Thursday, September 9, 2010

"Nature Without Borders"

After spending about five days on Kibbutz Ketura, I am definitely happy to have settled into our Tel Aviv apartment. We moved in Tuesday after getting to know each other without the distractions of busy city life. I’ve decided to wait so long to update the blog considering we were spending most of our time either hanging out by the pool, eating a lot of fresh foods grown on or around the kibbutz, or talking about logistical information about the program. However, I’m going to include all of the highlights that really had an impact on me.

One of the 1st days there, an American who had made aliyah a gazillion years ago presented the Arava Institute, an org. founded and run on the kibbutz. According to him, the Israeli educational facility was “green” way before it was cool to be so and they have been rockin’ it ever since. I’m going to be honest, I didn’t listen to much of what he was saying, or if I did, I didn’t retain much. I do remember him mentioning though the fact that the kibbutz we were visiting was positioned 20 minutes walk from the Jordanian border and 20 minutes drive to Egypt. Check it out on the map from a previous post. He stressed the importance of working together with the two close Arab neighbors—both countries are on fine political terms with Israel, but it’s still not perfect, obviously—and threw out the slogan of the organization, “Nature Without Borders.” Get it? Because only people can make borders? I liked it.

The courtyard where we stayed and I was able to get wifi
The following evening, we anxiously awaited a tour of the kibbutz that although was falling on the 3rd day of our stay, we really thought it would have made more sense to have it on the 1st. Would have made more sense, right? Anyway, turns out the tour was canceled regardless of the schedule and instead we were going to hike up a mountain with a “slight incline” in order to see the sunset. Beautiful. We start the trek up and it was definitely more than the “slight” we had been prepared for. The walk up was not so bad and the view was breathtaking. It also put the small size of the kibbutz into perspective and allowed us to few the only highway in Israel leading down to Eilat (a 30 minute drive from the kibbutz). From the top of the mountain we were able to see the hills of Jordan literally across the street and try to imagine what it was like being there some 30 odd years ago when the Jordanians were attacking some of the kibbutzes in the area. I mean, I  don’t really know why we decided to think about that, but it seems to be a common theme in Israel: remembering when things were bad. Here are some pictures of us walking up the mountain and on the top. I also took a panaromic video at the peak, so enjoy!
The trek up the mountain
View of Kibbutz Ketura
Sara, Justin, and I on top of the mountain (Jordan in the background)

Following a few days filled with lots o’ sun, Israeli salads, a nice Shabbat dinner, and too much hummus, Monday night arrived with the most worthwhile event of the entire beginning seminar. The group took a bus to the most bottom point of the Negev Desert. I had previously thought that the kibbutz was still located in the Negev, but I found out that it’s right after the desert ends and in fact as a Sub-Saharan African climate as opposed to the usual Israeli climate; AKA really freakin’ hot. Anyway, we drove up behind the kibbutz onto some hills/mountains (honestly I have trouble telling the difference between the 2) and watched the bus drive away as it dropped us off. We started hiking up one of the hills and when we reached the top, we discovered one of the most beautiful breathtaking landscapes I have ever seen. The rolling hills were covered in peaceful sand while the wind gently pushed it around almost like water in a stream. And seriously, it was the softest sand I have felt to date. It was awesome. (Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of this amazing place because everyone was getting sand in their cameras and I was afraid to use mine due to the wind. I may be able to snag someone else's soon. However, for right now, go to google, type in sand dunes in the Negev, and I'm sure you'll find something equivalent. Now imagine being there.)

After jumping around in the sand for about 30 minutes, our group leader gave us 2 pieces of paper and a pencil and told us to spread out among the dunes so that no one could see another person. Somehow we managed to do this successfully and we sat in complete silence for 20 minutes. Well actually, it wasn’t completely silent because a pick-up truck drove a few yards in front of me bringing dinner and apparently someone’s cell phone went off with Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” playing as a ringtone. But regardless, it was serene. I surprised myself by actually taking the assignment seriously and when it was time to write on the paper, I found myself easily expressing myself with words. The other paper was a personal letter to ourselves that we will get back at the end of the trip, but I will share what the 1st assignment was:

The prompt:
“The wilderness is not just a desert through which we wandered for forty years. It is a way of being. A place that demands being open to the flow of life around you. A place that demands being honest with yourself without regard to the cost in personal anxiety. A place that demands being present with all of yourself” –Lawrence Kushner, Honey in the Rock

As you prepare to journey up from the desert, take advantage of this unique environment and ask yourself: what are your personal hopes and expectations for the year ahead?

My response:
As I sit in one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen I can’t help but think about the near border of Egypt and try to imagine the thousands of innocent refugee men, women, and children wandering, walking, running, struggling through the desert in order to reach Israel, their “Land of Opportunity.” I’m having a difficult time understanding and empathizing with these people that are risking their lives and their families in order to become a part of a society in which they don’t belong.  I want to listen to their stories, laugh, cry, gasp in fear and in astonishment, and expose myself to a completely new people that I’m sure will ultimately teach me more than I will be able to teach them. I hope to simultaneously form a stronger connection to Israel while also being able to provide comfort and support to other foreigners both immigrants and refugees who don’t yet feel at home in the Jewish State.

End scene.

Afterwards, we made some bread on this thing that looked like an upside wok (side note: I’m using the word “we” loosely mostly because my bread feel off the pan into the sand so I just took someone else’s—I mean someone gave me his because he was making a lot). Hands down the best bread I’ve had in Israel.

Enough about the kibbutz, now I have successfully moved into the apartment in Kiryat Shalom, a small neighborhood in the south of Tel Aviv. Next post will feature some fun times at my host family’s house for Rosh Hashanah!

Peace&Love y’all


  1. Talk about making the desert bloom. So beautiful, love, M

  2. Hey everyone, turns out my Uncle Mark and Aunt Ellie stayed at the same kibbutz back in the 70s! Here's his story from their visit:

    Aunt Ellie and I went to Kibbutz Ketura in August 1979 to visit a friend of mine from HaShomer HaTzair who was making aliyah there. We arrived about noon from Eilat. It was hot as hell. No one was around. The security fence was open and unguarded. No one was in the Migdal. As we wandered into the Kibbutz, we could see only one person outside in the distance. He was raking sand. We figured he had lost his mind in the heat so we did not approach him. Nothing was green. There was none of the grass that is in your photos.

    We wandered into the Chadar Ochel and finally ran into two American olot. They told us that my friend, Miriam Westheimer, had had more sense than to remain in Ketura in August. She went to Switzerland for a family reunion. They told us to stay in her 1-1/2 since she was gone. It was unlocked, of course. She had been gone about a week. The windows were sealed tight and the door had been closed. The kibbutz was the only place in all of Israel where I remember finding air conditioners in 1979 because it was so unbearably hot there. Miriam's air conditioner had been off for the week. Nevertheless, there was a layer of the fine sand that you described in your blog covering her bed, pillows and floor! It had penetrated the sealed room!

    The kibbutzniks told us that the soil was so poor at Ketura that the fields were located across the border in Jordan! I don't know how true that was but there were border adjustments in the peace agreement with Jordan and I always suspected that that was one of the adjustments. The Jordanians had more sense than to hang out in that section of the desert, so they did not bother the kibbutzniks and the kibbutzniks felt free to leave the security fence open and unattended. There were few border clashes in that part of the Negev. It was too sparsely populated on both sides of the border and Aquaba was too vulnerable to Israeli counterattacks and too important to the Jordanians to risk violence there.

    Aunt Ellie and I left the next day. Miriam soon after left the kibbutz and settled for awhile in Haifa. I heard that she returned to the U.S. Many years later, I heard that an environmental institute had opened in the Arava near Eilat and discovered that it was at Ketura. Photos are on the institute website. If you had seen it in 1979 you would understand our shock at the website and at your photos. A gazillion years ago, few could have imagined how it would have turned out!