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Israel Part 2: Workaway 2 Negev Desert

Life in the Negev at a workaway, where we will volunteer on a farm in return for room and board.

Here’s how we got to the place:

Bus in Tel Aviv to the train station: easy peasy 10 minute bus ride.

Train from Tel Aviv to Be’er Sheva: Super simple: comfortable, about a 1 ½ hour ride.

Bus from Be’er Sheva to our stop: I asked the bus driver if this was the right bus and he asked if I meant where the prison was. A PRISON? Where are we going?

"Maybe," I said, "I don’t know."

“Eh, get on”, he said.

After about a 40 minute drive, we got to our stop.

It looked like this.

There was nothing around.

Maybe there was a prison there but we didn’t see it at that time. Our workaway host had said there was a derelict gas station there. We didn’t know what he meant. And then we did. Kind of in the middle of nowhere, an abandoned gas station. With a shooting range target paper blowing in the wind down the road.

But don’t worry, our hosts Rina and Boaz soon arrived in their car to take us to their farm fields where we would be staying.

Our accommodations: a shipping container

that had been converted into a lovely place to live - 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, a kitchen and a large living area/porch.

Very, very nice.

After showing us what work we should do the next day, showing us where the food was and giving us the lovely meal Rina had prepared for us, they informed us that they were going away for the weekend and they would see us on Sunday morning.

And it was only Thursday afternoon.

And we were in a field of herbs and vineyards, surrounded by desert, with no car, and nowhere to go and we were alone.

Oh, and over there is the Egyptian border, close enough that we could see the guard stations, (see those tall structures way out in the distance?) and so don’t go past the paved road or the soldiers there will be asking you questions.

Have fun!

And off they went.

I was laughing hysterically, and kind of crying.

What the heck? What were we going to do with all this time on our hands? All alone.

First thing I did was message my lovely cousin Shelly and asked her to get herself down here and spend Shabbat with us. And thankfully for Jay and me, she and her boyfriend Amir came down.

They arrived on Friday afternoon after Jay and I had spent five hours cutting rosemary in the field

and we had a wonderful evening with them. A great dinner and a few rounds of rummy cube. Some wine, challah, and wonderful company. The desert seemed peaceful now and not forbidding and lonely.

On Saturday, we piled into Amir’s car and drove to several amazing places in the Negev.

Sde Boker, where David Ben Gurion lived and wrote and spoke about how the future of Israel is in this desert.

Ein Avdat, an amazing nature trail that takes you through the meandering cliffs to hidden waterfalls right in the middle of the desert.

An ancient Nabotean town that was later used by the Ottomans,

and Nitzana, the border crossing point from Israel to Egypt. Don’t forget, Egypt and Israel are at peace and have been for many, many years. In fact, until the crisis in Africa, when literally thousands of Africans crossed into Israel seeking political asylum and refugee status, and during the turmoil in Egypt when Islamic State-Sinai was able to gain a foothold in Sinai (Egypt), throughout parts of the border there was barely an indication that you were at the border. But now things are different. Both the Israeli and Egyptian army have a large presence in this area. But the border crossing was silent as it was Shabbat and it was closed for the day.

We had dinner at a restaurant in a tiny village at the very end of the road in the Negev called Ezuz. We had an excellent meal here.

Ezuz is a community of artists and creative types who decided to build this place and live their non-traditional lives.

At Ezuz, the road just comes to an end. There is nowhere else left to go.

After our great day, we said goodbye to our awesome visitors and got ready for our week of work.

During the week of our workaway, we kept taking walks and I was fascinated by being right at the Egyptian border. It’s so peaceful and quiet. Silent even. The stars are amazing. It’s hard to imagine that just across the border there are Islamic State people who would like nothing more than to kill us. And just about 25 miles away is Gaza, whose people are being held hostage by their horrible terrorist government.

Thinking about how Israel just blew up a tunnel that the Islamic Jihad terrorists dug under Israel for the purpose of popping up and launching attacks in Israel, to possibly kidnap Israeli civilians, or some other sort of atrocity, and how Israel is now on high alert for possible retaliation, seems surreal at best. A fantasy in this silent, serene atmosphere. And yet the moshav is protected by the Israeli army, surrounded by high fences and electronic gates. I think this might be what one might call a paradox.

Except for the occasional Israeli jets flying overhead practicing maneuvers, distant booms that you pray are just coming from the several army bases nearby doing practicing, and gunshots every once in a while that you hope are the same, it’s pretty damn quiet and peaceful here. Like I said, Israel is a very paradoxical, ironic, and surreal place to be.

How great the workaway was with Boaz and Rina:

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: meeting wonderful people is the absolute highlight of our travels. Boaz and Rina are originally from South Africa and have made their home in the desert for many years now. They are committed to agriculture in the Negev, and particularly in this border moshav.

In the desert sand, with a drip water irrigation system, they are growing grapes and herbs to make wine and essential oils and we were thrilled to be able to help them.

For 4 days we cut herbs: Day 1 Rosemary, Day 2 Oregano, Day 3 Lavender, and Day 4 Lavender.

They had a very loving dog that decided the best place to take a nap was in my lap.

The fields also hosted some migrating birds.

We got the opportunity to go with our hosts to Be’er Sheva one afternoon and after running a few errands we went to a great Indian restaurant for dinner.

They invited us to go with them to Jerusalem one day and hang out and help them as they had secured a table at a market for the day at the “First Station”, the renovated old train station from the Ottoman period. And as it turns out, it’s the same place that we had dinner with Danny and his Cleveland classmates a few weeks ago (within walking distance of his campus).

And we had dinner that night in Abu Ghosh, an Arab town outside of Jerusalem.

One night the moshav celebrated its 11th birthday with a big party. Jay helped Boaz wire and light the pavilion where the party was going to be, and we were able to attend the party and meet some of the people who live there.

We learned so much from Boaz and Rina and at the end of our ten days, we felt that we had made some great new friends. It has been a fantastic experience. Once again, workaway has been a highlight of our journey. We wish them both much success in their endeavors to make the desert bloom.

And for us, now on to the north to see what adventures await us in the Galilee.

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