September 26, 2019

Working the Land

As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.
Genesis 8:22

Although we have been living in Israel for 15 years, our relationship to The Land continues to grow deeper and more profound.

We recently moved from our home in central Israel and headed north. We sadly left good friends, a warm community and a vibrant urban scene filled with culture, gastronomy and convenience.  

But we also left behind congested traffic, the irritability and stress of living in a highly populated area, honking horns, parking challenges and sticky, sweaty humidity.

We headed to the Upper Galilee, to mountain vistas where the air is crisp and eagles surf the wind stream. We are blessed with seeing the sunrise peeking above one mountain and later dipping behind another, streaking tangerine across the horizon. Nights are strangely intense – silent save for cricket song against an open black sky speckled with planets and stars.

We have a large, sun-filled yard that begs for a vegetable garden - my dream. As soon as I unpacked the house, out came the trowel and the seeds. We first collected wood pallets and made a composter, then added our kitchen scraps. It felt so good, healthy and wholesome.

That warm feeling lasted a whole two days. One morning, I visited my composter with new food scraps and realized that it too had its own nocturnal visitors. The entire structure was upended as if it had been tossed into the air, spun around then trampled on. We looked at it with our city eyes: Vandals? Emboldened street cats?

None of the above – it was wild boars. The entire moshav, I was told, has a strong fence around the entire perimeter to keep out wild boars. However, the secure fence did not preclude fencing in a few.

With tusks and a huge body mass of up to 200 kilos, wild boar can be dangerous, especially a mama boar with baby boars. Which makes us realize that our urban dog, softened by sleeping indoors on soft carpets, could be a tasty appetizer for one of these pigs.

We abandoned our composter. The seedlings sat dejected in their small containers, our garden project stymied until we found a solution.

The boar fence went up yesterday, care of my husband’s sweat as he first dug a trench, hurling a pick axe into the rocky soil, pounded steel poles deep down, then hung metal fencing.

As the sun popped up this morning, the tiny lettuce, spinach, kale and parsley was gently patted into the soil, watered and swaddled by the fence.

Tilling our soil, sifting rock from coarse earth, timing the planting with the impending winter and understanding when and where sun’s rays will kiss the seedlings – all of these details bring me back into alignment with the land and imbue me with awe.  I feel as if I have returned to my source, a simple and elegant harmony. 

According to the Torah, humankind was formed from earth and ever since Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden and had to tend their land, it has been hard, back-breaking work to yield a crop.

In Israel, it is time to harvest walnuts, grapes, pistachios, apples, honey and pomegranates and it is time to plant winter crops for the next growing cycle.

Just yesterday, we woke up before dawn and helped our farmer friend pick Shiraz grapes from his organic vineyard. As the sun rose, some forty people arrived, all volunteers, who collected the bountiful harvest of juicy purple bunches.

With my feet on the ground and my hands in the earth, I am discovering that this is a spiritually sensitive land.  Rabbi Shimon said, “There is no plant without an angel in Heaven tending it and telling it, ‘Grow!’” 

Working the land in Israel is truly a spiritual experience; we can realign with our origins and when we participate in this, we renew creation.
When the pomegranates here are ruby red, Rosh Hashana is nearing. This chag, when I will pray for abundance and for early and late rains in the land, my thoughts this year will be more ‘grounded.’ With tender care, we can all help the earth endure.

Wishing a sweet and abundant new year to all!