I cannot believe that our time in Jerusalem is over! It passed so quickly and we are left with only 10 days left in the trip. This morning was especially difficult to get up because we had to stay up super late last night to pack and clean the apartment. At 7:30 this morning we loaded all of our bags onto the bus to leave. We said our goodbyes to our adopted cat that we named Kelev (meaning “dog” in Hebrew) and our friendly neighborhood shop owner Yaakov. After that we were off! Many of us slept on the bus ride, but for what I was awake during it was a beautiful ride. It is so interesting to watch the terrain transform into desert the further South you go into the Negev. Our first stop was at Kibbutz Hatzerim. A kibbutz is a community based off of socialist values. Each individual living on the kibbutz gives their entire salary to the kibbutz and in return the kibbutz takes care of all of their needs. It was so beautiful and looked really efficient. There were lots of small houses, a community center, a dining hall, a synagogue, schools, and a hospital. This kibbutz also has a factory where they produce an innovative irrigation system for agriculture called a dripper. A dripper is basically a hose with tiny holes and little devices that control the rate at which water leaves the hose. They export the drippers to countries all over the world; when we were there we saw shipments ready to be sent to Morocco and Spain. It was really interesting to see the inside of the factory and how all the machines work together to produce the dripper. Our tour was given by a man named Irri Kassel. He talked to us about the history of the kibbutz and about his own life a bit too. He was the executive director of the Reform movement in Israel! It is amazing all of the influential people we have met on our trip. Sometimes it is easy to take all of the opportunities we are getting for granted, but these really are once in a lifetime opportunities that we are experiencing.
After we left Kibbutz Hatzerim we went to visit Prime Minister David Ben Gurion’s desert home and grave. His vision was to see the desert bloom and to bring people to populate it. The Negev is over 60% of the land in Israel. Ben Gurion knew that if they let go of the Negev, Israel would be over run and have no chance of survival. It was with this idea that he built a port in Eilat, the very tip of Israel, and encouraged people to move to the south. Today, his dream has been realized and the Negev is flourishing with life.
After the kitbbutz we visited a mechina in Sde Boker. A mechina is a pre-army program for IDF soldiers just out of high school. The basis of the program is to teach the solders about leadership, making ethical decisions and promoting complex thinking through a series of exercises, studies, and volunteer projects. The mechinot were founded on the idea that high school teaches you to think with a one track mind which cannot accurately prepare a student for IDF service. I love that the mechinot are a very interactive learning experience for the soldiers that promotes creative thinking and an open environment for dialogue. I think that programs likes these are very important when you are preparing a kid for as large of an commitment as joining the army.
Ben Gurion’s grave site has a spectacular view of the desert. Rather than being buried on Har Herzl with many great Israeli leaders, Ben Gurion and his wife Paula chose to be buried side by side in the Negev in hopes that their graves would bring people to the desert which they loved so much. I think that the first thing that struck me when looking out at the beautiful view was how small I felt. Looking into the vastness of the Negev landscape truly makes you feels as if you are a part of something much larger than you can ever know. Our tour guide Talya described this as seeing the direct results of God’s beauty and grace on earth. She said that normally, living in a city, we see beauty in architecture which, though possibly inspired by God’s grace, is manmade. Whether you believe in God or not, there is no doubt that there was something magical about staring into the natural beauty of the desert which seemed to have no end.
Next, we all piled back into the bus and napped the whole way to Tel Aviv. When we got to our hotel on Ben Yehuda Street we bid farewell to Talya. It was sad for all of us, seeing as we felt at that point that she had become a part of our group. It is rare to find someone so passionate about what they are doing, but Talya’s passion was contagious and we were all sad to see her go. We left her with a thank you card and I added a little Hamsa that my mom had painted for me before I left to go abroad in January. I didn’t need it anymore, I have found my luck on this trip and have 13 new friends to look after me, so I thought it only right to leave it with Talya as a parting gift from all of us to her (sorry mom!).
With that, we settled into our rooms, ate dinner, and watched a beautiful sunset over the beach for our first night in Tel Aviv.