Negev Desert Education Seminar

On Monday we had our first full day of education seminars. We left Beit Canada at 7:00 a.m. and made our way into the Negev to learn all about the area. The Negev Desert makes up 60% of the country of Israel and only 10% of people populate it! Crazy!

This actually causes a huge problem because there is so much undeveloped land and many Israelis are struggling to figure out how they can get more citizens to move there. Our whole education day centered on this problem.

We first met with Lee Pearlman who talked about the importance of the Negev. He talked about the 7 P’s of the area (The P idea stemmed from his last name Pearlman) – Policy, Planning, Political will, People, Partnership, Periphery, Philanthropy, and Pioneering.

We were sitting listening to Mr. Pearlman in an apartment owned by a group of 30 young people in their 20’s. They came to the area to create a communal neighborhood for each other and see to social action. They participate in socialism – they share things and grow together, but not so extreme that they cannot still think, study, and work individually.

They have their own-shared apartment, their cell phone plan is a family plan, they take weekend trips together, and have Shabbat lunches and dinners together. Man what a clan!

These youngins came to a low-economic area to help the neighborhood grow and prosper. The cultures between the group of young people (who are Ashkenazi) and the natives of the neighborhood (who are Sephardim) are entirely different. A University was also built in that location with the intention of “bettering” the neighborhood as well.

My feelings are mixed on the idea of moving in and ‘bettering’ the neighborhood. I understand the concept of it, and I fully support this move on North St. in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. But I also feel sympathy for those who are natives and feel like people are coming in and taking over. Though I am mixed on the idea it seems to me that the longer the new group of people are living there the more the groups are intermingling and connecting. So maybe this will be a ‘happily ever after’ ending.

At the end of walking around the neighborhood we went to a local coffee shop that hires 15 at-risk kids who can now make some money. The shop is for young locals to have a place to come to and talk and feel safe. The ultimate goal of building the shop is to have the kids from the neighborhood run it. While there we were able to choose either a cappuccino or a hot chocolate to drink. It was nothing short of amazing.

The second place we traveled to was at an elementary school for Bedouin children. When we arrived there was fun Bedouin music playing and all the children were outside and lined up to greet “the Americans” (ooh la la). Our speaker led us to an “experimental school area” to sit and listen to him. Here there were more cultural Bedouin surroundings including pictures, a well, and a Bedouin tent.

Other experimental areas include, in the school, a hot house and outside the school, a trip to real Bedouin tents. The hot house is for medicinal plants and the differences between them being grown in the controlled area of the school versus in the Negev Desert.

Outside of the school the students travel to tents Bedouins live in and study the environment. Students ask how they live with animals, what they eat, what their tents are made of, etc. Some questions they raise are such, how has our new world of technology affected these elders and also effected the environment?

There is now a new culture of disposable products and no system of fixing it because the Bedouins were never used to dealing with this garbage in the past. Their lifestyle was to use and reuse the same three pots. Now they either burn or leave the trash there.

Students also research how energy is produced and used. Now in the tents there are TV’s, phones, etc.

In the past Bedouins were completely isolated and now, half of them are becoming more Westernized and in full communication with the modern world. There is a huge gap, and thus a big problem, between these modern Bedouins and ones who have remained more traditional.

There are currently 7 recognized Bedouin villages in Israel and 50 unrecognized ones, The Westerners want to come in and take the land and the Bedouins are claiming this is their land. Unfortunately they are not as nomadic as they want to be because Israel is a closed state, how far can they actually wander? I am not going to drag on, but I just want to note how typical this “my land-your land takeover” situation is.

Other interesting things to note is that Bedouins lived here through the Ottoman ruling, the British ruling, and now are living under the Jewish Empire. But through all of this they have always kept to themselves. The one problem they have found is how they identify themselves – Israeli, Jordanian, Palestinian, just Bedouin? HmmMm….

After this learning adventure we made our way to David Ben-Gurion’s desert home. Many of you may have heard of him because the Israeli airport is named after him. Or you may have heard him referenced in the film, Wet Hot American Summer. Two of the reasons why he is actually famous are because he played a major role in the declaration of the state of Israel and, he also helped in the creation of the Israeli Defense Forces.

David BG mourned when Israel became a Jewish state because he knew it would be hard for the youth living here. He was certainly a man ahead of his time. In 1953 he came to the Negev to join a Kibbutz hoping people would follow him there, but unfortunately Israel is still confronting a problem of people populating the Negev area. We learned a lot here about David BG, his accomplishments, and his aspirations he had yet to fulfill. Two of them are still asked today.

These two main questions asked of the day are: Are things in the Negev changing slowly? Should things change? Many people living in the Negev area like the lack of population and the quiet life of living off the land. They do not want to see a Tel Aviv in the Negev. So there’s that side of the argument.

Our last stop of the day was at a goat farm where we met with one of the farmers and got to see the goats real up close and personal. At the end we got to sample some goat yogurt, goat milk, and goat cheese. I loved the goats, but the samples I didn’t try just in case you were wondering.

The day ended with a nice nap on the bus ride home and the new John Legend CD that was recently added to my iPod. The nap was inspired by the hammock that was at the farm.

This bathroom door at the farm is inspired for my bathroom door in my future home.

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