Every few weeks our program takes us on planned excursions where we get a different taste of Israeli lifestyle. For this adventure, we went to the Negev, the desert land in the south of Israel. It covers more than half of Israel. Our last trip to Eilat also took us through the dusty, brown land, however this time, we checked out the Salad Trail, Sderot and Ben Gurion’s Grave.
The Salad Trail
A tasty pit-stop along the way, the Salad Trail is a collection of greenhouses within the northern Negev. Visitors learn about each house’s high-tech growing techniques. They then get to run wild (at least we did!) picking various fruits, veggies or herbs before washing and tasting them.
Who knew the first carrot was actually white? Or even that they come in other colors besides orange?
One of the conditions under the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1979, allowed Israelis to migrate to the Negev and safely start their lives anew.
This immigration allowed families to develop the land and start a community in a kibbutz fashion. In 2004, agronomist Uri Alon decided to show the world the pesticide-free high-tech gardening community established following the 1979 Treaty, and thus, the Salad Trail was born.
At the Salad Trail, we tasted strawberries which grew in trays suspended in the air to prevent them from getting bruised.
We also tried different flavors mint and flowers good for digestion, among other remedies.
There was a maze where we hunted for passion fruit.
And of course, this little Floridian gal couldn’t resist some freshly picked, perfectly ripe oranges.
See more photos from The Salad Trail below:
After filling up, our next stop was in a town called Sderot. It’s less than a mile from the Gaza strip. Yes, I could actually see Gaza in plain sight. This area has been severely affected by conflict, both physically and emotionally. If a siren goes off, citizens have just 15 seconds to find the nearest bomb shelter to avoid getting hit by falling shrapnel from rockets. So what does this mean for kids who want to play outside? Can they? Yes – Sderot playgrounds have built-in bomb shelters.
This caterpillar serves as a not-so-intimidating hiding place for children on the playground to run into if they hear a siren. Another playground is actually built entirely underground. Teenagers’ hangout spots like movies or clubs are also built-in.
Though officials have tried to assimilate youth’s perception, their minds have been drastically warped. In Sderot, an upwards of 3 out of 4 citizens suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Our tour guide showed us drawings children had created in school. There were pictures of families hanging out, or of their homes, trees and nature, or children playing outside. No matter what the pictures showed, each depicted something grim in their daily mindset: rockets.
It tore me to shreds to see someone’s idea of their front yard with missiles included.
What’s amazing though, is even after all the grief, some kids still had a very positive and hopeful outlook. They wrote letters to other children in Gaza saying they hoped for peace, or that they could one day find each other, play together and hold hands. It was powerful to see these adolescences seeking something so beautiful and peaceful rather than vengeance from something so dark.
Finally, we arrived at Ben Gurion’s grave, a breathtaking yet semi-controversial resting place for a man who has done so much for the development of the State of Israel. I like to think of him as the George Washington of this New Jersey-sized country. Ben Gurion was a pioneer and a zionist from a very young age. In his preteen years, he and his friends formed a group to promote Hebrew and encourage emigration to the land of Israel. Sababa! Gurion also fought to conquer the Negev and develop the State of Israel. He then became the first Prime Minister of Israel.
His influence is still very prominent today. “Rehov Ben Gurion” or Ben Gurion Street can be found in most major cities. A university in the Negev was also named after him, among many other things. Gurion also founded the Israel Defense Force, a military system in which every Israeli citizen, male or female, serve.
Ben Gurion is buried in the Negev, in the land he so adamantly believed belonged to the Jewish people, and tried so desperately to settle. It’s controversial because most prominent Israeli leaders are buried at the Mount of Olives outside the Old City of Jerusalem. The cemetery has been of Jewish prominence for over 3,000 years but Gurion wanted to be buried on the frontier he fought so tirelessly to obtain. As I reflected while admiring the view from Ben Gurion’ resting place, I watched the sun kiss the mountains goodnight. It was a beautiful ending to an insightful day.