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1000 Apples a Day

Apples ready for the pickers Photo: Jonathan Zur
Apples ready for the pickers Photo: Jonathan Zur
 
 

The new pioneers?

For six weeks every year, hundreds of well-paid urban professionals fight to live in cramped shared rooms in near isolation from the outside world. The Real World: Israel? Not exactly…

Tzachi Cohen
Published: 09.27.07, 09:31 / Israel Culture

August brings with it six weeks of apple picking season, farmers must rush to collect the produce before autumn rains destroy it. But despite the frenzied pace of the exhausting work that barely pays minimum wage, young Israelis are fighting for the chance to work as pickers throughout the country's kibbutzim.

 

Orchard managers process hundreds of applications yearly and in the end a fairly homogenous group is selected – largely composed of middle-class, ambitious army veterans. Largely thought to be the type of work shunned by Israelis, most field agricultural work is now done by foreign and Palestinian laborers.

 

Sometimes a picker will not even earn minimum wage for a day of work, pay depends on more than the quantity of produce picked, it must also be of high quality. Every apple container is examined at least once by testers who randomly take out apples and place them in a bucket for half an hour. After that time any flaws will have become noticeable.

 

"Most of the year I'm stuck in an office, I came to work as a picker to work outdoors for a while," says Itamar Regev, a 31-year-old professional who works for a credit card company in Tel Aviv and spent the season picking apples in Kibbutz Bar Am.

 

"There's a huge difference between office work and this, in the orchard we wake up very early every day and remain active most of the time. Of course it could have been easier for me to stay in the city and make my supplemental income there but this is something that I do for my soul – it makes you feel alive.

 

"Working in agriculture is just one of those things that makes you feel like a good Israeli. My friends in Tel Aviv think it's weird, they don't get what it's about. Most people go abroad for their holiday, I go to the kibbutz. Here it's an active holiday," he explains.

 

Kibbutzim, which have long suffered from a dwindling of their younger generations, are revitalized by the sudden surge of urban youths. Most pickers are drawn to the romanticized concept of life on a kibbutz.

 

Since their day begins early, it also ends early, leaving plenty of time for swimming, hiking or socializing in one of the neighboring pubs.

 

Living as a group in such comparatively isolated conditions leads to quick social bonding. In Bar Am pickers said they felt as though they were living in a reality show – "we're just missing the cameras."

 

"Three to four people sleep in the same room, it's not for everyone," says 25-year-old Omer Sagi.

 

"Quarters are cramped and it's like a commune, there's a lot of mess and noise in the evenings. If you come back tired from work and want to go to your own space – there isn't one. You have to be aware that you won't have any privacy for a month and a half."

 

Mor Burnstein, 22, studies animation at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem. "I prefer manual labor to a desk job." she says. She came because she "heard that the atmosphere here is really
great."

 

Mor says she enjoys the group dynamics, once a staple of Israeli kibbutz life: "After work we sit around, play basketball and go to the pool or just hang out together, drinking coffee and telling stories."

 

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