Israel's Good Name

Leket Picking in Nahalal

In Galilee, Israel on October 10, 2012 at 1:03 PM

Yesterday, which happened to have been Isru Chag for us living in the Holy Land (and still Sukkot for those living in the Diaspora), a special trip to collect “leket” for people in need was arranged. Leket is, to be short and sweet, grain or produce that the farmer drops, accidentally, in the field which is then abandoned for the poor people to gather. There are certain Rabbinical laws that define what leket exactly is, for example if the farmer was pricked by a thorn while harvesting wheat and consequently drops the sheaves or produce from his hand, he can gather them back up and does not have to leave them for the poor. So, in today’s times there is a noble organisation that takes the initiative to collect this leket and dole it out to those in need. This organisation is aptly named Leket Israel:

Leket Israel logo

Our morning leket gathering trip was coordinated by Nefesh B’Nefesh and the clincher that secured my agreement to partake was due to the fact that this trip was to take place in Nahalal. Located between Nazareth and Mount Carmel, in the lush Jezreel Valley, Nahalal was founded in 1921 and was Israel’s first moshav. Having recently read Yael Dayan’s biography about her father, Moshe Dayan, and having read all about Nahalal in the early days when Yael Dayan was a child, I figured it would be interesting to see this famous moshav in person, and to actually work the land, no less.

Nahalal in 1921 – the first settlers arriving

One of the things that makes Nahalal so famous is the circular shape in which it was built up; the families’ houses occupying the centre of the circle with their tracts of land stretching out behind, so that each family had a livelihood. Here is an aerial view of Nahalal these days, taken from Google Maps, and the field where we picked yesterday is in the lower left corner.

Nahalal

As we all gathered at the field, some coming by car and some by special transport scheduled for this event, a Leket Israel truck followed us and parked, ready to pass along all that we would pick:

Leket Israel truck following us

Now, just to put things into perspective, all of us that gathered there came as volunteers (even paying for transportation) and yet we had not a clue as to what we were going to be picking. We passed tomatoes and beets before stopping at what seemed to be an empty field, furrowed and littered with tawny dead vegetation. There, Ran, the Leket Israel representative hailing from Kibbutz Mizra, explained to us that we were to pick onions and that the crop of choice varies as to the supply and demand.

Ran of Leket Israel

He proceeded to kneel in the dirt and pull onions out of their semi-buried state and demonstrate which onions were to be discarded and which were to be placed into the bucket. Once we were briefed he turned us loose, handing buckets all around. Here is a fine specimen of an onion that I picked, note my fellow pickers in the background:

An onion in the field

As we toiled in the field, chatting and making new acquaintances, the clock hands spun around and the buckets were repeatedly emptied into the large plastic crate. Here is the first crate that we filled, estimated by some to be at least 50 bucketfuls of onions:

First crate

But after the first crate we were merely warmed up, our clever little party of thirty or so individuals began to ferociously attack the dry, cracked land, producing onion after onion and dispensing them into the correct containers. The sun and clouds played hide-and-seek while us mortals toiled in the fields, having a grand old time.

The group gathering

At last the NBN crew called a mandatory break and passed out fruit and cups of water. We stood around and were taken by surprise as a group of armed soldiers traipsed by us and began gathering onions as well. We watched as they stacked their guns and got down on the ground to fill buckets for Leket Israel. With all the goodness that I see streaming from the IDF’s many fingers, I feel glad that I am, at last, going to join their ranks.

Soldiers picking onions

I approached the soldiers and learned of their location in the army. They belong to a unique unit somewhat attached to the Artillery Corps but mostly operate with Infantry. They are responsible for sending unmanned gliders out into the battlefield for real-time surveillance and even carry the gliders dismantled on their backs. I do not know what this unit is called but it sounds rather interesting, plus they knew how to pick onions, always a good skill:

A soldier picking for Leket Israel

After several hours of picking onions, I personally had filled countless buckets and there were a bunch of full crates. Someone from NBN called back our special transport and we all gathered around to hear a summary of the morning’s efforts. Ran announced to us that we had picked an estimated 900 kilograms of onions (that’s 1,980 lbs, close to a ton). He then told us that 300 families, estimated, would be enjoying the fruits of our labour and that we did a great job. We then returned to our vehicles, feeling good that we helped so many, and I got myself a taste of farming in the Holy Land. I hope that when I’m in the army I get to go leket picking again. Time will tell, I suppose.

More information about Leket Israel can be found HERE.

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