On Kibbutz Shavuot Means First Fruits - Even When They're Made of Plastic

A blue tractor made its way accross a golden field, and dark cypresses moved in the wind. Children of Kibbutz Ein Shemer who had just taken part in the Shavuot bikkurim spring harvest ceremony were driving around the fields. The noise of the old tractors was deafening, but these representatives of the fourth generation of the kibbutz were dutifully capturing the scene on their third generation mobile phones."It's like the Teletubbies' hills," one girl told another. An enormous cellular antenna by the roadside pierced the clear blue sky.

A short while earlier, members dressed in white gathered in the old yard, the one-acre space that was the original residential area of the kibbutz. Chickens ran free, and a day-old calf was resting on the ground. While mothers dragged their children in small buggies, the number of golf carts at the adjacent parking lot - belonging to the oldest kibbutz members - kept growing.

The ceremony opened with a parade of plows and tractors from decades past. Once they were cutting edge; today, kibbutz member Ran Hedvati, 72, is directing their restoration. After the machines completed their round of the lawn, members brought forward the first fruits of the harvest.

"Look at those bikkurim," Hedvati said, pointing proudly to the nine babies next to their parents in the middle of the lawn. "There are the first fruit of the year. We also had a granddaughter born." Hedvati stood there, grinning, scorched and tanned by the sun, his hands roughened by long years in the fields. Only the Crocs on his feet betray that things have chaged.

"It's not like it used to be," Hedvati said. "If once we had 25 people working in the field, today we have three."

Once the kibbutz supported itself on agriculture alone. Today 80 percent of its income comes from manufacturing. The contents of the wicker baskets offered as the bikkurim reflect this: Alongside the avocados and bananas are rubber and plastic products made in the kibbutz factory. There is even a roll of blueprints tied with a scarlet ribbon - the first products created by a woman architect from the kibbutz.

"We now have only 25 or 30 members working in agriculture," Hedvati explained. "The rest are in industry." The kibbutz has about 320 members and a total of about 500 residents. Despite the decline in agriculture, however, Hedvati insists that "what will keep the kibbutz together is the land. As long as we plow it, the kibbutz remains."

When he was a boy, he says, his mother used to organize the Shavuot celebrations under the banner of "the treasures in our fields."

"We dig out the treasure each time we plow a new furrow," Hedvati says. "Even today, when I start working on a social problem, I know it's just another row to be hoed - the ground is hard, but in the end it's plowed and everything works out."

"It's true that fewer people come to the [communal] dining hall these days," he said. "But we are still a kibbutz. What keeps us alive is the mutual appreciation, the sharing, the solidarity, the culture."

"As long as the entire kibbutz gathers to celebrate Shavuot like this, I'm happy."