Shavuot is almost here. I don’t need a calendar to tell me this; I know by the wheat combine driving up and down the fields. I admit I’m a sucker for the sight of shimmering expanses of wheat and agricultural machinery, sunflowers just starting to open and rows of sprinklers spraying jets of water into the sunset. (OK, I know the last is not exactly ecologically correct, but it invariably lifts my spirits.) In another month, the kibbutz wheat fields will be planted with the next crop, and the sunflower fields will start turning from vibrant yellow and green landscapes alive with the hum of bees to ghost fields of eerie dried-up flower heads on shriveled stalks waiting to be picked.
In other words, now’s the perfect time to celebrate the spring harvest. More than any other holiday, Shavuot is a festival of agriculture and, traditionally, it is celebrated to its fullest on kibbutz. It’s a fact: Anyone who’s got friends or relatives on a kibbutz goes to visit them during the holiday.
In the old days, when kibbutz members mostly worked in agriculture, we went all out for Shavuot. The children dressed in white and paraded with flowers taped to paper crowns on their heads and fruit arranged in little home-made baskets. A new calf was brought down to the party in a wagon and the new crop of babies born during the year was carried up to the stage by their parents for a round of applause. As we watched the members of the kibbutz work branches come up one by one to present their “bikurim” – harvest offerings – to the farm manager, we could almost believe in the wealth of our lands, the riches produced by the sweat of our brows, and the harmony of our little community.
I’m especially nostalgic for the annual the tractor dance – a choreographed, dosey-doe-style routine performed by the agricultural team on tractors. The whole kibbutz always turned out to watch the huge treaded Caterpillar, the little gardening lawnmower, and four or six other pieces of farm equipment approach each other, back away, and drive in circles in time to music.
By now, of course, most of the tractors are long gone, and the field crops are grown by another kibbutz on our land. More of the children attending our children’s houses belong to families that rent houses on the kibbutz than to kibbutz members. Our Shavuot celebrations have shrunk accordingly.
Still – ours or not, the combines are out picking, and the wheat has, once again, grown, ripened and dried to a perfect shade of light gold. Driving through the fields up our rural road, I can still smile and temporarily lull myself into believing that the seasons are immutable, we’ll always have a harvest to celebrate, and our ties to this little piece of earth will continue to sustain us for ages to come.