As Sh’mittah approaches, we interviewed Shmuel Sackett, Founder of “Zo Artzeinu”, the organization that has planted more fruit trees in Eretz Yisrael than all others.
Q: What does Sh’mittah have to do with us? We live 6,000 miles away from Eretz Yisrael.
A: The Taryag mitzvos were given to Klal Yisrael and we need to keep as many of them as we can. Please read this interview, find out who we are and learn how Yidden across the world can keep Sh’mittah – yes, even from 6,000 miles away! This is our third Sh’mittah cycle already and its a zechus to involve as many Jews as possible!
Q: OK, let’s start at the beginning. Please tell us about what your organization does.
A: We started this project back in 1998 by helping Israeli farmers plant fruit trees. Unlike non-fruit bearing trees, the costs involved in fruit trees are enormous. The tree itself is quite expensive and lots of work needs to be done in order for the tree to grow and bear fruit. Highly sophisticated drip-irrigation systems are installed, fences are built and lots of manual labor in involved until the tree produces sweet fruit. Zo Artzeinu (This Is Our Land) helps farmers with the costs involved in planting these trees and so far, we have helped farmers plant over 50,000 new fruit trees in Eretz Ha’Kodesh!
Q: Who qualifies for the help provided by Zo Artzeinu?
A: We are very careful when selecting our farmers. We insist that our farmers keep all the “mitzvos ha’teluyos ba’aratez” in a Mehadrin way. This means no short cuts. We keep Sh’mittah l’chumra and all mitzvos such as Orlah, Netta Revai, Leket, Shikcha, Pey’ah and Terumas.Ma’asros are kept according to all Chumras. Only those farmers who agree to this – and we check to make sure – will receive funds to plant trees.
Q: We have all heard of the JNF. How do they differ from you?
A: The JNF has done, and continues to do, wonderful work in Israel but we do something completely different. They do not plant fruit trees while we ONLY plant fruit trees. They do not insist on keeping the Halachos listed above and we do and we also insist on 100% Jewish labor only so that Yidden have a parnassah. The JNF is a great organization but not involved in any way with the things we do.
Q: Can people in the Five Towns actually keep Sh’mittah or is this a gimmick?
A: This is 100% emes – no gimmick at all. Before we began our project, we met with HaRav Yosef Efrati, Rosh Yeshiva of Bais Medrash L’Halacha B’Hityashvut. HaRav Efrati, who was the personal shamash of HaRav Elyashiv for 10 years, is considered the leading expert on Hilchos agriculture and farming in Eretz Yisrael. All shaylos re: the land, pruning trees, Kilayim and more come to him for his expert decision. He told me directly that when a person – even outside of Eretz Yisrael – buys a fruit tree to be planted before Sh’mittah and all the Halachos are kept on that tree, then the person who paid for the tree actually shares in all the mitzvos including Sh’mittah! He explained it is like a “Yissaschar – Zevulun” partnership where the farmer plants the tree which was purchased by someone in Lakewood (for example) and BOTH have a share in the mitzvah!
Q: How does it work?
A: We set up a very simple website. Simply go to www.IsraelTrees.org and click on “PLANT A TREE”. You can select the kind of fruit tree you want and how many trees you want to plant. It is very simple and easy to use, just please hurry since the Sh’mittah planting deadline is THIS Monday!!! There’s no time to waste. The next time to do this mitzvah will be in SEVEN YEARS!!!
Q: Every one knows that Sh’mittah begins on Rosh Ha’Shanah, so why is there such a rush right now?
A: While Sh’mittah begins on Rosh Ha’Shanah, all new fruit trees must be planted 45 days BEFORE then! The Halacha clearly states that just like you can’t put in a 20 lb. turkey in the over 5 minutes before Shabbos, you cannot plant new fruit trees on Erev Rosh Ha’shanah! The roots MUST be well established and deep in the ground before Sh’mittah begins and therefore the Halacha is that all new fruit trees must be planted by Tu B’av which is August 11th. After that, no new fruit trees can be planted in Eretz Yisrael for over a year! The time to plant is therefore NOW!!!
Q: Can we visit our trees when we come to Eretz Yisrael?
A: Absolutely! Just let me know when you are coming to Israel and I will take you to visit your trees! In a few years you will even be able to eat from the fruit, use the olive oil or drink the wine – depending on which tree you select. One of our vineyards produced wine that won the gold medal in an Israeli wine competition so the quality is fantastic. One of our farmers, Shmuel Rappaport is the grandson of Rav Moshe Feinstein and he makes the best quality olive oil in Eretz Yisrael. Visiting these trees will be the highlight of your trip. Please go to our website: www.IsraelTrees.org and plant your tree today!