In the Jewish teachings (the Midrash) it says, “Let no one ever cease from planting. Fields filled with trees greeted us at birth, and we should add to their number even in old age.”
Shimon Lavee, who peacefully passed away on April 24th helped plant and cultivate countless olive trees throughout the world for more than four decades. His important contributions and generous spirit will live on in their roots and branches for generations to come.
Prof. Shimon Lavee was born in 1931 in Berlin and immigrated to Israel in 1938, just before the beginning of World War II. In his new homeland, he flourished. Lavee was one of the establishers of the Kibbutz Tel Katzir, located in the South of the Sea of Galilee, and served as the community’s farm manager. By 1955, he had received his MSc degree at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and began a researcher position at the Agricultural Research Organization (Volcani Institute). Just five years later, he completed his PhD.
Lavee went on to establish a breeding program at the Volcani Institute. It is during his years at the institute that he discovered how to reduce the juvenile phase of the olive by accelerating the breeding process, helped to revolutionized drip irrigation, and developed new olive varieties like the well-known “Barnea.”
The Barnea variety has become increasingly important globally due to its ability to adapt to intensive cultivation while producing four times average yields and maintaining quality oils.
His influence did not stop at the border of Israel. Lavee played important roles over the years for the International Olive Council, including serving as its president (2000, 2008). He was also instrumentally active in the International Society of Horticultural Sciences. Furthermore, he received awards and was an elected member of many international organizations. In Spain, Shimon was given the Honorary Award for Olive Research, in Italy he was elected as a member of the Italian Academy for Olive, and in Israel he received the Best Breeders Award from the Ministry of Agriculture.
Lavee was a philanthropist. His extraordinary contributions with the USAID-supported and Near East Foundation-run Olive Oil Without Borders project led to him receive a certificate of appreciation. He believed that equality was the true path to peace. The project works to build economic cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli farmers.
When Olive Oil Times began to ask international friends and colleagues to comment on Lavee´s life, it became even more evident that he was not only a highly esteemed olive expert, but he also served as a world mentor, inspired others, and was an exceptional olive oil taster.
See more: Meeting Up with Shimon Lavee, and The One About the Holy Tree
Everyone could agree that he was a humble, generous, friend. He knew how to bring people of all walks of life together through learning about olive trees and olive oil.
Dan Flynn, from the UC Davis Olive Center, remembered when “Shimon was in California and told the audience that Israel and California revolutionized the world olive industry decades ago, with the introduction of irrigation. Irrigated groves yield far more than dry-farmed olives. Shimon had continued that great bond between Israel, California, and olives.”
The Spanish Association for the Olive Municipalities (AEMO) wrote upon his passing, “the olive trees dress in black, Shimon Lavee, Emirate Professor from the University of Jerusalem and great friend of Spain has left us.”
Ehud Soriano, head of the Israeli Olive Oil Panel and olive consultant, was working to schedule the Sensorial Analysis course in Israel. When he met Lavee, he told him about the course. The professor told him he would be happy to teach classes. Ehud was taken aback that such a distinguished man would be willing to take time to teach for his course. He remembers Shimon laughing, and saying, “teaching producers and farmers is not less important than students of the University.” It was then when Ehud saw the modest and generous character of Lavee.
Arnon Dag from the Gilat Research Center recounts meeting Shimon 13 years ago at the Volcani Institute. He described Lavee as a humble person with enormous knowledge in olive physiology and his mentor. Dag loved their discussions on the science of olive biology and on the best ways to benefit growers.
“Even after he fell ill,” Arnon explained, “Shimon insisted on being involved in studies and continued to go out to the field. Unfortunately, we do not have any more professors that are going out to the field with pruning shears.” He continued, “I feel lucky that I had the opportunity to work so closely with this man for so many years. My colleagues and I are committed to do our best to continue Shimon Lavee’s legacy and maintain Israel as a productive and creative center for olive science research and development.”
The branch of an olive tree represents peace, the tree itself is generous and can flourish even under harsh conditions, its fruit provides oil that gives light and is a symbol of wisdom. All of this, Shimon Lavee also displayed throughout his life.