Happy is an understatement, and the sense of relief that we had not spent the night in a tent was palpable as we all came together for a classic Israeli breakfast- salad, cheese and yogurt. I was particularly excited for the day ahead, as today was the JNF day, a cause really close to my heart and a massive part of my life.
Our first stop was Sderot, a community that we had all heard lots about over the years, and I found the whole experience incredibly confronting. We were taken to the school where every classroom was a bomb shelter itself, and there were indoor playgrounds so the children could still play during wartime. I was completely taken aback. Growing up in Sydney, I could not even begin to fathom a life so filled with disruption and danger, a constant sense of fear and anxiety. One of the teachers at the school name Noga, spoke to us about how her daughter lost two of her friends in a bombing at the young age of ten, and was completely traumatised for the next six years of her life. As Noga related her story, I felt so unbelievably privileged and so terribly distraught at the situation that these people have to deal with. What opened my eyes the most, and was perhaps the true epitome of the Israeli people, is that despite the fact that they were sitting in a bomb shelter, they were still smiling and going about a regular school day. We always hear of the strength and resilience of the Israeli people, but it has never been more evident than to me than today in the school.
JNF had funded the majority of the school, and it was amazing to know that this school was providing security and stability for a people with no constancy in their lives. During the war last year, Sderot was a massive target, and hundreds of rockets were fired on the city over the course of the war, leaving damaged homes and buildings, including parts of the school.
After seeing the victims of the rockets fired from Gaza, we went to a place overlooking Gaza. It was insane. I was looking at the place that I constantly read about in the news, the place that I’ve heard about every single assembly for the past ten years of my life, the place that caused so much pain to my people. It didn’t seem real. The memorial overlooking Gaza was in memory of a soldier, Asaf Siboni, who died at the young age of twenty, in 1997, when two military helicopters collided. The memorial included a large set of wind chimes, to symbolize how he loved music.
We then got back on the bus and drove to the Nahal Habsor river, with a bridge over it. All of us ran up the bridge and it swung back and forward, it felt like a scene from Bridge to Terabithia! At the other side of the river was a monument dedicated to the ANZACs. It was pretty crazy to be at an ANZAC memorial in Israel of all places, but once we learnt about the part the ANZACs had played in the conquering of Palestine in 1917, it made everything come together really nicely. The ANZACs fought against the Turks there and the battle was a pivotal moment in the history of the modern Jewish state for it was directly responsible for the English conquering the land and subsequently establishing the British Mandate which would eventually lead to the Balfour declaration, which ultimately set the framework for the state of Israel as we know it.
We visited two water reservoirs before arriving at a place called ‘the Salad Trail.’ We’d heard a lot of cool things about it, so were pretty excited to eat some fruit- something we hadn’t had a lot of on IST!! Seeing as the field was situated in the desert, it had a large focus on ‘making the desert bloom,’ one of the goals of the JNF, and trying to really make the desert a habitable and sustainable part of Israel. A lot of research is done in Australia about how to work in a desert environment and so many people are sent from Australia to come study and investigate different solutions to problems posed by the desert. It is located seven kilometers from both the Gaza Strip and the Egyptian border, but despite this, is a leader in discovering new technologies and utilizing them; such as the drip irrigation system, and making sure that Israel remains the leading country in desalinization and cleaning of sewerage water.
Our first stop was a greenhouse filled with tomatoes, cucumbers and hot peppers. After our guide showed us all the different types of vegetables in the greenhouse, we could go around and pick off every vegetable we wanted! I went from row to row of trees picking off red, yellow, and orange tomatoes, prickly cucumbers and two people in my group tried the spicy peppers, and it was hilarious to watch as the spice kicked in. We then went to the strawberry greenhouse, and saw juicy, red strawberries hanging from suspended bushes- also an Israeli invention. We then got to try some strawberries, and wow, just wow. Next were the carrots, where we got to pick them out of the ground and then wash and eat them. They were delicious! Finally we got to pick lemons, oranges and cumquats off the trees, and all of us were in heaven eating so much delicious, fresh fruit. Sadly it was time to leave, even though we could of stayed there for another day eating all the fruit. We then drove back to the Kibbutz after an amazing day.
Today we really saw another side of Israel, especially after seeing the army side yesterday, and it was incredible to see the physical side of this amazing country, its foundations and its bright future ahead of it. Having the JNF sponsor such a fun and educational day that we all enjoyed was so great, and I was so proud of how much work the Australian friends of the JNF did to help build so many projects that we were able to visit.