Day 37 and 38 - JNF Day, Bedouin Tents, Masada and Dead Sea
After a jam packed day and the opportunity to spend a night at the Tayelet on the stunning beaches of Eilat with our much missed Netzach, we headed back to the hotel for an early night.
The next morning began with a burst of inspiration from Gabi during our creative tefillah sessions. She focused on the importance of guarding our speech, and what a truly religious Jew and servant of Hashem is, in accordance with what the Chafetz Chayim believed, an idea that left us with a lot to think about.
After Tefila, a two hour bus ride gave us time for a quick nap so that we arrived rested at the Vidor Centre for Agricultural Research in the Arava where we watched a film outlining the history of the Arava from the perspective of a tree that had been standing there for hundreds of years. We were guided through the exhibits, and were all especially enthralled by a sand table which was equipped with a computerised system portraying topographical processes of the area. The guide led us through a greenhouse in which farmers are able to adapt the temperature, ensuring the perfect environment for fruit and vegetables to grow. Unfortunately, no test tasting was allowed but instead we were treated to delicious dates that the friendly locals sold at reception.
After a quick stop for lunch we continued on to Bet Eshel which was a Jewish settlement established in the Negev desert in Mandate Palestine in 1943, as one of the three lookouts. The pioneers of Beit Eshel were Holocaust survivors from Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Germany. In May 1948, at the outset of the Arab-Israel war, Beit Eshel was cut off from Jewish territory and shelled by the Egyptians . Men and women were killed, buildings destroyed and under continuous attack, the settlers had no option but to leave. Beit Eshel was liberated in October 1948 and remains a national heritage site.
Our next stop was Kfar Hanokdim, which we imagined would be a genuine and basic Bedouin experience but turned out to be more like five star Bedouin hospitality. The girls were all thrilled to have a massive Lehava family, tent sleepover. The dining tent held a treat for our senses! The table was covered with salads, special bread , cous cous platters, meats, and vine leaves, all cooked with the most magnificent aromatic spices.
After dinner the Chanukah candles were lit, and being surrounded by chanukiot and light in this special time and place that we were, proved to me that there is no better environment to encourage growth within ourselves and in our religious practices than in Israel. Where better to bring up children and a family than in the land of Israel, where the culture and practises of the people mirror those of our religion and heritage? With these thoughts in mind we danced and sang until it was time to listen to the the Bedouin speaking about his experiences and the future of the Bedouins.
After a long day, everyone changed into their pjs and went outside for a bonfire where we were joined by an American Taglit group to sing together around the fire. A mere 5 hours later we were awake at the crack of dawn packing our bags once again, and after a Bedouin style breakfast we were ready to go on the much anticipated camel ride! Camels were named, mounted and ridden, allowing us to experience the desert as people of ancient times did, while we watched the sun rise in shades of pink and gold over the horizon.
Next on our agenda (as well as the Melbourne school Scopus) was Masada, which meant we were greeted by all our friends. We climbed up the Roman path which was a serious feat for me because after 6 weeks of eating, my fitness levels were not at it's peak! After learning in detail about the amazing story of Masada , we were posed with the dilemmas, which the Jews at the time living there, faced about how to live a Jewish life without the Beit Hamikdash, the most central part of their Judaism.
The Dead Sea was a much welcomed and unique form of relaxation. We lay in the water, made a massive chain with all of our bodies whilst floating and just had an incredible time. We all washed the salt of our stinging wounds and ran to the bus exhausted after a long day.
After our first dinner together as the whole of IST, we were honoured to hear the words of Kay Wilson, a survivor of a tragic terror attack in 2010. Not only was her story incredible , her delivery had us on the edge of our seats with humour, sarcasm and wit added for a thoroughly engaging experience. We learnt from Kay how incredibly lucky we are and through her love of life, we felt empowered to use our own for the better, a message that we will bring with us throughout the remainder of IST and when get get back.
By Dalia Goldberg