gap year in israel

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by Josh Glucksman

“From desert to garden” is a phrase often used to describe the unique and arguably miraculous climatic condition of Israel. Through ingenious agricultural innovation, strong environmental values and policies, and,—if it’s your cup of tea—the will of the man upstairs, Israel has truly become a garden. However, if anything from our three day trip to the Arava has taught us, the desert is hot. Really, really hot. Climate-change-induced extreme weather events make it a colossal challenge for communities like Kibbutz Ketura to prevail. So how do they do it? With good old socialist ideals.

I had the great pleasure of speaking with Yair Wahle, co-director of the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies, during Ussishkin’s 3-day trip to the kibbutz and learned so much on how important community is when the environmental odds are stacked against you.

Kibbutzniks are born with strong values of caring for the earth. From mandatory field work days during school to living in a house next to the horse stables, Yair and many other communal-livers grew up with a deep connection to the land of Israel. In between waves of exhaustion from hours in the fields picking water-smart crops, I really did have a few spiritual moments realizing how important learning about and protecting this land is. To be fair, I hope it wasn’t heat stroke messing with my brain.

A lot of socialist philosophy can be attributed to the success of small desert communities like Ketura. Humans are social creatures that work well together with other similarly-motivated individuals, who can pool resources and create less waste. I would argue that a lot of this same community-oriented thinking is what makes living in Ussishkin so challenging and rewarding (plus a little free market capitalism to give us our apartment’s luxuries).

Israel did not become a literal and metaphorical garden overnight. It took brilliant environmental innovation, (evidently) lots of nut picking and weeding, but more than anything else, it took a vision: a vision of a country with such strong ties to the land and such a rich history that it is morally imperative to do everything we have in our hearts and souls to protect it. Whether it be Aardvark Jerusalem, Israel, or the world Jewry as a whole, only when we work together can we truly fight for this vision.