In Biblical times, farmers brought the first fruits of the harvest to the Temple in Jerusalem and presented them to the priests as a mark of appreciation for God’s bounty. The offerings consisted of the Seven Species, which to this day have remained both national and religious symbols of the Jewish People.
In the absence of a temple, the perpetuation of an ancient tradition has been transferred to the president. Every year, on the eve of Shavuot, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah, farmers bring their first fruits to the President’s Residence. The farmers bring with them not only the Seven Species, but other produce that has been developed through Israeli curiosity and ingenuity.
In Biblical times, Israel was largely an agrarian society. Today, it is more of a hi-tech society, but the marriage of hi-tech to agriculture has produced many new strains and new species, which are always of special interest to President Shimon Peres, who as an ex-kibbutznik knows a thing or two about farming, and is simultaneously one of the leading proponents of hi-tech.
In previous years, farmers brought huge crates of produce.
This year, the emphasis was on dairy, coupled with the return to a kibbutz lifestyle by those who left it, but have returned home to stay.
Though many of those present were third-generation kibbutzniks, among the children, some of whom were already working in kibbutz dairies, there were fifth-generation kibbutzniks.
The children wore garlands of flowers in their hair and stood behind bales of hay and old-fashioned milk cans as they waited for Peres to enter the main room.
This year’s celebration was in honor of the fact that in his youth Peres had been a shepherd and a dairy farmer.
Michal Kraus, the Israel Dairy Board’s general-manager, suggested if Peres gets bored in retirement, he should come back to Kibbutz Ben-Shemen, where he learned to be a farmer, or Kibbutz Alonim, of which he was a founder.
It was important to the young kibbutzniks, she said, to meet with Peres on the eve of his last Shavuot in office and to thank him for what he has done to promote the kibbutz industry.
Six-year-old Rotem Jacobs from Kfar Haroeh spoke to Peres about the importance of family roots, and how happy she was that Peres had visited her family’s farm and had posed for photos with her grandparents.
Kraus told Peres the people who had come to convey their good wishes were not only pioneers of land-settlement, but also pioneers of dairy-farming technology and science. They are the neo-Zionists, she said.
Kraus was proud of the country’s high-quality dairy products, as well as of the high milk-yields, which each cow, on average, producing annually 12,000 liters of milk. Kraus said that’s one and half times as high as any yield anywhere else in the world.
Harking back to his own kibbutz days, Peres, relating to the Biblical text that describes Israel as a land of milk and honey, said: “We have a few problems with the honey, but the milk is very pleasing.”
The success of the dairy farmers, he continued, has won more friends for Israel than any diplomatic or political initiatives.
He cited as examples a request by China to build Israeli-style dairy farms in China, and attributed an improvement in relations between Russia and Israel to 600 “Zionist” cows.
“The Zionist cow is a great tool of diplomacy,” said Peres.