Naomi Granat
A Curious Heart In A Land Of Possibilities

The Harvest Brigade? Guardians of the Garden?

A photo I took outside of Moshav Yishi.

The Harvest Brigade? Or possibly Guardians of the Garden? While brainstorming, these two names came to mind as possibilities for the new unit. I was thinking that the symbol for the unit would be the flame of the ever-turning sword mentioned in the third chapter of Genesis, the one guarding The Tree of Life. Then again, maybe a bountiful garden of fruit trees or rows of unplowed wheat ready for the harvest?

In my daydream, I see the Harvest Brigade. Very smart patches they are wearing, if I do say so myself. It’s a new unit in the IDF. The soldiers are wearing black kippot and tzitzit, equipped with rifles and donning military attire. They are working in a field alongside a farmer, laughing and talking. It appears as if these soldiers understand agriculture. They look fit and capable, prepared to work the land as well as to defend the farm.

Going back a few years in my dream, a farmer is visiting a farm which observes Shmita. He is asking many questions, wondering if it is doable. He decides to take this leap of faith, a bit scary, but the benefits could be enormous. At the same time, in the city of Jerusalem, a Rabbi encourages his students to join a new unit in the IDF. The students are caught by surprise, their faces filled with inquisitive shock. With a gentle, confident voice the Rabbi reassures his students by saying that the land will now have its Sabbatical rest.

Could this make-believe unit in my head become a reality? If so, it may offer solutions for the catastrophic divide within Israeli society, the current agricultural crisis, and upcoming Shmita dilemma.

I will give a bit of insight into my thinking on this issue, listing each of the experiences and thoughts separately and how they culminated into one idea.

There is a local plant nursery which in recent years began hiring ultra-Orthodox workers. I’m not sure if the owners are religious, but it was a change when I began to notice ultra-Orthodox men working there. I thought this was a brilliant idea and a good business move on their part. It would attract more people from Ramat Bet Shemesh to frequent the nursery. Indeed, I saw more and more ultra-Orthodox shopping there and bringing their children to select plants. For the workers, it seemed like very fulfilling work and the opportunity to answer questions regarding Shmita while working in a pleasant, natural environment. I’m not sure if the business always kept Shmita, but they were closed this last Shmita year.

My son, Yosef, began army service this past August. He’s in the Nahal Brigade. I wasn’t familiar with the history of this unit. After October 7th, one day while I was watching the news, one of the correspondents said, “Maybe Nahal will need to go back to its roots, its origins.” After hearing that I did some research. The Nahal Brigade was formed decades ago to help build and protect communities near Gaza. They established Nachal Oz. They assisted with farming and also provided security for these small agricultural communities.

Israel’s current agricultural dilemma seems to be close to a crisis level. Farmers being interviewed often hold back tears. They have been very appreciative of the volunteer efforts, but don’t have real good answers or solutions for the future. I’ve read in the news about a plan to bring tens of thousands of foreign workers into Israel from various countries. Unfortunately, foreign workers are often exploited by their countries of origin. I can’t imagine how this is a good long-term solution for Israeli agriculture.

The next Shmita cycle is in about four and a half years. Buying produce from Arabs/Palestinians may be an issue this coming Shmita. Also, due to worldwide antisemitism, it’s not unreasonable to foresee the Jewish population in Israel increasing quickly and drastically. A wave of Jewish immigration could change the overall observance and requirements for the next Shmita cycle.

This brings me to an idea, one that is very doable and could solve many issues all at once – an ultra-Orthodox agricultural unit or division of the IDF which would work with any farmers who voluntarily decide to observe Shmita. Also, like the Nahal Brigade of the past, the unit would provide security and protection for families in areas which were hit hardest by the war. The benefits would be enormous. It provides ultra-Orthodox young men an opportunity to be appreciated within their own communities, while at the same time gaining respect from Israeli society. The Israeli agricultural industry could be saved and communities protected at the same time. The unit could create an atmosphere of solidarity within Israeli society, breaking barriers of judgment and deep seated resentment.

Solidarity through agriculture and a shared sense of purpose for The Land. A hope for the future.

About the Author
A proud Texan-Israeli living in the beautiful city of Bet Shemesh.
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