Raph Goldenberg

Orange picking, the Jewish family and why we can’t be beaten

The orange picking volunteers at Kibbutz Reim. Credit: הסעה לעוטף צפון י-ם ומעלה אדומים
Orange pickers at Kibbutz Reim

We live in Melbourne, Australia.

My dad Howard is 78. He’s a doctor and an observant Jew. He’s devoted his professional life to helping people, mostly non-Jews, and in the last 25 years, Indigenous Australians. He devotes the rest of his time to looking after other people –  his family, his many friends and his community. He’s a good man, and I’m proud of him.

My 7 year old daughter Sadie is in grade 1. She’s smart, kind, generous and funny. She loves being Jewish. I’ve never met someone who hasn’t been to Israel and yet loves the country so much. Israel is a core part of her, and her love for Israel grows from her Jewish day school, her family and her Israeli school friends She’s a good girl, and I’m proud of her.

My dad is in Israel. Like many Jews in the diaspora, he went to Israel to bear witness to the terrible events of October 7, and to give love and support to family, friends and Israelis he’s never met before. Last Monday, dad joined a busload of other non-Israeli volunteers to pick oranges at Kibbutz Reim. They went there to help save the farmer’s harvest. Kibbutz Reim is close to the Gaza border and right next to the site of the Nova musical festival massacre. Because of the devastation in that area, and the fact that so many workers have been on reserve duty in the army, the farm needs help to pick the harvest before it rots. On the way to the Kibbutz, the bus stopped at a rest stop, and everyone got out. Dad went into the café and ordered a coffee. A lady in the café approached him with a look of recognition and said “Howard? Howard Goldenberg”? Dad confirmed she had the right person, but didn’t immediately recognise the lady. She told dad “I’ve been a teacher to your beautiful, granddaughter, Sadie Goldenberg!”. She also reminded dad that he performed a bris on her son around 30 years ago. The lady was also in Israel to volunteer and was on her way to pick fruit at a different farm. When told me this, he couldn’t remember her name.

When I told this story to Sadie the next day, she very quickly worked out who the teacher was. Sadie remembered that her substitute teacher Lauren had told her class not that long ago that she was planning to go to Israel where she would volunteer and pick fruit. Without me telling her this part of the story, Sadie excitedly told me that she remembered that Lauren had told Sadie’s class (last year!) that Sadie’s saba had done Lauren son’s bris many years before And so the loop was closed.

This could be dismissed as a charming “small world” coincidence story, but it touched me deeply because it’s so much more than that.

Since October 7, Jews outside Israel have been devastated by the massacre and rape of Israelis and the taking of innocent Israeli hostages into Gaza. This has been compounded by the non-reaction to these atrocities, and the antisemitism and condemnation of Israel by many in the “civilised world”. Diaspora Jews are in a state of national depression.  Many feel a desperate pull to go to Israel to help in whatever way they can. The reason for this is simple. The Jews are one people and one family, a very small family as this story shows. A wound to Israel, is a wound to all of us. The Jewish people are a strong family. Like any family, we argue from time to time, but we love each other and will do anything for each other, especially when things get tough.

The tragedy is that Hamas, and the protesters on the street and on university campuses who chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, seem not to understand this. Taken at their word, they think that Israel is a temporary colonialist occupation power, and by extension, Zionism is a criminal enterprise. Zionism is simply the idea that the Jewish people have a right to their own independent state in their ancestral homeland. The problem with thinking that Zionism, and the Jews being in Israel, is a temporary construct, is that you think it can be destroyed. But because of the strength of Israel, the Jewish family and the fact that they have nowhere else to go, that’s never going to happen. So people thinking this way has tragic consequences not just for Israel and the Jews, but also for the Palestinians, the entire region and the world.

So listen carefully to the story of the Jewish generations, and to the story of Howard, Sadie and Lauren and Israel. And get used to the Jewish family, because we stick together, and we’re not going anywhere.

Am Yisrael chai.

About the Author
Raph Goldenberg is a lawyer based n Melbourne, Australia. He got married in Israel, to his beautiful wife Samari and has 4 beautiful children, a daughter at university, a son in Israel, and two young daughters in school and kindergarten. Raph is a proud and passionate Jew and Zionist.
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