Thursday, March 13, 2014

Alternative spring breaker reports from the Negev

By Samantha Mellman

It is the end of day 2 of our week long journey in the Negev desert on JNF ASB. Yesterday we volunteered at an Ethiopian urban farm in Be’er  Sheva which is maintained by an organization called Earth's Promise and today we spent time at Yossi's farm in Kerem Behar Hanegev.  I did not realize that small family farms can not always afford the tools and technology to cultivate and clean their land in a relatively quick and simple way. Our group had to rake weeds, nail benches, and shovel mulch with our bare hands. This was the first time I have volunteered on farms, and even though my arms and back are a bit sore I can sleep in our kibbutz happy knowing that we made a difference.

In two days, I have learned so much more about the Negev then I ever knew before. I went on Birthright three years ago and we visited the desert for one day. I thought all there was to see was Mt. Masada and the Dead Sea. I figured no one else lives here besides Bedouins. I was proven wrong.  From listening to various speakers on our trip I have come to understand that the Negev is in an ongoing process of development. This was my first visit to Be'er Sheva and when we stood on a newly built bridge at Be'er Sheva River Park I saw the promise this city has to be a thriving metropolis like Tel Aviv.

After we finished our work at Yossi's farm we took a short bus ride to the Ramon Crater, the world's largest natural ditch,  so to speak. The view from the top of the crater was breath taking. When I looked at the brown dusted cliffs, valleys, and mountain sides I thought about our people's journey to the land of Israel. I said to myself this is the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Being in the Negev is as much of a spiritual experience for me as visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

A highlight of my day today was seeing former Israeli Prime Minister Ben Gurion's grave. The state created a beautiful national park overlooking the beauty of the Negev where Ben Gurion and his wife are laid to rest. Our group played a trivia game to learn more about the personal life of Ben Gurion.  For example, one of his hobbies was to do headstands and go for long walks.

After a long day of work and sight seeing all we could think about was passing out for the night. However, we are just as eager to start our next project in the morning at Bnei Netzarim in Halutza. Birthright was an amazing trip of touring and learning about Jewish culture, but being a part of JNF's Blueprint Negev campaign is especially rewarding. All Jews feel an connection to Israel, so leaving a foot print while helping our nation is a blessing that can be shared amongst us all. 

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