Despite the security threats in Gaza border communities from rocket fire and potential terrorist infiltrations, volunteers from across the country traveled south to care for the poor cows left behind. These cows, which haven't been milked since the onset of the war, are suffering from udder congestion and severe pain.
Thanks to the bravery of Kibbutz Mefalsim’s alert squad, the dairy barn wasn't destroyed along with the rest of the kibbutz buildings. However, the members of the alert squad were not keen on being interviewed; the trauma and weight of the harrowing events they experienced are evident in their eyes.
To get to know the incredible volunteers, we set out early in the morning to the large dairy barn of Kibbutz Mefalsim to join in the milking. After a tumultuous drive through a war zone and numerous military checkpoints, we managed to reach the entrance gate of the kibbutz.
Adjacent to the well-maintained cowshed that survived the terrorist attack, a unit of soldiers in full combat mode moved on heavy machinery. The deafening noise frightens the cows and complicates the milking process.
Staff Sergeant Ariel Landau, looking proudly at the barn of the southern kibbutz that continues to operate during wartime, said, "It's heartening to see citizens coming to volunteer. These are truly the salt of the earth. This is what we're fighting for."
He added, "It feels good. We're here to protect Gaza border towns, whether it's the dairy barn, the orchards, and of course the fence and the kibbutz. By the way, there are perks; I drink fresh milk every day."
Inside the cowshed, Shmulik Navat, the tough dairy barn manager from Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael, who became the acting manager for Kibbutz Mefalsim's farm, directs the skittish cows and the brave volunteers.
"All in all, the situation is okay; all the cows are alive, the milking machine is working, the food center is operational and the cows are being fed," he said.
"The issue is security-related. We've moved to milking once a day and weaning the calves once a day. If the cows aren't milked, the residents of Kibbutz Mefalsim won't have a place to return to. Without milking, the cows' udders fill with milk, leading to painful swelling, especially since they are already suffering from the loud noises of the rocket explosions and bombings."
Itamar Buchelin, a volunteer from Kibbutz Paran in the Arava who came to help on the farm, also expressed significant concern for the health of the beloved livestock. "A cow that isn't milked will stop producing milk, and she might even die. The wonderful volunteers who came to help are essentially saving the farm and the livelihood of the members of Kibbutz Mefalsim."
Covered in mud and fresh cow dung, Yiftach Amir, a seasoned teacher and energetic grandfather from Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael, dashes around the dairy barn like a teenager, spreading smiles and casting a positive atmosphere over everyone present.
"I haven't milked or smelled a dairy barn for 25 years and never imagined I'd milk while armed—with a gun on my belt like in 1948, like in the Wild West. What scares me most is that there are people my age around me carrying weapons," Amir said.
Amir added, "Big Shmulik, the dairy barn head from Ma'agan Michael, was the first to come down here to rescue the farm and recruited me to help him. In principle, the situation here is good. You hear explosions All the time. Last night, it sounded very close.
My family is really worried about me. My daughter wrote me saying that if I were to die, I would have been the best grandfather. But I have no intention of dying; I don't have time for that right now. Everything will be okay. We just need to keep milking the cows, and we'll be alright. Those who milk, those who work, those who tend to the cows, and those who farm will surely prevail."