Mad Respect for the Beekeepers: The Story of a Backyard Under Siege

While many have lofty dreams of summer homes and dream vacations, I in fact, had the same dream for a long time: to reclaim my backyard. Our backyard had become the de facto laboratory to all of David’s crazy. In America the backyards seem to be endless – there are swing sets and well-intentioned herb gardens with a deck thrown in for good luck. Here, backyards are smaller and mine had been taken over by forces beyond me.

To truly understand a day in the life of us, I need to talk about the bees. One year David decided it would be a great idea to harvest our own honey. Why not, I thought, we’d make a day of it. I could Martha Stewart the heck out of some honey pots and we’d be adorable. Our own honey at our Rosh HaShana table seemed like an excellent idea. You know who we forgot to ask? The beekeepers.

Beekeepers probably know this hidden gem: don’t leave out harvested honeycombs because they will attract many many bees.

And so it was. At lunchtime as we all sat around our holiday table, smug with the self-righteous knowledge that we had made our very own honey, I looked out our dining room windows into our yard to see hundreds…mmm… thousands of bees swarming. Why? Because after we had harvested the honey, we left the used honeycombs outside. So the bees arrived, looking for their honey. I’m not going to lie, they seemed angry.

But the backyard has hosted so much more than angry anthophila.

Many years ago David thought it would be great to bake our own matzot. I was totally on board. I envisioned this family tradition carrying on for the ages. Our children and grandchildren all gathering in our home to bake matzot together. We bought a matza oven and we began. Our kids promptly went to sleep. It took years to coax them into becoming part of the process. But the matza oven went into the backyard and our kitchen became a matza factory for the week before the holiday. In order to bake matzot that are considered “kosher” for Pesach, the entire process from start to finish can take no longer than 18 minutes. So along with the matza oven came chaos as we raced through the process several times each night.

As we began making matzot, word got out around our neighborhood that you could bake your own matzot at the Katzs so we became a bit of a nerdy social scene (no way to spin this into a cool velvet-rope event). Night after night we made matzot with friends, neighbors and the vaguely curious. But nothing compared to the day of Pesach. The hours going into the holiday are considered particularly ? to be making your own matzot. So along with the regular crazy that comes with baking matza now add singing passages from Psalms while rolling out matza. I’m fairly certain someone brings a violin. I’m in the kitchen putting final touches on the seder meal as this all unfolds around me. And for awhile it seemed just fine. Sure, add that matza oven next to the honeycombs.

And then came the olive oil. Here’s the thing about using the Bible as your go-to – it has a lot of laws tucked into it. Somewhere between the creation of humanity and the death of Moses are 613 little (and not so little) commandments. Some have aged out of our modern-day life. I’m not sure any of us are in danger of worshipping idols these days. There is no temple for us to bring sacrifices to. Perhaps we’re down to a charitable 500 or so commandments. But sometimes there is a mixture of old laws in our new world. For example, in theory we are supposed to tithe our cattle and produce, giving 10% to the Priests. Today, priests are not waiting around for it. The tithing generally goes to charity. Yet certain things can only be used by the Priestly-class.

I’m nothing if not a social climber (but a nerdy one), and I managed to snag myself one of those highly sought after Priests when I married David (Katz is an acronym for “Righteous Priest” in Hebrew). Now, olive oil needs to be tithed to priests. Olive oil is also the burning material of choice for menorahs each Chanuka. So olive oil factories around Israel have olive oil placed on the side, in theory to be tithed to the priestly class. Never one to miss out on an opportunity to do something mildly ancient and hilarious, David piled a few of our boys into the car one night before Chanuka and headed to an olive oil factory. They were thrilled to be able to perform this “mitzvah” (commandment) that is so rarely done and handed David 25 liters of olive oil. It makes for a great story for us and for another item to be added to my backyard.

This isn’t the first time that David has dabbled in olives (how often do you think those words have been written?). Before we were tithed our Chanuka oil, David extracted olive oil from olives. Of course. So add an olive press and some really really heavy round stones to our backyard as well.

At some point an apple press was added to the mix as were two Amish-made hand-churning ice cream makers.

David is one of the youngest members of the Ham Radio association in Israel and from time to time I’ll find him and a friend in our backyard putting up a 15-foot antennae so they can connect to the world around them (oh cell phones, I love you most of all).

And, at some point, we added a dog. He spent a lot of time in that backyard.

And all of that leads us to this moment, the moment where David decides to build a brick oven in our backyard.

I’m not sure if I deserve the gold star awarded to great and support wives as we set off to build a bakery. In truth, I think I just wanted room for lawn furniture.