On October 29, President Reuven Rivlin and First Lady, Nechama, participated in the beginning of the olive harvest season by picking olives from the trees at the President’s residence in Jerusalem. Religious, secular, Jewish and Christian olive growers from across Israel came with the next generation, their children and grandchildren.
The group, as is traditional at the end of October, collected olives from some of the President’s 60 olive trees which will then be sent to a press where the oil is bottled and given to the President’s guests, including “presidents, prime ministers, the Pope, guests from Israel and abroad,” said a representative of the President’s residence.
“Each year, young people have less and less of a desire to work in agriculture and it’s difficult to keep olive growing traditions in the family,” the spokesperson commented. “This event is important to the senior olive growers who want their children and grandchildren to be inspired to stay in the business, grow olives and make olive oil.”
Olive trees are a strong image in Israeli culture, representing health, peace, hope and the diversity of the Israeli population. They represent both the unity of the Israeli people as well as conflict over the land between Jews and Arabs. On Israel’s national symbol, the menorah (seven-branched candelabra) is flanked on either side by olive branches.
At the olive-picking event, President Rivlin told the olive growers, “This is the land of all of us and the olive trees are a symbol of the citizens of Israel.” As such, he said, it is important to take care of the trees and the land through agriculture.
According to Ayala Noy Meir, manager of the Rish L’Kish olive grove in the northern Israeli village of Tzipori, close to Nazareth, olive oil is important as a practical means of income and it connects her family with the land of Israel as well as with each other.
Noy Meir’s father started the grove 20 years ago, farming vegetables, flowers, medical plants and olive trees with his wife and six kids as a family project with the goal of connection to the land. To this day, Noy Meir’s tri-generational family works the land, a grove of 90 varieties of 6,000 olive trees, some of which are a several hundreds of years old.
“The trees have been here for thousands of years, with the most ancient olive oil in the world (dated to 8,000 years old) found near our village within ancient pots from the Neolithic period.”
She continued, “Here it all started and we are trying to bring back the traditions that we lost as a Jewish people exiled from the land for thousands of years.”
In addition, she maintained, the olive growing tradition holds deep connections to the Jerusalem Temples of the past and the Third Temple to come.
Breaking Israel News previously reported on this very connection between Israeli olive growers and their hopes for the Third Temple. “We are doing the work that our ancestors did in the time of the Temple, of course with the expectation that the day will come when we will take our olive oil to Jerusalem for use in the Third Temple,” said Meshek Achiya Farm Manager Itamar Weis. “This is holy work that we are doing.”
The Hebrew word Mashiach (Messiah) literally means “the anointed one,” referring to the ancient practice of Kings being anointed with olive oil. In addition, it is said that the Mashiach will arrive from the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
“In Biblical days, olive oil was – and continues to be – a symbol of health and richness,” Noy Meir told Breaking Israel News. “Jews had great knowledge of the quality of olive oil in Temple times,” she said.
“For ceremonial oil used in the beit hamikdash, called ‘Alfa Oil,’ only olives picked by hand were allowed because using instruments harms the fruit and can start the fermentation process prematurely. Temple olives are picked only from a specific village in the north of Israel and the pressing process cannot use any heat.”
It is within this Jewish tradition that Noy Meir heads an Israeli panel that judges the taste of quality olive oil from around the country, with her grove harvesting and producing internationally acclaimed and award-winning organic olive oil – together with Arabs and Muslims.
Lorian and Ibrahem Jubran, Christian-Arab farmers from the northern (Galilean) city of Jish, also participated in the ceremonial olive picking event that brought together Jews, Christians and Muslims. According to Jubran, olive oil is also mentioned in the Christian Bible as sacred and used as anointing oil in baptisms.
Jubran, who heads the Israel olive oil council, told Breaking Israel News, “The olive tree is a symbol of unity and peace. Through the olives, we understand that we need to find a way to work together.”