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Olive picking from the tall branches, Sharona.

Olive picking – My First Masik

Olive Picking in Time of War

Olive picking from the tall branches, Sharona.

This post is divided into two parts:

The first  part deals with the olive picking, including a description of my first masik, and an elaboration of olive types and practices.

The second part gives the background to the volunteer movement, which sprang from the crisis in Israeli agriculture due to the October 7th Hamas attack and the war which followed.

You can read the post in any order.

Part I – Olive Picking (Masik) in time of war

Olive Picking - Getting the Kids to Work

My move to the North has brought me in touch with the rich olive culture in the region. My previous post in that series covered much of the history and customs surrounding olive harvesting in the area. In an interesting twist of events, the war has brought me  an opportunity to practice olive picking first-hand.in an Israeli Jewish setting.

Desperate for working hands

Searching for agricultural volunteering opportunities, I came across an ad by Yona Gur, a farmer from Sharona  who was looking for olive pickers.  Sharona is a Moshav in the Lower Galilee, officially established in 1938, but inhabited on and off by early Zionists since 1913. 

Mrs. Gur, a former school principal, lost her husband a few months ago to a disease, and was left with a large farm, cowshed and plantations. Having excellent managerial abilities, she arranged to mobilize school youth and others to help with the essential olive picking. 

Merging with the Israeli youth

I drove 40 minutes to get to Sharona, and was welcomed by a group of wonderful kids and teachers from the Anthroposophical School in Tiv’on, a town in the Jezreel Valley, vicinity of Haifa. Each class in that school has both a male and a female main teacher.

We convened in a circle for the initial orientation. The teachers put an emphasis socializing and friendliness: not leaving anybody behind, paying attention to kids who are alone. It was obvious the youth were getting soulful and considerate mentorship, and accordingly they behaved in mature and responsible ways.

When I came again the next day, there was another school group, this time from Tiberias. The atmosphere was very different. There was no orientation and very little teacher guidance. The kids got the rakes in hand, were told not to step on the olives and were sent to pick. Consequently, they were much less thorough in their work, and more liable to take breaks and complain. Still, even that group did a good job on the whole. Youngsters across the country understand the magnitude of the crisis our country is in. Many have family in the armed forces; some have known people who were directly affected by the October 7th catastrophe.

Volunteer youth getting an orientation for the olive harvest. .The 10th graders are getting an orientation before picking the olives

Olive Picking - Rakes, Sticks and Saws

We were given rakes. Some came on short sticks, some on long ones, and some came plain. Much work could be achieved even with the bare rakes, or manually. For higher branches, the sticks served their purpose. 

At a certain point, professional workers came and sawed down the high branches. As those fell, the kids, mostly girls, sat down on the tarps, stripped the olives with the rakes (See pic below). That, of course, was good opportunity for sharing, talking and even some angelic singing in chorus. One male teacher sat in the circle with the girls, encouraging them to talk about their lives, hobbies, sports, music, plan, etc. He showed a lot of knowledge in current culture. It was delightful to watch. As to my concern, I was reassured cutting the tops was good for the trees. 

Additionally, there were some German volunteers, who regularly work in a hospice for Holocaust survivors. They made efforts to use the ladders, but were fairly clumsy, though pleasant. 

Personally, I had great fun with the long sticks, seeing the olives pour down from the heights as a result of my maneuverings….

 

Volunteer kids raking olive cuttings for fruit. Sharona Farm,

Pulling together the canvas with the picked olives

Left: The high schoolers rake the cut olive branches for fruit. Right: After they are picked, staff pull the canvas together to pour the olives into the containers for shipping.

Brunching with the Olive Pickers

The highlight of every agricultural enterprise is the communal meal. This was one of the best. Not having brought food from home, a friendly teacher invited me to join the staff meal.  The school got the permit to bring the kids to the olive picking event at the last minute the night before. Consequently, the teacher improvised the meal from scraps at the teachers’ room and her own frig leftovers, Still, everything was healthy and tasty. Cheeses, whole wheat bread, vegetables. A girl came from the kids’ group and brought us coffee, all of her own accord…

The teachers complained about the hardships the vicious Ministry of Education put on them: phone interrogations, bureaucracy, all sorts of obstacles. Regardless, and despite legalisms and red tape, they succeeded in the end to get this volunteering effort approved,

In our youth, we all went to help kibbutzim as I describe below. Nobody talked about insurance, forms, liabilities. Today, the country is ruled by bureaucrats and lawyers. Religious emissaries work to subvert our kids into religiosity and take over the public educational system, if insidiously. They penetrate every corner and try to influence all decisions. This is a war we cannot afford to lose.

10th graders brunching after hard work olive picking. Sharona, Israel

Brunch with the teachers of Anthroposophical School, Tiv'on

Top: the kids have their lunch at the shade of the olive containers. Bottom: the teachers and me have a fabulous improvised brunch on-site

Olive Strains in the Holy Land

Yona explained  we were picking olives of the Manzanillo strain which are grown for food, not for oil extractions. For that reason, we should treat them gently, not tread on them by chance, not throw them aggressively around. Manzanillo has little oil, but a lot of taste.

Olives that mature too fast and turn black are considered not good for our purposes and can be left on the trees or discarded.

Manzanillo olive harvest at Sharona. Wartime volunteer work.Crates full with olives ready for shipping and sorting

So what grows here? The strains

In my previous post I quoted highly-regarded scientific research, which has concluded that olives were first domesticated and used for oil in the land of Israel, and most likely in the Galilee. For this post I searched a little to find out what types of olives grow in the holy Land today.

There are many varieties, both native and foreign.. 

The different olive varieties are grown in different parts of the country, and each strain is unique in its own way with its own special characteristics and qualities. Some are ideal for producing olive oil, while others are more suitable for eating straight, in salads, or as toppings.

Native varieties

Here are the main types of native origin: 

Souri. The vast valley underneath my home, and much of the Lower Galilee, is planted with that strain. Further, most olives in Israel are Souri. This variant is NOT actually from Syria, but from the city of Tsor in Lebanon. It is unique to the region and grows abundantly in the northern part of the country. Souri is considered one of the best for producing high-quality extra virgin olive oil. It has a rich green color and aroma, high in antioxidants and oleic acid with a high level of bitterness and sharpness to it. The fruit is small and has a high oil content of up to 28%. Souri olives are often used in high-end blends.

Nabali Mouhassan olives are grown in the area surrounding Nablus, West Bank. They are shorter and wider than the souri, often lacking in flavor and smell, yet create a rather buttery-textured oil.

The Barnea olive tree, developed in Israel by Prof. Lavee from the Volcani Institute, was bred for yield, and reaches around 20-25 kg of fruit per tree. The variety is now grown internationally, and used for both oil and food. Barnea olives are particularly fleshy, fruity, and slightly bitter.

Foreign varieties

There are many imported and adapted strains from around the Med:

Coratina olive, originates in Italy, and is known for high oily content, which can reach up to 30%. The oil has a strong, pungent taste, with hints of bitterness and spice.

Kalamata olive, originates from Greece but is also grown in Israel. This olive is known for its large size, meaty texture, and rich, tangy flavor. Kalamata olives are used in salads and as toppings for pizzas and other dishes.

Manzanillo originates in Spain, but is grown widely also in the United States, Argentina and Australia. Manzanillo is a perfect table olive. It is also good for pitting,

Other varieties are Maalot, Arbequina, Novo, Frantoio, Leccino, Koroneiki, Picual, Picholine Languedoc, Empeltre, Arbequina, and Santa Caterina. They all vary in size, shape, taste, texture, and aroma. For details about them consult Israel-catalog.com

Appendix : How to Pickle the Olives

Pickling olives : Manzanillo, Souri.

Pickling Manzanillo olives

Here are the instructions as I received them from Yona’s brother in writing:

Immerse in water for 24 hours for cleaning and refreshing.

Prepare salty water: 4-5 full spoons to a liter of water.

Cut a lemon into slices, 3-4 garlic teeth. hot pepper to taste..

Put olives in a jar and add the lemon, garlic and pepper. Mix and add the salty water up to several mm from the top. Fill all the way to the top with Canola oil for insulation.

Don’t touch the olives with your hands during the process; use a spoon or ladle.   .

Cover the olives with the water and oil as high as possible.

Put in a cool and darkish spot.

After one week, open and ascertain the liquid covers the olives. If needed, add water. (I did not find this step to be necessary if the jar is airtight.)

Close and keep in a dark and coolish place for at least 1.5-2 months

Open and taste with a spoon.

Good luck!!! Enjoy!!!

The easy-does-it way: Pickling the Souri strain

The Arabs who gave me Souri-strain olives from their harvest here at Beit Kerem Valley, had a different, simpler way to treat them.

Wash the olives, cut a slit in each, so the liquid will penetrate the fruit. Add salty water, but not too salty. Add pepper, garlic, lemon to taste. You could add bay leaves if you wish. Close to the top of the jar. Let set and sit for a week. Eat!

Part II – Background: the Crisis in Agriculture and the volunteer Movement

The October 7th Attack

It is wartime, 2023. Hamas launched a barbaric, brutal attack on the Kibbutzim and towns by the border with Gaza, and massacred 1144 people, including more than 360 youth who enjoyed a peace party. More than 236 people, some as young as 8-months old and as old as 87 were kidnapped into the  Gaza tunnels.

Prior to the attack, 5700 foreign agricultural workers worked in the area. Thai workers, in particular, are considered to be excellent agricultural hands, and became the  main work force maintaining Israeli agriculture in recent years. On October 7th, 15 Thai workers were massacred brutally and more than twenty were kidnapped. Thailand called all of its citizens back from Israel. About 1900 Thais have indeed left. Many preferred to stay despite the calamity.

Furthermore, Arab workers allowed from Gaza to work in Israel, are now widely suspected of spying for Hamas. 3200 were detained after October 7th and returned to Gaza, some of whom had work permits, while others entered illegally..

A Perfect Storm in Agriculture

Several kibbutzim along the border, which grow much of Israel’s produce, were partially destroyed and burned down. Everybody within 0-4  km of the border was evacuated following the disaster. In the North, everybody within 0-2 km from the Lebanese border was evacuated. In all, 70,000 citizens were uprooted from the South, and 60,000 from the North. Most live in agricultural communities. (Sources: Y-net, in Hebrew).

As a preventive measure, settlements on the northern border were evacuated as well; orchards and plantations were deserted. 

Additionally, 360,000 men and women were called on reserves, and are missing in factories and fields

As mentioned above, The Thai government called all its workers back home, though some chose to stay.

With regards to Arab workers, nobody now is willing to risk employing people from the territories or the Strip in agriculture or construction..

The combination of all these factors created a tremendous crisis in agriculture. To make things even worse, Turkey had recently talked bad on Israel, and many now boycott their cheaper imported vegetables, which are often imported to cover up shortages.

Back to the Land - Volunteering

That left us, citizens of Israel, with an acute situation, requiring urgent action. In response, urbanites came out in their thousands to give a hand to the destroyed kibbutzim, to replace foreign and Arab workers, to save crops, harvests, fields, greenhouses, plantations and orchards.

Work camp in Kibbutzim. Nostaligia website.

Many of us, as children, worked on kibbutzim, picked fruit and did other farming tasks. This kind of work wasn’t foreign to us. Many volunteers, indeed, came from the ranks of veterans and pensioners, both men and women. Some young people in between things also showed up, and in some cases high schoolers were mobilized for tasks like the olive picking.

 

Picture shows a typical youth movment work camp, probably from the fifties. from the Israeli Nostalgia Site.

Back to the Roots of Zionism

Reuven Rubin, 1967. Olive harvestOlive harvest in the Galilee. Painting by Reuven Rubin (1967).

“Reuven Rubin was among the formulators of the primitivistic trend in the Eretz Israel art of the 1920s, which, in the spirit of the Zionist revival, saw the East as a primal, innocent world.” 

Early enthusiasm 

In its early days, ideological Zionism was tied umbilically to the ideals of redeeming the Land, the Earth and the Jewish people, historically removed from both for generations. The original Zionist movement had in mind not only the rebuilding of our land and replanting it, but also changing the Jewish person spiritually by reconnecting to the Earth through work.

According to that worldview, agricultural work was glorified;.New, alternative types of farming communities were established. As kids we were encouraged to work on Kibbutzim, for free or a small pay. This usually took place during holidays or in special “work camps” organized by the youth movements. Moreovere, several highly-reputable secondary schools had an agricultural focus, where the children learned to take care of farm animals and grow cops and vegetables. The curriculum included several work hours daily.

With time, economic considerations and societal changes moved people out of villages into cities, and farmers’ children “moved on” to high-tech and other free occupations in the cities. 

Future potential/hopes

I can go on and on on this topic, but this is not the place. It actually belongs in the category of Israel’s Healthy Foundations, and I plan to get down to it in due time there. 

The situation brings me hope that the Israeli person will reconnect with his or her roots, the soil and manual work, and that spiritually we will revive the soul of early Zionism.

Urabinites are now getting up in the morning, sometimes even very early in the morning, driving to agricultural communities near Gaza, in the North or Center, and work 5-7 hours with their hands in the open air to save the fields, orchards and plantations. Tomatoes need to be picked and trelissed, avocadoes, apples, kiwis must be picked in time to send to market and export. The effects of all that will be seen and appreciated in the future.

More posts on related topisc are:

Olive Branches of Peace – Beit Kerem Valley Olive Harvest

*Olive presses revisited (in preparation) 

*Volunteering in Time Of War (in preparation)

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