JNF Educators Study Tour 2020
Day 8 –  From Ramat Ha Negev to the Dead Sea

Reflections from Moriah College NSW and Southern Cross University NSW

Collaboration from teachers of Moriah College NSW –  Andrea Maier, Margaret Miller,  Max Agapitos, Lyn Bornstein and Shanon Byrne 

Once again we woke to a beautiful, sunny, crisp morning after a peaceful nights sleep.
Today’s new program should prove to be informative and “amazing”.

Interestingly the history of the Beso Valley links to yesterday’s story of the Anzacs as they passed through the area on their way to the battle for Be’er Sheva moving by night to avoid detection by German air fighter attack.

The Beso Reservoir project builds upon early Israeli investment, starting in 1948 to bring agriculture to the region. Turning the desert into a productive area has earned it the title the “miracle of Israel”. The challenge is now to capture flood water. Amazingly we can see groves of
lemon, orange trees and remarkably olive trees.

The visit to the Ramat HaNegev high school was impactful. It is clear that the Regional Council sees itself as the pioneer and future development region of Israel. The focus is to develop the region for the next 50 years and beyond in a sustainable way. Such a vision requires “ thinking outside the box” for all creation of all projects and initiatives.

The High school is adopting a similar approach. They are in their own words “Giving birth to adults.” Central to their program is the tenet “From men you came to men you shall return”. Their mission is to raise happy, well adjusted children who grow up with the values of humanity, love and inclusion and who will give back to the community. How inspirational is that!

Our next stop was Israel’s renewable energy valley. The Adhalin solar plant is another example of  an innovative solution to Israel’s energy production. As David Ben Gurion said in 1956 “ one type of energy we have in abundance is solar energy “.
The scale of the project is certainly impressive. The Head of Environment from the Regional Council, another pioneer, provided us with technical the detail of the 3 zones. Is the glowing tower soaring above the landscape sending us a message? The sun is shining on Israel’s future.

Again we are encouraged to think “outside the box”. The challenges that the region presents has led to the development of the extraordinary Nitzana educational village. It’s philosophy is to make the best of the desert and to “make your enemy your lover”.
Such an attitude has led to 11 programs ranging from a Bedouin boarding school, pre-army programs , desert science seminars and sustainability to programs for delinquent runaway Charedi youth.

Certainly living on the edge (adjoining the Egypt border) has produced remarkable initiatives!!! All those in the programs from such varied backgrounds and cultures appear to be thriving and developing into productive individuals.

We then had a taste of the desert, stopping off at a delicious food truck.

From there we headed to the Ramon Airforce base where we were priviledged to hear  first hand the life and work of the incredible and elite fighter pilots. Imagine yourself locked into a cavity no larger than your body size while moving faster than 90 meters per second, thousands of meters above the sky and being chased by an enemy missile, maneuvering in 360 degree turns. Including social pressures and life demands, these are just some of the adrenaline pumping responsibilities these national protectors face to give security and safety to their families and civilians of Israel.

An exciting opportunity awaited us with a private presentation of day to day routines, soldier rules, operation procedures and regulations. If you have a spare $60,100’000, you can purchase one of these super F16i jets, inclusive of a state of the art Israeli tech savvy helmet, capable of transparent and night vision.

These jets are capable of flying 495 km in 15 minutes, exploding a 4 story building and bursting your eardrums on take off. As we watched in awe of what was an insightful experience into one of the largest air bases in the Northern Hemisphere, we reflected on the importance and values required by each soldier to serve their country. Commitment, responsibility for themselves and those around them, and diligence in all aspects of their learning.

The final educational stop for the day was  Sde Boker to visit the home of David Ben Gurion.
What a dedicated leader whose resolve was to create and build the state of Israel. A man of principle, simplicity, humility and vision!

Jeffrey Zerbst –  Academic Manager – Southern Cross University – NSW

I never promised you a rose garden – but here’s one anyway

Ha Ha! Dodging the self-imposed masochism of jogging with a fitness-obsessed Rabbi, I have instead arrived at the breakfast table to exercise my digestive tract instead. And, once again, we are being treated to another smorgasbord of pleasure.
But what’s this? The tour leaders are sending us up a steep hill to look at three reservoirs! Is this the Rabbi’s revenge for us not observing some lesser-known fast? This is unfair and unholy punishment for a bloated goy with blisters! I cry foul!
Compounding the issue is that there are some vulture-like birds circling. The irony is delicious. We are so overfed that we could survive forty days and nights in the desert without needing a morsel, so the Millwood scavengers will have slim pickings. Nor will they appreciate the terrain they are hovering over, which represents nothing less than a miracle. The plaque tells us that Israel is ‘Blooming the Wasteland’, which is a good way of putting it. The Besor Reservoir Complex receives recycled water from the north, and provides aquatic succor in an area which receives less than 100mm of rain a year. And what do we find? Orchards of oranges and lemons, and olive trees supporting Israel’s important olive oil industry. This desert is a land of greenery and abundant produce. It is a miracle of rare delight and truly mind-blowing for the visitor.
Oh, and red roses grow here too.

A narrative of pioneers and would-be potentates:

A man holding jurisdiction over 22% of a country will inevitably feel a sense of responsibility, and Eran Doron, Mayor of Ramat HaNegev, is clearly driven in his mission of developing the region, and obtaining the government support he feels should be more forthcoming. The Negev, he tells us, only became part of Israel following a decade of community settlement (1937 to 1947) which led to miracles such as gladiolas taking root in the desert. This fact so impressed a Swedish judge that he recommended to the UN that the Negev be included within the land of Israel. Predating the 60’s, this example of ‘flower power’ is truly remarkable.
Botanical and agricultural miracles aside, the presence of a major air force base, and other technological advancements has Doron fantasizing about an unlikely declaration of independence for Ramat HaNegev. The secret to progress in this region is “thinking outside the box”. By 2048, Doron’s vision of a region transformed in terms of education, transport, communities, farming and tourism, could be a social, economic and political powerhouse with more clout than one could now imagine. Remember the name Eran Doran. His delusions of grandeur could prove to be realistic visions of future potency.
He stressed the importance of partnerships, and KKL-JNF is the partner deluxe here. Ergo, there’s a long term plot afoot to establish this as Israel’s center of power (some of it solar), with Doron as PM, Yigal as Minister of Energy, Defence and Agriculture, and Zeev and Noam as Ministers of Tourism. 2048 is the date of the coup. You read it here first.
By the way, do any of you NOT think that it’s suspicious that it was a Swedish judge that made the key decision to bring the Negev into Israel? This was obviously one of Yigal’s forebears who spotted the area’s potential and started the process to bring a family member to power in the region.

Here Comes the Sun:

The Ashalim thermo solar plant is like the set of a Science Fiction movie, especially Plot B, with its shimmering tower of light, surrounded by worshipful panels flashing adoring glances at this desert idol. These 50,000 panels plus tower is the second-largest structure of its type in the world, since the only other one – in LA – has 75,000 panels. However, 50,000 more are planned for Ashalim, which means the US colossus will be … er… outshone. ‘Israel has to be the biggest in the world’, Yigal tells me. Well, of course.
Plot A makes use of ‘parabolic trough technology’ and also makes use of oil boiled to a temperature of 390 degrees Celsius. This oil flows into a turbine which produces 450GWHh of electricity a year. I always tell my students not to be too easily impressed by statistics since quoted stats inevitably sound impressive because otherwise no one would quote them. But these stats would impress anybody, as would this sparkling landscape of solar power.
Yes, this place is the stuff of dreams, and even now I am not sure whether I really saw this whacky solar-panel park, or someone put locally grown mushrooms into my scrambled egg this morning. A massive solar-panel park in the middle of nowhere? C’mon!

Loving the Alien:

David Palmach, Director of the Nitzana Educational Village, tells us: ‘Never fight with your enemy; learn how to make him your lover’. To this end, the sun (a natural enemy in the desert), has its furious, fiery energy captured and rerouted to create, of all things, a desert cooler. Such ingenuity is typical of the activities at Nitzana, where 11 programs are implemented for the benefit of local inhabitants – ‘humans are the most important things in this village’, says Palmach, showing a flair for a memorable comment. Projects here include water reclamation, running the first Bedouin boarding school, and participating in the wonderful Masa program, whereby Jewish young adults get to spend time living, studying and working in Israel. We met two young Russian women who were clearly enjoying their time in the village, and the Bedouin lad, Mohammed, who is learning how to swim. This is not a standard feature of desert life, but is perhaps useful if you’re experiencing a mirage near an imaginary oasis.

A moveable feast:

Reading that we were eating at Nitzana’s food truck, I imagined being served a shawarma by some enterprising bloke with a cousin in the JNF – imagine an Israeli version of Sydney’s Harry de Wheels. Instead, we found ourselves in a small culinary oasis full of flavorsome delights (the pot roast chicken even got the nod of approval from Reddam House). The JNF must love us very much. Either that or they have a special arrangement with the best lap band surgeons in Sydney and Melbourne.


A sleek and mean machine:

The visit to the Ramon Air Force Base was the Rock ‘n’ Roll part of the day’s activities, and clearly the most popular. We all stood in the hangar, admiring a sleek, streamlined, powerful, awe-inspiring, perfectly designed object. It must be said that the fighter plane was quite compelling too. Yes, folks, it was the Commander who drew most gasps and looks of admiration from the female contingent of onlookers. The F16 and its formidable payload was clearly second best in the sexy beast ratings, and the onboard climb the males were fantasizing about was not matched by similar visions across the room. ‘I guess now we know the meaning of HOTAS’ someone commented on Whatsapp. True, true! This lustful dimension apart, we were all gobsmacked at the unique opportunity afforded us in visiting the base, and props aplenty to JNF for pulling off this miracle. We all had a Top Gun moment, and every one of us stood a little taller, and smiled a little wider as a result. The experience will stay with us forever.

A man of depth with a will of iron:

Unimpressed by reflections on the contours of a certain airman’s joystick, I rate the visit to David Ben- Gurion’s house at Sde Boker the most significant stop of the day. The slick, three-part presentation conveyed a good deal about the man and his adamantine strength of will. If he wanted something done, he rammed home the message and – hey presto – the thing got done. DBG was not only a man of action, he was a deep thinker too, as the picture of Plato on his wall indicates. Clearly, he was a man of great wisdom, and the sleeping arrangements in his house bear this out. The Buddha said, ‘Life is characterized by suffering’, his first Noble Truth. Ben-Gurion obviously agreed, accepting a separate beds arrangement with his wife. All of us married suckers can draw consolation from this strategically brilliant dispensation.

Trenchant summary:

If you don’t love this tour, you do not have a heart, a soul, a brain or a stomach. Today, a libido was necessary too. The pace is furious and the adventures come thick and fast. Like an Australian Light Infantryman riding under the guns at Be’er Sheva, we are on a triumphant ride that has been glorious from the moment the JNF called ‘Charge’. God bless ‘em, for, truly, they are magnificent.