Posts Tagged ‘midreshet ben gurion’

Israel, Day 7: Jerusalem

2014-05-21 06.50.37_resizedBefore leaving Midreshet Ben Gurion, we took a quick look at the new home construction.  One hundred eighty building lots were snapped up in less than 10 days.  Prices have already doubled.

There are many eco-conscious residents who are scientists, educators, agronomists, and architects living in Midreshet Ben Gurion, and many have incorporated their desert-related research about energy efficiency and the desert environment when building their homes.  There are straw-bale homes, solar homes, and now, for the first time in this new neighborhood, a rammed-earth home in the initial stages of construction.

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To the rear right side, a “sealed room” shelter of reinforced cement has been added to the house, required by code for every new dwelling in Israel in the event of rocket attack or war.

 

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On our way from the Negev headed north to Jerusalem, we traveled over the “Green Line” into areas of “shared” jurisdiction by the Palestinian Authority.  Unlike most of the rest of Israel, where Israelis and Arabs shop and work and study together, there was a sinister undercurrent. (ed. note:  this post was written a few days before 3 Israeli teenagers were kidnapped by terrorists, in the very area I was writing about.)

In front of every Arab city, town and village was a huge orange sign in English, Hebrew and Arabic that warned,

THE ENTRANCE FOR ISRAELI CITIZENS IS FORBIDDEN.”

And to think Israel has been accused of being an apartheid State!

I have never, ever seen such a sign in any Israeli city, town or village forbidding Arabs from entering, and wondered what the world at large would say if such signs did exist.  I know of no Israeli Jew who is welcome to study at Arab universities within “Palestinian territory”, nor receive medical aid at Arab hospitals; yet the reverse is certainly true:  Arabs receive degrees from all Israeli universities and are treated at Israeli hospitals throughout the country.  How poisonous is this blind hatred!

Before going to Jerusalem, we drove to the nearby city of Ma’aleh Adumim, where we visited with friends.  We knew we didn’t want to drive our rental car within Jerusalem’s city limits due to traffic, overcrowding, and too many one-way streets.  There are buses every 10 -15 minutes to Jerusalem from Ma’aleh Adumim, and so we happily boarded an outgoing bus, reaching Jeruslaem’s Central Bus Station within 15 minutes.  The new-ish train was also full of commuters.  At the bus station, which is filled with small shops, we made the only touristy purchase of our trip:  some new kippot (yarmulkas) for my husband and a couple of headscarves for myself — a total of 15 minutes.  Since we hadn’t come to shop for souvenirs nor Judaica, we were not planning to hit Geula, Mea Shearim, or Ben Yehuda to buy any touristy stuff.  I had only two places on my Jerusalem agenda:  shuk Machane Yehuda (the open-air market) and the Kotel (Western Wall.)

After buying Israeli chocolate bars for our grandchildren in the U.S., we left the shuk, grabbed a delicious and inexpensive shwarma at a roadside stand (where we ate alongside religious and secular Israelis, as well as Muslim and Christian Arabs all enjoying the delicious food), and made our way to the Kotel.  It was now dusk.

As we made our way towards the Kotel entrance, an amazing sight greeted us:  tens of thousands of people, with barely space to move!

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Unbeknownst to us, we had walked right into a special military ceremony, in which newly inducted members of the Golani brigade recite their oaths of allegiance to the State of Israel.

It was highly moving; hundreds of soldiers stood in their platoons in the plaza reciting the oath, as thousands of family members looked on from the sides with tears of bittersweet joy and pride.  To ensure that everyone could see, huge screens showing the soldiers up close were placed throughout the plaza.  These new soldiers consisted of sabras and immigrants from Ethiopia, Russia, France, the United States, Canada, and South America, religious and secular.  It was extremely moving to hear tens of thousands of voices – – soldiers, their families, and general visitors to the Kotel — sing Hatikva, Israel’s national anthem, as one.

But the highlight, for me, was at the ceremony’s conclusion, when the soldiers were allowed to rejoin their families.  There was a mad rush as grandparents, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters found one another across the plaza, embracing with joy and pride and all stopping to take pictures of the occasion.

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Israel is a small country, and the degrees of separation are few.  Nearly every Israeli has a relative who was killed fighting one of Israel’s many wars.  Nearly every Israeli knows someone killed or gravely injured in a terrorist attack.  Imagine how difficult it is for parents and siblings and girlfriends to wish “mazal tov” to these sons and daughters of Israel, and yet they do so with pride, hope, fear, prayer, faith, appreciation, gratitude and joy.

Our unexpected encounter at the Kotel was one of the highlights of our trip.  And with deep feeling, I davened at the Wall, praying not only on behalf of sick friends, on behalf of the welfare of my family, and of Jews around the world.  I prayed for those hundreds of Golani soldiers, that HaShem should protect them; that they should survive, live and thrive in the Land of Israel for their families’ sake and for the sake of all Jews, everywhere.

Please pray for the safe return of teenagers Yaakov Naftali ben Rachel Devora, Gilad Michael ben Bat Galim, and Eyal ben Iris Teshurah, who were abducted by terrorists on their way home from school.

 

 

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Israel, Days 6 – 7: Negev Desert

Anyone considering a move to Israel should put the South (Negev Desert) at the very top of their list.  Even Israelis in Tel Aviv and Haifa who wouldn’t dream of moving to the South to live in the desert are snapping up newly-built apartments as an investment.

The Negev desert makes up more than half of Israel’s land mass, but only 8% of the population currently lives there.

That is about to change.  More than any other place in Israel, in the next ten years, the Negev will be expanding at warp speed.

Later this year, over 10,000 troops will move from army bases in land-pricey greater Tel Aviv to a $650 million dollar training base now under construction 30 miles south of Be’er Sheva.  By the end of the decade, half of the bases in Israel’s center will move South.  Two- to three hundred career officers and their families will also be making the move, and require the housing to go with it.

But not only will the army be bringing their families to settle in the desert.

 

International hi-tech corporations such as EMC, IBM, Cisco, Lockheed Martin, RSA and Deutsche Telekom are opening R&D (research and development) labs in a new technology park in Be’er Sheva. (You can see photos of Be’er Sheva from my 2011 trip here.)

Be’er Sheva is host to a renowned university (Ben Gurion University) and hospital (Soroka); its own symphony and shopping malls; its concert hall and cultural center attracts internationally recognized artists.  Everywhere you look, giant cranes assist in the construction of luxurious hi-rise apartment buildings, along with villas-in-progress on the outskirts of town.

Even formerly backwater towns such as Dimona and Yerucham – – once upon a time crime-ridden places filled with unemployed men loitering on the streets with too much time on their hands – – are feeling the effects of this metamorphosis-in-progress.  In the old days, you practically couldn’t pay someone to live in these places.  Today, it’s not uncommon to see luxury apartments and private homes in the $450K – $600K range.

I am blessed to have a wonderful friend – – one of Israel’s top entomologists and scientific researchers – – who has lived in Midreshet Ben Gurion/Sde Boker in the Negev for the past decade.  She was kind enough to let us use her house as a base to explore the Negev.  I wrote extensively about Midreshet Ben Gurion on a previous trip to Israel, and you can read about that here (and don’t forget to look at the stunning photos of the Zin wilderness).  We drove 30 minutes south of our friend’s house until we reached the funky town of Mitzpe Ramon.

There we met with a pioneering couple around our age, the Rappeports, who are attempting, quite literally, to make the desert bloom.  They have 80 dunam (20 acres of sand and scrub) just outside of Mitzpe Ramon, where they are planting Argan trees.  Argan oil extracted from this tree is used in shampoos and other cosmetics.

 

Watering an experimental vegetable garden

Watering an experimental vegetable garden. In the background is a neighboring “farm,” in which someone is successfully growing grapes in a vineyard of sand and dust with drip irrigation. I don’t know how the grapes survive the searing temperatures and sandstorms and whipping wind, but they do.

Aragon tree seedlings await planting

Argan tree seedlings await planting

An argan tree seedling, next to some drip irrigation

An argan tree seedling, next to some drip irrigation

Imagine the courage, determination and faith it takes to look at this vast, searingly hot and dusty, sandy expanse and dare to dream that it will bloom one day.  Ben Gurion believed it.  The Rappeports believe it.  And G-d has promised it to the Jewish people.  Israel is full of wide-open, living miracles that one can experience on nearly a daily basis.

Imagine the courage, determination and faith it takes to look at this vast, searingly hot and dusty, sandy expanse and dare to dream that it will bloom one day. Ben Gurion believed it. The Rappeports believe it. And G-d has promised it to the Jewish people. Israel is full of wide-open, living miracles that one can experience on nearly a daily basis.

 

Alas, it was not a good day for planting the 200 seedlings they had hoped to put into the ground!  We found ourselves in the middle of a raging sandstorm, with winds whipping the fine grains of sand into every pore of our being.  (I would taste grit for several hours afterwards.)  We took shelter inside a storage shed, hoping to wait out the storm, but there was no let-up.  Admitting defeat, the Rappeports instead invited us to their home for a cold drink (it’s hot in the desert!), where they told us a little about Mitzpe Ramon.

The town of Mitzpe Ramon sits along the edge of an unusual geological formation similar to a crater, known as Makhtesh Ramon.  It’s Israel’s wannabe Grand Canyon, with its steep desert cliffs changing color based on the time of day.  It is also home to many different zimmers, as well as a new-ish luxury hotel spa called Beresheet.  Mitzpe Ramon is surrounded by national parks, including an oasis with a stream bed and palm trees.  The hills are dotted with mountain goats called ibex.  It’s also a center of ecotourism and mountain biking, artists and musicians; a wannabe Burning Man festival, lots of dance and alternative music festivals (with plenty of hippies to make it feel more authentic).  There’s also a yeshiva there (men’s religious seminary).  Think of Mitzpe Ramon as a much smaller, indie version of Palm Springs, minus the golf courses.

There is bus service every 30 minutes – 1 hour to Be’er Sheva and there are also buses that go from Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat.  And because it is considered “high desert” (elevation 2,800 feet), the night, after a hellish-hot day, can get downright chilly.  On a clear day, dramatic views of the desert and its many colors and contours, mysteries and wonders delight.

But: it’s hot.  True, it’s not humid like Tel Aviv, Ra’anana or Rehovot.

But it’s still hot.

Hellish hot.

It’s the hot flash that never goes away, for about 10 months out of 12.

And those pesky, several-times-a-year sandstorms!   The thought of constant sweeping and dusting (one woman told me she has the air filter on her car changed at twice the normal interval, due to all the sand) made me re-think any fantasies of pioneering in the Negev.