Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Vision of the Desert

The other night, I heard somebody say: "Why are we even here? There's nothing to do in the desert." 

To the casual observer, this is a valid question. In a country full of culture, history and excitement, why spend precious time climbing over sand dunes? What good comes out of blazing heat and blistering winds that tangle your hair and literally whistle in your ears? 

I, however, was offended by the comment. What's so special about the desert? Only the fact that the entire history of the state of Israel has revolved around the dream of making the Negev Desert bloom. 

The stories of the Bible didn't take place in the lush greenery and towering mountains of the Galilee. Instead, 3000 years ago, our ancestors wandered from Mesopotamia to the Negev Desert and began their new lives there. Abraham's tent of hospitality, Jacob's family camp, and Laban's house were all in the middle of the Desert. The Canaanite cities that the Jews conquered, the early Israelite settlements, the homes of the Prophets - all in the Negev. The Negev Desert was our people's land of rebirth and promise. After years of living as isolated people or wandering in the Sinai Peninsula, the Negev was the one place to which we returned. Despite its harshness, this land held hope for our people, and despite its barrenness, it held new opportunities. 

David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister, immigrated from Poland to Palestine in 1906. He was one of many Halutzim, young immigrants who went to Palestine illegally to work the land during the early 20th century. From the beginning, Ben-Gurion and the Halutzim had a vision of making the barren land of the Negev Desert green. As Prime Minister, Ben-Gurion made environmentalism and conservation important priorities. He thought that if the people and government of Israel could work together to cultivate the Desert and make it inhabitable, it would enrich the country and unite society. Thousands of years after the Bible, the Negev Desert remained our land of opportunity and hope. 

Today, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) continues to realize the dream of the Negev. Using funds from Jews all over the world, they find special trees that live with very little water and plant them in the Desert. Over time, these trees will enrich the soil and make the Desert cooler, allowing water to collect and enabling more people to live there. Israeli tech companies focus on water conservation technologies such as drip irrigation and efficient filtration systems. Environmentalism is at the core of the Israeli mentality: the combination of modern technological opportunities and the ancient hope of renewing the Desert. 

As our group's tour guide Orion likes to say, it looks like someone took a paintbrush and painted green lines across the sandy-brown desert. Those green lines are the pictures of our history and our vision for the land of Israel. Together, we looked at the Negev Desert and questioned its existence. Why is it even there?  It is there for us to cultivate and develop, to turn it into a crown jewel of our country.

- Kim Robins

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