One night during our stay in Mitzpe Ramon, our incredible tour guide, Yoash, and our great group leader, Rozi, led us on a night hike. When we finished, we all lay down and took in the vast starry sky, as this spot in the Negev is one of the last places left in the world where these stars can be seen in all of their glory without the effects of light pollution.
The 16 of us, who were always very keen on expressing ourselves openly, were quiet in simultaneous moments of self-awareness. At that point, we all became physically aware of not only the beauty of the uncorrupted natural world, but the fact that we are part of it, a bigger picture that does not revolve around our personal goals or gain.
In the midst of this magic, Yoash reminded us of the story of Moses and the burning bush. If his vision had been blinded by a selfish, goal-oriented mindset, he would not have noticed or cared about the burning bush off to the side. This was a test to prove that he had the courage and heightened sense of awareness to veer off of his own trail and that he had the ability to live in the present in an honest way.
The 16 Fellows of the Onward Israel Negev Fellowship of Greater MetroWest NJ, including myself, chose and were chosen to be a part of this six-week program not only because we are passionate about the State of Israel’s future development, but because tikkun olam (repairing the world) is the backbone of our beliefs. We know that it is our social responsibility to take action and work toward the change that we want to see.
Over the six weeks, we delved into the issues of environmentalism and nature preservation, urbanization, military expansion, and minority populations within the Negev. We learned more about the construction of modern society as a whole, and that the people who make up society are responsible for building an ethical basis as a foundation.
We can all say without hesitation that we have gained a comprehensive perspective on issues in Israel that affect its economic and political policies and daily lives of its citizens. We learned first-hand about the complexities of the respective cultures that make up Israeli society. Ultimately, we were given multiple points of views about issues, which allowed us to develop non-biased and authentic opinions as a group as well as individually.
Whether we were volunteering in Ofakim, learning about Bedouin society, cooking group Shabbat dinners in Arad, working on our group projects or at our respective internships, or hiking through and exploring various parts of the Negev, we always kept the bigger picture in mind; we kept a heightened awareness in order to take in all that there was to learn and experience.
Although our trip was focused on issues that pertained mostly to the Negev, we kept in mind the importance of viewing aspects of the Negev as a microcosm of Israel as whole. We were not just there as tourists, and we did not just go as outsiders who believed that we had indisputable knowledge of all aspects of Israeli society.
We have engrained in our identities all that we have learned from everywhere we went and everything we have learned from each other. Our supportive dynamic as a group fostered the growth of special relationships that allowed us to grow individually. As our minds expanded with new knowledge, our ability to perceive and learn from one another increased, and groundbreaking ideas arose from the passionate collaboration of this group.