Day 8 – July 10, 2022

Sderot & Sha’ar HaNegev

We visited Kibbutz Nachal Oz where Nurit described how she grew up on the kibbutz  and how the kibbutz engendered a strong sense of independence. She achieved a PhD at the Hebrew University, but chose to come back to live on the Kibbutz.

She outlined the history of the kibbutz through a striking video that set out this history through the use of different colours.

We heard the moving story of kibbutz security officer Roi Rotberg who went out to guard the kibbutz and was murdered. Moshe Dayan visited the kibbutz and urged them to continue with the weddings of several couples that had been planned.

Dan Springer CEO of the JNF described how the aim of this year’s fundraising dinner is to build 14 kindergartens for the kibbutzim near Gaza. One of the special features of these buildings will be reinforced classrooms that can double as bomb shelters.

We were given the opportunity to view an iron dome defence system. The soldiers  working at the outpost described the conditions surrounding the launching of the missiles on the iron dome. Especially interesting was learning how the dome is remotely activated.

Again and again we were told that living near Gaza was “90% beauty and 10% hell.” We heard several descriptions of the trauma suffered by children where their day can suddenly change when the sirens sound giving residents 15 seconds to get to shelters. Despite most children suffering PTSD many people are trying to become members of the kibbutzim near Gaza, especially because of the closeness of the community. The dangers they faced are clearly shown by the bullet holes in a wall on the kibbutz.

All the teachers in our group were especially interested and impressed by touring Sha’ar Hanegev High school. Some of the teachers described how the school operates and we saw impressive examples of the work of the students.

Our afternoon on the way to Be’er Sheva ended at a visit to Sderot. The spirit and resilience of the town stands out. We learned that even though the sudden firing of rockets from Gaza traumatises many residents, the town has grown from 20 000 to 33 000 in a few years with some 500 further people waiting for accomodation to open up in the time.

The Rav of the Hesder yeshiva described how the Yeshiva operates, but more importantly, analysed the spirit of the yeshiva and the town and contrasted their positive values with the negative philosophy of the leaders of Gaza.

-Selwyn Sack NSW Schools

On the bus we go to the desert of Israel. Our first stop takes us to Peace Road at the border of Israel and Gaza. In a different world, one would envisage it stretching through all the war torn areas on every continent, on a mission of unity.

We were about to learn more about the Gaza-Israel conflict and people’s daily life in the shade of the wall. Ask any local and they will tell you their lives can be “95% heaven and 5% hell.” Daily living in this region is full of volatility and contradiction.

The situation in this area seems peaceful for now, but can become very unstable in an instant as rockets may fire at any given moment. There were mixed emotions as to what we were seeing. Why could one nation despise another so much? How can some people see human life as so expendable?

We arrived at Kibbutz Hatzerim, a green, lush land in the middle of the desert, dotted with bomb shelters; some painted creatively, standing waiting, mouths wide open, to protect those that live around the area. We understood a little more about the 5% hell of which the locals spoke.
Here we met many wonderful young children, their eyes wide full of wonder at these strange educators who arrived during their tea time.

The iron dome was a surprise addition to our schedule. Situated amongst orchards and banana trees, we arrived at the heavily guarded area. NO PICTURES were allowed, for obvious reasons. We met two members of the IDF, one with origins in Australia. With pride on their faces and love in their hearts, they shared their thoughts on shouldering the responsibility of protecting the safety of their people. It was explained that the dome is a sophisticated defence system; its primary objective being to intercept incoming rockets to Israeli territory. This initiative commenced in 2007 and has worked hard to keep Israel safe ever since.

The defence system comprises three components. A radar is used to detect the incoming rocket. Then a command and control system processes location information and subsequently activates the third component, the interceptor. The interceptor’s role is to destroy the rocket. The system has prevented countless rockets being fired upon Israel.

What an incredible, life-changing and
thought-provoking experience.

-Liza Bezuidenhout, The Scot’s College

After a quick stop to unload our bags at the Leonardo Be’er Sheva hotel we were right back on the bus for a short drive to Golda Meir Park for a graduation dinner and dance with the English speaking delegations from South Africa, Canada and USA.

The park was lit up with lights, beautifully set dining tables, welcoming music and the sounds of hundreds of happy people all coming to celebrate being together in this magical land of Israel.

Another delicious feast was eaten followed by a beautiful ‘tekkes’ ceremony where we heard from some of the wonderful participants of each of the delegations. One of the common themes amongst all of the speakers was how much this trip has connected every single one of us to Israel and the Israeli people. The experiences on this tour has instilled and strengthened our love for Israel which will forever hold a special place in all our hearts.

Then, we partied!! The desert came alive with music and dancing well into the night.  The atmosphere was electric and unifying with everyone sharing their love of Israel through dance and song and a strong sense of togetherness. A truly memorable night.

-Michelle Masnick,  Kensington PS