“Are you sure we’re picking today?” Daniella asked as soon as she looked outside. I knew why she was asking since the sky was unusually grey and heavy as if rain were lurking behind.
“Yeah, I actually went onto Leket’s website to confirm. We’re on!” Despite the wishy-woshy weather, we smothered on sunscreen, took hats and filled up water bottles, the pre-reqs for any tiyul in this country.
We weren’t going on a walk or doing anything strenuous. We weren’t even going far. Last Friday, the girls and I drove about seven minutes from home to a field in the middle of the city to help pick food for Leket, Israel’s largest food bank, with at least 100 other people. The goal of the gleaning program is to help farmers who don’t have enough workers to harvest their own crops.
When the volunteer coordinator had circulated an email announcing World Food Day and a country-wide family gathering event, I responded yes, sent an email invite to my family and put it on our calendars. On previous picking trips, we’ve driven an hour south to a field outside of Rehovot, crouched low and plucked onions from the earth. The girls have been to other fields as well to pick beets and turnips with school trips.
WAZE led us down a small side street, which funneled into a dirt parking lot, where a Leket volunteer directed us to park. We were in a part of Raanana I never knew existed: rural-esque and row after row of citrus trees—lemons, oranges, grapefruits, perfect examples of what Israel does best. More volunteers greeted us, checked our names off the list, asked if we knew what the organization did and pointed us toward red crates and trees to pick lemons, as yellow as we could find.
As soon as we stepped into the orchard, the smell of citrus overpowered us. It was mouth-watering, fresh, fruity, calming. A little like walking into the house with a lemon pound cake baking in the oven.
Families with children of all ages speaking Hebrew, English, French and school kids with teachers spread out among the field. We lugged two crates between us and went in search of ripe enough, pick-able lemons.
At first, I was frustrated that most of the fruit had been picked or was unreachable. Until I found the girls, who discovered the benefit of teamwork: Daniella climbed up the tree to either shake it or pick and pass the fruit to Simone, who tossed them into the crate. Less than an hour later, with our crates semi-filled, the skies opened and rain fell hard enough to make us run.
“To the car!” the girls screamed. “I’m not picking in the rain.” We weren’t exactly prepared for it and standing in a wet field isn’t so fun.
We dumped our lemons, abandoned our crates and exited the field only to find everybody else taking cover under the nearby trees and bushes. We joined them and waited until the sun poked through about 10 minutes later.
“OK, can we try again?” I asked. They nodded their heads yes.
One of the organizers approached us to let us know the orange grove was open if we wanted to switch citruses. Since there weren’t so many lemons left we trudged toward an area of untouched trees. Even though I despise orange juice, I love eating oranges and delighted in the scent that surrounded me. When the girls weren’t looking, lest I embarrass them more than usual, I closed my mouth just to breathe in audibly through the nose.
At one point while Daniella and Simone were up a tree, I helped an older man, possibly the owner of the orchard, who was picking every orange off of a huge fallen limb. They didn’t meet the picking criteria of bigger than a fist or some sign of orange color, but it was better to pick them than to leave them to die, he explained.
An hour and a half later we dumped our produce into the big bins and left the field to drive home.
I couldn’t answer her with specifics but am certain we will do it again. Whether in Raanana or in Rehovot, citrus or onions, it doesn’t matter. We’ve each done it enough times to say that every picking is fulfilling and different; there’s no need to compare lemons to oranges.