I’ve never tolerated heat well, which probably explains why I’m not bothered by cold Maine winters – I actually enjoy them! I truly suffer in hot and humid climates, so many geographic areas of Israel where I might otherwise enjoy residing are simply not an option for me. However, there is a distinction between “high” and “low” desert. “Low” desert stays hot at night, and the air is not as dry as in “high” desert, where even though daytime temps can reach well over 100 degrees, nights are in the 60s- 70s and in winter it can actually reach freezing. In practical terms, places like Rehovot, Raanana, and Be’er Sheva are out, but the Negev community of Midreshet Ben Gurion is definitely worth considering.
“P,” a friend from my home town, made aliyah about 20 years ago. She built a home in the town of Neve Dekalim in Gush Katif, but we all know how that ended. With her compensation package, she bought a lot and built her home in Midreshet Ben Gurion, and she is quite happy there. It’s perhaps best known as the site of Ben Gurion’s grave, which overlooks the dramatic Tzin Desert. In recent years the tiny academic community has expanded and it’s practically a suburb of Be’er Sheva (it’s between Be’er Sheva and Ramon Crater, with buses each way once an hour). Even though there is a synagogue there, it’s not a religious community – it’s mostly secular families who are in some way connected with academia or scientific research. The community was originally designed around Ben Gurion University’s satellite campus, which is an international graduate school of desert studies. Whether it’s desert-friendly architecture, solar energy, desert agriculture, desert botany, zoology, etc., state-of-the-art research that is desert-based is conducted here. (I wrote about this in more detail in my blog when I visited last year. You can click here to see the original post and pictures from that trip, as the weather was more photo-friendly that day.)
Last year 80 building lots came up for sale . . . they were sold out in 10 days! On this trip, we were able to see actual construction taking place. Even though the homes are being built in the “pueblo” style, each person has his own idea how to accomplish that in the most energy-efficient way possible. We visited one construction site where a family was building a straw-bale house all by themselves, as a sort of 3-generation family project. Straw bales were stacked within a frame, and coated with mud inside and out. The walls are tremendously thick, and should help keep the house cool during the searingly hot summer days.
After visiting our friend’s house, we hiked in Ein Avdat Nature Park, where there is a beautiful oasis.
From there our friend took us to the community of Mitzpeh Ramon, which sits on an edge of the giant crater. Recently an extremely fancy hotel and spa opened there, called Bereishit. How fancy? In addition to a giant infinity pool with an astounding view that overlooks desert cliffs, several of the units each have their own swimming pool, which is pretty absurd for a remote desert location that has serious issues with water availability. Prices start at 3000 shekel per night – – but the most expensive rooms cost 30,000 shekels per night! (At the time we were there the exchange rate was 3.77 shekels to the dollar.) Amazingly, most of the guests were not rich Americans but rather, very wealthy Israelis. I don’t know whether they made their money in or outside of Israel, but we were outclassed and certainly not within our comfort zone and so we called it a day and returned by good old-fashioned public bus to Be’er Sheva!