Excerpts from my journal as I examine and portray the troubles in the Levant
May 24, 2012, Thursday, Kibbutz Lotan, Israel
I neared Lotan—I carry multiple maps, happy I do, since no single map contains all the sites or roads I’m looking for or curious about—and so I remembered Rabbi Jan’s suggestion of the environmentally oriented kibbutz here in the heart of the Negev Desert. I phoned, learned they had a vacancy, overnight would cost me 300 NIS (about $75). Seek it, young man, seek it! A childhood dream realized: to experience a kibbutz. Thru the gate, into an oasis in the desert. Green green green is the proper descriptor for this place.
I settled, showered, napped, inquired about tours and meals, enjoyed the rotund young woman at the reception office and her muzzled dog (he eats garbage and gets sick), learned I might meet Rabbi Daniel Burstyn (which I did later in the evening, a cursory meeting, not a very congenial guy, or so he seemed to me), and wandered the site several times, before and after a kosher meal in the dining hall.
The food was bland, pizza and salad, no dessert, no main course, unless pizza serves. The table conversation nil, sitting with a group of college age youth who I assumed were interns or students. They talked among themselves, I overheard, no one asked me whom I was, and I asked no one about their role here. The main feature of this event was an environmental mural which I photographed later. Then the evening walk to enjoy the relative coolness. I discovered a few caravans, probably the same type used by settlers to establish “Facts on the ground.” These were unused. They also reminded me of abandoned trailers on the Rosebud Lakota Sioux reservation in South Dakota. Much of the land I’ve explored in the Negev desert reminds me of the land and people of the Great Plains. Then a sort of community house which was a mess, the door open, air conditioner running. I shut the door. But in other parts of the kibbutz I found and photographed stylish homes, much sculpture (Daniel pointed out a collection made by one of the residents over years), gardens (Daniel is not only a rabbi but a landscape gardener, perhaps this is how he earns his living?), hammocks, pathways, walls made of old tires, the “green room” deep down inside the earth, perhaps designed as a bomb or rocket shelter, now used for education judging from the books, sheets of paper, and notes I found lying about.
I wrote M, checked my email, downloaded the day’s photos, examined them, relatively pleased with my work, looking forward to all the post processing I will do when (and if I ever reach, seems so far away, impossible to reach) home, and generally relaxed after a long drive south.
May 25, 2012, Friday, Israeli network youth hostel in Mitzpe Ramon, Israel
Waste water treatment
Compost feces and urine
Parabolic reflector cooker
Morning at Lotan was a big part of yesterday. Guy or Gee gave me a private tour that lasted well over 60 minutes. We viewed and he explained their toilet system (simply collect, drain, let rest, and wallah, compost which they use for shrubs and trees, not edibles because of some people’s perception that this would be toxic—instead he claimed such composting can destroy even heavy metals), waste water treatment (thru rocks, sand, and plants, after settling), organic gardening (not during the summer because of the heat and aridity, too much water needed), solar panels (that generate most of the electricity needed by one residential section, on the grid, they add to it during sun, and take from it otherwise), play space, experiment space, many buildings (straw bale construction over metal, plastered with mud), sheep and goats (used only for milk, as are the cows which we didn’t see, later sold for meat but not slaughtered here), solar ovens and a parabolic reflector stove for fast cooking, etc. The kibbutz of some 60 people (50 is the minimum until Israel reclaims the land, cutting the subsidy) uses 6 vehicles, and many many bikes. They cannot afford any alternatively powered vehicles such as grease cars.
I thought of Agape, thought of Ruah, and thought of M when I spotted an article reprint that details life on this kibbutz. I picked up a copy for each. The place is truly revolutionary, living out a portion of Jewish values. Especially caring for the earth and each other. Exemplary. I’d love to return, stay awhile.
I first met Guy after I’d finished an exquisite breakfast (which I photographed) of omelet, home-baked bread, pesto, various cheeses made from goat milk, Jewish coffee (as opposed to Arab coffee, Jewish simply made by adding hot water to finely ground coffee powder, adding some cold water, stirring and let settle, also called mud coffee), salad with oil and vinegar dressing, topped off with 2 sweet dessert balls. Served by 2 young women in the solar teahouse. I shared the space with a small Israeli family who appear to be visiting. Guy stood out as he rode up to the teahouse on his bike—he wore a wide-brimmed hat he’d made from a large piece of cardboard. He explained, my complexion burns easily. This helps. He volunteers for one year between high school and the army. We did not talk politics. I gathered that he’d like to see the conflict end.
The office worker, Daphna, had offered to throw my dirty clothes in with the laundry so I picked mine up, delivered my key, expressed how pleased I was with the kibbutz and my 24 hours there, promised to publicize it and encourage friends to visit. And joked: it is so far away. Maybe when we can shape-shift or time travel I’ll be able to encourage more friends to come here.