Israel’s Negev was graced with its first-ever cherry blossoms this month thanks to a special memorial and advanced agricultural project that sought to bring life to the typically arid region.
The project is the brainchild of Pini Elmakayes, 60, who wished to preserve the memory of his nephew Liel, who died six years ago at the age of 13 in a car accident in the Negev.
To that end, Elmakayes — together with the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council — planted several cherry trees in honor of Liel that steadily grew into a bustling orchard, the first and only to ever bloom in Israel’s sun-scorched Negev.
“Many people did not believe our venture would pan out,” said Elmakayes, who started the project a little over four years ago.
"This is a very problematic area for growing cherries because the trees need the cold and the soil here is also less than suitable.”
Despite countless hurdles along the way, Elmakayes' orchard began bearing fruit for the very first time earlier this month.
"No one really tried to grow cherries in this area because they thought it would be doomed to fail," said Itzik David, an agronomist at Ramat Negev R&D.
"Cherries are grown in Europe in high and cold areas. In the Golan Heights, cultivation is successful because the climatic conditions there are considered European. This is the first time someone has tried to grow cherries… in the desert."
Ramat Hanegev R&D director Yankale Moskovitch said: "Our vision of planting cherry trees at high altitudes in the Negev region is aiming to give locals a chance to make a living from agriculture and tourism, and so that travelers to [the south] and Eilat would enjoy the beauty of the desert alongside the cherry blossoms."
The head of the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council, Eran Doron, added: "The cooperation of Yankale and Pini led to the success we are celebrating today.”
“It symbolizes the vision of the flourishing Negev. This is how Zionism, agriculture and tourism are done, and no one is prouder and happier than us."