Israel to deliver drip irrigation systems to Paraguayan small farmers


Israel is set to deliver this week thirteen drip irrigation systems to Paraguayan small farmers.

The handover is the result of a technical collaboration process between the Jewish state and Paraguay’s local Federation of Production Cooperatives.

Agricultural producers of the Friesland and Volendam colonies, both located in the San Pedro province, will be the targeted beneficiaries. The delivery ceremony is scheduled for June 29, reported La Nacion newspaper.

“Through this project, small farmers in San Pedro have access for the first time to drip irrigation systems. Producers will use it for growing vegetables such as tomatoes, sweet peppers and carrots, and will be assisted by the federation,” reported the Israeli embassy in Asuncion.

The technology provided by Israeli company Netafim makes the most of every drop of water, achieving greater crop yield using half the water. The application of drip irrigation technology is suitable for all types of soil, and is very compatible with the agricultural practices of Paraguayan producers.

The technical cooperation between both nations was made possible within the framework of the “Family Drip System” plan led by Paraguayan agronomist Edgar Figueredo, a graduate of Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, or Mashav.

Both installation and maintenance will be deployed by local representative Agroganadera Pirapey. The beneficiary farmers are expected to disseminate the newly acquired knowledge, according to Israeli Ambassador Peleg Lewi.

In March, Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes was awarded the Shalom Prize by the World Jewish Congress for “contributions to building coexistence.” In January, Israel donated food and assistance kits to help Paraguayans displaced by massive flooding in the region, the worst in half a century.

The Israeli embassy in Asuncion was reopened last year after the closure in 2002 along with 15 other diplomatic missions around the world due to budgetary constraints. Paraguay is home to some 1,000 Jews in a population of nearly 6.7 million.

Understanding Shmita, Israel’s agricultural Shabbat


When Rosh Hashanah comes later this month, Israel’s Jewish farmers won’t just be celebrating the start of a new year. They’ll be marking a year in which they are prohibited from doing their jobs.

Called Shmita, the Torah-mandated, yearlong farming hiatus is felt across Israel, affecting its fields, supermarkets and, of course, its politics.

The genesis of Shmita is Exodus, which commands the Israelites, “Plant your land and gather its produce for six years. But on the seventh let it lie fallow and it will rest …” Other biblical mandates prohibit planting, trimming or harvesting crops during Shmita, amounting to a total prohibition on farming.

In advance of Shmita, which takes place every seventh year, here are seven things you should know about Israel’s sabbatical year.

What is Shmita?

According to the Torah mandates, the Shmita year is something like an agricultural Shabbat. Just like everyone is commanded to rest for a day at the end of every week, Shmita is a chance to let the land rest for a year after six years of work.

It’s easy to calculate when Shmita comes around: Start from year zero in the Jewish calendar — that would be 5,775 years ago — and count off every seven years; this is Israel’s 466th Shmita.

The concept of the sabbatical year has spread to academics and clergy, many of whom receive sabbaticals to travel and study. And the root of the word “shmita” has found contemporary usage in Hebrew. Israelis use the word “mishtamet” to refer to someone who dodged mandatory military conscription.

How was Shmita observed in the past?

Because the commandment applies only in the biblical land of Israel, it became largely theoretical once the Jews were exiled by the Roman Empire after the Bar Kochba revolt in 136 C.E. Generations of Jewish farmers in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere had no religious imperative to let the land rest.

But once Jews started returning to Palestine in the 1880s and founding kibbutzim, Shmita again became relevant — and problematic. At a time when Jewish farmers were struggling just to keep their farms viable, a year of no production would have been a deathblow.

To skirt that problem, rabbis in Israel created something called the “heter mechirah,” or sale permit — similar to the sale of leavened food before Passover. The permit allowed Jewish farmers to “sell” their land to local non-Jews for a token amount, then hire non-Jews to do the forbidden labor. That way, because it wasn’t “their” land, Jews could keep their farms going without sin.

How is Shmita observed in contemporary Israel?

As Israel’s population and agricultural sector expanded, so too has the hand-wringing over Shmita. Here are some of the Jewish legal acrobatics they use to get around it.

The sale permit: Israel’s Chief Rabbinate allows every farm to register for a sale permit like those allowed in the 1880s, and the Rabbinate “sells” all the land to a non-Jew for about $5,000 total, according to Rabbi Haggai Bar Giora, who oversaw Shmita for Israel’s Chief Rabbinate seven years ago. At the end of the year, the Rabbinate buys back the land on the farmers’ behalf for a similar amount. Bar Giora chose a non-Jewish buyer who observes the seven Noahide laws — the Torah’s commandments for non-Jews.

Greenhouses: Shmita only applies if the crops are grown in the land itself. Therefore, growing vegetables on tables disconnected from the land steers clear of violating the commandment.

Religious courts: Farmers aren’t allowed to sell their crops, but if crops began growing before Shmita started, people are allowed to take them for free. So through another legal mechanism, a Jewish religious court will hire farmers to harvest the produce and the religious court will sell it. But you won’t be paying for the produce itself; you’re only paying for the farmer’s labor. You get the produce for “free.” Wink. Nudge.

Not observing Shmita: Most large-scale Israeli farmers use a sale permit in order to obtain rabbinic certification for their crops, Bar Giora says. But some small, nonreligious farmers who sell their produce independently ignore the sabbatical year completely and do not receive kosher certification.

What happens to fruits, vegetables and other plants that grow on their own during Shmita?

Just like Jewish environmentalists can connect to the idea of letting the land rest, social justice-minded Jews can appreciate that whatever grows on the land during Shmita is, in theory, supposed to be free for anyone, especially the poor.

When Shmita is first mentioned in Exodus, the Torah says the crops should be for “the poor of your nation, and the rest for wild animals.” But given that almost all farmers in Israel get around Shmita in one way or another, walking onto a farm looking for a free lunch is ill advised.

How does Shmita affect you if you’re not a farmer?

Because all kosher-certified produce cannot violate Shmita, Israelis shopping in major grocery stores and outdoor markets don’t have to worry about Shmita.

But religious Jews — and businesses — that don’t trust the legal loopholes just buy their produce from non-Jewish farmers in Israel. An organization called Otzar Haaretz, or Fruit of the Land, seeks to support Jewish farmers specifically and is organizing farmers who use religious courts and the greenhouse method to sell to supermarkets in Israel. Customers who wish to buy from Otzar Haaretz can pay a monthly fee to get a discount on its produce.

Shmita has an impact beyond the produce stands, too. Mickey Gitzin, founder of the religious pluralism organization Be Free Israel, says that while the “the idea that the land should rest” is a positive one, Shmita can have a negative effect on public parks. As public property, the parks cannot be sold to a non-Jew. And because they remain under Jewish ownership, some public community gardens don’t receive care during Shmita.

What does this mean for Jews outside of Israel?

Although they’re not obligated to observe Shmita, Jews outside of Israel have found ways of commemorating the year. At Hazon, a Jewish sustainability organization, the Shmita Project aims to engage in a study of the textual sources of Shmita and develop programs to mark the year without letting the land lie completely fallow.

Another group, the Shmitta Association, has purchased a grid of 4-square-foot plots of land in Israel that Jews abroad can purchase for $180 and then let lie idle, enabling them to observe Shmita without being an Israeli or a farmer.

What does this have to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Because they don’t want to buy from Jewish farmers during Shmita, some haredi Orthodox Jews buy from Palestinian West Bank farms. But during the past couple of Shmita cycles, there has been backlash against buying Palestinian-grown produce.

Jerusalem Post columnist David Weinberg urged Israelis last week to avoid supporting Palestinian farms.

“Primary reliance on Arab produce is neither realistic nor acceptable for health, nationalistic and religious reasons,” he wrote.

During the Shmita year that began in 2007, Israel’s health and agriculture ministries said there was no elevated risk to eating produce grown in the West Bank.

 

Coffee Co-op Brews Mugs of Peace


In his three decades at the helm of the Thanksgiving Coffee Co. in Fort Bragg, California, Paul Katzeff has pioneered the process of buying coffee beans directly from Third World growers and funneling money back to them after sales to promote economic self-sufficiency and social justice.

But Katzeff had never helped Jewish coffee farmers, who don’t usually figure in the ranks of those growers.

That changed with the recent release of Mirembe Kawomera, or “Delicious Peace,” a Fair Trade — and kosher — coffee produced by a new cooperative of Jewish, Muslim and Christian coffee farmers from the Mbale region of Uganda.

“We think this coalition is unique in all of Africa,” said coffee farmer J. J. Keki, leader of the 700-member Abayudaya Ugandan Jewish community that is at the core of the project.

It started 18 months ago when Katzeff got a phone call from Laura Wetzler, the Uganda coordinator for Kulanu, a Washington-based Jewish charity that promotes community-empowerment projects around the world. Wetzler travels to Uganda every January to help the community maintain its projects.

She asked Katzeff if he would be interested in buying five sacks of coffee from a group of local growers that she was trying to help.

“I rolled my eyes and said to myself, ‘Oh, here’s another young person touched by the poverty,'” said Katzeff, a Bronx native who cut his organizing teeth in the 1960s working with the East Harlem Tenants Council and organizing black workers in Mississippi.

“Then she said, ‘I’m from Kulanu, and I’m working with a group of Jewish coffee farmers here,'” Katzeff continued. “I said, ‘Come on, you’re kidding,’ and she said, ‘No.'”

Katzeff thought Wetzler must have called him because he, too, is Jewish, but she said she was just working her way through coffee companies and his was 41st on the list.

Then she told him she represented a cooperative of 400 coffee farmers organized by Keki, who was going door-to-door asking his Muslim and Christian neighbors to join the Abayudaya Jews to improve their general lot. The co-op was trying to circumvent price gouging by local middlemen and was looking for a foreign market.

Wetzler told Katzeff about the Abayudaya, descendants of a Ugandan general who adopted Judaism in the early 20th century. Today the Abayudaya are helped by various foreign Jewish organizations; they have a school, a synagogue and several small-scale economic projects and the community raises money through Jewish tourism and selling crafts and CDs of its music.

Katzeff was intrigued.

“I said, ‘OK, I’ll buy all you’ve got, every single bit,'” said Katzeff, who had changed his own business practices following a 1985 trip to Nicaragua, when he realized “that the coffee industry was living off the sweat and blood of the coffee farmers.”

He began guaranteeing what has become known as a “Fair Trade price,” which he said is “20 to 40 cents a pound higher” than the usual price coffee farmers receive from the major companies and which doesn’t change with market fluctuations.

The idea that he could use his company to help Jews in Africa — Jews who had joined forces with Muslims and Christians — impressed Katzeff.

“They made a conscious decision to increase the size of their pie and share it for a better life, as opposed to what governments all over the world want them to do,” he said.

Coffee growing is the main income-producing crop of the Abayudaya and their neighbors, Keki noted. But coffee prices had dropped, and the farmers were discouraged.

“I thought, ‘We all do agricultural work, so let’s form a cooperative and sell our coffee together,'” Keki said.

After Keki formed the co-op, Wetzler made the connection with Katzeff and located a nearby cooperative that already had Fair Trade certification. Keki’s group buys from the local farmers and funnels the coffee through that Fair Trade co-op, which processes it and sends it to California.

Katzeff visited Uganda to sign the contract, spending Shabbat with the Abayudaya Jews. He said he was astounded by the primitive equipment the locals worked with. It takes 100 tons of “cherries,” or raw coffee fruit, to yield 37,500 pounds of green beans, the amount the co-op managed to produce this past year.

Keki and Katzeff signed a three-year agreement guaranteeing Fair Trade prices for all the coffee the cooperative can produce. Eighty percent of the money is put in an escrow account to be plowed back into developing the co-op’s infrastructure, with the goal of doubling output by next year. A dollar surcharge on each pound sold will be sent directly to the cooperative — hopefully yielding a further $30,000 this first season.

“I hope it will help us buy food and clothes and send our children to school,” said Keki, who has spoken widely in the United States, and is aware of the significance of his interfaith effort.

“Here we are using religion in the name of peace,” he said. “We hope that wherever our coffee goes in the world, it will promote peace.”

Noting that the cooperative has a Jewish president, a Christian vice president and a Muslim executive secretary — and that one-third of its board is made up of women — Katzeff describes the venture as “a shining light for peace” in the region.

Delicious Peace coffee is available at www.thanksgivingcoffee.com.

 

The Nation and The World


 

New Anti-Semitism Report

The U.S. State Department praised the work of European governments against anti-Semitism, but said law enforcement must do more to respond to anti-Semitic crimes. The State Department�(tm)s report addressing anti-Semitic incidents around the world – slated for release Wednesday and obtained in advance by JTA – comes after Congress passed a law last year mandating increased monitoring of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere. The report says recent anti-Semitism has come from traditional anti-Jewish prejudice in Europe, along with anti-Israel sentiment “that crosses the line between objective criticism of Israeli policies and anti-Semitism.” It also cites anti-Jewish sentiment among Muslims in Europe, and spillover criticism of the United States and globalization.

Holocaust Lawyer Charged

A lawyer involved in the lawsuit against Swiss banks for Holocaust-era accounts was charged with misappropriating funds from two survivors. The Office of Attorney Ethics in New Jersey, the investigative arm of the New Jersey Supreme Court, charged last month that Ed Fagan, one of the lead attorneys in the case that resulted in a $1.25 billion settlement, transferred funds from the survivors�(tm) accounts to pay off debts. Fagan has yet to respond to the charges, which were first reported by the Black Star News.

Peruvian Community Gets Rabbi

An “emerging Jewish” community in Peru now has a rabbi and Jewish educator. The Jewish professionals serving the community in Trujillo are courtesy of the Israel-based Shavei Israel group. The community dates back to the mid-1960s, when several hundred Peruvian Catholics decided to live as Jews. Some 300 members of the community have already moved to Israel.

WJC Faces Informal Probe

New York�(tm)s attorney general has launched a preliminary inquiry into allegations that the World Jewish Congress (WJC) mishandled its finances. In a statement, the group said it promised to cooperate with the informal probe launched recently by Eliot Spitzer. Officials with the group have said issues of financial transparency, which have roiled the organization in recent months, will be laid to rest at a meeting next week in Brussels. At the meeting, Stephen Herbits is expected to be nominated to the post of secretary-general, and the organization�(tm)s president, Edgar Bronfman, is expected to be re-elected.

Abuse in Ethiopia?

A North American Jewish group was accused of abusing Ethiopian Jews waiting to immigrate to Israel. According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, some people living and working in Ethiopia accused the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ) of refusing to distribute food to the Falash Mura at the group�(tm)s Addis Ababa compound; of treating Ethiopians employed in a sewing facility like slave laborers; of threatening those who cry foul at their treatment; and of dispatching a thug to rough people up. NACOEJ denied the accusations, insisting the claims were born of a labor dispute between the organization and some school teachers that NACOEJ fired and who were refused permission to immigrate by Israel. NACOEJ�(tm)s executive director, Barbara Ribakove Gordon, told the Post that, as a result of some Ethiopian trouble-makers, the group had to shut down its school in Addis Ababa, which also served as its food-distribution hub, for three weeks, and that the group was unable to operate the program during that time. Some 300 Falash Mura Ethiopians whose Jewish ancestors converted to Christianity but who now have returned to Jewish practice immigrate to Israel each month, and thousands more are waiting.

Vatican: Don�(tm)t Return Survivor Kids

The Vatican instructed French churches that protected Jewish children during the Holocaust not to return the young Jews to their families at war�(tm)s end. According to a letter from Nov. 20, 1946, published this week in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the wartime pope, Pius XII, said that children who had been baptized while in the church�(tm)s guardianship should not be reunited with surviving members of their families, Ha�(tm)aretz reported. “The documents indicate that the Vatican completely ignored the Holocaust and murder of Jews,” Amos Luzzatto, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, was quoted as saying in Ha�(tm)aretz. “There is a sticking to theological arguments as though this were an ordinary situation, when in practice these children were not entrusted to churches to convert to Christianity but to save them from murder.” The pope�(tm)s letter was sent to Angelo Roncalli the Vatican representative in Paris who later became Pope John XXIII who shortly thereafter told Israel�(tm)s then-chief rabbi that Roncalli�(tm)s authority could be used to return such children to their families.

Clerics Talk Reconciliation

Rabbis and imams opened a three-day peace conference in Brussels. Around 100 clerics attended the symposium, which began Monday under the auspices of Belgium�(tm)s King Albert II and the Hommes de Parole Foundation.

“For the first time, two religions that have been too often used as a pretext for war will be used to achieve peace,” the event�(tm)s Web site said. Rabbi Michael Melchior, a left-wing Israeli politician and Norway�(tm)s chief rabbi, said Jews had as much to learn from the conference as Muslims.

“There are religious leaders on both sides who incite to violence in the name of religion,” he told the Jerusalem Post. “And that must be stopped.” The attending imams came from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Sao Paulo Jews Face Missionaries

Brazil�(tm)s largest Jewish community published a guide to combat missionary activities. Supported by the U.S.-based organization Jews for Judaism, the Sao Paulo State Jewish Federation published an online guide on its Portuguese language Web site, www.fisesp.org.br, to teach Jews how to resist Jews for Jesus and other Christian missionaries. Some 60,000 Jews, one-half of Brazilian Jewry, live in Sao Paulo.

Farewell, Foie Gras

Israeli geese farmers were given three months to stop force-feeding their livestock, a step in making foie gras. On Monday, the Knesset�(tm)s Education and Culture Committee upheld a High Court of Justice ban, as of April 1, on the controversial practice of force-feeding geese. The decision was a triumph for animal-rights activists and a snub to the Agriculture Ministry, which had argued that a humane method of feeding could be devised.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

The Graves Of Sudan


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With Thanksgiving here and Chanukah just around the corner, most of us are reflecting on all there is to be thankful for, embracing our freedom as Jews and Americans. As we share our thanks this year and celebrate the holidays, it is my hope that more American Jews will think of those who are denied what we have come to expect as basic human rights, particularly those who are suffering from genocidal campaigns in Darfur, Sudan.

In this remote region, more than 1.5 million African tribal farmers have been violently driven from their homes by the government of Sudan and the militias they armed, called Janjaweed (evil men on horseback). Despite repeated calls from humanitarian organizations and U.N. agencies warning of the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today, there continues to be a systematic program of expulsion, rape and murderous violence that has taken at least 100,000 lives.

As Jews, we have an increased moral obligation to respond, to speak out and take action against ethnic cleansing. The epithet “never again” must not be reserved for Jews alone, but in fact, Jews must be the guardians of this call for action, highly sensitive and responsive to all attempts by any people to annihilate another people.

I went to Darfur in August to bear witness, to assess humanitarian needs and to ensure that funds provided by the American Jewish community are being and will be used effectively. I met many of the displaced farmers and listened to their chilling stories.

The government bombed their villages; men on horses rode in, often yelling ethnic slurs and shooting wildly. They stole; they raped; they killed. They stuffed wells with dead bodies or carcasses and burned villages to the ground.

I met Fatima; her five children were all ill with life-threatening diarrhea. I met a 10-year-old boy — clinging to the leg of a medical assistant — who saw his parents and two brothers shot dead.

I met the mother of twins who gave birth the day the militia came to her village. She saw her brother, aunt and uncle killed but managed to escape with her family, her newborn babies tucked into a straw mat.

They and over a million others fled in terror and came gradually to camps being set up to receive them — now about 158 camps scattered throughout Darfur (a region the size of California) containing tens of thousands of families packed into tent cities, fighting hunger, illness, displacement, boredom and depression. People whose simple agricultural life had allowed them to remain self-sufficient, now have no means of support.

Currently, the situation is deteriorating. The populations coming into the camps keep growing, and there is not enough food. There are too many cases of dehydration, malnutrition and deadly diarrhea.

Living in close quarters like this breeds its own set of sanitation, physical and mental health problems. Mortality rates — already at about 10,000 a month — could rise suddenly.

Some of the Janjaweed have been outfitted by the government as “police” to provide “security” for the camps. Women still disappear or are raped when they venture out to collect firewood to use for cooking or to sell to buy food.

The U.S. Congress labeled the crisis genocide in July, and the Bush administration followed suit in September, but members of the U.N. Security Council, particularly Russia, China and Algeria, continue to block sanctions and other strong actions, creating deadlines and weak resolutions that are unenforceable and unheeded. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan reported that security is declining and violence is on the upsurge.

In a reversal that demonstrates that international pressure can make a difference, the Sudanese government reluctantly agreed to allow 3,000 African Union troops to monitor the tenuous cease-fire and escort aid convoys, but they have no mandate to protect civilians. The Sudanese army and police continue to attack camps and forcibly relocate internally displaced people.

Recent reports describe government forces burning shelters, smashing water pipes, beating and shooting people and refusing access to aid agencies. On Nov. 8, the Sudanese government signed a historical peace agreement, accepting a no-fly zone over the region and promising to disarm the Janjaweed and improve access to aid. The next day, more violence was reported in camps.

The United Nations is conducting an investigation to determine whether the crisis constitutes genocide. This marks the first time in the history of the Security Council that Article 8 of the Genocide Convention has been invoked, which is a most welcome occurrence, but it is not enough by itself. By the time the assessment is complete, at least another 30,000 people will be dead.

Confronted with the realities of a grim future, we must increase pressure on the U.S. government and international community to persuade the Security Council to do what must be done to end the violence and suffering. Sudan must be forced to improve access to the camps for humanitarian aid workers and supplies, and it must be sanctioned until the Janjaweed is disarmed and the region is secured.

The African Union troops must be given an expanded mandate under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter to protect civilians. Should the no-fly zone over Darfur be violated, enforcement by NATO forces must be authorized.

Additional humanitarian aid is desperately needed. Governments must do their part to ensure that the U.N. humanitarian programs are functioning at full capacity and meeting the vast needs. Support from individuals to nongovernmental organizations providing humanitarian assistance is also essential.

American Jewish World Service (AJWS) launched a Sudan Emergency Appeal in April to help meet these needs. To date, $500,000 has been raised to rehabilitate water sources, construct sanitation facilities and provide therapeutic feeding centers to care for the thousands of malnourished children. I surveyed these programs when I was there and left overwhelmingly satisfied that lives are being saved.

As a result of my assessment, AJWS is also providing educational and recreational materials and programs for orphaned children, zinc treatment for children suffering from diarrhea and because rape is being used as a strategic weapon against women and their families, we are providing reproductive health care and addressing the consequences of sexual violence against women. Financial support for these ongoing efforts is critical.

The Jewish response is growing. The Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, comprised of 45 national Jewish organizations, created a Jewish Coalition for Sudan Relief that has raised about $170,000, and the Reform movement has spearheaded its own campaign, raising about $120,000. A number of Jewish organizations have joined us as members of the Save Darfur Coalition, a broadly diverse group of more than 100 faith-based and humanitarian organizations advocating for the people of Darfur, and other Jewish organizations are responding with humanitarian aid.

Until conditions are established that permit the voluntary, safe and dignified return of those displaced by the conflict and violators of human rights are held accountable, our diligence must not wane.

Leviticus teaches, “Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” This holiday season, let us celebrate with our loved ones, but let us also resolve to do all that we can to end human suffering and prevent genocide whenever, wherever and to whomever it occurs.

Ruth W. Messinger is the president and executive director of American Jewish World Service, an international development and emergency relief organization. For more information, to make a donation or take action, visit