My little Garden of Eden in Israel

There is a place I idealize here in Israel:

Kibbutz Harduf in the Lower Galilee, an anthroposophic community with a unique approach to intentional living, and Israel’s largest producer of organic food.

Before we made Aliyah I first learned of Harduf  from my (now) friend Haviva’s article in Zeek about local, organic living in the Galilee.  At the time, I was running my own consulting business in New Jersey, the main focus of which was on educational and marketing efforts in the area of holistic health and green living. When we started researching communities in which to live I looked into the possibility of moving to Harduf.

I reached out via their Hebrew web site, but received no response. And when I asked our Nefesh B’ Nefesh regional Aliyah consultant her opinion on whether she thought Harduf was a good fit for our family, she advised against it, indicating it wasn’t the best place for new immigrants unless we were all very focused on living the “hardcore anthroposophic” life.

This was wise advice.

It wouldn’t have been a good fit for our family.

But, wow, it would have been a good fit for me — in another life. And sometimes I wish we lived there.

The beautiful campus is set upon a hill which overlooks in the distance the bay of Haifa and the Mediterranean sea. The residents, in the 30 or so years they have built up the kibbutz have put obvious effort into making the explorer’s experience of their home one peppered with wonder and teeming with vitality.

Harduf is itself alive.

I don’t live there, but I am lucky enough to live very close — just a 15 minute drive away. Recently, I joined the health clinic there (the physician, an M.D., is trained in both conventional medicine and anthroposophic medicine, which emphasizes homeopathy over medication.) So I’ve been spending more time there and try to build in an extra 10 or 20 minutes to wander every time I have to go there.

This morning, I brought my two youngest children over to Harduf to walk through the gardens, smell and touch the fruit trees, wander through shaded paths that lead to unexpected structures, and play on their gorgeous playground, a wonderland of thoughtful planning and handiwork.

yellow house

It was a two-hour slice of heaven.

Only after playing on the playground for an hour and on our way out to the restaurant and store that is open on Shabbat did I see this sign:

harduf sign

The sign basically says, “Entrance to the park is forbidden to non-residents of Harduf. The use of the playground is for children supervised by parents.”

The sign was new. It wasn’t there the last time we visited.

Still the new immigrant, I couldn’t pass by the sign without a thought, leaving the rule following to others.  I’m still very American, and I felt bad for a minute that we had unknowingly defied the sign.

But only for a minute.

Soon after, I was angry. Insulted.

Confused.

Harduf?

Telling non-residents to “Keep Out!”

How could this be?

I quickly snapped a photo of the sign and ushered my kids out.

I silently generated all sorts of indignant responses to this sign:

“Oh, they’re happy to have my business at the organic vegetable market or at the restaurant, but they aren’t willing to open their playground to me and my kids?”

“What if I was a tourist? Or a visitor to one of the families who lived here? How rude!”

“Would we ever put up a sign in Hannaton telling people who didn’t live there that our playground was off limits?”

I took the kids to the restaurant, which has a quaint little gift shop inside and we browsed for a bit.

Outside the Harduf organic vegetable market, Israel

Outside the Harduf organic vegetable market, Israel

As I approached the cash register to pay, I saw the owner of the restaurant and a long time Harduf resident, Jutka, there. I don’t know Jutka well: I’ve just had a few conversations with her a couple of times that I’ve been in the restaurant. (Jutka is also the author of this family-friendly vegetarian cookbook.)

I asked her in Hebrew about the sign at the playground, “Why is the playground off-limits to outsiders?”

She grumbled in response, “It’s for security reasons.”

She didn’t mean security in the traditional Israeli way, I quickly learned. The signs weren’t a warning to unfriendly neighbors, people who might want to hurt us. Those “security risks” don’t pay attention to signs.

What I understood from her was the signs were to protect Harduf from lawsuits. They were placed there to inform people of their personal liability.

She didn’t mention specifics, but I wondered if something had happened to spark this decision.

I told her I was disappointed and a little hurt to come upon the sign. I told her that I consider Harduf a paradise, and was taken aback to see such a harsh statement at the entrance to a park I love so much.

She sighed. I understood from this and her from eyes that she’s proud of the paradise she’s helped built, but she said,

“Even in this paradise, there are reasons to be concerned. Even in Gan Eden, there was the serpent,”

Jutka said this with a sly smile. (Jutka is someone I’d like to get to know better some day.)

I breathed in deeply and nodded, her words hitting me. Even in paradise there are problems to solve; hard decisions to be made. And Harduf is no exception.

Suddenly, I wasn’t angry anymore — it helped that Jutka invited us to be her guest at the playground, should anyone ask — but I was a bit disheartened:  Reality bursting my bubble once again.

I shook it off — and instead accessed the gratitude I had felt for the few hours on Harduf before I discovered the sign.

“You can sense the spirit here, can’t you?” Jutka asked.

I nodded again.

“Come back here whenever you want,” she told me.

And I agreed that I would.

A simple Earth Day in Israel

I remember my first Earth Day experience.

It was 10th grade and someone came up with the idea to boycott styrofoam.

The lunch room, of course, used styrofoam trays. And despite the efforts of a few forward thinking, future activists, the school administration refused to reconsider this earth-unfriendly decision.

So the students revolted. At a coordinated time in the afternoon, which happened to fall in the middle of Biology class, we watched the minute hand move slowly towards the 3. At 1:15 pm precisely, a handful of us stood up (after confirming with our eyes that we wouldn’t back out) and walked out of the classroom to the grassy field in front of the school.

We stayed there — despite warnings from the hall monitors and the lunch aides– shouting “No more styrofoam! Heal our Earth!” (or something powerfully catchy like that.) When the bell rang for the next period, I headed to Spanish class. And that concluded my career as a teenage environmental activist. This minor act was the only rebellious thing I did in my entire high school career. And I regret that. I should have staged more walk-outs or at least pierced more extremities.

Nothing changed in the lunchroom after the protest; not at least during my four years at Cherry Hill High School East.  The styrofoam trays hung around  — long after our protests. I bet they’re still hanging around… in a dump somewhere.

20 years later, I hope someone’s wised up and reinstated washable, reusable trays. Even wiser would be to bring your own lunch considering trans fatty french fries and carcinogenic hot dogs are still the stars of the lunchroom and that school lunches are linked with obesity. But I digress.

20 years later, I’m still the good girl I was in high school.

I can’t help myself.

The most rebellious act I’ll be pulling on this upcoming Earth Day, Monday, April 22 is blogging about other people’s trash.

Or picking some up.

Frankly, that’s better than doing nothing, which is what most people will opt to do on Monday.

Nothing.

Earth Day, for most, is just another piece of colored in line-art in a child’s backpack. It’s just another front page feature in Parade Magazine. It’s a photo op.

Surely, some will visit an eco-themed art exhibit or see an eco-film. Some might even take part in a small protest like I did once upon a time.

Not me.

I propose we all do something simple on Monday.

Pick up a piece of trash. Someone else’s trash.

Put it in the proper receptacle — paper with paper. Plastic with plastic. Food stuff in a compost pile.

This one simple act doesn’t require group think. Or a ticket stub.

Just you.

Pick up some trash.

If you want to take one extra step, consider not buying anything on Monday that’s meant to be thrown away.

And stop throwing stuff away. Keep it. Reuse it. Pass it on.

Teach your kids all of the above.

Make Earth Day simple this year.

Be a lone activist … and see how even a quiet, obedient good girl (or boy) can make a difference.

Organically-grown foodie

Okay, I’m a little sneak. I previously wrote and published this post on February 6 for my wellness-related blog, The Wellness Bitch. However, its connection to Israel is clear and relevant, and has much to do with my making Aliyah. I even added a special little something to this version.

Some people mistake my interest in food for an interest in food.

By that, I mean just because I am constantly thinking and writing about food, people who don’t know me well automatically assume that I like to cook, enjoy food preparation, and think it’s groovy to come up with surprising new ways to prepare root vegetables.

This is not true. In fact, until I was practically forced to cook for my family when I realized that most of Trader Joes’ frozen meals were cross-contaminated with peanuts (a food my son is severely allergic to), I preferred to reach into the freezer for dinner, not the vegetable crisper.

I am not a foodie.

I do not enjoy watching anything on The Food Network, save for Ace of Cakes (I’m amused by the ingenuity and wit of Duff’s crew) and the occasional Jamie Oliver (because he’s so darn cute and an activist, to boot.)

I arrange food on plates with as much creativity and intention as a lunch lady. And I really, really hate the aftermath of preparing lovely meals — dishpan hands.

However, I have to admit since I started buying organic produce from a local farm, and my husband is closely watching whether or not this budget line item is worth it, I’ve become a lot more playful in the kitchen.

The first week I received the basket I discovered the many uses of cabbage. Shredded cabbage salad. Sauteed cabbage with onions, tomato, and garlic. And this dish I used to love to get from my local Ethiopian restaurant in South Orange, NJ.  I suddenly transformed into a little Jewish Julia Child, which I guess would make me a mini Joan Nathan, since she is already the Jewish Julia Child.

This week, I’m exploring fennel and peppers for a very simple reason: I need to make room in my refrigerator. There are so many peppers and fennel bulbs that I can’t reach the hummus.

When I lived in New Jersey, very close to a Whole Foods Market, I bought plenty of organic fruits and vegetables. But, despite the advice and urging from many of my foodie friends, I stuck with the stuff I knew, loved, and could be sure my children would eat. In the vegetable category, this left me with broccoli, spinach, and kale.  None of which has made an appearance in my weekly organic delivery basket. Are my kids enjoying the cabbage and fennel, too?

No, they are not. And this is the very reason I didn’t join a co-op or CSA in the States. However, as my access to organic food here is significantly limited, and gas is extremely expensive, this is the most practical and affordable option for our family right now.  (To learn more about why I choose organic for my family, please read more of The Wellness Bitch, or talk to the folks here in Israel who work on non-organic farms to learn about the unfortunate incidence of cancer among their co-workers.)

I seek comfort, though, in the knowledge that my children eat Israeli salad for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and that I brought the Jessica Seinfeld cookbook with me instead of selling it at my yard sale.

If I am really lucky, perhaps she has a trick for hiding fennel.