My visit to Kibbutz Ein Harod
By Ted Belman
Mike Packard, a longtime friend of Israpundit, invited me to spend Shabbat with him and his family in Kibbutz Ein Harod. I gratefully accepted. So on Friday I hopped on a bus in Jerusalem headed for Beit Shean.
The bus travelled down to Jericho, a trip I had taken in 1968 when I was first in Israel. The drop in elevation went from 2100 feet above sea level to 1200 feet below. What surprised me was that the Bedouin camps I remembered from the first trip were still there with their decrepit black tents and lifestyle. One cannot help but notice as one drives through the Judean Hills east of Jerusalem, the complete barrenness of the landscape which consists entirely of white-beige sandstone.
At Jericho, which is close to the north end of the Dead Sea, we turned left and traveled North parallel to the Jordan River. On the east side could be seen the very prominent Jordanian hills which dominate the valley. These hills are known as the Moabite Mountains from biblical times. It is where Moses died after G-d refused him entry into the promised land for doubting him. Joshua went on to cross the Jordan and conquer Jericho.
Progressively, as we moved north, farming communities appeared amidst the otherwise inhospitable surroundings. This farming is made possible because it is all done under plastic tents which serve to protect the plants from excessive sunshine and to capture evaporated water and return it to the soil. Before the soil was useable it had to be washed for weeks to cleanse it of excess salt.
Finally, we arrived at Beit Shean which is a community of some 16,000 residents mainly of Sephardic origin. It is a ďfrontier townĒ thereby entitling residents and businesses to various tax breaks. It sits about five miles north of the northern greenline.
From there we drove west for 10 miles to Kibbutz Ein Harod, my destination.
Mike was there to meet me and take me to his place on a scooter. His wife Sherry, from New York originally, welcomed me with open arms. Their guests included Iris who was a Sabra, born of Iraqi expellees, with her young daughter. In addition two of their daughters were present and participated in the ďfamilyĒ gathering, the oldest of which was married to a Russian who made aliya in 1990.
Kibbutz Ein Harod is situated in Jezreel Valley, which is the bread basket of Israel. (It is not to be confused with the Huala Valley which lies at the foot of the Golan Heights). It wasnít always so productive. Originally it was all mosquito infested swampland. These are the lands the Halutzim reclaimed through backbreaking work and dedication. To accomplish this task they lived in collective communities which still exist today as separate Kibbutzim. Ein Harod, having been started in 1921, is the oldest.
The swamps had to be drained and kept drained. It was necessary to lay drainage pipes underground enabling the excess water to be continuously drained away. In my ignorance, I thought, that once drained thatís the end of it.
For supper we made our way to the dining room which functioned like a cafeteria and was large enough to accommodate 1500 persons. The building which housed it, looked out over a fertile valley which had as its backdrop, Gilboa Mountains. One particular mountain in this range is known as Mount Saul where King Saul, after losing a battle with the Phillistines.(not the Palestinians), committed suicide by falling on his sword. Thereupon David cursed the mountain and it remained barren for 3000 years.
Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew, neither let there be rain, upon you, nor fields of offerings: for there the shield of the mighty is vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, as though he had not been anointed with oil.
Karen Kayemet has done a masterful job of reforesting the barren mountain. It was no easy task. Trees had to be planted, literally in rocks. The seedlings were placed in rock crevices or indentations in the rocks. Somehow these seedlings grew into trees about fifty feet tall. Naturally their roots had to anchor themselves in rocks as there was no soil. In time the trees produced a soil (pine needles and the like) from which new trees could grow naturally.
When we went back to the house we walked along the main drag which was notable for its very large trees which lined the road. They produced welcomed relief from the noonday sun and beautified the place.
We had breakfast Shabbat morning out on the porch. Mike proudly pointed out his fig trees, one for red figs and one for white. Unfortunately for me, the figs werenít ready to be eaten. But the Muscat grapes were just about ready and I ate them off the vine. Date palms were all over the place.
I was told a century ago that there were no dates growing in Israel. Israel got date palm trees from Iraq in 1950 and started improving the strain so that these date trees produce on average 182 kilos – 10 times more than the average in the Middle East. Of historical note is the fact that seeds 2000 years old were found at Massada. Israeli scientists manage to germinate the seeds and we now have a date tree growing from one seed. When it is old enough to bear fruit, it will bear exactly the same fruit it produced in the first century. Wikipedia has some interesting things to say about this. Apparently
“When the Romans invaded ancient Judea, thick forests of date palms towering up to 80 feet high and 7 miles wide covered the Jordan River valley from the Sea of Galilee in the north to the shores of the Dead Sea in the south. The tree so defined the local economy that Emperor Vespasian celebrated the conquest by minting the “Judea Capta,” a special bronze coin that showed the Jewish state as a weeping woman beneath a date palm. “
Sherry served me various cheeses that were made on the Kibbutz.and this lead to a discussion about their dairy herd. I always thought that cows just gave milk. Little did I know that the cows had to be impregnated first in order to give milk. The cows produce milk for about seven months after birthing and then had to be impregnated again for the next cycle. Of course they gave birth after a nine month gestation period producing male and female calves. The males end up in the abattoir when the time comes for a good steak.
In the afternoon we went for a swim in the Olympic sized pool. Was that great or what?
In passing Mike mentioned that many soldiers come to the kibbutz from nearby training camps to enjoy their day off and swim in the pool. They end up sleeping outdoors. Also of note was that many youths come from all all over the world to serve in the IDF for Zionistic reasons and they get “adopted” by families Ôn the kibbutz so they have a “home” to come home to when off duty. Three years ago this was written up under the title Israeli families help ‘lonely soldiers’.
As for the Israelis in the IDF, you can’t help but notice them going home in large numbers before Shabbat and then returning to camp afterwards. They do this on a rotation basis because obviously every soldier can’t go home every week for chicken soup. Everyone between forty and sixty has a child in the army, one already out of the army and one getting ready to go in the army or something like that. Everyone has a friend or relative or many of them, in the army. This really is a peoples army.
Then Mike took me on his ATV (all terrain vehicle) to the top of Mount Saul where I encountered a monument to the Canadian gift that enabled the development of the Recreation Area of the Gilboa National Park. These funds were raised at the 2000 Negev Dinner in Toronto. One of the features of this park is a takeoff ramp for paragliders. They simply need run off the lip of the mountain to enjoy a beautiful flight over the valley 1500 feet below. Sometimes, if the winds are right, the updraft can keep them aloft for hours and even raise their elevation.
Tonight we are off to visit Tsafrir Ronen, who lives with his Canadian wife, Judy, and three lovely daughters in Moshav Moledet, five miles away. Most people on the kibbutz, if not all, don’t own a car. On the other hand the kibbutz has a fleet of about 60 cars which the kibbutz members can reserve. They simply go on the internet and advise when and for how long they need a car. Each person goes to the community centre when he or she is ready to use the car and uses a code to get access to the keys and one key is released to him or her. He or she then locates the car in the parking lot and then must use a code before the car will start up and must swipe a card so the kibbutz knows who to charge the car to and how many kilometers to charge for.
You probably are aware that Arab gangs from the Westbank steal cars on a full time basis and quickly drive them to the Westbank to be cut up for parts. Mike tells me that in the last year about 20 to 25 cars were stolen from his kibbutz alone. No matter how sophisticated security measures are for avoiding thefts, the Arabs have the answer. They disconnect the computer on the car which restricts the starting of the car and replaces it with their own computer. The police rarely get involved because they don’t go into the west bank to apprehend the thieves or to shut down the “chop shops”.
And that’s not all they steal. Evidently they sneak into the kibbutz and steal livestock sometimes slaughtering them on the premises for the meat. They also come into homes at night and administer drugs to keep the householders asleep as they rob them blind.
Of additional interest is how the children are integrated into the workforce. Beginning in the third grade, the children are first put to work in the zoo feeding the rabbits and other critters after school. From that time on their duties slowly increase but are not overwhelming.
Tsafrir has promised to take me back to Jerusalem on Sunday, thereby ending my great sojourn with Mike in Kibbutz Ein Harod. My thanks to Mike for a great Shabbat and for helping me with this essay. (Please go to all the links above and read more on the area and see loads of gorgeous pictures.)