July 12 2006: Hizbollah terrorists heavily shelled the Israeli countryside near Moshav Zarit. Under the cover of the barrage, terrorists ambushed and killed seven Israeli soldiers and abducted two soldiers. It was declared an “unprovoked act of war” by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Israel made the decision to retaliate against the growing power of Hizbollah, a well armed terrorist group supported and armed by Iran and Syria and bent on Israel’s annihilation.
Israel bombarded Hizbollah targets in Lebanon. Hizbollah responded by sending hundreds of rockets slamming into Israel’s Northern cities of Kiryat Shemona, Haifa, Safed, Carmiel, Acre and Tiberias daily.
Newspapers were full of images of smashed buildings, growing casualties and an estimated 300,000 displaced people, fleeing from their homes and crowding into Southern Israel. Those who were unable to travel spent their days in bomb shelters.
The Israeli military estimated that between a third and a half of the residents in northern Israel had left their homes and their jobs during the conflict.
More than half of the factories in northern Israel were shuttered or operated on partial capacity. The estimated damage to the industry in northern Israel since the fighting erupted was said to be in the region of 2 billion shekels (450 million dollars), excluding undetermined losses in the agricultural and tourism industries.
Rabbi Aharon Haskel, Director of OK Kosher Certification in Israel is essentially required to be in frequent contact with numerous factories, producers, and vineyards under OK supervision countrywide. During the war however, he had to be in even closer contact, due to the unusual halachic issues which arose due to the 34 day conflict.
Northern Israel is a major food producer. The ground is fertile and the climate cool and damp. The areas around Safed and Meiron are especially known for growing grapes for wine. Also, Upper Galilee is one of the premier wine-growing regions in Israel. Each area has its specialty. Kfar Shamai grows grapes for cabernet and chardonnay, Ramot Naftali’s vineyards produce grapes for merlot and cabernet. Other specialized wines are produced from grapes grown in the volcanic soil of Ramat HaGolan.
One of the OK certified wineries is the Ben Chaim Winery. Although their bottling and processing plant is located in Central Israel, out of rocket range, the vineyards themselves were situated in Kfar Shamai, Ramot Naftali, and Meiron.
Hundreds of Katyusha rockets fell into these vineyards. It was so dangerous to approach these places in the current situation, that the government warned everyone including owners and workers to stay out of the area.
The war broke out a month before the harvest. The high point of the vintner’s year is harvest time. All year the staff prepares for the last few weeks in August where careful monitoring are critical for the grapes. The sugar level in the fruits rises and falls, air and soil temperatures change and ground moisture fluctuates. The process is a dynamic and exacting one.
Making wine is not a simple process where you can follow a recipe, add the same ingredients, and have identical results every time. Instead it is a complex process and results can vary widely.
One of the difficulties that this war posed is the fact that the harvest had to be taken in at exactly the right time. If the war was not over in time, all that effort and nurturing to grow optimal produce would go to waste.
Not to mention, extensive damage to the vineyards poses different Halachic problems. For the first three years of a vine’s life its fruits are Orlah and forbidden for use. The fourth year fruits are Netah Revai and have their own restrictions. For every damaged vine that has to be replaced, it means another four years until fruit can be used. From a kashrus point of view, this creates an enormous clerical headache because Kashrus supervision would now need to be done individually, vine by vine.
There are (or were) vineyards that are more than ten years old that are given global approval. This will change if there is a mix of old and young plants. It requires a whole new level of kashrus control.
This control of vineyard supervision is an exacting process, using modern and expensive technology. Every vineyard is aerially photographed. Every plot is registered. Every row and vine is individually numbered. In an ordinary year, any tree that has not passed its required four years is marked. A full week before the harvest, a skilled harvester and an (agronom) who is also a mashgiach picks the orlah grapes and leaves them on the ground. When the harvest takes place a week later, it is orlah free.
Another problem was the Shmitta year, which is next year. This year had been planned as a year to stockpile wine in Israel and for export.
The OK does not authorize wine grown in Shmitta year, especially as this wine is permissible for use only inside of Eretz Yisroel and could be in the category of Otzar Beis Din as the fruits have K’dushas Shvi’is. Some kosher organizations rely on leniencies to allow shmitta wine, but the OK takes the more stringent position.
Another example of a factory at total standstill was the meat and soy processing plant in Shlomi, a town close to the Lebanese border. It is located only about a mile away from a Hizbollah terrorist base. OK certifies the vegetarian soy products from that factory. No workers could come to work, as even if the rockets were not exactly falling on the place itself, they could be seen flying overhead on the way to another place. Fifty to sixty Katyusha rockets fell in the area daily.
At the Of HaGalil meat processing plant, a rocket directly hit a walk in freezer. Even the meat that was not directly damaged was lost, as the cold air escaped and there was no personnel at the factory to transfer the merchandise to a different freezer. Incidents like this created shortages in the Israeli marketplace.
Yet, many people still needed to work, especially those that were paid by the hour. Rabbi Haskel recalls a telephone conversation he had with one of the superintendents at the Strauss salad packaging plant. The factory was still working, despite the dangerous situation. While he was on the phone, he could hear a siren in the background and the superintendent apologized saying that the call would have to end because everyone in the factory had to go into a sheltered area.
It is very important to note the importance of having a Mashgiach present at an OK certified factory. Even if the entire staff of the factory are present, and all is set to work, nothing can be done unless the mashgiach is there to supervise.
Rabbi Haskel recalled the delay of a whole container ordered by an international company. The OK mashgiach could not go and supervise production in that particular plant due to its dangerous proximity to the conflict. Only when there was a slight pause in the rocket attacks, could the factory resume production and complete the order.
Another Senior Mashgiach recalled that in the beginning of the rocket attacks, there was a lot more losses in food production and factories, as machines were left to run by panicked workers rushing to shelter. In one factory, the largest cracker in history was made when the machine kept on piling up the dough. The sesame seed distributor sprinkled it with top class sesame seeds, and after it had passed spilled the rest on the floor. The enormous cracker made its way along the conveyer belt and incinerated in the oven where it was later found by astonished factory workers.
Food producers quickly improvised. Many factories in the Haifa area worked from eight in the evening until eight the next morning when it was slightly safer. Other factories had to continue working regardless of the situation, as they were considered essential providers i.e. bread factories had to have reserve stocks of twenty tons of flour at all times. The army got first priority for supplies. Factories supplying them worked on a normal schedule. The Telma factory in Haifa was bombed, and continued working nonetheless. The Vered HaGalil chocolate factory in Safed suffered a direct hit and continued working at night.
After a few days of war, the factories adapted to the constant interruptions. As soon as there was a siren, the production line stopped. Each worker was put in charge of a different machine to shut off before fleeing to safety. As soon as the ‘all clear’ sounded they would switch on their designated machine and resume where they left off. Life went on.