Snap Pea Diplomacy: Volunteering in Galilee

Northern Israel

I sat in the garden laughing and conversing with someone I had seemingly nothing in common with. I realized that even if you go to the other side of the earth in search of differences, it’s so easy to see that in fact we humans are all the same.

I was volunteering on an olive farm in the north of Israel. It is owned and run by a couple, Amiram and Tilda Goldin. The farm is called Bustan Nof Meshutaf, which translates to “A Shared Landscape”. It is dedicated to the memory of the Goldin’s son who was killed in a suicide bombing during the Second Intifada.  Its mission is to encourage conversations and relationships between Jews and Muslims who live in Israel. They host a variety of activities, including school field trips.

The Goldins live in Mitzpe Aviv, which is a moshav, or neighborhood, in the Lower Galilee region.  On the next hill over is an Arab Village called Tamra. Mitzpe Aviv is inhabited by Jewish Israelis and Tamra by Muslims. During my stay I lived with the Goldins in the moshav, and could still hear the call to prayer ringing out from the Mosques in Tamra five times a day. I am neither Jewish nor Muslim, but I felt nothing but warm welcomes while visiting both places.

Village of Tamra

Village of Tamra

The Goldins also host “wwoofers” at the farm, hence my presence there.  They were good hosts who worked side by side with their volunteers. They gave us a variety of tasks to do each day so we wouldn’t get burned out. We usually tended the young olive trees, or worked in one of the small veggie patches, and sometimes we moved rocks around.  You know, farm stuff.  There is also a man named Ataf who came to help them out from time to time as a sort of gardener and handyman. He lives in Tamra with his wife and their large family.

On this day I was the only volunteer, and there was a group of about 60 high school students coming. When they filed off their bus the scene quickly became chaotic. I was secretly hoping that I would be able to avoid said chaos and there would be some urgent task for me that did not include chaperoning a bunch of potentially unruly youths. Amiram helpfully suggested that I work with Ataf that day, so I followed him down to the lower garden. Tilda was already there with a group of kids who were giggling and gossiping and taking selfies… and working. Oh to be young.

Ataf is bilingual. Like most Israeli Arabs he speaks Arabic as well as Hebrew.  I happen to speak neither of those languages.

Ataf and I exchanged glances and agreed there was another area of the farm that deserved our attention. On the way out of the lower garden Ataf stopped and plucked a few sugar snap peas and handed half of them to me.  We snapped open the green pods and ate the sweet little peas as we walked.  Ataf enthusiastically indicated that they were his favorite and I responded in kind. I remembered how my dad and I would sit in the garden and eat them fresh off the vines when I was little. There are few foods that are more fun to eat outside on a spring day.

Ataf and I walked slowly and he paused every once and a while, scanning the property as though struggling to think of something the two of us could do.  We ended up in one of the smaller veggie patches on the far, quiet side of the property.  Although it was well maintained, an organic garden could always use a bit of weeding.

We sat down at the edge of the garden and began plucking out weeds that were sprouting in between the herbs and vegetables.  Something about the soft ground and the warm sunlight filtering through the branches of the carob tree onto my face made me quickly forget about the weeds. I reclined back onto my elbows and closed my eyes. When I looked up I saw Ataf doing the same. We exchanged a look of understanding and then sat in comfortable silence.

Ataf is bilingual. Like most Israeli Arabs he speaks Arabic as well as Hebrew.  I happen to speak neither of those languages.

He reached out and plucked a young leaf of lettuce out of the garden he offered it to me and then took a leaf for himself.  He asked me if I liked it, and I responded that I did, very much. Then we taught each other the word “lettuce” in our own languages. We spent the rest of the morning sampling the garden, exchanging our opinions on each plant, and teaching each other their names.  He showed me that the hard seed pods the fell from the carob tree could be eaten just as they are. They taste remarkably like chocolate.

When you travel, especially when you’re alone, you will meet new people all the time. Some of them will have many obvious things in common with you and some of them will not. If you’re open to it, you can share a connection with someone regardless. And the connections that you wouldn’t expect are the most valuable.

Sunset from Mitzpe Aviv

Sunset from Mitzpe Aviv