(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a departure from the traditional form of a pre-Shavuot presentation of dairy products to the president of Israel in which cute little girls from kibbutzim and moshavim come dressed in white with garlands in their hair, Israel Dairy Board executive director Michal Kraus this year brought with her “teenage students from some of Israel’s 13 agricultural schools, along with their instructors.”
The huge basket of dairy products that the group presented to President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, included regular and flavored milks, a large variety of yellow cheeses and cream cheeses, cottage cheese, plain and flavored yogurts, plus a few other products.
Two of the youngsters sang harvest songs and Rivlin happily joined in, as did most other people in the room.
The president told his guests that during the past year he had visited India and Vietnam and in both countries had seen evidence of Israeli accomplishments in hi-tech, which were greatly appreciated in those countries. Most of all, they appreciated what Israel had taught them about dairy farming in the experimental farms that Israeli experts had set up.
The products in the basket bore different brand names, and there seemed to be fewer Tnuva products than in bygone years, possibly because since March 2015, Tnuva has been fully owned by Bright Foods, the huge Chinese stateowned conglomerate.
All the youngsters wore white T-shirts emblazoned in deep blue with the Hebrew slogan “For me, only Israeli milk.”
Tnuva is still Israeli in terms of the product, even though its ownership is not.
Kraus said there are approximately 1,000 large and small dairy farms in Israel, most of them in peripheral areas, and all have excellent milk yields.
“We know that the president has a soft spot for agriculture,” she said, “and we see agriculture as part of the Zionist mission.”
Kraus also voiced concern about food security in Israel, saying that the farmers are able to supply fresh food for every resident of Israel.
“We supply fresh milk to residents, regardless of the weather or security conditions,” she said.
Israel Manufacturers Association president Shraga Brosh said agriculture is the cornerstone of Israeli industry. “This is where it all began,” he said.
While in favor of competition, Brosh saw no reason why Israel’s high-quality dairy products should have to compete with Polish imports, which are slightly less expensive because Poland does not have worry about mehadrin, strictly kosher and regular. In Israel, farmers must separate the three and clearly mark the containers as to what is what.
“We have a serious war on our hands if we want to save Israel’s agriculture,” he said.
Eviatar Dotan, head of the Cattle Breeders Association, said Israel has the healthiest cows in the world.
“We will not market milk taken from an unhealthy cow,” he said. The cows get the best food, and each cow has plenty of breathing space in its own 25-square-meter pen.
In addition, milking is done under the most sterile of conditions.
One of the instructors, who was introduced as Dan, said he was originally from Estonia, had come to Israel at age eight and lived in Or Akiva. He studied agriculture and after completing his army service returned to farming.
“Nearly everyone wants to be in hi-tech, but I want to be a farmer,” Dan said. Several of the students present had similar ambitions and said they had learned responsibility and values in the agricultural school and gained self-confidence in discovering their own abilities.
Agriculture means more than work.
“It’s a value that brought Zionism to establish the state,” Rivlin said. Referring specifically to the dairy industry, hecredited it with enhancing Israel’s reputation in the world.
“It’s a source of pride to me if I enter a supermarket in London or New York and see Israeli agricultural products,” Rivlin said.