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PAGE 16A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 8, 2012 Seeking Kin: Reunion bridges religious-secular divide By Hillel Kuttler "Right now, the Jewish family to find a spouse via 'BALTIMORE (JTA)-- Three hundred people are expected to attend the up- coming reunion of Gesher, a Jerusalem-based organi- zation that works to bridge the gap between secular and religious Israeli youths. But it will be hard to find anyone in attendance who exem- plifies the organization's ideals better than Chanan and Lilach Cohen, who met 10 years ago while working for Gesher. Chanan was and remains secular, while his wife is observant. "All the time at Gesher, we'd argue," Lilac h said. "We'd sit together and we'd disagree. I'm to the right politically, and he's on the left; I'm observan t, and he's secular. Little by little, we connected." Throughout its 42 years, Gesher has brought' to- gether tens of thousands of Israeli teenagers for con- versations, conferences and seminars run by hundreds of staff members--the organi- zation calls them "facilita- tors," people "who guide the discussions" rather than presume to have the answers, explains Shira Zik, who joined Gesher as a facilitator in 1999."thinking it'd be just a job" and still By Arieh O'Sullivan The Media Line The price for olive oil has dropped to its lowest leve, l_ in a decade and farmers in the Middle East are bearing the brunt as Spain and Italy dump their government- subsidized stocks at below cost. "The international mar- ket prices are going below sustainable levels," Nasser Abu Farha, the director of Canaan Fair Trade that works with some 1,500 Palestinian farmers, told The Media Line. The price of olive oil fell to about $2,920 per ton Courtesy of Ilan Geal-Dor Gesher's executive direc- tor, Ilan Geal-Dor, has been promoting the upcoming reunion for his organiza- tion, which works to bring together religious and secu- lar Jews. religion divides rather than unites--and it divides on a superficial, political level. We're fighting over whether haredim should serve in the army, whether buses should travel on Shabbat, whether to open stores on Shafbat," said Tropper, a Brooklyn native and veteran Jerusa- lemite. "The real issue is the feeling of one people, of being part of a family despite the differences. This is what I think Israel needs going into the future." When Tropper launched Gesher, recruiting teens proved challenging. He trav- eled the length and breadth of Israel, practically begging high school principals to provide a few minutes to meet 11th- and 12th-graders and encountering parents' concerns that their children would cross over to the dark side. The inaugural event was a four-day retreat over Suk- kot in 1970 at Kibbutz Kfar Etzion, south of Jerusalem in the West Bank. Par- ticipants bunked in tin huts vacated three years earlier by Jordanian soldiers. Most participants came not in groups but individually, which meant that "they were open to meeting other people," Tropper said. works there. The July 4 reunion in Jerusalem will be Gesher's first for its former staff and facilitators. The orga- nization's founder, Rabbi Daniel Tropper, calls the reunion "an attempt to move Gesher into a new phase by re-establishing contact with alumni." He says that lrevailing religious-secular friction in Israeli society and among Jews worldwide keeps the organization rel- evant and vital. Courtesy Cohen family Lilach Cohen (1) met her husband Chanan 10 years ago while they were working for Gesher, an Israeli organization that brings together religious and secular Jews. Attendees "have described it as a seminal experience of their lives," he added. "Some feel deeply committed. The experience was so powerful to be together." Gesher's executive direc- tor, Ilan Geal-Dor, recently spoke about the reunion'on the Israeli radio program "Hamador L'chipus Krovim" (Searching for Relatives Bureau). Since the organi- zation does not know vhat has become of most past participants and facilita- tors, Gesher is relying on word of mouth to publicize the event. Geal-Dor recentlybumped into Knesset member Ze'ev  Elkin and learned that Elkin once was a Gesher facilita- tor; Elkin and his Knes- set colleague Uri Orbach, another alumnus will be attending the reunion. Chanan and Lilach Co- hen, 36 and 34, are looking forward to the reunion because, she says, Gesher embodies their belief in the need for tolerance and understanding among Jews. "When people meet, they see that those on the other side don't have horns. It causes less hatred," Lilach said. Lilach is actually the second generation in her Middle Eastern farmers bearing the brunt of plunging olive oil prices this month, about half of the peak price of $5,850 in 2006, according to IMF data. While the plunging olive oil prices are hitting the ailing economies of Spain, Italy and Greece, the world's largest producers of .olive oil, they are ricochet- ing across the Levant, too. "There is a great deal of consolidation of the olive oil market in Spain and Italy so that the bulk of the olive oil industry is controlled by very few hands," Abu Farha said. "These giant companies pool most of the Mediterranean olive oil and this gives them a lot of leverage on the price." Adi Naali, olive oil division manager of Israel's Plant Council, said that the dump- ing was threatening to destroy the local olive industry. "There is a catastrophic flood of cheap oil from Eu- rope which is threatening the future of the olive fam- ers in Israel," Naali told The Media Line. "A farmer can sustain a loss for a year or so, but over time they can't and we fear they will start uprooting their groves." About 95% of the world's olive trees are in the Medi terranean region. Olive oil is so well liked and is such an integral part of the cui- sine that according to the FLORI2DA Call us Today | Caring for you in your home or facility part-time or United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Mediterranean basin countries also ac- count for 77 percent of the world's consumption. But elsewhere around the world, olive oil consumption has dramatically risen over the past decade largely due to the popularity of the "Medi- terranean diet." World olive oil consumption reached 2.98 million tons last year, a 3.7 percent increase from 2009. Olive oil pro- ducers have also started focusing their exports on ,non-traditional markets, particularly China. India and Japan. China increased its import of olive oil by 62 percent in 2011, but most of the imports came from European countries. "There was. the expecta- tion that every Chinaman would start drinking a spoon of olive oil a day, and the Indians too. That's a lot of oil, and it is happening, but at a lower pace than expected," Na'ali said. The Europeans are now overstocked with olive oil and are trying to clear out their stocks by lowering prices. "It's harming us greatly," Ayala Noymeir, who owns a mill producing organic olive oil in northern Israel, told The Media Line. "The major food chains [in Israel] are importing cheap oil from abroad and are selling it at rock bottom prices. They're forcing us to get rid of our stocks at below cost." Noymeir said that the Eu- ropeans were able to dump their products cheaply because they were buffered by a subsidy from the Euro- pean Union. Israeli customs aimed at protecting local farmers were not high enough to prevent the mar- ket from being flooded by the cheap oils from abroad. "The problem is that when a housewife comes to the supermarket and compares prices, they are inclinedto take,the lower one, even if it's lesser qual- ity," said Micha Noymeir, head of the family business of Rish Lekish, an organic olive mill in Tzippori. But Abu Farha of Canaan Fair Trade said he believes there was room for prosper- ity in the olive oil specialty markets. They work with 1,500 Palestinian farmers from over 40 villages in the northern West Bank to produce olive oil, herbs and tahini. They supply major international retail- ers including Whole Foods in the U.S. and Sainsbury in Britain. "The farmers who are escaping the impact of this are farmers who producing connoisseur-type speeialty oils, like the farmers that we are working with, or farmers who are organized into fair trade and organic production." "We give the farmer a sustainable minimum re- gardless of the fluctuating of market prices. We give them a safety net of a mini- mum sustainable price, but we sell to like,minded companies in the West in Europe and North America who are willing to pay a premium on the olive oil prices when market prices are going low," he said. He said that olive oil production is a $200 mil- lion business in the Pales- tinian Authority and that .... Waiki.g 00iS00.ce Companion Services . Light mkeeptng de ;,. Gesher. Her parents, Ilan Zim and Ariella Goltz, met as participants in Gesher's earliest days in the 1970s, when it was based in Safed. Ilan grew up secular and became observant while a university student; Ariella came from an observant family and turded secular. They would marry, with Lilach born a few years later. The Zims and Cohens live in Tekoa, a mixed secular- observant village near the 1970 Gesher retreat site. The Cohens' home is kosher, but Chanan eats at restaurants of his choice. On Shabbat, the TV remains off, food is warmed on a special stovetop tray and Chanan speaks on the telephone only from the bedroom. He'll join an occasional Shabbat outing with secular friends. "Usually, it's fine," Lilach said. "We do have arguments and disagreements, but it's not a big deal. We have mutual respect. We tell the kids Jews believe different things. When you get older, you'll choose." Email Hillel Kuttler at seekingkin@jta.org if you would like the help of'Seeking Kin"in searching for long-lost relatives and friends. Please include the principal facts and your contact information in a brief (one-paragraph) email. it supports some 200,000 families. He said a lot of farmers who are outside their network were suffer- ing since they have been sitting on their supplies waiting for the price to go up anda new harvest season was fast approaching. "I see the price is going to stay low for the next couple of years, but one thing we are happy about is that we are able to sustain the six dollar per-liter for our farmers at the time that it is below three dollars in the market place," Abu Farha said. In Israel, efforts are un- derway to increase con- sumption inorder to boost sales. According to the Plants Counc!l, annual Is- raeli olive oil consumption is about two kilos per capita, substantially less than the 24 kilos the average Greek consumes annually. "There was a sense that competition would be good and bring cheaper prices for the consumer but what is happening is that they are forcing the local olive farmer out of business and after that happens the importers will raise the prices," Na'ali said. "The Europeans are dumping their stocks and the whole market is flooded which is putting people like the Noymeirs and other farmers on the kibbutzim and in the Arab'villages out of business." The Plant Council recent- ly issued a quality-control sticker for Israeli olive oil which they hope will bring public confidence to the locally-made, high-quality extra virgin oils and boost sales.