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Ellis Shuman

Volunteering to Help Israeli Farmers

Photo by Ellis Shuman
Photo by Ellis Shuman

“I’ve been here for 60 years and I’m just not going to continue,” said the tired-looking moshavnik from the south. His Thai workers had fled, a rocket had hit one of his greenhouses, his pepper plants’ leaves were wilted, and the vegetables were dying on their stems. We were there, picking what we could to salvage his crop.

For the past month, I have been volunteering one day a week to help save Israeli agriculture in the hard-hit south. There are many kibbutzim and moshavim that need help and I feel like this is the way I can contribute to my country’s war efforts.

I have found places to volunteer by following dedicated Facebook groups, and by visiting websites that advertise volunteering opportunities. A few back-and-forth chats on WhatsApp and the details are arranged. Where to report, and at what hour. ‘Wear long pants’, the advertisements state. ‘Bring food for the day.’ ‘Come with a good spirit’. And the volunteers come.

My first volunteering was in a pomelo orchard jointly owned by a business entity and Kibbutz Bror Hayil. Before the war, Thai workers worked in the orchards, along with some Bedouins. Seventy percent of the crop is for export; the rest is for the local market. I set to work picking the thick-skinned green spheres. My arms were quickly scratched-up by the thorny branches. Along with other individual volunteers, the picking that day was done by a delegation of Knesset members, and a busload of soldiers, who picked the fruit with rifles still slung over their shoulders.

Photo by Ellis Shuman

The owner of the pepper greenhouse on Moshav Sharsheret barely said a word to my daughter and me when we showed up to help pick his crop. We were told to pick every red pepper we saw, except for the very small ones. There would be no second pass through the plants because the farm had lost all its workers. The plants were in bad shape, for lack of care. Still, we filled crate after crate with red peppers. The owner stated that we were six weeks late with the harvest.

The avocados of an orchard near Ashkelon are mostly destined for export to France, and from there they will be marketed all over Europe. Here, too, all the workers had fled. There are three varieties of avocados grown; we were picking Haas avocadoes. The trees were tall and full of fruit and the leaves were very pleasing to the touch. The orchard’s manager told me that they would be picking for the next three months, if they had enough volunteers to do the work.

Photo by Ellis Shuman

There is a lot of satisfaction in picking fruit and vegetables, but planting shows that we haven’t given up hope. We plant because we’re preparing for next season, working towards a fruitful future.

I reported to an open field near Gedera. This farm is owned by two moshavim, and luckily for the owners, some of its Thai workers had remained. They were planting cauliflowers the day I arrived, something usually done with a machine, but it had rained the previous day. The seedlings needed to be planted now, and there was much work to be done. The owners were extremely grateful to the volunteers that had arrived to assist them.

Photo by Ellis Shuman

It’s extremely difficult to plant seedlings in a muddy field. The ground was wet, and in some cases, we stuck our hands through puddles of water to make sure the plants were properly spaced apart. Crouching down, I felt a physical strain on my muscles that would be painful for many days. I stuck one seedling into the ground after another. My clothes got dirty, and my boots were covered by so much mud it felt like they were filled with cement. But despite the mud, the entire field was soon planted with cauliflower. I promised the owners that I would be back in four months’ time to help with the harvest.

Helping Israeli farmers, working to save the country’s agriculture, is a very satisfying feeling. It gives a sense of playing an active role in the war effort. We are strong; we are resilient. Working together, in the orchards and in the fields, we will ensure the success of this year’s’ harvest and next season’s crops.

About the Author
Ellis Shuman made aliya to Jerusalem as a teenager, served in the IDF, was a founding member of a kibbutz, and now lives on Moshav Neve Ilan. Ellis is the author of ‘The Burgas Affair’ – a crime thriller set in Israel and Bulgaria; ‘Valley of Thracians’ - a suspense novel set in Bulgaria; and 'The Virtual Kibbutz' - a collection of short stories. His writing has appeared in The Times of Israel, The Huffington Post, The Jerusalem Post, Israel Insider, and on a wide range of Internet websites. Ellis lived with his wife for two years in Bulgaria, and blogs regularly about Israel, Bulgaria, books, and writing.