Cherries aren’t supposed to grow in a hot desert. Children aren’t supposed to die in car crashes.

But Pini Elmakayes’ nephew, Liel, was killed in a road accident at age 13, six years ago.

Elmakayes commemorated that unthinkable event with an unthinkable agricultural feat: To preserve and continue Liel’s memory, he planted cherry trees in the sunbaked soil of his farm in Mitzpeh Ramon, a town in Israel’s southern Negev Desert.

Cherries harvested in Mitzpeh Ramon. Photo by Pini Elmakayes

Normally, cherries thrive only in the higher elevation and cooler temperatures of northern Israel.

Many people were skeptical about Elmakayes’ scheme, but agronomists from the Ramat HaNegev Regional Council’s agricultural R&D center lent their expertise to the bereaved uncle, an Israel Air Force veteran.

And after four years of hard work, the evidence is in: Yes, you can grow cherries in the desert.

“No one really tried to grow cherries in this area because they thought it would be doomed to fail,” Ramat HaNegev agronomist Itzik David told Ynet.

Children hold cherries grown in the desert, in memory of a beloved nephew. Photo by Chaim Hornstein

The first fruits were harvested on May 3, just before Israel Independence Day, prompting Elmakayes to post a thank-you to Ramat HaNegev and its R&D director, Yankel’e Moskowitz, on Facebook:

“To the glory of the State of Israel

Believe me – it’s going to happen!!!

Cherries in the Negev!!!!

Special thanks to R&D Ramat Negev for the warm assistance

Especially to you Yankel’e Moskowitz for realizing the dreams of others

Admittedly it is not yet commercial – but you are invited to see the beauty of creation.”

The sign for Pini Elmakayes’ Pnina B’Negev (Pearl of the Negev) farm in Mitzpeh Ramon. Photo: screenshot

Moskowitz told Ynet that the rare achievement gives Negev residents additional encouragement to make a living from agriculture and tourism, so that travelers to the south may “enjoy the beauty of the desert alongside the cherry blossoms.”