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Lehitraot Shnat Shmitta: My trip to Kibbutz Ein Harod

Elul 5782

This is a lashon tov ‘report on the ground’ of a trip my mother Gael Hammer and I had to Kibbutz Ein Harod. I live in Talpiot, Jerusalem and she came to visit from Sydney Australia. I had not seen her in 3 years and baruch Hashem she was well so she came for Pesach and stayed 7 weeks. Mom is our family historian and through the internet, she has found a few long lost relatives. Slutzkins and Blashkis from Poland and Russia crop up every now and again and she found Mimi Brand, a 90 year old lady who’s mother was a Slutzkin. My mother is 85. So, we made arrangements to visit Mimi and learn about our relationship on the family tree. We left early in the morning and Wayze told us we would be there by 12. Mimi had invited us to the kibbutz lunch to dine with her. 

Driving down Kvish 90 is glorious. We saw the land changing color and turning from one sort of desert to another, field after field of all kinds of dates and bananas. On the right of the kvish there was the last of the Dead Sea, on the left there were desert mountain ranges. As we drove north east, we saw the Jordan Valley on the right and their plantations, miles and miles of hot houses and greenhouses filled with Jordan’s only produce. It is heavily fenced with electric barbed wire. But we could view the glory. Yeshayahu’s prophecy of deserts blooming is happening now. More on these Jordanian plantations later.

We arrived at the kibbutz at 12:30. Mimi’s son Yoav, who is about my age, in his 50s, came to the gate and welcomed us. We followed him to the dining hall where members of the kibbutz were eating lunch. It was built in the 60’s, old but sparkling clean. Mimi was delighted to meet us. She came in her scooter vehicle – think Wilma Flintstone – and welcomed us as her guests to the kibbutz. It is a religious kibbutz, meaning they are Rabbanut kosher, they have a synagogue and believe in the Torah. To what degree is certainly personal but they are all committed to Hashem. The school children came in for lunch soon after we sat down, Yoav’s son came to say hi to his savta, before joining his classmates. There is an elder stateswoman thing about Mimi, she is certainly deserving of ‘The Queen of Kibbutz Ein Harod’ title!

My mother got right down to business discussing mishpacha with Mimi. They are second cousins, but whereas my mother’s family emigrated to Australia in the late 1800’s, Mimi’s parents made pre State Aliyah in 1920. With little more than what they were wearing and a love of Israel, 15 people including Mimi’s parents decided to settle in Ein Harod. Their tools to cultivate the land were like spoons and forks but with such vigor and ambition, and love of Eretz Yisrael and deep knowledge of Torat Yisrael and with a bit of help from organizations, they plowed away. They were the real chalutzim, pioneers. They quickly built little huts and dug for water. In true kibbutz form, men and women worked the land, planted fruits and veggies and worked some more. Back then, Arabs were a danger, they stole a whole lot, had random shootings and things weren’t so stable as they are now. After 1948, things got a bit better. A kibbutz union formed and alliance with governors of the kibbutzim to protect each other. The State was born anew with 214 kibbutzim already running!

Fast forward to today. Kibbutz Ein Harod has about 700 member families, about 300 non member residents – workers etc and a whole array of industries including a milking dairy farm that feeds directly into Tenuva; a goat farm producing goat milk and cheese; a bee farm; a ticket factory that services countries all over the world. That parking ticket you just got, or the theater ticket you bought last week was likely printed on the kibbutz! They have a well known agricultural focused high school and post high school attended by kids from all over Israel. But the visionaries that founded the kibbutz are what my mother and I were in awe of. So much reverence for our family. To think they began with little more than unsophisticated tools and a love of our Land, and now, 100 years later they have 10,000 acres of crops and orchards, as far as the eye can see, with dozens of fruits and vegetable species. The miracle, and the prophecies were not lost on us.

Kibbutz Ein Harod is semi privatized, allowing profit shares to be distributed to the kibbutz members, while still maintaining the kibbutz collective format where the rest of the profit goes back into the kibbutz. Gone are the poverty stricken kibbutzim with few resources. While most people upgraded and did renovations on their ‘50s houses, Mimi decided she wanted her house just the same, and it’s quaint with incredible art work and mementoes. 

Today, technology does most of the tedious work in the orchards. Planting the seeds, harvesting, washing and sorting are overseen by humans, but GPS guided driverless tractors go up and down making it so much easier. No more American Deep South type of slave labor needed. Furthermore, the tractors are programmed to leave a certain percentage on the ground for poor people to take freely. Think Megillat Rut. Anything left is turned into compost, so nothing is wasted. Such is the way of life on a farm in Israel. 

This is a shmitta year, where we are commanded to leave the land fallow and let it rest. Back in biblical times, each family had much smaller fields and grew produce for their families. 10,000 acres was likely unheard of. So I asked Ofir, Mimi’s son in law, one of 6 guys who are the governing body ‘council’ of  the orchards about what Shmitta looked like to them. He said most fields larger than a certain acreage sell their fields to non Jews, yet retaining the right to conduct ‘business as usual’ allowing the kibbutz to work freely – Heter Mechira. It’s the same idea as selling your chametz to a non Jew. So essentially, the kibbutz operates as normal. Because this is an internationally well known kibbutz, the Rabbanut suggested they let 300 acres lie fallow for the year, and the Rabbanut pays them SH100/acre/month. Ofir and the council agreed, it’s their way of joining the Shmitta movement. There was so much surplus tzedaka from the Diaspora for starving farmers during Shmitta, that the Rabbanut wanted to share with all the farmers. Obviously, smaller farms get more money per acre so they don’t struggle. 

Kibbutz Ein Harod orchards are purely an export business. All produce is flown overseas. So the laws of Shmitta are especially important in case someone Jewish happens to buy Israeli produce, labeled Heter Mechira. (Trumot and maasrot – tithes – are done before the produce leaves the kibbutz too.) 

Interesting to note, it is common practice among large farms world wide to cycle fields through a 7 year period, leaving sections fallow, giving them a rest and these fields are no different but because our Land is holy, farmers join with the Rabbanut to ensure their produce is properly managed according to halacha. There is so much more to say about the kibbutz, its operations and its magnificent orchards, but this is a small taste. And we did taste…a lot! I asked if I could pick a banana from the tree. Yoav said “why not, it’s your banana!” Referencing the land we stand on belongs to everyone, especially during Shmitta! He gave us several banana fronds to take home, with so many other goodies!

I will finish with an ‘only in Israel’ story. The kibbutz has 1000 almond trees that produce on average 400,000 almonds per year. In 2021, it was a warm winter and they only harvested 100,000 almonds. So the governors decided to let the almond trees go. It is not a make or break product for them. In 2022, after doing nothing, not even watering them, thinking they will die, these 1000 almond trees produced over a million almonds!!! This is Shmitta. These are our people doing work on our land, living it and loving it and giving back to society. 

Circling back to the miles of highway on Kvish 90 and seeing the Jordanian orchards…After too many years of thefts and discord from their Arab neighbors, the Kibbutz council appointed farmers to join forces with Jordanian business people to teach them how to grow their own produce. The Jordanians’ thriving produce businesses are a result of education so their people wouldn’t need to steal the kibbutz produce anymore. And giving water to the Jordanian plantations for free, because that’s what is done on this desert kibbutz. 

 

In Devarim 11:13,14,15 we read the second most famous paragraph in Tanach:

וְהָיָ֗ה אִם־שָׁמֹ֤עַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ֙ אֶל־מִצְוֺתַ֔י אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י מְצַוֶּ֥ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם לְאַהֲבָ֞ה אֶת־יְהֹוָ֤ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶם֙ וּלְעׇבְד֔וֹ בְּכׇל־לְבַבְכֶ֖ם וּבְכׇל־נַפְשְׁכֶֽם׃ 

If, then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, loving your God and serving [God] with all your heart and soul,

וְנָתַתִּ֧י מְטַֽר־אַרְצְכֶ֛ם בְּעִתּ֖וֹ יוֹרֶ֣ה וּמַלְק֑וֹשׁ וְאָסַפְתָּ֣ דְגָנֶ֔ךָ וְתִירֹֽשְׁךָ֖ וְיִצְהָרֶֽךָ׃ 

*I will grant the rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late. You shall gather in your new grain and wine and oil—

וְנָתַתִּ֛י עֵ֥שֶׂב בְּשָׂדְךָ֖ לִבְהֶמְתֶּ֑ךָ וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ וְשָׂבָֽעְתָּ׃

I will also provide grass in the fields for your cattle—and thus you shall eat your fill.

My mother and I saw with our own eyes how Hashem has blessed this kibbutz, its people are humble and are obviously doing the right thing. Growing Israel has taken so much time, energy and effort, lots of trial and error, lots of sweat and tears. A lunch with our new cousin Mimi and her family – Giants in every way, and a tour of their kibbutz was the best 3 hours I’ve ever spent. I learned more about Eretz Yisrael at Kibbutz Ein Harod than l have in my collective years here. May Hashem continue to bless us…

Where will we be next Shmitta? Shana Tova

In Devarim 11:13,14,15 we read the second most famous paragraph in Tanach:

וְהָיָ֗ה אִם־שָׁמֹ֤עַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ֙ אֶל־מִצְותַ֔י אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י מְצַוֶּ֥ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם לְאַהֲבָ֞ה אֶת־יְהֹוָ֤ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶם֙ וּלְעבְד֔וֹ בְּכל־לְבַבְכֶ֖ם וּבְכל־נַפְשְׁכֶֽם׃ 

If, then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, loving your God and serving [God] with all your heart and soul,

וְנָתַתִּ֧י מְטַֽר־אַרְצְכֶ֛ם בְּעִתּ֖וֹ יוֹרֶ֣ה וּמַלְק֑וֹשׁ וְאָסַפְתָּ֣ דְגָנֶ֔ךָ וְתִירֹֽשְׁךָ֖ וְיִצְהָרֶֽךָ׃ 

*I will grant the rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late. You shall gather in your new grain and wine and oil—

וְנָתַתִּ֛י עֵ֥שֶׂב בְּשָׂדְךָ֖ לִבְהֶמְתֶּ֑ךָ וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ וְשָׂבָֽעְתָּ׃

I will also provide grass in the fields for your cattle—and thus you shall eat your fill.

My mother and I saw with our own eyes how Hashem has blessed this kibbutz, its people are humble and are obviously doing the right thing. Growing Israel has taken so much time, energy and effort, lots of trial and error, lots of sweat and tears. A lunch with our new cousin Mimi and her family – Giants in every way, and a tour of their kibbutz was the best 3 hours I’ve ever spent. I learned more about Eretz Yisrael at Kibbutz Ein Harod than l have in my collective years here. May Hashem continue to bless us…

Where will we be next Shmitta? Shana Tova

About the Author
Tania grew up in Sydney, Australia, moved to NY when she was 22 and found herself in Israel for her 50th birthday - an Aliyah dream come true! She works at a gallery in Jerusalem and is a student of life...Tania is an Orthodox woman with a progressive take on Torah. She started a popular Facebook group for Anglo divorcees and widow/ers called SDEI. But her crowning glory is her daughter on whose footsteps she followed to come to Israel.