The people behind Israel’s holy honey

President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, host beekeepers in a festive Rosh Hashana gathering at their Talbiyeh residence (photo credit: HILLEL MEIR/TAZPIT)
President Reuven Rivlin and his wife, Nechama, host beekeepers in a festive Rosh Hashana gathering at their Talbiyeh residence
(photo credit: HILLEL MEIR/TAZPIT)
It’s easy to take for granted the honey that is consumed by millions of Jewish households across the world when reciting the Rosh Hashana blessing for a sweet new year.
For most of us, honey is just another product, like the apples and pomegranates that we buy in the supermarket for the Jewish New Year table. But for those who work in the beekeeping business, honey is not just a final product, but a way of life – a process that is full of stinging challenges as well as sweet outcomes.
Just ask the Kanot family of Moshav Avigdor, south of Kiryat Malachi.
Thirty years ago, Boaz Kanot established the family’s honey business and today maintains 4,000 hives across the South and Center. The Kanots produce several types of honey, including eucalyptus, za’atar, avocado and tamarisk, among others.
Dressed in protective white clothing and wearing bee veils around their faces, Kanot and his son, Itai, work alongside seven employees.
“A typical day of work starts at 5 a.m.
and finishes around 5 p.m.,” Boaz Kanot tells Metro.
From checking and moving the hives to collecting and storing the honey, the beekeeper has a myriad jobs to do as he manages his colonies of bees during the three main seasons: spring, summer and fall.
Each year, the Kanots’ bees produce between 120 and 150 tons of honey.
“The amount of honey we produce depends on the amount of rain that has fallen during the winter,” Kanot explains, noting that 150 tons is considered a good year.
Last year, the lack of rain wasn’t the only challenge to their bees. With hives located close to the Gaza border, the Kanots found themselves working under rocket fire during Operation Protective Edge.
“During the war, we couldn’t go out to take care of all the hives because some of the areas in which they were located were declared military zones. A number of the hives were damaged by mortar rockets and military vehicles,” says Kanot.
However, the damage to the bees was not as terrible as one might expect.
“If the hives aren’t directly hit, the bees will survive on their own, and we were lucky – not many hives were struck,” he says. “Bees have been around for a long time, longer than man, and they have amazing survival abilities.”
In any case, due to the dry winter last year, southern beekeepers were able to collect most of their honey before the beginning of Protective Edge, allowing the annual Honey Festival to take place as usual in apiaries all over the country, from August 14 to September 12.
More important than the honey that bees produce, notes Kanot, are the many crops that can be pollinated only by the honeybee. Out of the 100,000 hives in Israel, 60,000 are used for pollination purposes in agricultural areas. Pollination, or the transfer of pollen, is necessary for the fertilization and reproduction of plants and enables crops to bear fruits.
Bees are the primary pollinators behind flowers and crops such as apples, almonds, avocados, melons, pears, sunflowers, zucchini, cucumbers, winter vegetables and many others. Indeed, honeybees are responsible for the pollination of 80 percent of the world’s crops.
The most common bee in Israel today is known as the Italian bee, which was actually imported from the US and is known for its more docile temperament.
In Israel like the rest of the world, beekeepers have had to deal with the challenges of a disappearing bee population, the decline of nectar because of rapid urbanization and a water shortage for nectar- rich crops, and pesticides. In addition, beekeeping itself is very difficult work.
Itai Kanot has been working in his father’s apiary ever since he can remember.