Out There: Date picking

I spent 2 weeks picking grapefruits at Kibbutz Ma’ale Gilboa, another 2 weeks spreading tarps over cotton bales in the Golan.

Cartoon (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Channeling her inner Rachel the Poetess, or perhaps just getting in touch with her 1960s Scandinavian kibbutz volunteer alter-ego, my daughter – The Lass – has spent the last couple of weeks picking dates on a Jordan Valley farm.
There, under the blistering sun and in mirage-inducing heat, she – for minimum wage – spends hour after hour climbing palm trees to extract their fruit. She then sorts them: setting the choicest dates aside for export, keeping the inferior ones (sug bet) for domestic consumption, throwing the mushy ones into a pile to be turned into date spread, and casting the worm-infested fruits to the side for tithes.
The experience has been an education for the whole family. For instance, I now know that you don’t actually pick each date, but rather shake the palm boughs to loosen the ripe ones. I know how to differentiate between the different types of dates, how to store them, sort them, and how to know if they have been infested by worms. I also now know there is even a special Hebrew word for harvesting dates: gadid. I, for one, will never look at dates the same way again.
“My, what fine quality medjools,” I vow to say the next time someone puts out a plate of dates to nibble on. “Far superior to the barhee or dayri varieties.” Like a wine connoisseur, I might then sniff the medjool and add that it has a robust, expansive, earthy yet oaky taste.
THIS HAS also proven to be one of the few points where my kids’ experiences actually intersect with one of my own. Raising children oceans away from the land where I was raised means we don’t have that many actual experiences in common.
My kids can’t relate to senior prom, I can’t relate to same-sex schools. They can’t identify with 300- page high school yearbooks, I can’t get into 12thgrade class pictures hanging in school hallways.
They can’t imagine starting college at age 18, I can’t understand not starting college until 24.
They don’t know from skiing; I’m clueless about wind-surfing.
And of, course, the very obvious fact that most kids in the US do not serve in the army, while in Israel they do, has meant our life-molding experiences have been significantly different.
Whenever I use the phrase “when I was their age” to pass judgment on any one of my children, The Wife reminds me that the environment, milieu and culture in which we grew up were drastically different than those in which we are raising our offspring. Therefore, she notes wisely, nothing constructive can come from comparing where we were at their stage of life, or in making insensitive comments about what we had accomplished by their age.
I was pleased, therefore, when The Lass expressed interest in picking dates. Finally, I told The Wife, she was doing something – was having an experience – we could understand and relate to first-hand.
“Huh?” The Wife responded, incredulously. “I never picked dates in Chicago. When I needed money I worked in a clothing store. Why doesn’t she work in retail? What are you talking about?” What I was talking about was that stint during my formative Zionist days when – as a visiting college student – I spent a couple weeks picking grapefruits at Kibbutz Ma’ale Gilboa, and another couple weeks spreading tarps over cotton bales in the Golan.
I, like The Lass, was getting in touch with my romantic Zionist side – working the land while humming songs about eucalyptus trees and thinking about A.D. Gordon, all the while repressing anger toward the guy on the next tree or cotton bale over who was taking too many breaks and not pulling his weight.
BUT WHAT differentiated my experience from my daughters’ was that she is from here. She need not climb a rickety ladder and get palm bough slivers stuck into her hands to answer a burning internal call to contribute to the Zionist enterprise. She was born here, lives here, spent two years doing national service in Afula.
Two of my three sons, less romantic, thought her nuts and couldn’t understand what had become of their sister. (A third, an avid goat milker and experienced picker of cherries himself, is actually jealous of her grand luck in scoring such a plum temporary job.) One of the less agriculturally inclined sons, not quite sure what to make of his sister’s provisional employment, asked, “Is she bored? Can’t she just go wait on tables like normal people?” “Sounds meaningful,” another son said, both dismissively and patronizingly. Then, after thinking about it for a moment, he added, “Can she get us some dates?” While he, too, thought his sister crazy, this lad – always on the lookout for kombinot (combinations) – realized there could be an advantage here to be leveraged; that his sister’s momentary whimsy could benefit the family, that we could actually score seven kilos of the sweet fruit for the holidays.
His eyes got even bigger when he thought about the possibility of free lulavs for Succot.
“Kind of scary how his mind works,” The Wife told me, unaware that when I was his age I looked at a buddy who worked at a local multiplex cinema as my lifetime passage to free movies, or that to this day I am thrilled to have a good friend working at IBA news because every once in a while I can go there and buy lunch at their subsidized cafeteria.
“Right, kind of scary,” I agreed, unable to reveal my innermost thought: how much better it would have been – in terms of freebies for the holidays – had The Lass actually landed a job at a bakery. I’m not really that fond of dates.