Agricultural school seeks to breed religious leaders

It is the only religious agricultural high school in Israel and it has become the largest of its kind.

plants agriculture 224.8 (photo credit: Courtesy)
plants agriculture 224.8
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Mei Shiloach yeshiva high school is like no other religious school in Israel. In addition to Torah and academic study, its students also spend their time in some not-so-traditional activities. They plant vegetables, tend livestock and experiment to increase the shelf life of strawberries. It is the only religious agricultural high school in Israel and, with the acquisition this year of 15 dunams of land from Moshav Hamra in the Jordan Valley, it has become the largest school of its kind in Israel. Mei Shiloach's founder and director, Rabbi Yosef Sherman, explained to The Jerusalem Post on Monday the connection he sees between agriculture, the national interest and leadership. "Agriculture is a national interest. Every country needs agriculture. And in recent times, it has begun to be neglected," particularly after Gush Katif was dismantled, he said. "Moreover, many of our leaders were farmers. Agriculture instills values that sitting in front of a computer does not," he said. His yeshiva is intended to be a breeding ground for future farmers, but also for future leaders. "Some of Israel's leaders were products of agricultural high schools. Yitzhak Rabin was a product of the Kaduri School. David Ben-Gurion's 'profession' was listed as farmer and his 'job' as prime minister," Sherman said. "My vision for my graduates is that they become leaders, first in the army and then afterwards. I would like them to become farmers too, but they should all be leaders in Israel," he elaborated. The religious Zionist school has embraced the secular Zionist values that were espoused at the founding of the state, according to a statement about the school. Founded in 2004 in Kedumim, the school moved to Moshav Hamra this year. The school is still small, with just 40 students in ninth and 10th grades and no higher grades yet. In addition to the specialized tracks for matriculation exams and Torah study, there is also a full agricultural curriculum, 10th-grader Golan Samuel told the Post. "We have practical agriculture twice a week, as well as theoretical. Starting in 10th grade, each student also takes part in a research project. Mine is to figure out how to make geraniums last longer," Samuel said. Samuel said they also conduct research projects on strawberries, pineapples, and peppers. Originally from Jerusalem, Samuel joined the school to get away from urban life. "My favorite thing is working with the animals. When you take care of a goat or a sheep, it's like working with human beings," he enthused. "After the army, I've thought about continuing to work in agriculture," he added. Sherman explained that the school cooperates with the Volcani Institute on numerous research projects, especially with the institute's strawberry expert, Dr. Nir Dai. "The biggest problem with strawberries is that they have such a short shelf life. We're trying to extend it," Sherman said, "Egypt produces a lot of strawberries because they use research findings discovered by Israelis. Their strawberries now compete with ours because of it." Although situated in the Jordan Valley and formerly based in Kedumim in Samaria, Sherman said his school was about something much greater than disputes about the West Bank. "Agriculture is a very, very significant value. A maturing youth can really benefit from the connection between research and physical labor. It's both practical and intellectual," he said. Philosophically, the school stresses the values of working the land espoused by former Mercaz Harav head Tzvi Yehuda Kook, Sherman said. Kook was Sherman's teacher at Mercaz Harav. The students also study Jewish law as it pertains to agriculture. This year, a shmita year, they grew tomatoes, three different-colored peppers, hot peppers, and eggplant in halachically permissible ways to supply the religious community's demand.