Written By Evan Oscherwitz
It was teamwork at its best. Members of the Maccabi USA delegation teamed up with the Jewish National Fund and the HaShomer HaChadash NGO Sunday in rural Central Israel to help prepare local vineyards for the upcoming harvest.
However, the farmers will not be the ones harvesting their grapes. Once every seven years, farmers across Israel abstain from bringing their crops to market and allow the local populace to take as much as they need. This practice, called shmita in Hebrew, dates back to the biblical era and is supposed to guarantee successful harvests for the following six years.
“We have a lot of farmers that need help,” HaShomer HaChadash guide Dan Hirsch said. “Because of the shmita, [they] cannot sell their grapes, and so the farmer says ‘okay, I’m going to do something good for society.’ We are helping [the farmers] help others.”
With the assistance of a few HaShomer HaChadash volunteers, members of the American weightlifting and wrestling teams cleared the vineyards of weeds and other obstructions as part of their Lev L’Lev community service day. One group helped clear weeds at ground level while the other trimmed excessively lengthy branches. The volunteers worked for about an hour in very hot conditions with no shade, but still covered several rows of vines.
“[The farmers] are working out here every day,” Maccabi USA wrestler Andrew Cohen said. “There’s no reason we can’t be out here for a few hours. For a lot of us it’s our first time coming to Israel, and [the Israeli people] have been very welcoming to us. It’s only fair that we reciprocate that kindness.”
Although the vineyard’s operators are sure to be thankful for the help, those who live in the surrounding communities are the true benefactors of the athletes’ work. In a truly unique form of service, they have helped provide relief to two different layers of the community, all while maintaining a centuries-old tradition.