Photo Credit: Stuart Tucker
Anita Tucker in a neighbor's greenhouse in new Netzer Hazani.

Voices of Shemittah Farmers (Part III)


In the spring of 2006, from across the vast expanse of a lobby in JFK Airport, Anita Tucker heard a woman shouting loudly, “The celery lady!” She was shocked and embarrassed when her husband said, “She means you.”


Anita Tucker is a farmer who became an iconic figure when she lived in Moshav Netzer Hazani in Gush Katif, where she was known as “the celery lady” because of the bug-free celery she grew in large greenhouses. Additionally, she served as a leading spokesperson for the struggle against the Disengagement, which ultimately, in 2005, destroyed her two-and-a half acres of celery-growing hothouses.

Today Anita and her husband, Stuart, are part of a collective farm in the newly established Netzer Hazani moshav located near Moshav Yesodot, east of Ashdod. They partner with other former Gush Katif farmers in the new moshav, and are involved in growing many different vegetables outdoors that are more easily planted and picked and need less intensive care than the large greenhouses they had in Gush Katif.

In this collective farm, a company is hired to do the actual physical work, tending to large fields of onions, cauliflower and other vegetables. “Now there is not much direct connection, as the planting and picking is by huge machinery. Not intensive farming as in Gush Katif, where I knew each plant personally,” she says.

“This shemittah year, about 18 families decided to mashmit the land – let it lie fallow – and give up those profits that would have helped pay our taxes to the farming collective, and our fees to the Israel Lands Authority,” Anita said. She explained that most land in Israel belongs to this Authority, which leases the agricultural lands in Israel to the farmers, usually for either 49 years or 99 years, which is generally renewed if actively used for agriculture.

In her farm collective “there is a yearly fee for each dunam. All farmers in each moshav or kibbutz are joined in a legal agricultural partnership (Aguda Haklait Shitufit) that provides services relating to the management of the farms for which one pays a tax to cover these expenses and manage those things that relate to this agricultural partnership.”

Anita and Stuart Tucker planting in the Jordan Valley, half year after the expulsion.

The Tuckers prepared ahead of time for shemittah. Anita’s husband, at age 79, is teaching more hours in high school, which is a help to them financially. As a former farmer, Anita, now 76, has no real pension, nor profits from her previous farm in Gush Katif. They were finally profiting from their investments there, she says, “But everything was cut short by the expulsion. We did not receive enough compensation from the government to enable putting up big greenhouses like we had in Gush Katif, and during the following years of wandering, we spent most of my savings.”

After the expulsion, for seven-and-a-half years, from 2005, they wandered from youth hostel to yeshiva dorm to a temporary caravan in Ein Tzurim. Afterwards, she said, “it was very difficult to make any profit with such a small farm when most farming is for the local market, and there is little export of regular vegetables, due to BDS, and because other countries can grow much more cheaply.”

“Now we grow for the added income that is very needed and as an expression of love for the earth of Eretz Yisrael, to see it flourish as promised.”

While their farming income nowadays is significantly less than when they farmed in Gush Katif – it brings in approximately NIS 2,500 a month (about $793) before land and co-op taxes – Tucker is grateful for this supplemental income.

Anita says that she was told by the secretary of the Aguda Haklait Shitufit of Netzer Hazani that they received a small payment that Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture gives to shomrei shemittah and that they also received a small payment from Keren HaShemittah, a private fund that supports shemittah-observant farmers, and were expecting to get a second one soon.

“In spite of the financial challenge, we feel it is an amazing zchut to be able to mashmit our land this year, as is the commandment.”


From Brighton Beach to Gush Katif

Born in London, England, and raised in Brighton Beach, New York, Anita and her husband, Stuart, originally from Cleveland, made aliyah in July of 1969. In September, 1969, she gave birth to their first child in Soroka Hospital, in Beer Sheva, “In a room with nine Bedouin, which helped for a fast absorption,” she says. “We had chosen to live in Beer Sheva for ideological reasons as teachers.”

Seven years later, in July, 1976, they founded the first of three farming moshavim in Gush Katif. For almost 30 years, she said, “We grew almost every vegetable and flower you can think of, each time switching according to the demands of the export market. We grew the kosher insect-free Chasalat, Alei Katif leafy vegetables. I began experimenting with cabbage and parsley, which were successful, and each year we tried growing more leafy vegetables. Our last few years there we developed an expertise in growing kosher celery.”

During the first shemittah in Gush Katif, some forty years ago, Rabbi Shlomo Goren ruled that the area was not considered within the halachic boundaries of Eretz Yisrael. “Even the more charedi hechsherim certified us that year,” she says. By the time the second shemittah in Gush Katif came around, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate ruled that there was a “safek,” a doubt regarding the status of the land. So the Tuckers decided to grow crops in accordance with the shemittah laws.

They grew produce detached from the ground and in greenhouses with a roof. They used flowerpots that had drain holes on the side instead of at the bottom, and they lined the floors of the greenhouses with thick plastic sheeting to ensure that the produce did not derive any nourishment from the ground. (This method is known as matza menutak, literally, “detached platform.”) According to many authorities, vegetables grown in this manner are exempt from shemittah restrictions.

This current shemittah cycle, says Tucker, is the first time she merited to own land where there are no doubts regarding its status. “Jews living outside of Israel can’t have that zchut. I hope they’ll come on aliyah.”

With regard to eating fruits and vegetables during the shemittah year, Anita says, “We ourselves try to buy only produce with kedushat shvi’it, (fruits and vegetables that have reached a certain stage of growth during shemittah, which have a special holiness) or heter mechira. But we try very hard not to buy yivul nochri – crops grown by non-Jews or imported from outside of Israel. We only buy from outside of Israel in rare cases, if we have more charedi guests who don’t eat anything else.”

Why do they try to not buy from non-Jews?

“Simply because I love Eretz Yisrael and feel there is such an amazing zchut to eat the yevul (crops) of this land that was barren for so many years. To ignore that zchut and davka to look to eat yevul nochri is in my humble opinion like ignoring the miraculous zchut that HaKadosh Baruch Hu gave us in our times. It is as if Hashem is presenting us with an introduction to the geula (redemption) process and saying, ‘Here, take it!’ and we close our eyes and say, ‘I don’t see anything.’ Baruch Hashem we are here with our eyes open and see the gift of the process of geula in front of our eyes.”

Anita has a vision that whispers of the times of geula: “I think that in the future, all agriculture will be in buildings, using roots sitting in water totally, with no soil, and with artificial light bulbs providing sunlight. The plants will move on a line and receive biological insecticide treatment, and unneeded side shoots removed, and there will be a report released on each plant as to what it needs, which goes to a computer that allows more heating or more cooling, more sunlight, etc.

“Then we can always be in shemittah mode, with time to learn Torah and with plenty of vegetables and fruit to eat without having to work much.

“But now, this is the first time that I’m zoche (privileged) to own land where there are no doubts that this land, according to halacha, has to lie fallow (if not doing heter mechira). It feels like we’re getting closer to the real thing.

“Being a farmer is a way of life,” she adds. “Some years you can make more and some years less, but planting in and of itself is an act of faith. [In the Talmud], Masechet Zera’im is referred to as ‘Masechet Emunah,’ the ‘Tractate of Faith.’”


A shorter version of this article appeared in Jewish Action, the quarterly magazine of the Orthodox Union (Spring 2022).


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The author is an award-winning journalist, artistic director of Raise Your Spirits Theatre and the editor-in-chief of