert. Hey, anybody remember Bill Cosby’s “Chicken heart” routine?

In the biblical text, goats are regularly worked into the story. Genesis describes how Jacob manipulated Laban’s herd to his own advantage. His sons, in turn, would manipulate him by splashing goat blood on Joseph’s coat of favoritism. In Judges, Gideon prepares a goat-kid for a meal while the book of Proverbs calls goat milk “good food.” In a well-known passage from the gospels the judgement day is analogous to the act of separating sheep from goats.

Yes, there are many goat stories that appear in the Bible. But never a green one.

Ammonite goats musing over the site of Tell Jalul, Jordan.

For all these reasons, I smile when I find Yarok-Az. It is on the edge of modern Ilaniya, just below a military base. Ilaniya is famous for something besides the “Green Goat,” however. One of its early residents was David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister. As a young man, he worked the ground here. It is said that Ilaniya always held a special place in his heart.

Entrance to the “Green Goat.”

I pass the sign and survey the “Green Goat” for the first time. It is an eclectic complex of structures. In the front is a long home-like building. On one end is a barn. Behind the barn are vegetable gardens, a car port or two, some sheds, a fish pond, and an above-ground swim pool.  Behind all of these are two enormous cloth igloos (geodesic domes). In the back, a cabin.

A teenage girl is pulling weeds in one of the flowerbeds. She greets me and takes me to meet Avi Yankelevitch. He is as sturdy as his name suggests. Big hands. Easy going. Gregarious. We become fast friends.

Avi gives me a tour of the “Green Goat.” True to its name, there are goats here. However, they are not so green.


An eco-friendly organic (but brownish colored) “Green Goat.”

Maybe my translation is off. Perhaps instead of reading the modified ‘az as “goat,” it should be rendered as ‘oz, “power” or “vigor”? “Vigorous Green”? “Intense Green”?

Suddenly, I get it! It is a double entendre! The place is organic and eco-friendly! It is “Green Power”! Those dastardly elusive Hebrew vowels!

Enlightened, Avi shows me to my room. I get the empty igloo. He pulls out a foam mattress and lays it on the floor in front of an air conditioner.

“Put your bag here and we can visit Mt. Tavor.”

I entertain the thought for a second, but turn down the offer. A real shower, a change of clothes, and a nap is what I need most. Besides, I’ve been to Tavor many times.

There is a cooking area outside my igloo. On the way out, Avi tells me I can pick fresh vegetables from the garden if I need them. He is a gracious host.

“We’ll milk the goats later,” he says. Then he disappears.

I shower, hang laundry, and wander over into the commons room by the barn. A couch sits against one wall. Here I find internet access. I send a few emails before the wear of the last few days overtakes me.

Dreams of green goats in purple fields dance in my head. When I wake, I am still sprawled over one arm of the couch. I am empowered.