I arrived at the passport control office at the Tel-Aviv airport and approached the lady working at the booth. She asked what I was doing in Israel and I answered that I was going to a retreat centre in the Negev Desert. I was on my way to Kfar Navon to volunteer my time helping to run a collection of guest houses nestled in the lush greenery and cultivated earth of the Northern tip of the desert.
In Israel the exportation of information has made wealthy the country’s economy thanks to the many engineers working in the technology and communication industry. Israel’s environmental technologies have far surpassed anything I have ever heard before. The country collects what is called ‘grey’ water, which is the water the comes from the showers and sewer systems, and works to filter and clean it so that it can be redistributed throughout the dry landscape. The results are endless stretches of green grass, agricultural crops, flowers, trees, and bustling wildlife.
I arrived in the country at what seemed to be the perfect time of the season. I settled into my new home on this sacred land and began meeting local Israelis. What I find most special about the country is the mindset of its people. I was swept up and shown around to the most beautiful areas of the country and was introduced to the most open, gentle, and kind Israelis. Of coarse there is a different side of Israel laying on the outskirts of my periphery but to experience only kindness of this land is one of the reasons why I wanted to come here – to show a different view of the country besides what is heard in the media. Even if the communities I have witnessed are few they are still a window into the beauty of the country that is here and alive.
A Kibbutz is a collective community that in traditional times was based on the production and sharing of agriculture. Families live with their kin in their private home but no property is owned, all money gained is shared, meals are eaten together at the local cafeteria, and people work with the skills that they have inside of the gated area. Today in Israel these communities are in plenty but with varying degrees of communistic principles. Mainly the Kibbutz brings a sense of unity, authenticity, sense of community, and strengthens the old idea of helping your neighbour. Its a place where children grow up feeling safe, with the togetherness of a working whole, and in feeling a part of a strong independent community.
I had been travelling in restrictive countries for so long that I began to almost feel alienated in my hippiness. I met many Israelis who walk barefoot, wear bloodstones and loose fitting clothes, rock long dreadlocks, and are bringing back the John Lennon sunglasses. All of the efforts of the Israeli people who looked at me with interest, curiosity, respect, and openness made me finally feel apart of something special – something greater than myself. Maybe the hot desert air brings the people here closer to nature. Or maybe the style of dress of the youth here matches their free spirits. Nonetheless I found myself connecting to many like minded individuals who all had something interesting to say, and who valued me as a individual.
Even if the Israelis I met were free spirited at heart the privilege of being free is spent on an adherence to a call of duty. Military service is a mandatory three years for men and two for women after they finish high school. For every year after the initial service the men must also serve one month in the reserves until they are fifty. Most of the Israeli men I have met have wanted to serve their country. War has been part of the lives of the Jewish people for so long. Families have experienced generation after generation of war and I would think that such a history would make them want to forget it. But there seems to be a sense of pride tied into it all that calls the Jewish citizens of Israel to duty and makes them feel proud and apart of the history. The mandatory service also comes from a strong need for the country to protect itself – in honesty the need a strong military to survive…
When I see young soldiers here walking in uniform with rifles strung across their soldiers my entire body becomes tense – it is something that makes me really uncomfortable. For Israelis most are completely desensitized. On the other side however they love and appreciate the land that they have been given and to see how proud and willing they are to protect it says something about the value humans place on freedom. This structured and outlined first quarter years of a persons life seems however to create a formula for what it means to be Israeli – school, service, travel,work, marriage, and babies …
My favourite experience here in the country so far was a trip I took with an incredible man named Asaf who lives in the Moshav, or neighbourhood, next to me. We drove from the South to the East where we camped next to the Dead Sea. We arrived after night fall in the glittering light of the full moon to bathe in the water of the hot springs. Naked we soaked in the water of the pool and watched the moons light dance across the sea sparkling in front of us. We spent the night with an Israeli couple we met playing mandolin and guitar by a fire. In the morning we woke to a clear blue sky and I felt the heat of being so far below sea level. We did yoga together, went again to the hot springs, covered ourselves in grey clay, and then floated in the dead sea.
After leaving the Dead Sea we drove to the Sea of Galilee to wash the salt off of our bodies. After cleaning ourselves we drove North to Metulla to celebrate the Jewish festival Purim, which is like Halloween in North America. It says in the bible that everyone is to dress in costume to become something other than themselves. It then says to drink enough wine so that everyone forgets who they are. We panted our faces and spent the evening dancing in a backyard with music, a glowing fire, and african drumming.
There is definitely something special here – in the land and hearts of the Israeli people. I would like to spent a few months here continuing my relationships with the people I have met, appreciating the beautiful landscape of the country, to learn a bit of Hebrew, and to show everyone I know that there is beauty and security in places that only receive negative attention by the media. In the Middle east there are many happy people with the same dreams and ideas as you and I. I would like to help share their stories and to show that reality is not all what is heard – it has to be experienced.