‘Where the cows have already come home’

A personal experience with animal tourism in Israel

Cow illustrative (photo credit: KIM HANSEN/WIKIPEDIA)
Cow illustrative
(photo credit: KIM HANSEN/WIKIPEDIA)
On a 22-square kilometer stretch of Olesh, 25 minutes from Netanya Center, you will find a land-based ark for four-footed orphans and refugees. This not-for-profit, non-partisan sanctuary was built by volunteers with a vision of what the world could be if “livestock” were treated with compassion and humility.
At Freedom Farm every animal has a story and a soul.
In this factory-less land of milk and honey, I meet Alex, a three-month old playing with a teddy bear. His mother is on her way to becoming a hamburger; however not having enough meat on his premature bones, Alex has been deemed inedible. Like other meat industry rejects, Alex was destined to be pulverized into compost to feed the grass that feeds the cattle like #910, a dairy cow who has spent the last three years of her life being pumped by an electric milk machine. And yet, look at them now – inching ever closer toward each other. With hope, Alex will latch on to her udder and have a mother; and Angela – no longer a number marked for slaughter – will live out her life with the calf she never had.
My partner for the morning shift is a lovely young woman my daughter’s age. She offers her days off from her three years of service in the Israeli Army to some 250 cows, sheep, turkeys and pigs who didn’t make the (steak or veal) cut. Here they eat drink, graze and raise their young in fearless dignity. Together in a manger in Israel, Lior and I shovel hours’ worth of feces-ridden hay into body-sized bags, preparing the way for the return of the lambs (of God) to their respective stables.
At Freedom Farm pigs don’t fly but they do smile. Sumo-sized Yossie, for one, could have been a contender (pigs are“ranked” as the 4th smartest mammal, even above dogs). “They are highly communicative and actually quite clean,” Gali, the sanctuary’s tour coordinator explains. But that didn’t prevent him from being forced to suffer through the same mandatory trio of industry protocols: first, the yanking of the front-teeth, then the cutting of the tail, and finally castration – all without anesthesia or antibiotics. Why? Because some people say that “they can taste the difference,” Gali mournfully explains.
Baruch the goat bled from untreated infection and gaping wounds at his former “petting zoo.” Now he has the run of the place, along with two companions who have been fitted with custom wheels to compensate for their paralyzed hind legs.
DANI, ANOTHER resident, was being roped and tied and stuffed into a car trunk when two American tourists ran out with cash and convinced the driver to hand him over to them instead. En route to a village on the Muslim holy day of Eid, during which sacrificial slaughter is performed in mass numbers, Dani now frolics with his new friends Maya and Jenny – 8-week year old kids who were found starving, wounded and traumatized from being separated from their mother. The volunteers who pleaded for her release named her Mazal (Hebrew for “Luck”) because she was delivered to her children the same day that she was slated for the slaughterhouse.
Here you will also find Yael, a “magical” animal whose feminine choice of nomenclature was briefly reconsidered when they discovered that she was a he. “I used to think they were stupid, “bird brains” – as people say in English, Gali explained. “But they’re actually quite intelligent. Nesting hens chirp to their eggs so that their chicks will recognize their voice when they hatch.” In the industry, chickens are marketed as “roasties” or electrocuted by the thousands after living their brief lives in “battery cages.”
This sanctuary will never purchase an animal from the food industry as a matter of policy, knowing the money will go to kill more animals. So the volunteers do most of the work themselves, assisted by veterinarians and the occasional pro-bono attorney, hoping donations will come in to pay for the animals’ medical treatment, food, hay and the myriad additional supplies that are required to sustain them.
Freedom Farm does not expect the world to suddenly turn vegan. Their hope is, however, that enough people will look beyond the plastic-packaged fillets in their grocer’s freezer to see Alex and his teddy bear. Whatever your penchant for bacon or barbecue, there’s a reality of very deep suffering that cannot be ignored. If the best we can do for the world’s creatures is to treat them humanely before they become the objects of our consumption, so be it. But before you do, you might consider a trip to the Promised Land to meet a particularly special survivor.
Packed into the cattle car on the way to a slaughter, a heifer saw a chance to save her calf from the inevitable. Defying fate, she used all her strength to push her newborn off the moving train – umbilical cord still attached. At Freedom Farm, Ma’ayan now lives happily ever after with a forever family of her own.
The writer is an associate member of the Foreign Press Association, and an educator who teaches comparative literature, cinema studies, and English in New York City.