The next morning at breakfast (the same as yesterday’s), I overheard one of the guys rhapsodizing over our day’s schedule, which included cherry picking, chocolate making, and wine sampling. No wonder he was excited; I was too!
The first two items on our agenda were at different parts of Kibbutz Ein Zivan, a place with a fascinating history. If you know anything about the kibbutz movement, you are aware that they all began as agriculture enterprises with a socialist bent – everyone, from the person in-charge to the poor sap who mopped the floors, got the same stipend. No surprise, this business model stopped working, and individual kibbutzim had to figure out some way to survive. Ein Zivan had a novel idea; they began offering bonuses to individuals who increased their productivity. Heresy!!!!!! All manner of pressure was placed on the kibbutz to cancel their un-Socialistic practices. I don’t know what happened in the end, except that the kibbutz is still around, as are the many others who changed their game plan and privatized their operations.
Picking cherries is lots of fun. You don’t have to bend over, you don’t have to stretch, you don’t have to use anything but your hands to remove the cherries, along with their stems, from the small trees. You do have to figure out where the ripest cherries are, which you can determine by a simple taste test. Each person – and there were lots of other groups there – is given a small container to fill. If you’re ambitious, you can purchase a larger container to fill for 10NIS. If you want the benefits without the exertion, you can buy already filled containers. They must grow LOTS of cherries; I’ve seen the same logo on containers in the shuk being sold for shockingly higher prices.
Ein Zivan must be a sizable operation, for we had to get back on the bus and go some distance to get to DeKarina. We had been to this chocolate-making establishment years ago with Ezra – a last minute substitution because it was indoors and the weather wasn’t cooperating. Neither Barbara nor I remember that there was anything else in the vicinity. There is now.
DeKarina has expanded its activities; there’s even a room now where visitors can ‘make,’ actually decorate, their own chocolate. Whether or not that’s a big attraction, the place got extremely crowded shortly after we arrived, so much so that a contingent of about thirty young ladies from some seminary had to wait outside for their turn to go in.
Because of my recent health issues, I’m off chocolate, cookies, cakes, and the like. I went inside long enough to have a hafuk soya at the coffee bar and scout out what we might want to bring back for one daughter and assorted friends. That done, I decided to check out the area. Talk about location, location, location. Right next door to this popular tourist attract was the visitors center for the Bahat Winery. The who? Trust me when I say that I’m pretty much up-to-date on the boutique winery scene here in The Land but this one, I had never heard of. Should I take the time to check it out? Or should I try to locate the Pelter Winery that was also somewhere around? That one I had heard of!
Talk about having your cake and eating it too. A lot of small wineries here start out as non-kosher because they don’t feel the need to have a hechsher and they do not want to have to deal with the Rabbinate – which a lot of us can understand. As these boutique operations get bigger, they realize that their market share is limited by their non-kosher status. They have a choice: give up their independence or give up market share. Pelter has done neither. Their original label, Pelter, remains uncertified, but they also now have a kosher line, Matar, both of which produce some pretty nifty wine. I’ve been told that this year’s Matar Rosé is top-of-the-line. Let’s see if I can find them. Leave DeKarina, make a left, go to the corner and make another left. Go to the end of the street. There’s nothing there. What about if I make another left? I see some cars parked on the side of the road. I see some wine barrels; that must be the place.
It didn’t look particularly open for visitors, but I figured I’d ask. Uh, may I come in? Of course, I could enter. I chatted briefly with the young lady on duty, and with a little scrounging around, she located a bottle of the Rosé in question. She even offered to sell it to me; now, that’s service!
(Our friends The Levines swooped down from their mountain top to be with us for a day last week, whereupon we gave them a quickie summary of our trip. Despite their long residence up North, they were not acquainted with DeKarina, probably a good thing as Richard does not need more chocolate in his life. But when I mentioned my Bahat vs. Pelter dilemma, Barbara L. got excited. The guy who runs Bahat Winery lives here in Har Halutz; they’re friends of so-and-so. Now it was Richard’s turn to get excited. Someone who runs a winery lives on our Yishuv? We have to get to know them!) We again return you to our regularly scheduled article.
At some point, everyone in our group finished ‘decorating’ their pieces of chocolate and ransacking the shelves in the DeKarina store. Back on the bus to investigate lunch options in Katzrin, visit the Aniam Artist Village (which I could have lived without), and head back to Katzrin for the inevitable visit to the Golan Heights Winery.
I understand why tour groups stop here. They’re set up to handle large groups; you can fit thirty or forty people in their tasting room. But after the third or fourth visit, which this was for us……
Giving credit where credit is due: GHW was the first important Israeli winery; in fact, they put the Israeli wine industry on the map back in the early 1980’s. But that was then. It’s pretty much understood that they have been coasting on their laurels for the last ten years or so, except for their sparkling wines, which I’m told are quite good but are never offered on a wine-tasting. I listened patiently to the spiel about what they’re doing, sampled their offerings, and left empty-handed. Maybe next time we’re on a tiyul, they’ll take us to the new Golan Heights Distillery a few minutes away, where they’re producing the first wave of Israeli whiskey. Now that’s exciting!
I’m more than happy to chill out after dinner all by my lonesome after a day on the go, but the A.A.C.I. feels the need to fill up our waking hours with programming. At least Wed. night’s programming was thought-provoking and a more than a little upsetting. We heard from a young man named Dov (at least we think that’s his name) from HaShomer HaChadash. The original HaShomer organization was a pre-W.W. I self-defense organization designed to protect Jewish farmers from destructive raids by local Arabs. You might ask, quite justifiably, why a new iteration of that organization is necessary in modern hi-tech Israel? Are they anti-virus gurus?
There are still several thousand small mom-and-pop agricultural enterprises in The Land, and many of them are isolated, sitting ducks, vulnerable to theft and sabotage. The fellow running the farm has to work all day and somehow guard his crops or his flock by night – which is a lot to do. One rancher, Chaim Zilberman, who had been working the land for decades, was about to call it quits. Too many thefts; too many times starting over from scratch. His son Yoel, a former naval commando, was opposed. If we abandon the land, you know what’s going to happen. The Bedouins, the ones who’ve been stealing your cattle, will take it over. He tried to protect his father’s herd and woke up in the hospital with several broken bones. He too was about to give up, but once word got about the situation, he started getting offers of assistance big time. The biggest problem was the total indifference and incompetence of the Israeli police. (What else is new?) Our rancher and many other farmers filed had complaint after complaint with the local constabulary, and they were returned, Closed for lack of public interest. Now it happens all over the world; high profile cases are given serious attention, while cases that have not hit the media are put on the back burner. But where else but in The Land would the police have the chutzpah to tell you in writing that they’re not even going to bother looking for the culprits?
I remember reading about one case, which I think occurred in 2016. A shepherd was at his wit’s end. His flocks had been stolen multiple times; his trusted watch dog had been poisoned. And he got word somehow that the thieves were coming back one more time. He waited for them, and when they showed up, he was ready. One of them wound up dead; the rest fled for their lives. And, finally, the police showed up – to arrest our hero. People here went ballistic; thousands showed up outside the Knesset to protest. It actually worked, for once. The MK’s got off their duffs and changed the laws so that farmers, ranchers, and shepherds had the legal right to protect their property.
By then, HaShomer HaChadash had been up and running for nine years. Their initial efforts were to enlist and train volunteers to guard ranches and farms in the Negev and the Galil against the marauders. But that wasn’t enough. Underlying the indifference of the government was a problem so basic that it’s scary: a total disconnect from the earth that makes up The Land, not just as soil to grow things, but as the space we need to have a country.
Over the years, this organization has grown and morphed into a large grass-roots effort to reconnect people with their physical heritage. Run-of-the-mill Israelis, youngsters, tourists, gap-year students have gotten involved, helping out, even for a day, giving the farmer, the rancher some physical assistance and some chizzuk.
Our speaker finished his presentation, and it was time for questions from the audience. We were all in a state of shock, partly because we saw the implications of what he was saying and partly because none of us had ever heard of this organization, which we assumed (incorrectly) reflected negatively on them. There was lots of advice proffered. I waited until the end, and then announced that I had a ‘stupid question.’ (The only kind I ever ask.) We have friends, I said, whose son just finished his basic training. He was sent to do shmirah (guard duty) for one week at a tiny moshav with seventeen families. If the IDF has the personnel to do that, why can’t it provide protection for the country’s agricultural enterprises – at least some of the ones that are most vulnerable? Could it relate to the government’s level of competency?
I was assured posthaste that their organization was not ‘political.’ Oh? They should not be partisan, but I would hope they are political, especially these days when they are receiving funding from several governmental ministries and when they are involved with pre-army mechina programs for high school graduates. Sounds ‘political’ to me, but then, I’m only an ex-pat who doesn’t understand anything that goes on here.