I used to pick oranges on Kibbutz Einat, in Israel, in my early twenties. It was my most demanding physical job. It makes me sweat and ache just thinking about it!
I showed my pampered lifestyle and inexperience when I worked with the other volunteers who were mainly from Europe. I know I didn’t carry “my load.” It was physically impossible for me to keep up with them. They didn’t work harder than I did, but certainly they worked faster, with more skill and efficiency.
To pass the time, the orange picking team would play the game, “Name that Tune.” A few bars of a famous or popular song would be hummed, and we would try to guess the title. Only the Europeans liked to play “Name that Opera,” which totally excluded me. Can you imagine, “Name that Opera?” I learned how much I didn’t know.
It was fun and laughs. By the end of the day, we felt like rag-dolls; and although we didn’t know each other very well, after an eight-hour day of picking oranges, singing songs, and enjoying the sweet, tangy fruit on breaks, camaraderie ran high.
Two decades later while reflecting on my “orange picking” days, I wrote this poem.
Kibbutz Orange Grove
A euphoric relief
screamed from our shoulders
as we emptied bulging bags.
More than our quota filled,
we leaned like rag dolls
against overflowing crates.
Textured wood pressed support
into our weary backs,
while bitter peelings
of Promise Land’s tangy fruit
fell back to earth.
Sticky juice sprayed our
glistening faces as we indulged
like oxen worthy of hire.
Ancient overlookers, orchard trees,
towered like sturdy soldiers
against a scarlet-stained sky.
Arm-in-arm with joyful hearts,
we walked home absorbing
the day’s marrow. Souls and bodies
soaked in bounty’s satisfaction, saturated
we dripped labor, abundance, and camaraderie.