Carmel students visit the Negev

July 18, 2018 by Ahuva Bar-Lev
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Every year, tenth grade students from the Carmel School in Perth embark on a Shorashim (‘roots’) journey in Israel.

Carmel students

For three weeks, they travel throughout the country, getting to know new places and meeting special people. The visit to Merhav Am is always one of the highpoints of this meaningful journey. Friends of JNF Western Australia have partnered with this flourishing Negev community, which made the guests feel at home, a befitting welcome for family coming from faraway.
For 15 year-old Donna Levin, this was her first visit to Israel. “I really love this country,” she said. “There’s a wonderful feeling here that everyone is connected to each other. During the visit to Merhav Am, I felt that I was totally a part of the community. I am very proud to see the Australian involvement in developing this village.”
The young people arrived in Merhav Am at the end of their last week in Israel, after having travelled the country’s length and breadth, from north to south. Jacob Cherney, a student in the delegation, described the visit to Merhav Am as “the icing on the cake of the whole trip,” and he explained why: “We saw how a small community can become connected, especially when it’s in a faraway location and a desolate surroundings. I visited Israel a number of times in the past, but this time, when I came with the group from my school, it was different. I feel more mature and more connected to Israel thanks to this roots journey.”

Adam Levy, Jacob Cherney and Donna Levin Photo: Yoav Devir

The strong partnership between Merhav Am and the Perth Jewish community is creating a green oasis in the heart of the desert. Among the community projects created with the assistance of JNF Western Australia are a playground with equipment for all ages, a manicured garden around the community center, a sports room in the community building, a well-kept courtyard for the children’s quarters, and a smart fence with security cameras to protect local residents. The annual visit of the Carmel School 10th graders to Merhav Am as part of the school’s Shorashim program is an important aspect of the partnership to create a thriving community and strengthen the Negev.

About 500 people live in Merhav Am, including approximately 350 children, and the community continues to expand, grow and develop. “It’s amazing to look back and to see the long road we’ve come on together,” said Allison Speiser, a resident of Merhav Am who greeted the young people from Perth. “The joint projects truly help push us forward”, she said.
In appreciation of the partnership with their friends from Australia, the local residents decided to create a landscaped roundabout at the entrance to the community. The project was led by Zeev Fishfeder, a resident of Merhav Am and a professional landscape architect. “This roundabout expresses the bond between our communities,” he said to the visiting students.

Meeting the residents of Merhav Am. Photo: Yoav Devir

Together with local children, the Perth students planted ornamental plants that were specially selected from acclimated Australian and indigenous species. Australian species included Australian violets, stiff bottlebrushes, myrtles and fountain grasses, and local species included lavender and red yucca.

The Israeli and Australian youth worked together to cover the roots by hand, not forgetting to give each plant some compost to ensure their acclimation and their firm rooting in the ground.  During this activity, they got to know each other better, talking about their respective lives in Israel and Australia.
Cooperation between the Perth Jewish community and Merhav Am is far from over. A significant project in the works is the development of the entrance to the community, which will include a promenade, seating areas, shade trees, lighting and bike paths that will connect to the singles that traverse the area.
“After travelling for hours through the desert, it will be wonderful to come home to such a beautiful green spot. This is the first thing that anyone coming to Merhav Am will see,” Speiser noted.
Zeev Fishfeder is participating in planning the entrance: “For us who live here, it’ll be great to come home and see the beautiful entrance, and needless to say, the contribution to local tourism is also very important to us,” he emphasized.
Fishfeder moved to Merhav Am about a year ago, together with his wife and their six children. “We came here first and foremost because of Zionism, because we see settling the Negev as one of this generation’s most important challenges,” he said. “We found a diverse community here that represents all the residents of Israel. We live in amazing surroundings, with breathtaking scenery and a unique atmosphere. I am certain that the more we continue improving our community’s appearance, the more we will be able to attract additional families to come live here.”
Hagai Madar moved to Merhav Am a year ago with his wife Michal and their three children. “We left Israel’s center because we wanted to live in a peripheral region, to settle the Negev and raise our children in a quiet place,” he said. “The tranquility of the desert makes it possible for us to live modestly and to appreciate what we have.”
Madar works as the community youth coordinator, and he led his young pupils to the meeting with the Perth youth. “We have incredible young people here who are involved in the community and also volunteer”, he said.
The Australian youth were hosted in the homes of Merhav Am families. Local resident Yaalah Zerbib hosted three of them. “It was a special experience for us also, and I’m certain that this was also the case for our guests,” she said.
After having lived for close to twenty years in Sydney, Zerbib moved to Merhav Am about two years ago together with her husband and their three children. A few months ago, the couple opened a mini-market in the community, with the goal of continuing to develop the village and providing necessary commodities for the residents.
“We fell in love with the desert and wanted to live in a small community village, so Merhav Am was the natural choice,” she said. “The partnership with Australia is very exciting, and it provides me the opportunity to connect both my worlds.”
At the end of their journey, the Australian youth went home with experiences that will accompany them their entire lives. “Israel is a special place with a unique atmosphere,” concluded Adam Levy, a pupil at the Carmel School. “It was impressive to see how a modern community can grow in the middle of the desert. Thanks to this Shorashim journey, I am now much more connected to Israel.”

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