Today we saw the many complex faces of Israel. We experienced programs and places exemplifying the strength of Israeli ingenuity, creativity, and hope for future generations. And we also witnessed the heartbreaking daily realities facing refugees in Israel. One of the most important parts of today, however, were the conversations and connections occurring between the Israeli and American delegations as we discussed real issues facing Israelis, Americans, and the Jewish people.
We started off our day peeking into the daily lives of Israel’s future with a visit to the Mashabim School. The kids at Mashabim are encouraged to engage in a whole learning experience and to spend time learning outside the confines of the classroom walls. Through the program “A Place to Grow” (created with the help of Las Vegas Jewish philanthropists) the students create class gardens and spend time learning about nature. The kids at Mashabim are full of energy and enthusiasm for life.
Our next stop was Ramat HaNegev’s Agricultural Research Center. Building on Ben Gurion’s dream of developing the Negev, this educational research facility teaches would-be farmers how to succeed at growing everything from strawberries to wine grapes in the desert. The research connects new farmers with a mentor to ensure individual success over time. We watched a short video about the passionate people involved in the program. The farmers involved with the research center truly want to build a life for themselves working off the land in the Negev and they pour their hearts into their work. One farmer commented that his food tasted so good because it was grown with love.
We then went on to speak with refugees housed at the Holot refugee camp. The men at Holot escaped torturous conditions and persecution in their home countries. Many of them fled from the African nations of Sudan and Eritrea, traveling over 1,000 miles to seek safety. One man, Adam from Darfur, told us about how his entire village was terrorized and displaced and he fled to Israel seeking a better life. Yet, the life he encountered in Israel was not what he expected. As all refugees at Holot are not granted official refugee status they live a life in limbo. They are not legally allowed to work and their futures are extremely limited without official recognition. We stayed just outside the camp during our visit, but the men explained to us that that there are 10 people housed in a room and although they are allowed to go out during the day, they must check in and be back by nightfall. Each refugee’s story differs dramatically, yet they are united in the hope that they will eventually have some answers about their futures and be able to live meaningful lives outside of Holot.
After experiencing the sadness of Holot, we talked at lunch about the complex issues surrounding immigration and refugees in both Israel and America. We bonded over sharing our personal experiences, our concerns and our philosophies. Moments like these were some of the most meaningful of the trip.
We marched forward to Nitzana, an educational community in the Negev. Here we saw the resourcefulness of the people of Negev and also the power of Israeli compassion. We toured the solar park at Nitzana, where many different types of solar power are exemplified; and we saw the intricate recycling center meant to teach future generations about how to respect the environment. In additional to environmental education, Nitzana also fosters social change though its boarding school. Nitzana first created a boarding school for children of refugees, and now runs a boarding school for Bedouin children. We had an opportunity to speak with some of the Bedouin kids currently enrolled in the school and talked to them about their experiences at Nitzana and their futures. The kids all had lofty career goals – they wanted to be teachers, engineers, lawyers and doctors. I am sure after their education at Nitzana they will be one step closer to achieving their dreams.
Our packed day of experiencing real life in the Negev ended with a very Israeli dinner of Falafel and Hummus in Beer Shevea.
Today was an essential and meaningful day in our partnership with Israel. I am so thankful to have been a part of this experience; I truly look forward to continuing to foster and grow our relationships with the Negev.