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Day 3: Exploring the Negev

by Wendy Schelew, Baltimore, MD

Today I learned about hills in the Negev. My mantra as we have been taught is “ The hill is your friend” Attack it and so I did. We had a few major hills and I’m proud to say that my tushie never left my saddle and I didn’t have to walk the bike up the hill. We biked through  dessert where signs read “Beware Camel Crossing” . We biked to Yerucham for a rest stop at the half way mark. The mayor of the town, Michael Bitton, came to our rest stop to talk to us about his town of 10,000 people and the development going on. He is doing some amazing things and is getting a lot of help from the Chicago community. He had to go home to cook Shabbat dinner for his 5 children because he is in charge of the cooking and his wife does the baking. The mayor is an up and coming star and is purported to go into politics soon at the national level. The balance of the morning biking en route to Sde Boker was on small highways in the middle of the dessert. We were blessed with cool weather in the high seventies.

Our lunches are picnic buffet style and are hearty vegetarian meals with lots of carbs and protein to keep us going. No complaints there. We visited Ben Gurion’s grave overlooking a Negev canyon and learned about his life. Apparently Ben Gurion asked to be part of Kibbutz Sde Boker and the kibbutz agreed to have him as a member of the kibbutz (really how could they refuse a head of state?) but made him work in the office later in life when he really wanted to be outside working the land. We also heard a first hand story from a member in our group. Ben Gurion told everyone that if they came to Sde Boker they were welcomed in his home. A fellow biker, Benji told us that his grandfather decided he wanted to take Ben Gurion up on his offer and knocked on his door on the kibbutz. While his wife didn’t want to let this stranger in and wanted to protect his privacy Ben Gurion insisted on talking to his guest and so they spoke for 15 minutes, mainly complaining about their respective wives and about his plan to flood the canyon, which we now know would have been a terrible environmental disaster.

We then went to Ein Avdat , where a wadi ( small river) goes through narrow limestone canyon walls. Ibex hang out on the precipitous cliffs and you can actually walk up the canyon wall with the help of steel ladders. Within minutes the skies turned gray, a huge windstorm started and it began to rain. The ranger showed up and evicted our group because they are afraid of flash floods which this area is known for.

We boarded our bus and proceeded to Mitzpe Ramon where we are spending the Sabbath. A good rest is in order before we proceed to Eilat with two days of biking ahead of us on Sunday and Monday.

I wish you all a Sabbath of peace and tranquility and I plan to rest my body and soul!

I will be enjoying a hike, yoga and lots of discussion with the alumni and students of the Arava Institute who will be sharing their research, experiences and life stories.

Shabbat shalom

Wendy