חג הקציר — The Reaping Festival, in Pictures

 

The upcoming holiday has the most names of any of the Jewish festivals: Bikkurim (Festival of the First Fruits), Shavuot (Festival of Weeks), Atzeret (Festival of Completion),  Matan Torateinu (Festival of the Giving of the Torah), and Katzir (Festival of Reaping).  Our family generally relates to this early-summer holiday as a memory of Sinai, when God gave Israel the Torah, and as a culmination of the Omer period launched by Pesach, which is captured in the names “Shavuot” and “Atzeret.” But this year, we are in full “Katzir” mode.

The reason why the Torah names this holiday “Katzir” is that it marks the agricultural season when the last and most valuable of the cereals, wheat, is harvested. Until very recently, the crop cycle in Israel was linked exclusively to rain, as farmers did not have the means for large-scale irrigation of legumes or cereals. These crops are planted in late fall, and harvested in springtime and early summer. Have a look at this ancient inscription from Gezer, about three thousand years old, that marks the same cycle that we in Israel are still bound to:

Translation:
two months of sowing
two months of late sowing
one month of hoeing weeds
one month of barley harvesting
one month of harvesting and measuring (wheat)
two months of cutting grapes

The harvest cycle was one of the factors in establishing the nature of a number of Jewish holidays (Passover — barley, Shavuot — wheat, Sukkot — summer crops…even Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, falls out in the same season as the olive harvest!)

This was the first year that we planted wheat in our fields to reap for wheat kernels, and not for hay. (Hay is the harvested straw with the kernel still attached, and is stored in bales for livestock feed. We’ve done this in previous years, but this year we are hoping to cook and bake with our own wheat, and to feed kernels to the poultry).

For most of human history, reaping was done with rudimentary tools:

And then, along came the combine, which revolutionized food production. This magnificent machine both cuts the wheat AND separates the wheat berries from the chaff. Watch the reaping — it’s mesmerizing:

The combine can hold up to eight tons of wheat berries, which are then emptied out into huge sacks:

Ira explains what our plans are:

And here he is doing the mitzvot of separating terumot and ma’asrot, with a very special addition (skip ahead to min 1:25 for the cool factor):

It takes a long time to burn 300kilo of wheat:

After that, Bat-Chen did some winnowing action in the field to get rid of any remaining chaff. Finally, some of this goodness had to be brought into the kitchen and baked! First, Bat-Chen ground the wheatberries into flour:

She then sifted the flour to separate the bran from the fine flour (I’m not sure we’ll continue with this, since it saps the grain of most of its nutrients, but since we’ve never baked with hand-ground wheat before, and she wanted the first loaves to be as luscious as possible, we decided to wait until later to experiment.) We’ll bake our challot for the upcoming holiday from this flour, in a first-time celebration of the spirit of the Biblical verse detailing the offering that was presented to God on Shavuot: “You shall bring an offering of new grain to God. You shall bring from your settlements two loaves of bread as an offering” (Leviticus 23:16-17).

Wishing all of Israel a blessed, bountiful and peaceful Katzir!

The Greatest Generation

My grandparents belonged to “The Greatest Generation.” They were Americans born around 1920, whose childhood was marked by the Great Depression and who came of age during the second World War. This was a generation that embodied success through grit and hard work, whose moral compass was set by the clarity of good G.I. Joe vs evil Nazi. They were idealistic and realistic, Western, and value-driven. They were the original baseball-and-apple-pie patriots, many of them children of immigrants, homegrown nationalists who were committed to family and country. 

My grandfather, Rubin Goldstein a’h, a few months shy of being awarded a Purple Heart for his bravery on D-Day.

Growing up in the forties and fifties, journalist Tom Brokaw remarked that even as a small boy, he felt the dignity and honor of the generation that preceded his:

Looking back, I can recall that the grown-ups all seemed to have a sense of purpose that was evident even to someone as young as four, five, or six. Whatever else was happening in our family or neighborhood, there was something greater connecting all of us, in large ways and small. (The Greatest Generation, Chapter 1)

The young people who have come of age in the current war will be Israel’s Greatest Generation. Specifically, those in their twenties and thirties, those who mobilized within hours and left their families and lives for months on end, will form the core of our future. They will profoundly impact Israel’s identity. They will take the helm of Israel’s broken political leadership. They will fundamentally reshape our culture and its aesthetic expression. They will recharge the religious nature of the Jewish people – they will bring us all closer to the Divine, the children steering the hearts of their fathers to return (Malachi 3:24).

We should confidently put our faith in Israel’s Millenials and Gen Z because they are the ones fighting the war. War is a refiner. On the battlefield, facing his own mortality, the soldier is stripped down to his fundamental self, and sees – perhaps for the first time in his life, perhaps for the first time in recent history – what is real in this world. Why do I fight? What is my life worth? What do I value even more than life itself? He sees reality, and he shows it to the rest of us. The Israeli soldier is right now in that rarefied space of absolute, shocking truth. Look into his eyes: he is a man beyond any other man. 

It sounds cruel to think of war as anything but hell, and to stretch our consciousness beyond just wanting all of our loved ones in uniform home safe and sound, but the truth is that the soldiers on the front lines have merited an experience that has and will transform them in a way that those of us who do not or cannot fight will never merit. Winston Churchill pined for his people to have such character: 

Come on now all you young men, all over the world. You are needed more than ever now to fill the gap of a generation shorn by the war. You have not an hour to lose. You must take your places in Life’s fighting line. Twenty to twenty-five! These are the years! Don’t be content with things as they are. ‘The earth is yours and the fulness thereof.’ Enter upon your inheritance, accept your responsibilities. Raise the glorious flags again, advance them upon the new enemies, who constantly gather upon the front of the human army, and have only to be assaulted to be overthrown. Don’t take No for an answer. Never submit to failure.  (My Early Life, Chapter 4)

War sloughs off layers of falsehood and fantasy that have weighed Israeli society down and rendered us sluggish and disaffected. This war, more than any other in all of Israel’s history, has exposed for us all the shocking reality of what we collectively had refused to confront for the last hundred years. We had buried our discomfort with the concept of an enemy that is determined to destroy us under heavy layers of false constructs: it is only Hamas, not the Palestinians, who want to dissolve Israel, and they are a minority, and if we give them enough freedom and money and agency then they will be willing peace partners. We pundited and punted and hemmed and hawed and had conferences and singalongs and made excuses and murmured diplomatic niceties and ran to shelters and shot down rockets aimed at our cities but now – now we must look to the soldiers. They have merited the awful, transcendental experience of milchemet mitzvah, of being called to battle for Israel’s very right to exist, where the LORD your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you (Deuteronomy 23:15). They have done what they were charged to do: your camp shall be holy. And so our soldiers are our holy ones now, for they have been refined through war. They have an unsurpassed clarity of purpose and mission. 

We, on the edges of this war, can more easily fall prey to the nihilism and helplessness that threaten to weaken our resolve. Our vision is confused and clouded by the squawking cacophony of cynical spin-masters, the smug and self-righteous international and local institutions who push immoral agendas. It is a sisyphean task to remain steadfast under the constant barrage of poisonous rhetoric. I find myself turning again and again to the soldiers themselves for their ironclad steadfastness, and for their optimism. 

America’s Greatest Generation was characterized by their “towering achievement and modest demeanor, a legacy of their formative years when they were participants in and witness to sacrifices of the highest order. They know how many of the best of their generation didn’t make it to their early twenties, how many brilliant scientists, teachers, spiritual and business leaders, politicians and artists were lost in the ravages of the greatest war the world has seen” (Brokaw, The Greatest Generation, Chapter 1).

Our soldiers currently fighting in our greatest war are creating our new world, and defining its direction. They are forming not only the internal space of their own lives, but of our collective national consciousness as well. God has granted Israel our Greatest Generation. They will lead us to discovering who we are meant to be. 

Our son Ruvi, named after his great-grandfather Rubin

War

“Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself?” 

–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

War was born to Israel on October 7, 2023, a new creature that burst like fire through its mother, who had born many other wars, but never one like this. There she was, in her kitchen, readying the Sabbath meal. “Suddenly there was a sound of rattling, and the bones came together, bone to matching bone, with sinews, and flesh and skin”. The labor pains were brutal, and unexpected, folding the mother unto herself in blinding agony on that bright holiday morning. She could not speak, but she motioned to the others around her, and hordes upon hordes came to help her deliver. War came roaring into the world on that day that was neither night nor day, but an accumulation of moments calculated by the mounting horrors, by burnt and mutilated flesh, by kidnapped babies and raped girls. It was stillborn, almost – “sinews and skin – but there was no breath.” The mother herself would have to breathe life into this new being.

We – Israel – are the mother. A month ago, we caught our collective breath, and all together, we breathed life into the war. We breathed life into it as easily and as naturally as we ourselves breathe and feel our hearts beat. We did not need to think, or to calculate. Just as the body instinctively knows how to labor, Israel knows instinctively how to survive, and how to rise to the moment. 

And this is our moment: not just an historical moment, but a transcendental one. This is the moment of our national reckoning, and of our collective glory. This moment is “the time for war.” War reasserts reality. It cuts through all of the petty and false constructs we have made for ourselves, and exposes what is authentic and true. We now plainly see how very much we are “a nation dwelling apart, not reckoned among the nations.” We are still reeling from the great and horrifying shock of discovering the depth of the visceral hatred towards Israel. We wear our loneliness as if our skin was turned inside out, raw and open. But we do not feel alone. In our loneliness, we understand that we have God, and He has us, and that we have each other. And that understanding has been chiseled deep into the hearts and souls of everyone who feels his place is with Israel. 

In the aftermath of the birth of this war, we are each of us like the handmaiden at the splitting of the sea, כשפחה בים, taking in that which even prophets couldn’t fully comprehend. This is an event that will live far beyond the limited scope of our time in this world. But we are tasked to live through it. We have to make sense of what hasn’t ever existed in the world before: the newness of Yisrael-as-nation that will fight כאיש אחד, as one man, in full unity of purpose and mission. We will no longer accept the savagery of an enemy that has sworn our destruction; we will hunt them, and dwell securely. Yet right alongside the pain sits serenity, and awe. They both inhabit our souls in equal measure. 

This war has brought us to a simple, pure recognition of who we are, and of our place in this world. The pain tears and claws at us without letup…yet who is not profoundly emotional at seeing the glory of Yisrael? What Jewish heart does not burst with pride and hope, and with the strongest sense that God is present here – that He is with us in our sorrow, and in our triumph? We sense the transcendental moment with startling clarity, like the handmaiden witnessing the sea parting before her. Zeh eli v’anvehu, elohei avi, varomimenhu. This is my God, and I shall praise Him; the God of my fathers, and I shall exalt Him

There is a quickening felt in Israel, as a single body straightens and tightens into itself in preparation for a prolonged and vicious fight. And yet at the same time, there is an opposing drive to return to how things were, to blunt the process of real change, to reduce our present circumstance to a terrible inconvenience involving “what one needs to do during wartime.” We crave comfort and routine. We crave returning to the familiar, to what our lives looked like before October 7th, even if the status quo back then was to remain beleaguered and terrorized. The point of this war should be the restoration of a reality that has always been present, if generally unacknowledged by us and definitely mocked by our enemies: we are Yisrael, a nation that dwells apart from other nations, a people united in God’s Name, an old-new people who want to live in peace in the Land that God had promised to our forefathers. We should not allow that clarity to be muddled by fanciful delusions or nostalgia. What was before cannot and should no longer be. 

Hatred of Jews is not the result of a narrative that paints Israel as the oppressor and Hamas as the oppressed; it is the basis of that narrative. It is the root, not the consequence. This war is being waged in service of narratives, and the time has come for us to mobilize around ours. Remarkably, this is exactly what is happening. The awakening of Israel to its identity, to its core values, to its shared purpose and deep mutuality, is genuine and true. The spontaneous mobilization of the collective Jewish people, and for those many who have the moral clarity to support them in their fight, have helped us discover who we are. Our charge is to sustain everything that we have achieved, lest all be lost: 

…I have a premonition that will not leave me; as it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish, the Holocaust will be upon us. (Eric Hoffer, The Longshoreman Philosopher) 

A mother has arisen in Israel. She has birthed a war – now let her raise it, and let it do what it was born to do.

Let’s Meet in the Sukkah

My friend Alan was telling me yesterday about his evening. He had signed up for an event in a stranger’s sukkah in Jerusalem. Along with some of his older kids, he went to join other Israelis in “learning and delving deep, and perhaps even arguing – but together – about what Israeli, Jewish and democratic identity really is.” That was how the program is described by its organizers, “Shomrim al haBayit haMeshutaf” (Guarding our Shared Home) and “929” (the non-denominational educational platform promoting a chapter a day of Bible study). There were open sukkot all around Israel during the holiday, Alan urged, and so I found one twenty minutes from my home, and went. 

Hagit was our host. She lives in HaSolelim, a secular kibbutz on the northern fringe of the Jezreel Valley, founded in the same year as my religious moshav, just as Israel was born. I placed the wine we had brought on the heavily-laden refreshment table. Hagit cautioned offhandedly that her sukkah was not kosher, a fact that Iris, the evening’s moderator who had introduced herself as the rabbi of a liberal, humanistic congregation in Haifa, affirmed. I was sitting next to Iris throughout the evening; as she handed out the source sheets she had prepared, she explained to the participants that she has been a professor of Bible for upwards of thirty years, and our time together would be spent discussing texts. She had gorgeous nails, and a rattail haircut, and I really longed to ask her about the rattail because she seemed an open and generous person who would welcome any question, but she had already launched the program. She asked us all to share what was permanent in our lives, and what, like the sukkah hut in which we were gathered, was transient. 

Dov was sitting on the other side of the circle, a passionate man in his early seventies. He quickly jumped in. “I’ll tell you what’s permanent for me: my love for Miri, and my belief that Israel is a state of all of its citizens, Palestinians included. I’m a Marxist and an atheist, but the Tel Aviv I’ve lived in for thirty years isn’t the same Tel Aviv now.”

“No, it isn’t,” Miri agreed, close to tears. “What’s permanent to me is Dov, and my family, and traditions are very permanent and important to me. I never pray on Yom Kippur, but this Yom Kippur, toward the end of the day, I felt compelled for some reason to go down to the Habad service on the street and say a memorial prayer for my parents. And my friends, people who I’ve known and demonstrated with for years, ruined that for me. They screamed and tore apart the whole set-up. You know, Dov doesn’t look like the type, but he cried and cried that night. I hope that what happened during this year’s Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv is ara’i (fleeting, transient).”  

Eilon was probably the youngest one there, in his thirties I would guess. He came from Jerusalem to visit his family who live in a religious yishuv nearby. He was serious and intense, earnest about protesting judicial reform, one of the two men there who was wearing a kippah, and the most pessimistic. “If we’re going to divide like we did thousands of years ago into two kingdoms, ‘Yisrael’ (the left, secular, symbolized by Tel Aviv and Haifa) and ‘Yehudah’ (the religious, right, symbolized by Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria), then I don’t see a future for Israel, and I came to talk about that.”

Ronya and her husband Alon were far more cheerful. Alon’s t-shirt said ‘HumanBeing,’ and he spoke for a long time in a very calm, measured tone. “Permanence is family. What we are fully confident in is how temporary these divides amongst us are. The loudest voices are the extremes, and we are here to represent the majority, the moderates, who may disagree but will be civil about it and work to find solutions.” Ronya had a beautiful smile, and added that what was permanent for her was her willingness to listen to others. “Like, for instance, I belong to a large group of Israeli women from all walks of life, Haredim and Arabs included, and we meet up every Rosh Hodesh in a different location. I had participated in a demonstration of the “shefachot” (lit. maidservants, where women dress in the red-hooded costumes from The Handmaid’s Tale to symbolize their fear of a dystopian state where they might be silenced and oppressed), and was talking about it at our meet-up. I was surprised to hear how some of the religious women were deeply offended by our protest. But they heard me, and I heard them.” 

Iris instructed us to form chavrutot and discuss the verses in Genesis 12, where God instructed Abraham to leave his land and birthplace, and travel to a land that God would show him. We were to talk about what “eretz” (land) and “moledet” (birthplace) meant to us in the context of those verses. First to speak in our congenial group of three was Dana, a vivacious gym teacher with a young son, who made aliyah from Russia when she was twelve. She had denied her moledet for a long while, she said, determined to be fully Israeli, becoming an officer in the IDF and moving to a kibbutz. “I know what tyranny is,” she said, “and I fear it here as well, but I cannot imagine it would be as bad as Russia. But I’m starting to consider whether I belong here.” 

Eliezer Yaffe, from nearby moshav Nahalal, challenged her on that. He shared with us that if Israel fell, then so did he: “I have no other land.” His moledet is one and the same as his eretz, unlike his famous grandfather and namesake, who emigrated to Israel as a young man during the Second Aliyah and founded both Nahalal and Tnuva, the first agricultural cooperative. I asked Eliezer if he felt the same existential threat now as he did before leading his soldiers in battle during the Six Day War. “No,” he said firmly. “You and I and Dana are here, talking. That was war. This is a family spat.” 

We shared easily, different tribes within one large family. Miri said that was the beauty of Israel, unlike Armenia, which she had just visited. “There, you go into any restaurant, amazing food, but it’s all the same. Here, I go to my sister-in-law who is Moroccan, and the food she serves! Gan Eden. She comes to me, maybe she doesn’t like my food as much, but it’s different, and that’s the beauty of it.” Chava scolded her from across the circle, “Don’t knock your gefilte fish. Who doesn’t love gefilte fish?” (Chava is Tunisian.) 

When we gathered once again as a group, some challenged that sure, this was a lovely gathering, but that was only because we didn’t talk of any substance. We didn’t brainstorm how to reform the judiciary, or whether it should be reformed at all, or the unease that brought us and many others together in these types of forums. But most of the participants felt that the evening had given them hope, that really, the overwhelming majority of Jewish Israelis want to get along and are willing to compromise so that our tribes can live together harmoniously in a Jewish, democratic state.  

One more time, around the circle, for whoever wanted to part from the sukkah with thoughts of permanence and transience. “Generations come and go, but the land is forever,” quoted Bracha, a retiree from across the street.  “The land, and the Torah. I am not observant, but I love learning Torah, and that is my permanence.” 

It was my turn. “Before we arrived this evening, I spoke with my son who was heading with his soldiers to guard those who had come to pray at Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem. I asked him if all was well, and he responded as he always does: zchut, Ema (it’s an honor, Mom). He heard where we were going, and he gave the same response: walla, zchut. My “permanence” is the zchut that I feel to be here, at this place and in this time, in this land and with you all. What should be “ara’i,” for all of us, is a sense of despair. I think of Joseph, who all but tore the Children of Israel apart, but was also the one who united them together. If we believe that we can ruin everything that we have built, we must also believe that we can heal.”

Dov thought about this, and said to us all: “I don’t believe in God, or in being in Joseph’s Tomb, and I wish your son wasn’t there. But I’ll pray for his safety, Tamar, and that is something you can always depend on as permanent with me.” 

As we parted, with sincere hope that we might meet together again and talk more about what unites us, and how we can bridge our divides, I whispered to Miri: “I hope next Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv, you can say a prayer for your parents in peace.” And she grasped my arm and said, “What a zchut that would be.” 

Maybe nothing of permanence was achieved in that sukkah, but the temporary warmth of sharing between Jews of different stripes opened and stirred something deep inside us all. I think that was what we were all fundamentally seeking; that was definitely why I had come (thanks, Alan, for pointing me in the right direction). For those frustrated that we offered no solutions, I thought: we can keep at this, and maybe we’ll get there. We ended the night in song, because we are Israelis, and Israelis love to sing together: “Who is the man who desires life? He who guards his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking badly. He who turns away from the bad, seeking out and pursuing only peace” (Psalms 34).

Six Years Until the Next Shmittah

Do you remember what a farm was like in your childhood imagination? Mine was the idyll. I had all kinds of romantic notions since I grew up in suburbia, where the strip mall met the farmland. Summer Sundays meant a trip to Baughers to pick peaches, even though the rest of our fruit came to our table in supermarket plastic. We’d pile in the brown station wagon and within minutes be in the lull of the “broccoli trees,” a cruciferous border of white oak that protected the placid stretches of unbroken, rolling fields from humanity’s urban sprawl. I might have thought the view was pasted on the car window, such was its unrelenting sameness, punctuated only by the occasional red silo. We drove down Taneytown Pike, passing exits to Finksburg, Pleasant Valley, Dundalk. When we got to the exit for Boring, MD (I’m not kidding, look it up), we’d have already been immersed in the motley medley that made up our excursion soundtrack: John Phillips Sousa, Uncle Moishy, WBAL talk radio. Farms were in reach, but known only in the vaguest, most sanitized sense, as occasional destinations where we could feel even more wholesome than the already pretty wholesome lazy Sundays of Orthodox Jewish Baltimore in the 80s. The reality is you had to pass Boring in order to get pretty much anywhere, and as kids, that suited us fine. 

This was the pre-Trader Joe’s era. Sure, there was plenty of produce and natural bounty to hunt and gather from store shelves, even for the kosher consumer, but limiting the sum total of our sustenance to what the supermarket offered felt very…economical, efficient. Sterile. Now there’s a profusion of options that bring the farm directly to your grocery shelves, but back then we’d slap on dungarees and head out for a pick-your-own afternoon. It was an opportunity to reconnect to sun and dirt. It was a chance to see nothing but orchards for miles around, and that somehow felt really good to everyone.

We would head to one of three local farms open to the public. We would pick fruit, buy apple butter, drink cider, sit on picnic blankets, pet goats. As a child, the line between Old MacDonald and reality was vague. It certainly seemed that the book drawings of Wilbur the pig prancing towards the County Fair after a good buttermilk bath, or the enchanting scenes scripted by James Herriot, were true to life. These regular outings were a twine-and-burlap thread winding throughout an ordinary parochial childhood. All of the bale mazes, pumpkin sculptures and 4-H contests scattered throughout my formative years reinforced my sense that farming life must be the sweetest, most straightforward life of all. 

Torah study from a young age fortified that mythos. So many of the scenes in the Torah involve the outdoors, the fields and animals. So many of the mitzvot are linked to harvesting crops, tending to fruiting trees, preparing grain, and caring for and properly slaughtering animals. Our holiest day, Shabbat, is described as a day where we abstain from work, first and foremost fieldwork and animal husbandry. Our holidays are all intimately linked to the harvest cycle.

I grew up in my oxford-and-plaid three-piece religious school uniform believing along with my classmates that were we ever to have some land in Israel, then we would keep a corner of our fields available for the needy to harvest (peah). We’d make sure not to go back to collect any sheaves of grain that had been forgotten (shiche’cha) or had inadvertently fallen from our baskets (leket), and of course we would redeem our firstborn donkeys with a lamb or goat! (The donkey would have to be redeemed even if we were farming outside of Israel, but I’m not sure that we third graders sensed that distinction.) It went without saying that we’d time sabbaticals to coincide with shmittah, the final year of a seven-year cycle, where it is forbidden to plant, harvest, prepare or improve the land of Israel. Not only would the land rest, but we would observe that cycle along with her.

Well, here I am, briskly walking toward middle age, getting deeper and deeper into the realities of modern farming in the Holy Land. Unsurprisingly, there really is quite a lot of pastoral serenity and romance in the farming life, very much in line with those childhood memories (minus the red silos and 4-H contests, though my neighbor does show her purebreds in national competitions). We have quite an extensive poultry population. I can’t quite say “production,” because at this time we’re still only consuming the eggs and the birds per our own family’s need, and haven’t branched out to a broader market. There’s the regular egg collection, the feeding and daily care of the chicken, turkey and quail, the in-house slaughter and processing that defines our lives as real-deal farm-to-table. There’s the upkeep of the olive grove, and soon we’ll be starting on the aquaponics greenhouse to grow vegetables and farm fish. 

Where the haze of romance dissipates into a more rooted, mature and real love is in contending with the reality of 21st century farming, especially for a Jew in Eretz Israel. We do not practically observe the mitzvot of peah, leket and sh’checha – not because we’ve opted out, but because they are no longer relevant. The poor do not gather in the fields, scythes and baskets in hand, waiting for landowners to grant them access. Shmittah, too, has many work-arounds, including otzar bet din and heter mechira, both mechanisms that I won’t get into here but which pose halachically acceptable options for farmers to keep planting and harvesting as if it wasn’t a shmittah year. Once we have the aquaponics greenhouse up and running, shmittah won’t be relevant to the large bulk of our enterprise, since the strictures of shmittah don’t apply to vegetables raised on grow beds. 

Shmittah has come and gone, and there was no need to take a sabbatical, since the type of farming that we do doesn’t involve planting or harvesting annuals. True, we were limited in tree care, and the suckers and weeds surrounding the olive trees just about engulfed them. That was an exercise in restraint, since there were so many gorgeous days that begged us to get to work and tame the growth. But other than that, our shmittah observance was passive. I barely felt the limitations of shmittah any more than other Israeli Jews. 

This is because for the non-”traditional” farmer, meaning those of us who no longer grow fruit and vegetables straight from the ground, shmittah has gone the way of many other old-world practices. Most of the mitzvot of shmittah are “thou shalt nots,” the לאווין that govern industry involving encouraging plant growth or harvesting annuals or perennials. But for the non-traditional farmer, which is the route more and more new farmers are choosing throughout the world, these strictures aren’t the ethos that guide a more conceptual shmittah observance. For them (and for us), the positive command to “have the land rest” evokes all kinds of creative ideas as to how we might actively observe the cessation of working the land. 

(While all of those לאווין constitute a prohibition of עבודת הגברה, meaning that we are prohibited from certain agricultural-related work, the positive mitzvah of shmittah is an imperative that Eretz Yisrael – at least those areas that are under Jewish ownership –  itself rest. And lest we think that the mitzvah is a call for us to sensitize ourselves to what it means for humans to work the earth, and how we must honor its living biome, keep in mind that shmittah doesn’t apply outside of the Land of Israel. The Chazon Ish even rules that it is prohibited for a Jew to observe the shmittah strictures on land outside of Israel.) 

Back to Baughers, and Wilbur and 4-H ribbons. Now that I know a bit more about farming – now that Ira knows a lot more about farming – are we any wiser, or more jaded, about the mythos of the pastoral? Is farming just like I remembered it? 

Well, it is, and it isn’t. It is different from my recollections because we’re actually in it. We’re invested, in pretty much every way possible, in educating ourselves about all sorts of methods, and putting in a great deal of time and resources into keeping the animals thriving and seeing through this “barn-raising” of sorts. It’s not the spectator sport of my youth. 

And yet, the type of farming we’re embarking on and already involved in maintains much of the romance that enticed me as a child. Since the organizing principle of the farm is to observe how animals, earth, plants, fish and insects might work in harmony to produce food that we can consume, with minimal input but masterful oversight – like a conductor coaxing out the very best from his talented orchestra – there’s a notable emphasis on simplicity, on nature’s processes, on happy animals and healthy dirt. The quiet of my daily routine is like the quiet of Baughers’ orchards. I no longer have the wonder and thrill of a kid in a petting zoo, but I can take as much time as I need to think about the marvelous complexities of briyah which exists as totally separate from humanity.1 (I spend many hours around books or out learning about the human impact in this region since the most ancient times, but precious little of my time involves the natural world, sans people.) Sure, there are charts and timers and feeding schedules and chores that pull us into the conductor’s box at all hours; it is busy, but a serene kind of busy. The simple, peaceful and happy rhythms do remind me of my childhood Sundays. 

“God blessed mankind and said: Multiply, and fill the earth, and conquer it.” Unusual word choice here – “and He blessed them.” Is the blessing for the traditional sense of conquest, implying power, control and dominion? I think here it might mean “mastery.” Evolve to the point where you can master the land, God blesses us, and live in harmony with all of life. Nurture your holy curiosity. Watch how the black soldier fly larvae will feed the chickens and the fish, and how these animals will in turn feed us, and how the most nutritious food that we are providing them – the larvae – is in turn fed by all of our kitchen scraps. Understand the ways of the world, and then: conduct this great symphony with mastery, and conquer the myriad mysteries of briyah, God blesses us. 

Maybe shmittah is an opportunity for all to pivot away from tired routines that dull us to the possibilities surrounding us. Just like Shabbat can give me pause to think in new ways, Shmittah calls us to explore how we might let this miracle land rest a bit from our toil. Give some headspace to thinking about your food sources. Go out for a stroll and focus in on the cacophony of sounds that are constantly present, but rarely appreciated. Maybe start a compost pile. Maybe learn a piece of Torah related to the holiness of Eretz Israel.  

But for those who are trying to coax something out of the land, the abstinence from interference during the shmittah year gave the space to get creative. It provided even more of a push to learn what we could of natural order, of the dynamic interplay of different elements of briyah, and figure out our role as the head of it all. I know this sounds highly conceptual, but it’s really just down-to-earth curiosity and problem-solving. Just like we bring all we gain from Shabbat into our workweek, here’s hoping that the opportunities and lessons provided by the positive mitzvah of shmittah – to figure out our role in the existential rest granted to Eretz Yisrael once every seven years – carry forth into this cycle, and that next shmittah will allow us to look back with satisfaction at years of gorgeous harmonies that we had a hand in overseeing. 

1 What is “Briyah?” It is the entirety of the potential of creation. Once that potential has been completely realized, then Briyah is complete – that’s what is known as the “ketz hayamin,” or the “end times.” It’s a challenge anticipating the end of it all when you are so enraptured with the process of creation – maybe that difficulty is worth discussing, but in another post.  

Post-Shmittah Industry

A whole year hiatus: isn’t that what shmittah, the sabbatical year that the Land takes religiously, hunkering down under a thick blanket of weeds with a big “do not disturb” sign stubbornly barring you from coming in to clean things up, is all about? It took a lot of willpower for farmers in Israel to stand outside of that closed door, pruning shears in hand, counting down to Rosh HaShana and the first opportunity to barge in and tackle a year’s worth of tasks. In short: there was nothing to write about except our impatience, and no one wants to read about that. 

And barge in we did, with a fury. There is SO much to take on after a lengthy period of sitting on your hands, it’s hard to keep track. Disorder is the farmer’s enemy, and it’s nice to breathe again and get down to work. Here is a rundown of what’s been happening over the past month, ever since the new year has freed us to work the land once again.

half of the crew responsible for tree pruning

Ira did a massive, down to the very bare-bones pruning of the olive trees before shmittah. Because we did not interfere at all this past year, the chazirim (suckers) pretty much swallowed up the trees and sucked nutrients away from the three main branches. So as soon as we could, we got to work on cutting the shoots down. Hopefully the rainy season will rejuvenate the trees. (We’re not doing a masik [oil press] this year, because heavily-pruned trees take a few years to regain their strength, and the oil from this year’s press would be kedushat shevi’it oil, making it very difficult to handle from a kashrut perspective.)

What started as a very modest flock has boomed into over two hundred fowl. The flock grows exponentially, and we’ve added some dogs to make sure that mongoose and other predators keep a wide berth. We’re regularly consuming all of this free-range goodness. Tonight’s Shabbat dinner, for instance, is turkey meatballs (made with our turkey and eggs), and soup made with stock from our chickens.

Gertrude tastes good

This year, we’ve sown over the field and planted tiltan (clover). Clover is nitrogen-fixing, meaning it draws atmospheric nitrogen into the roots. There’s no need for fertilizer or pesticides. This will hopefully help the earth regenerate and build up a thicker humus (not the stuff you sop up with a pita, but the term for the verdant top layer of soil that’s thick with nutrients from carbon decay).

Foraging is fun, but competitive, especially up here where many people are competing for the same resources. So Ira harvested wild blackberries and asparagus seeds to germinate. We’re hoping to bring some of that wild goodness into our garden as more luscious food sources. Why forage when you can grow yourself?

Now for Ira’s latest baby, the black soldier fly larvae system. What follows probably needs a trigger warning for “yuck.” I remember sitting in Paul Rozin’s Psych 101 class in Penn (way to go, core curriculum!) when he lectured on disgust, his speciality. He showed a video of a dead cockroach being slowly dragged along a plate of mashed potatoes. He then showed a video of a live cockroach scampering on top of the same plate. Both are gross, as is the subject of these next few paragraphs: Black Soldier Fly Larvae and You. 

This past month, Ira has been delving deep into the dark world of breeding black soldier flies. Anyone who lives in Sde Ilan, or has visited, would wonder why he seems to be bringing coals to Newcastle. Our moshav has a real fly problem, since most of the farms raise dairy or beef cows in confinement and the manure piles are prime fly breeding grounds. Why introduce more flies?

Well, you clearly haven’t met the wonderful critters called Black Soldier Flies. First of all, as larvae, they make the most nutritious, free, high-quality feed for all of our poultry. Secondly, the growing larvae plow through all of our kitchen scraps, transforming all of that organic matter into quality feed. It’s an efficient system that solves problems and produces free solutions: highest quality nutrient dense free chicken feed, and efficient use of kitchen waste. Thirdly, there’s the strange and wonderful benefit to us that the larvae busily munching on the organic waste repel those nasty flies that are the bane of our existence (scientists aren’t sure why — they think it might have something to do with a smell, undetectable by humans, that the larvae might be emitting). Fourthly, the black soldier flies drawn to the kitchen scraps are averse to humans, and aren’t vectors for disease. They live only 3-5 days as “adult flies,” and as flies they don’t eat food, only drink water.

This is how it works: adult black solider flies are attracted to the smell of organic waste. They lay their eggs on or above the waste, inside of a box that we are regularly filling with our kitchen scraps.

Inside of this box are all of our kitchen scraps. Sparing you all from the pic of the larvae going to town

The eggs hatch in a few days into a couple thousand baby larvae. the larvae grow extremely rapidly over the next few weeks, eating approximately double their weight daily. At that point, they have a natural instinct to climb out of the waste to find a nice patch to pupate (which means to burrow themselves into dirt, where they’ll metamorphise into flies). But no! We have hungry chickens to feed. So instead, Ira’s taken advantage of their climbing instinct, and built a ramp in the bin which empties into a bucket.

And into that bucket fall all of the mature larvae, ready to be carted over to the chickens. Isn’t that a wonderfully efficient and elegant use of resources?

Finally, we’re waiting on the ishurim (permits) for the large aquaponics greenhouse (for more on aquaponics, read this older post.) Ira had built a small, experimental version years ago to work out the kinks, but now it’s time to scale up. (And P.S, the BSF larvae also make the perfect fish food for that system!) Once we get it up and running, it’ll be time for another blog post!

Chasing Unicorns, or: How to Find a Vacation Home in Northern Israel

We really should have counted (for statistical accuracy), but we’ll round off the number of housing inquiries that we’ve received over the last three years to around 40+. These are by folks who are considering moving to the North, either as a permanent life change, as an aliyah destination or — and this is the majority — by those looking to buy a vacation home for themselves and their extended families. People want to know what’s involved. Is there land for sale for development? What are different communities like? Are there any English speakers so that I can feel comfortable? I want a cow and a few chickens; can I do that on a yishuv? (Spoiler: we have no idea about the livestock.) 

 

We love these kind of questions, but since at the moment we’re fielding around two of these types of inquiries a month and spending a lot of time with people reviewing the same basic information, we decided to write a post that will serve as a reference for those who are exploring their options. Consider this the most unscientific, probably inaccurate, highly anecdotal, totally unprofessional starting point for your search, written by two people who do not have RE licenses and whose only weak claim to authority on these matters is that we bought a farm in the Galil (as our permanent residence) and have done the research (and legwork) involved.  

 

On that reassuring note, let’s dive in!

 

(But first, two more qualifying points: Firstly this article is mostly about properties that have a nice chunk of land, either with or without a house. Almost all of the people phoning us are looking for a property that is at least a dunam. A dunam is 1000sq meters, about a quarter of an acre. Most people who “dream North” envision a vacation property or primary residence that is at least a dunam. Though there is a great deal to achieve with less than a dunam in terms of gorgeous landscaping, breathtaking views and communal feel, this article is mostly focusing on availability of properties that are at least a dunam. Secondly, this article deals with communities that have a religious element, as nearly everyone who has contacted us sees this as essential.)

 

Let’s break down the most popular inquiry: We’d like a vacation property where we don’t have to establish permanent residence and is large enough for our extended family/is private/has a pastoral setting/with great views/and pool/is at least a dunam/clocks in at under 4 million shekel/has an active synagogue. Does such a thing exist?

Well…maybe. We haven’t found that unicorn, but it might just be elusive and hiding somewhere. The name of the game is flexibility: the wider you can cast your net, the more fish you’ll have to choose from. We can start with the most basic issue: can you find a vacation property in the north where you don’t need to establish permanent residency?

 

To answer that, let’s review your community options:

  1. City — You can definitely buy a pied a terre in cities throughout the north, and you’re free to visit or live in your property as you please. You might even find a house or empty lot in a city which is larger than half a dunam, but finding a dunam+ lot in a city is very rare.
  2. Yishuv — These are communities (some are even small towns) with private homes, mostly ¼-½ dunam lots, all kinds of cottages and duplexes, etc. Usually well-planned and maintained, many with gorgeous views that give a sense of privacy and serenity from your backyard (depends of course on where they are situated in the yishuv). Not an option for those who aren’t interested in establishing residency as many have acceptance committees that will turn down applicants who aren’t planning on moving to the yishuv. (Larger yishuvim — over 350 families — might not have acceptance committees. In that case, it might be doable to buy a property that you plan on using as a vacation home.) Some yishuvim also insist on a trial period of living in the yishuv before buying a lot to build on (like Mitzpeh Netofah). An added wrinkle is that there is often a dearth of housing options. Some examples of northern dati yishuvim are Moreshet (small), Bet Rimon (small), Hoshaya (large), Hispin (also large). For those who want a suburban, pastoral, community-oriented life with gorgeous views and who don’t require sprawling, private lots, and who are looking to establish residence, these communities are wonderful. Highly sought-after for good reason. 
  3. Kibbutz — Many kibbutzim have harchavot (new extensions) with ⅓-½ dunam lots. It’s like living on a yishuv
  4. MoshavMoshavim are a mixed bag of residential options, but we have yet to hear of one that is dati or meurav (mixed dati-masorati-hiloni) that doesn’t have an acceptance committee that will require you to establish permanent residence. There are some hiloni moshavim that do not have acceptance committees, so there might be wiggle room there to buy a vacation property.  A moshav is a community where you can get a large piece of land. This can either be a meshek (also known as nahala), or a meshek ezer. A meshek is divided into at least two different zones: you’ll have a few dunam on which to build residential structures (houses, zimmerim, pool), and the rest will be agricultural land. For example, on our moshav, the helkat megurim is around 2.5 dunam, and the rest of the meshek (50 dunam) is for agricultural use only. It’s important to note that on most moshavim, the agricultural land is not adjacent to your residential plot, or at least most of it isn’t. (Some exceptions that come to mind are Sde Ilan [where we live] and Sde Yaakov.) 

A meshek ezer is a plot that had been designated for non-farmers, such as the local teacher, butcher or rabbi. These are smaller lots, maybe up to 3 dunam. Additionally, many moshavim have harchavot of ⅓-½ dunam lots, just like on yishuvim

Moshavim were created in response to kibbutzim to allow for private farms while maintaining a collective economy. Nowadays, that means that all farm owners can do whatever they’d like on their own farms, while simultaneously sharing in a collective of the rest of the moshav’s holdings. This means that if you purchase a meshek,  you have “bought in” to the moshav, and therefore most (if not all) moshavim have really strict regulations about who can buy a meshek. For example, in Sde Ilan, a family that wants to buy a meshek must first live on the moshav for a period of half a year, and only then will the agudat hakhakla’im (farmers’ collective) vote them in, thereby legally allowing them to purchase their meshek. Note that this is not the case for someone who wishes to purchase a meshek ezer or home in a harchava — such buyers need only pass the acceptance committee. 

Tachlis: while a moshav seems like the best option for someone who wants an estate or lots of land on which to build private homes, the strict regulations on dati moshavim that require permanent residence make this an unlikely choice for those who want vacation homes.

5  Moshava — A moshava is a generic term for a settlement that predates the founding of the State and is not classified as a kibbutz, moshav or yishuv. Many moshavot have privately owned land, meaning that the land is not leased through the minhal (Israel Lands Authority), and so the lots are not tightly controlled and there is no acceptance committee to oversee residential requirements. Here you have an opportunity to buy a vacation home on an oversize lot. Some moshavot up north are Yavneel, Migdal, and Bat Shlomo. There are others that are much larger, such as Rosh Pina and Kfar Tavor, where you might find large plots of a dunam or more. 

 

In sum: your best bet for finding a large rural vacation property in a northern community is to look at the moshavot or in moshavim that do not have permanent residence requirements. 

 

Listed below are parameters that some folks view as essentials, and others consider as nice bonuses. The fewer parameters you require, the more likely you are to find a dream property:

  • A very large property (over ½ dunam)
  • Easy access to major roads; easy access to the center of the country and airport
  • In close proximity to cities or towns with adequate shopping, health facilities, recreational facilities
  • Other Anglo or English-speaking residents
  • Local active synagogue; daily and/or Shabbat services
  • Zoning for pool
  • Privacy with few neighbors
  • Property with beautiful views
  • Under 4 million shekel including all taxes, fees, necessary renovations

 

So here are our suggestions for starting your search (this is how we did it):

 

  • First, understand the heavy limitations involved. There are very few properties that are available as rural vacation homes, so patience is key when hunting for unicorns. 

 

  • Second, try for as much flexibility as you can. Can you manage without a Shabbat minyan? Can you find happiness with a Golan property that is much further “afield?” Identify your red lines and budget. 

 

  • Third, start scouring yad2. You can filter your search to suit exactly what type of property you’re looking for (location, size, price, etc). Don’t give up: unicorns are elusive, but there’s always hope that you’ll spot one. 

 

  •  Fourth, if you find a few properties that seem viable, call the vaad mekomi (local committee) and learn more about that community’s residential policies. Additionally,  here’s a link to a very helpful resource to learn more about northern communities.

 

  • Fifth, come up on a scouting trip(s) to get a better grasp of the lay of the land, of specific properties/lots and communities — to get a feel for the place and see if you can envision yourselves living there or owning a vacation property there. 

 

  • Sixth, if you’ve started to get excited about a specific location, spend some Shabbatot in the community before pulling the trigger. Meet the locals, hear their stories, learn more about the community from the ground-up. 

 

  • Seventh, if you’ve reached at least step four and want more detailed information about what’s involved in purchasing a meshek/nahalah, we’re more than happy to help by sharing our experience. We’re also super happy to talk with those interested in learning more about life in the Lower Galilee. Feel free to reach out via email or whatsapp. 

 

If you see any inaccuracies (or plain-out errors) in this article, please bring them to our attention and we’ll edit accordingly. Wishing you much hatzlacha in your search!

Chanukah Sameach to all unicorn-hunters!

Betrayal

Sde Ilan is as quiet a place as you’ll ever find. There are far more livestock than there are residents. The most “happening” day on the moshav calendar is the Shavuot/Bikkurim festival where all the newest babies born in the past year are paraded around in a tractor. The old men will sometimes sit with their Circassian friends over the best coffee in the world and a promising afternoon of shesh-besh. And the narrow country road that winds its way here — the one where even the most hardboiled sabra who doesn’t know West Virginia from Manhattan rolls along, windows down, with John Denver belting out Country Roads—  is the most boring, quiet, country road of all.

Until today.

A car from neighboring HaZor’im (where you have to be REALLY devoted to land and kin, because to live there is to live in the hellish heat of the Yavne’el Valley) rushes into Sde Ilan a few hours ago, front windshield smashed. His car had been pelted with stones around 50 meters shy of the turnoff to Sde Ilan. The security committee had decided this morning to close our gates for now, until the “matzav” dies down, but of course he was let in and told his story.

It’s a story I just heard last Shabbat from my neighbor Yehuda, who was one year old when his parents pitched a tent on these fields along with a dozen other determined young couples. We were sitting over herring and chummus, and he was telling us of his parents’ journeys back and forth to Tiveria from their training farm (just about a mile from those tents they’d eventually pitch). It was April 1948, and his mother were forced into detours off this road to make it down to the Scottish maternity hospital in time for his birth. (His father would learn that Yehuda entered the world via morse code, signaling that he best hurry down to meet his son. From somewhere, a miracle — he procured a package of petit-beurre biscuits and a bottle of juice, and though the mohel had fled because of the Arab uprising, he found another one a few days later, and they were able to celebrate their sabra in true pre-State style. But I digress.)

These roads stopped being dangerous by summer 1948. That’s when Shibli surrendered and Lubia (right by Kibbutz Lavi) was conquered. But last night, this happened on the road, with a new generation of Shibli youths waving their Hamas green flags:

 

And then this happened, in nearby Kfar Kana, where the ancient nasi Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel is buried, where we go to press our olives alongside our Arab neighbors in the super-clean and modern olive press:

(do not watch if you find violence upsetting):

The poor man was saved from a lynching by some residents:

And then Eliezer from HaZor’im gets his windshield smashed meters from the sweetest guy in the world, Zed from Kfar Kana with the jerry curls who works the gas station and fell in love with my mother-in-law during her brief visit and always asks after her.  And then I get another official message from Home Front Command informing all residents of the lower Galil that demonstrations will be happening soon here (Shibli, 5 km south), here (Tur’an, 5 km northwest) and here (Kfar Kana, 7 km west), and a half dozen other places, and who knows how bad it will get, so please stay home off your country roads and be extra vigilant.

I’m broken by this in a way that 73 yr old Yehuda who is as old as the State isn’t, because he’s seen this before, and if I ask him he’ll say he’s seen it many times — but I haven’t. We’ve lived here just shy of three years, and my Arab Israeli neighbors had earned my trust. I felt safe driving through their villages, which I do (did?) all the time, and I had NO apprehension having them in my home, going into their homes, shooting the breeze, learning from them, wishing them ahlan along the way. They are Israelis. I am Israeli. I thought that meant something.

But last night and tonight there are hundreds and hundreds with green Hamas flags out on the hunt, screaming that their Israeliness is made of different and awful stuff, and though I feel safe, I also see very clearly a dangerous fifth column setting fire to my quiet country road.

 

 

Had Gadya (in time for Pesach Sheni)

“I birthed a goat,” he said casually.

I was in the States visiting my parents, on the phone with Ira over my morning coffee. I could tell from the uptick in his voice (which rises one whole octave higher when he’s excited) that this was a studied “casually.” We had three goats in various stages of pregnancy, and not knowing anything about gestating goats, we were just waiting around to see what would happen.

“Yay that’s awesome! Did you know what to do?” (I have watched him watch dozens of YouTube videos on goat births, so I knew he came in prepared, but still…there’s nothing like your first time.)

“Well, the fetlocks were just sticking out of her, so I reached in and pulled the kid out. Cleaned out its airways, presented it to the mother to lick, and that’s about it.”

So while we didn’t get Lulu’s entrance into the world on video, Ira did manage to get some great footage of the newborn.

These remarkable animals are making their first sounds and taking their first steps within an hour:

The mother cleans her baby entirely, and then the baby intuitively searches for the udder:

During Temple times, and if this baby had been male, then he’d be gifted to a cohen [priest] (who would bring the kid as a sacrifice and enjoy a nice dinner — that is, if the goat didn’t have any blemishes rending it unfit for a korban). Luckily for us, Lulu is a girl, so there are no halachic issues with welcoming her into the family flock. Lulu’s aunts, though, are pregnant, so Ira hurried to the rabbanut, where Blimi Shtissel (the secretary whose name I just had to drop, because maybe she’s Gitty’s sister) helped him complete a rather complicated transaction involving shared ownership with a gentile. It’s a loophole that allow for halachically-observant Jewish farmers to hold on to male firstborns. Actually, all farmers raising kosher animals have to make sure to get this done annually, as it’s a necessary mechanism that ensure the kashrut of dairy and meat for the consumer.

A few hours after birth and feeding, and the goat is a fluffy smily prancing delicious addition to the world:

Why keep goats? Well, hopefully soon we’ll learn how to make cheese from their milk, and maybe other products as well. Ira tried goat meat a while back, but the kids and I couldn’t bring ourselves to taste it, so we won’t be eating these animals. For now, we’re raising them because they do such a great job eating all of the weeds in the grove and fertilizing the ground. A huge plus: they are ridiculously cute and friendly, a lovely bonus that has added a fresh energy to our farm this spring. Here’s hoping our flock increases!

 

Wild for Asparagus

It’s usually quite expensive — maybe that’s why asparagus is known as the King of the Vegetables. And it’s only available for a few months of the year. What Ira and I have discovered, though, is this: wild asparagus is free, abundant, fun to hunt for, more delicious than any asparagus we’ve had before, and can be a regular feature on your weekday winter table.

Foraging for wild asparagus elevates any winter nature walk into a sport, and encourages even the most apathetic, “I’m not really a nature person” person to see the grass under their feet as ripe with possibility. I’m not heading out on my hikes to find fennel or mustard; if I come across it, sababa, and maybe I’ll pick a few leaves or seeds. But asparagus? Those babies are worth planning your day around.

So here’s what to look for:

Notice the small, pointed and prickly leaves, with errant crazy neon-green shoots poking through (or often hiding within the bramble — wear heavy gloves!)

 

Sometimes you may just see a single, lonely stalk just waiting to be picked (but these will usually be near the green prickly bushes in the videos above):

I’ll tell you one of the best things about asparagus foraging: you feel initiated into a great, silent club of others who are also out hunting for asparagus. Often you’ll come to a promising bush to find that someone else has beaten you to the chase (if you can see below, the stalks here were harvested before we got there — maybe an hour ago? Maybe a week? Not much more than that).

But isn’t it wonderful? For maybe the first time, you feel deeply in tune with others who also wish to share in the bounty of this lush and boundlessly generous winter without jostling in the cashier’s line. I’m happy for whoever got here first, and I hope they’ve feasted well.

While Ira once brought home a quick and marvelous haul by just pulling over by the side of the road and harvesting the ample shoots he had spotted, that foraging experience can’t compare with going just a few minutes farther afield. We have abundant trails all over the Lower Galil chock-full of asparagus bushes. This time, we spent some blissful, quiet hours close to home, eating straight from the bush, and bringing the rest back for the kids’ dinner.

today’s haul

Wash and check — but you won’t find any bugs. Coat well with olive oil from Meshek Weissman; season with salt and maybe some pepper. 6 minutes at 250c.

Would be great to hit the trails with you for some prime asparagus hunting during your next winter trip up north!