The Human Spirit: Gleaning zucchini

Not all the big ideas that have come out of Israel are hi-tech.

barbara sofer 88 (photo credit: )
barbara sofer 88
(photo credit: )
Technology astonishes us, and we're proud of Israel's stunning breakthroughs in computers, cellular communication and biotechnology. But not all the big ideas that have come out of Israel are hi-tech. Take gleaning, for instance. Twice in the Torah portions of recent weeks we have read the command to leave a corner of a field for the poor; and not to go back and pick up the fallen grains, which also belong to the needy. A revolutionary concept. It goes without saying that my friend Sandy Colb, a leading Israeli patent attorney, appreciates innovation in Israel. By helping to formulate and register the creative ideas of Israeli whizzes he earns his bread and butter. But not his zucchini and eggplant. Those he grows himself and gives away to the needy. Sixty tons a week. Gardening began as a hobby for Sandy and Paula Colb, who always grew enough tomato and summer squash on the porches and backyards of student apartments to keep them in salad and quiche. When they made aliya and settled in Rehovot in 1973, they reveled in the particular joy of growing food in the Land of Israel. Their front yard wasn't big enough, so they rented an unused triangle of land from a willing neighbor. The kitchen needs for four children and numerous guests notwithstanding, there were always pails of veggies to give away - so many that they began contributing them to organizations that served the needy. Winter came, and to Sandy's surprise he started receiving complaints. Where were their tomatoes and cucumbers, the needy demanded to know. His explanation that he didn't grow tomatoes and cucumbers in the winter elicited only dissatisfied shrugs. So Sandy contacted the wholesale vegetable market and purchased tomatoes and cucumbers to supplement the weekly food delivery. When a client happened to mention that he owned 10 acres of unutilized farmland near Rehovot, Sandy asked if he could grow vegetables there. Eventually, he bought the land, hired a professional agronomist and bought tractors to make the most of it. IT WOULD be simpler and cheaper to buy all the vegetables from the wholesale market, but growing them is so much more fun, insists Sandy. He delights in the beauty of his Israeli fields, shimmering in the sunshine. Some executives favor golf or shiatsu for a break from the office, but Sandy's therapy is pulling juicy carrots from the fertile soil of Rehovot. Sometimes he's late for morning minyan because he craves a promenade through the peppers or stops to inhale the kale before saying Nishmat. While entertaining guests, other hosts might offer a drink before dinner. Sandy suggests an excursion in the field and a chance to pick pumpkins, kohlrabi and radishes. "So much fun," he says. Fun for the Colbs also means growing their own wheat and making their own matza with a group of friends and the help of the Karlin Hassidim. FORTY-FIVE different agencies, among them battered women's shelters, programs for AIDS sufferers, soup kitchens and hesder yeshivot benefit from his green thumb. He also teams up with Table to Table, a "food rescue" group that gathers excess fresh food from caterers, cafeterias, manufacturers, grocers and farmers and delivers it to the needy. College students who come to Israel on birthright israel's free trips often stop by the field for hands-on lessons in Jewish values. As we come to the end of the Counting of Omer, when observant Jews number each day from the second day of Pessah until Shavuot, we should at least have a heightened awareness of how much every day counts. A single day is an eternity when you're hungry. Not by chance is the second mention of the command to leave the corner of a field for the poor linked to the Counting of the Omer. Nor is it by chance that the most potent image of Shavuot, the holiday of our receiving the Torah, is that of Ruth gleaning barley in the field among the needy. The Book of Ruth begins with the tragic decision of prosperous and prominent Elimelech to leave Bethlehem during a famine. According to the commentaries, Elimelech wasn't only concerned for feeding his family, but didn't want to hear the petitions for food of needy neighbors. In contrast, Elimelech's daughter-in-law Ruth is a model of kindness, and kinsman Boaz (in whose field she gleans) goes beyond minimum requirements by enabling her to pick not only from the fallen grains but also from the bundled barley. The biblical commandment turns out to be relevant in modern times. Not just a corner, but the entire Colb fields are designated for the hungry. So, many years after the Bible story, even our success with hi-tech hasn't eliminated the need to feed the hungry among us. But we're fortunate to have modern role models. May they prosper and inspire us all to greater kindness and generosity.