Day 5: “Shut Up, you’re from Washington, DC too!”
Today we left Jerusalem and headed for Kibutz Ketura in the south of Israel. When we arrived at the checkpoint in the West Bank, a young female IDF soldier stopped the bus to question us. Assault rifle slung across her shoulder she inquired “Where are you from?” We explained that we were from Washington, DC and the University of Maryland and after a brief pause the soldier ripped through the seriousness exclaiming, “SHUT UP! I am from D.C. Too!” That event highlighted the following events of the day.
On the way out of Israel, we stopped at the Mount of Olives and took some photographs at the overlooks on the east and west sides of the mountain. The west overlook has some amazing views of the old city of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. On the other hand, the east side of the mountain contains some great views of the Jordan Valley and the suburbs of Jerusalem. As we left the mountain and passed the wall separating East Jerusalem from the West Bank, we were amazed at how easy it is to pass from Israel to the West Bank but how difficult it can be to get back in. After passing the wall, we started off on our three hour drive to the Kibbutz.
During the drive down through the desert we passed by Masada, an ancient fortress where the Jews made their last stand in the first Jewish-Roman in 73 CE. After retreating to the top of the mountain, the Romans laid siege to the mountain. When the Roman troops entered the fortress, they discovered that its defendants had set all the buildings but the food storerooms ablaze and committed mass suicide. After several hours of watching the beautiful, but ever unchanging landscape fly by, we caught a glimpse of what crossing the desert must have meant thousands of years ago. Trying to wrap our heads around that journey made the slight aches of being on the bus seem silly.
After arriving at the Kibbutz and settling into our rooms, were give a tour of the Arava Institute by Carly, a recent graduate of the University of Maryland, and Muhammed, one of the faculty at the Institute. We were able to see all of the interesting projects that the Institute is leading with the international development community, including a biogas recycler, a water filter, and a solar powered hut.
Afterwards we enjoyed some local Israeli beverages at the café.
To end the day, we were invited by the Kibbutz to attend Shabbat ceremonies, which occur on Friday night in order to mark the start of the holy day. For most of us, it was our first Shabbat service. The passion the congregation brought to the service, singing and dancing together in prayer, truly reflected the communal nature of the Kibbutz. It was a sharp contrast to the reverent services most of our group was accustomed to.
Following the service, we attended Shabbat dinner, where we were able to sit and dine with the students/ interns of the Arava Institute. We found they had co me from all over the globe to come have the kibbutz experience be a part of their learning. We spoke with everyone from an Israeli intern here to study climate change to two sisters here from Brazil studying the effects of olive oil waste water on soil. Its finals week here, so many of the students were well into study mode for their impending tests.
With Shabbat here, everything in Israel closes until the next Sunset. And with that, we will leave you until tomorrow.