Shavuot in Israel
Shavuot, the holiday that commemorates the Israelites receiving the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, is also one of the shaloshah regalim, the three biblical pilgrimage festivals. Shavuot is a Jewish holiday, but it has aspects that are specific to the land of Israel.
According to the Midrash, Mount Sinai suddenly bloomed in anticipation of the giving of the Torah on its summit. For this reason, Jewish families traditionally decorate their homes and synagogues with plants, flowers, and leafy branches in honor of holiday.
Shavuot is also called the holiday of bikkurim (first fruits). In the period of the First and Second Temple, bikkurim consisted of the seven species for which the land of Israel is praised: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates. Baskets would be loaded on oxen whose horns were gilded and laced with garlands of flowers, and the oxen were led in a grand procession to Jerusalem. In modern Israel, the tradition of bikkurim ceremonies continues, mostly at kibbutzim. The children participate in a procession of agricultural products, and donations are made to the Jewish National Fund for land reclamation.
Israel has a thriving agricultural sector, which supplies most of the country's food needs. It is a major exporter of fresh produce and a world leader in agricultural technologies, despite the fact that the geography of Israel is not naturally conducive to agriculture. Today, agriculture represents 3.6 percent of exports. Since 1948, the sparsely populated desert area in the south has played an important role in agricultural production. More than forty percent of the country's vegetables and field crops are grown there. New varieties of crops suited to the region are being developed and introduced. The desert has many hours of sunshine and high temperatures and land there is relatively cheap. This makes it possible to grow for export to Europe during the winter months –October through March – using less energy, when prices are highest.
Water scarcity remains the most significant challenge for agriculture. In Israel, rain falls only between September and April and usually not enough to fill the reservoirs. This water shortage led Israel to develop innovative new methods, such as the drip irrigation system, which is now used in many dry places, and recycled water sources.
Israeli wines are also becoming more popular. Vineyards, first promoted as a commercial enterprise at the beginning of the twentieth century, now produce special varieties of grapes for a wide range of prize-winning red and white wines. These include grapes grown with saline water in desert conditions – an original Israeli phenomenon.
Israel is one of the world's leading fresh citrus producers and exporters. In addition, more than forty types of fruit grow in Israel. Israel is the leading producer of loquat after Japan. In 1973, two Israeli scientists developed a variety of cherry tomato that ripens more slowly in a hot climate. Flowers are Israel's leading agricultural export (29 percent). Each year, hundreds of millions of flowers are exported to Europe ahead of Valentine's Day. Flowers in Israel are less expensive than in North America or Europe. Before Jewish holidays and Shabbat in Israel, flower stands appear on each street corner. In recent years, ornamental plants have become a rapidly growing industry, both for internal use and for export.
Organic produce makes up only 1.5 percent of Israeli agricultural output, but it accounts for 13 percent of agricultural exports. Organic farming is the latest trend in Israel. New organic farms are now visible throughout the country, providing fresh organic produce. The climate differences between the cold north and hot Negev desert enable farmers to offer a year round supply of a large variety of vegetables, as well as organic wine, honey and solar panels!