Australian and Israeli teenagers get together

July 9, 2015 by Ahuva Bar-Lev
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About 40 students from the Carmel School in Perth have toured the Negev in the footsteps of Ben Gurion’s vision for making the desert bloom.

The group

The group

In Merhav Am, a rural town whose green development is supported by JNF Australia, they met local teenagers who are also making the desert bloom in their own way.

The Shorashim trip to Israel is a tradition for tenth graders in the Carmel School, a Jewish school in Perth, Australia. The high school students come to Israel for eighteen days of trips, tours and meetings, all over Israel.

“We’ve been learning about Israel our whole lives, but coming here, it makes it personal, it makes you find your own identity,” said Naomi Blitz, who was in Israel for the first time. She was especially impressed by the Negev and said, “The desert is very different than what I thought. I had imagined it empty and dry, and I found out that there is a lot of life going on there.”

The Negev tour began at the cabin of David and Paula Ben Gurion in Kibbutz Sde Boker, where the young people learned about the person he was and his life as the first prime minister of the State of Israel. They watched a film describing the key position of the Negev in Ben Gurion’s vision in making the desert bloom, toured the simple home where he lived after retirement, and also took part in an interactive quiz bridging the vision of the past with the advanced technology of the present.

“Our goal is to present the real Israel to the students and encourage them to be more Zionist,” said Elyse Leeb, a teacher at the Carmel School. “It’s wonderful to see how they’re changing during the course of the trip, getting connected to Israel and starting to feel like they belong.”

From Sde Boker they proceeded to Merhav Am, a religious community in the Negev, where they heard about how the pioneers of today are building homes and raising families in the desert. JNF Australia supports the development of green projects throughout the town-a playground for the local children, garden landscaping around the community center and a schoolyard for the new preschool center.

Allison Speiser immigrated to Israel six years ago from the USA and lives in Merhav Am with her husband and their five children. “We decided to move to the Negev, because we understood that what they need here are people with energy and the motivation to make changes,” she said.

As for the importance of the projects in which JNF Australia is involved, she said, “We love the desert, and it’s important for us to preserve it, but we also need green spots with shade and places for the children to play. This is essential for the people who live here and helps us attract new families interested in joining us and developing the Negev together with us.”

Sixty-five families with 275 children live in Merhav Am, and all of them are managing at present with one small playground. The large new playground is now under construction thanks to support from friends of JNF Australia, and the infrastructure work has already been completed, including footpaths and lighting. Now they are waiting for the playground equipment to arrive, and the landscaping work will be done after the shmita year, the traditional fallow year in Israel.

The infant daycare center is currently located in a temporary trailer. A new preschool center is under construction, and after its completion a beautiful schoolyard will be made for the benefit of the children. This project was also made possible by support from JNF Australia.

A third project includes garden landscaping around the community center which is now surrounded by sand and stones. All the landscaping work is to begin after Rosh Hashana, after the Jewish New Year, when the shmita year has passed.

“We have a very special and quiet village, where everyone knows everyone else,” said Elroi Mazeki, a sixteen-year-old resident of Merhav Am. “Thanks to our friends in Australia, our environment will be greener and more beautiful.”

This was the fourth visit to Israel for Jacob Posel, who said that this trip was very different, “because this time I didn’t come with my family. I came with my friends from school. Israel is an interesting and beautiful country,” he said.

After having lunch together, the teenagers from Perth and Merhav Am played a game in which they completed parts of a picture and talked about the meaning of the pictures. Ben Gurion, soldiers in uniform, a flower in the desert, a Coca Cola logo-these were some of the images.

Very soon the conversations got more personal, and the teenagers started talking openly about life in Australia and life in Israel.

Elroi taught his new friends how to say haverim with the Israeli guttural het, and Jamie Nick taught her new friends how to say enthusiastic with an authentic Australian accent. Indeed, there was a lot of excitement in the room, and of course the young people did not forget to exchange Facebook information so they could keep in touch.

“We learn Hebrew and hear a lot about Israel, but to experience it for ourselves is simply amazing,” said Jamie as the meeting ended. “It’s so easy to make contact with Israelis, because we’re all related after all. I’m proud of JNF Australia for being involved in the development of Israel,” she said, “because we are actually building the Jewish State together.”

The experiences in Israel of the young Australian visitors will surely be remembered for a long time.

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