Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi), MK Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid), and Construction Minister Yoav Gallant (Kulanu) at Tuesday’s event promoting youth in agriculture, July 6, 2017..
(photo credit: SHAI ROSEN)
The images of young Zionist pioneers working the land and toiling in its soil are an integral part of the Israeli historical consciousness. But today, Israeli youth are disconnected from the actual land of Israel, and activists and MKs are seeking to change that. Following in the footsteps of the early pioneers, NGOs are working with the government to try and reconnect that link through agriculture.
“Agriculture and connecting to the land is one of the main values that we have to keep in the Israeli society,” said Uri Sapir of Hashomer Hahadash, an organization dedicated to protecting Israeli farmers and educating Israelis about agriculture.
On Tuesday, MK Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid) hosted an event at the Knesset along with eight agricultural organizations to celebrate youth in farming and discuss the issues in Israeli agriculture today. Speakers included Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel (Bayit Yehudi) and Construction Minister Yoav Gallant (Kulanu). The event was attended by roughly 500 young people who are volunteering on farms throughout Israel.
“Today we had a couple of hundred young people who are declaring that we want to change the status of farming and agriculture, [and make it] a symbol of connecting the Jewish nation to our land,” said Akiva Jakubowicz after the event. Jakubowicz oversees Hashomer Hahadash volunteers in the south.
The event included a panel on the problems facing Israeli agriculture and the ways to better it.
“Agriculture in Israel right now is in a very bad situation,” said MK Jelin’s spokesperson Dor Malul. “[Farmers] don’t have money, [and] the Israeli government prefers to bring the fruits and the products from abroad instead of from Israel.”
Activists believe government assistance and better education will improve agriculture in Israel.
“The government needs to bring more money to the Agriculture Ministry, so they can help the people that work a lot and don’t really earn the money,” said Malul.
Hashomer Hahadash was founded by Yoel Zilberman to protect his father’s besieged ranch from local bandits and arsonists. He learned that farmers throughout Israel lack protection and security over their land, and that the Israeli public is uninformed about and uninterested in the subject. In 2017, 40,000 people are volunteering in agriculture through Hashomer Hahadash. Of these, 35,000 are Israelis, mostly post-army service; 5,000 are from abroad.
At a meeting of the Knesset Education, Culture, and Sports Committee following Tuesday’s event, activists petitioned committee chairman Ya’acov Margi (Shas) and other MKs to institute a yearly agriculture week into high schools to reconnect Israeli youth to the land.
“We want every kid in Israel to go through a week of agriculture volunteering,” said Shlomo Lampert, the manager of Hashomer Hahadash’s agriculture volunteers program. He wants Israeli youth “to connect to the land, to go out of the cities, out of the computers, out of the cell phones, to go out of the virtual world and to touch the land, to take responsibility with their hands for the situation in Israel.”
Agriculture should be integrated into the educational system and be treated like subjects such as math or physics, Lampert suggested. He hopes this will help people focus less on themselves and their careers and more on collective, national needs.
“We want the individual to do as best as he can and get as far as possible, but he needs always to remember he is part of a bigger mission, and that mission is building a country and building a nation,” Lampert explained.
The son of American olim, Lampert also stressed the importance of Diaspora Jews connecting to the land of Israel.
“Jews from all around the world own this land, same like us,” he said, referring to residents of Israel.
At the end of the meeting, it was agreed that the Education and Agriculture Ministries will work together on this initiative.
At the main event, Ariel reassured the young agriculture enthusiasts that the government supports them.
“The values of agriculture must be educated as early as childhood. I know we need to help and support you more, and we will,” the minister said.