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Monday, November 21, 2011

Get Up and Walk the Land

Shortly before we left  Palo Alto to spend a year in Israel, I attended a discussion at the Oshmann Family JCC in Palo Alto with a leader of the Israeli environmentalist movement.  She was remarkably deferential to American environmentalists, seeing Israel as trailing in America's footsteps.

It is true, on a public policy level Israelis are far less green than Americans.  But on the level of local communities and personal practices, I'm not so sure.

Most of the Israelis I know line-dry their clothes.  Only in the dead of winter do they resort to clothes driers.   While in Israel, I did the same.  Sure, our clothes were a little more stiff and wrinkled, but everyone was doing it!   I had the best of intention of continuing with line-drying in Palo Alto, but it's harder than you think to purchase a reasonable drying rack in American hardware stores.  And our clothes drier here is a heck of a lot more powerful than the one we had in Jerusalem.  And, I confess, don't underestimate peer pressure.

Large cars are very uncommon in Israel.   Big families crowd into compacts -- baby in the front seat, four kids crammed into the back.  It may be a little more dangerous in the short run, but in the long run our children will all inherit a healthier planet as a result.  Admittedly, these choices may be driven by poverty rather than ideology, but does it ultimately matter?

Many years ago, I briefly dated an Orthodox man who, like me, had spent extended time in Israel.  He was surprised when I told him that one of my greatest pleasures in life is hiking in our (American) National Parks.  He said: "I only think of hiking as something to do in Israel, as in קום התהלך בארץ", get up and walk the land (Genesis 13:17) -- quoting God's words of assurance to Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land of Israel.  

Israelis are very connected to their land.  On a mythological level, God's promise has come true, though perhaps not in the ways our ancestors might have envisioned it: every place Abraham tread is now steeped in meaning for his descendants.  A day hike in Ein Gedi  would be incomplete without reading the stories of the future king David's escapes from King Saul; a day hike in the Gilboa requires a retelling of Saul and Jonathan's deaths on the mountain.

Israel is also a small country, where farms and nature preserves and cities are packed close together.  And the Zionist ideology ennobles the working of the land: החלוץ נאמן לעבודה, "the pioneer is loyal to his work."   For all these reasons, Israeli children all over the country do far more hiking, and have far more direct contact with commercial farms, than my own kids ever had in America.

Fifteen years ago, after a visit to the chicken coop of an Israeli friend's farm, I swore from then on to buy only free-range eggs.  Of course, we all know that farm chickens live their lives in boxes barely larger than their bodies.  But it's one thing to read about it, another thing to see it.  And how many American suburbanites actually get to visit a farm like that?

This past year, on a visit to our cousin's kibbutz, my daughter and I paid our regular visit to their dairy farm.  The kibbutz is one of the supplier's of Tenuva, a large-scale dairy company.  In the past, nothing about the dairy was particularly disturbing.  The cow's don't exactly live luxuriously, but they do not seem mistreated either.  This time, we happened to witness the final 20 minutes of a birthing.  That entire time, the mother's sides were heaving with exertion but not a sound uttered for her lips.  Her silence was almost frightening, and my daughter and I were both swept up in empathy with this laboring mother.  Finally, with a tremendous push from the mother, out came the calf,  collapsed in a heap in the dirt.  The calf seemed blue and lifeless, but soon life's colors came into her face and we saw she was fine.  Eventually, the supervisor on duty came into the pen to see how the birth was progressing. He was pleased to see a healthy calf, and then -- he gave the mother a solid kick in her side with his heavy farm boot.  The mother shuddered.
"Why did you do that?"  I almost cried.
"She needs to start licking the calf," he said.  He gave the mother another hard kick, and then left the pen.  Five minutes later, in her own good time, the mother turned around and started licking her calf.  Ten minutes after that, the supervisor returned with a cage on wheels, hauled off the calf, and mother and baby never saw each other again.

Nowadays, I only buy free range eggs and I don't eat beef.  I've also mostly switched from dairy milk to soy.

And if one of these days you start noticing my clothes have become more wrinkled, you'll know why.


  1. I just have to step in here and mention that not all raftanim act like that. It's true that the calves are not raised by their mothers, (they're bottle fed a mix of the colostrum from all the new mothers, to try and increase the variety of antibodies and health benefits that they'll receive) but I've witnessed many many gentle and friendly raftanim. I think that the calves usually spend at least a few hours with their mom. I'm sorry that you had a bad experience! We used to love to go watch mama cows give birth, back on our Yavne days - it was our regular Shabat walk :)

  2. Ilana,

    Glaum farm is an excellent source of free range eggs sold at either the farmers market on california ave, or at whole foods in mountain view. We have come to only eat 'pastured' chicken and beef (Joel Saladin's comment: a great life and 1 minute of regret :-)) There are two sources of pastured kosher beef and chicken, http://www.growandbehold.com and http://www.kolfoods.com we order regularly from both. They have occasional deliveries to the bay area. Both of these organizations are committed to animals living a healthy life and true sustainable farming. I know the two people who run Grow and Behold and they are THE BEST! Naftali Hanau is the Shocket who I help slaughter free range chickens in half moon bay, and his wife and partner Anna works for HAZON (http://www.hazon.org). Check them out. Ask me if you have any questions!


  3. Also milk, butter and yogurt (and ice cream!) from Straus in Petaluma, in returnable glass bottles. At Mollie Stone's, Whole Foods and Country Sun. strausfamilycreamery.com

    Don't know how long the calves stay with their moms but maybe we can find out.

    - Lisa

  4. Bill wrote to Naf Hanau of Grow and Behold, who answered:

    Dairy calves are treated generally treated quite terribly, but our beef cattle are not. I can't speak for other in the meat industry however. Our calves stay with their moms until 6-9 months of age, at least!

  5. Lisa and Bill,

    Thank you so much for the practical advice on how to go free-range.
    Back in California, we buy 80% of our eggs at the farmer's market, and an added bonus is that we can refill our egg cartons rather than sending them to recycling or landfill. In Jerusalem, we bought Tenuva's free-range eggs at the local makolet (privately owned little grocery.) I don't know how "free-range" the eggs really were -- despite the label -- but at least the owner of the makolet was very happy to reuse our egg cartons.

  6. Ilana, Just getting back to reading your blog. Like you, when we spent a sabbatical year in Israel, I became used to no dryer. Now back in Jerusalem, I use the drying rack even in the winter--most days there's at least a couple hours of sunshine and when there's not we move the clothes inside.