Day 21: Netzach, Israel - Anila Bonfil

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Today we got straight back into our IST schedules with our abrupt 6.30am wake up - a drastic change from our lazy weekend. Despite the break though, everyone was quick in getting back into routine with a speedy breakfast and morning davening. In fact, there was something unusual about this morning; there were people who were actually early for breakfast - this was most likely due to the fact that everyone was eager to sign up for their favourite options for Tuesday's activities.

After prayers, we all piled into the buses (although not our usual ones). Today was JNF Day, a full day sponsored by our friends from the Jewish National Fund, dedicated to showing us some of their activities. After meeting our new bus driver and guard for the day, we started our hour and a half long journey to the town of Beersheba.

Our bus ride was full of the usual shenanigans and by the end of it we found that we weren't exactly in Beersheba but in a place next to it, known as Eshel House. Eshel House was a former Jewish settlement, one of the original three settlements of the Negev Desert which served as an experiment to prove that the Jewish people could utilise the Negev for agriculture. Unfortunately, this former home to 100 residents was destroyed completely due to bombings during the 1948 Independence War. We, along with our new tour guide for the day Karen, toured through the remains of the settlement and learned about these brave settlers.

We then made our way into Beersheba to a museum that was a little closer to home, the brand new ANZAC Memorial commemorating the heroic Lighthorse charge of Beersheba on 31 October 1917, just over 100 years ago. In the musuem we learned about what the Allied soldiers in the Sinai went through and what they had achieved in this place. In particular we got to see some original letters from Trooper Randolph Edward Cleaver who eventually died during the charge of Beersheba. We also watched a 12 minute movie recreating the charge and its events. Outside the musuem, we were given the chance to explore the World War 1 British military cemetery and heard the stories of some unique characters that were buried there, including a Jewish soldier whose parents had a hard time deciding whether he should have a Magen David on his tombstone to represent his heritage, or a cross so that he would be equal to his fellow fallen mates.

From there, we were taken to a lookout out which stood between 3 water reservoirs built by the JNF. This place had a particular meaning for us as these reservoirs were built with money raised by the Australian Jewish community, including our friends and families. Admiring the view from the lookout, we saw that the whole desert had been transformed from a barren landscape into a green wonderland. For me, this was even more important as for the last 2 years I had been a part of the annual JNF Green Sunday telethon, and this was direct proof that our efforts on the other side of the world were actually paying off where it mattered most.

Our final destination of the day was the one I was most looking forward to, the Salad Trail. This was an agricultural experience centre, showcasing the wondrous produce that Israel grows right here in the middle of the Negev Desert. Our first stop on the Salad Trail was the carrot crops. After deliberating between the variety of coloured carrots (orange, white, yellow and purple), we got down in the mud to pull out our very own carrot to taste! We then made our way to the Passionfruit maze, where we held some friendly competitions to see who would make it out first. After that, we entered a greenhouse that housed a multitude of different cherry tomato varieties and cucumbers that we were given the opportunity to pick and taste. There was also a chilli crop at the back that a few courageous souls decided to taste (let's just say the Salad Trail Kiosk made a large profit on ice cream and milk today). We also got to see the strawberry greenhouse and taste some of the delicious fruit.

To finish off our Salad Trail experience, we got to the chance to see some of their homing pigeons and I volunteered to be one of the ten daring students to hold and release the pigeons during a photo. Right as we released the pigeons though, they decided to turn on the sprinklers giving all of us a big shock and the pigeons an epic exit!

With that, we all came back to the hotel, exhausted after the action packed day we had just had. Some of us lucky few, went out for dinner with our respective families, while the others had dinner at the hotel. After dinner, we had a tochnit session, discussing some prominent political issues of Israel, before all piling into bed for some well deserved rest.

Day 22: Lehava, Israel - Keren Dorfan

Day 20: Lehava, Israel - Jenna Karpas and Ash Corrick