Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Thou shalt yet plant vines in the fields of Sha'alabim...

Driving along the country lanes in and around Kibbutz Sha'alabim I often find myself paraphrasing the famous verse in Jeremiah 31: עוד תטעי כרמים בהרי שמרון, Thou shalt yet plant vines in the Samarian Highlands, only in my mind it is the fields of Sha'alabim.

Until the 1967 Six Day War Sha'alabim lived the precarious existence of a border village. Sitting right on the Armistice line which delineated the border between Israel and Jordan following the 1948 War Sha'alabim was under constant threat from cross-border attacks and kibbutz members took theirs lives in their hands each time they went out to tend their crops and livestock. It was not a place most would choose to make their home. Only the idealism of its residents made it viable.

Indeed following the Six Day War documents came to light showing that there was even a Jordanian plan to mount an assasult on the kibbutz with the aim of obliterating it. To this day in Sha'alabim they commemorate their delivery from destruction as Yom Sha'alabim, the day in the Six Day War that Israel recaptured territory to the east of the kibbutz, moving the border and removing the constant threat.

These were my thoughts today, Yom Yerushalayim, also Yom Sha'alabim. It was a gorgeous breezy morning as I made my way with my family to Havaya Bekramim, a section of the kibbutz where depending on the season you can pick berries, harvest wheat or pick grapes and crush them into juice the old fashioned way.

I was worried that this time of year the winds would be warm and "shravi", bringing with them the searing hamsin heatwaves that are common in late spring. It was pleasantly cool though standing among the fruit trees or in the shade of the pines and cypresses that border the orchard, smelling the delicate scent of ripe mulberries, while flocks of storks soared lazily overhead.

The trees were practically groaning under the weight of fruit, three different varieties of mulberry - long, regular and white. A few rows down from the mulberry orchard a blackberry patch was also ripe for picking and between the two a section draped in canvas to protect it from the birds yielded spicy pitango fruits. Our hands and lips were soon dyed purple and red from the delicious bounty.

While my family and friends were intent on picking fruits, our host was harvesting a selection of fresh herbs he cultivates, arranging them in fragrant mounds near the gate for everyone to take home with them - fresh lemon balm, thyme, zaatar, oregano and something I've never seen before but which makes a heavenly herbal tea.

Gaggles of kids looked longingly at the ice-cream bean tree, but alas it was past its season. Near the entrance pomegranate trees dotted bright red with fading blossoms and emerging baby fruits held the promise of late summer bounty.

We'd been warned that earlier in the week a poisonous centipede and black scorpion had been found nearby and we were careful to wear closed shoes, but I'm glad to report that all the children found on the ground were two beautiful porcupine quills which they took home with them as trophies for their nature diaries.

Back home in time for lunch we feasted on the delicate fresh berries, no need to prepare anything else, our family could live on them, and their season is so brief, a sparse few weeks in May. We strive to make the most of it.

As I write my home is filled with the pleasant scent of herbs from the herbal tea we brewed, now chilling in the fridge, a treat we can enjoy for days to come, long after the last of the berries have been gobbled up.

We haven't forgotten those vineyards though, the grapes this time of year still small and intensely green, but everyone is already anticipating the high summer harvest time and the fun of pressing the sweet fruit with our bare feet.