Toni Cohen of Johannesburg, South Africa is working in a marketing internship with Radvision: An Avaya Company
After my second Negev trip since I’ve been here, I can positively say that this place gives me intangible sensations that I absolutely love. The absolute nothing and yet everything of it, the silence so intense, that if you close your eyes you can hear the flap of a bird’s wing, an appreciation for Hashem’s creation and the novelty of seeing ‘where it all began’.
My first visit to the Negev was with the Career Israel crew. We went for 3 days and completed 2 hikes: The Maktesh and Snapir Gadol. During this trip we also had the opportunity to visit Bat HaMidbar (Desert Daughter in English), a Bedouin who studied abroad in England and has built her own business in the Negev. We were taught how to make homemade Za’tar lipbalm, homemade pita bread and learned about all the natural herbs around us.
We later made our way to the Naot Goat Farm and tasted homemade cheese and milk. Our night ended at Yerucham Midreshet B’Yachad for a much needed rest.
Day 2, we toured Shvil HaSalat. An educational experience about nearly every kind of tomato and picking purple, white, yellow and orange carrots. Yes, purple, white, yellow AND orange!
Next stop: Meeting with the Ethiopian community in Gdera where we were welcomed into their homes and treated to amazing, freshly roasted Ethiopian coffee, traditional injera and Western popcorn. We had an opportunity to hear their stories, ask questions and understand living as an Ethiopian in Israel after the famous Operation Solomon. Operation Solomon was a covert Israeli military operation to airlift Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 1991. Non-stop flights of 34 Israeli aircraft, including El Al cargo planes, transported 14,325 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in 36 hours. Many of the Ethiopians that we met with came with and without their families to Eretz Yisrael during this delicate operation.
After heading back home, I couldn’t let go of the bliss of the Negev so when our Rabbi organized a Mitzpei Ramon Shabbaton, I was eager and quick to sign up. Through the Jerusalem Soul Centre, not only was I going to be in one of my new favourite places but I would be surrounded by spiritual, musical, down to Earth young Jews.
I went with one of my friends who was in search of a spiritual Shabbat, and there was no other place or time I would’ve recommended this one. What more can you ask for in a Shabbaton when you start with a nature hike, visit an award-winning Srigim brewery and enjoy L’Chaims with new friends, staying mamash (very much so) on the Maktesh crater, watching the sunset over the desert creating the most extraordinary and breath-taking view whilst dancing Kabbalat Shabbat in with beautiful ruach (spirit) and unity.
Walking along the Maktesh crater on Shabbat afternoon was a moment that I completely took advantage of. To be able to sit and hear literally nothing and be completely one with yourself is a moment that is almost impossible to access with our bustling, constantly on-the-go lives. To have a moment with yourself, with G-d, with nature is one that I cherish. Just as we brought Shabbat in on the edge of the crater, we took it out with a moving Havdalah. With only the light of the intertwined candle, we each got to say one word that we thought about the Shabbaton. Barely being able to see anyone’s faces and just hearing their thoughts brought a feeling of closeness, unity and connection between my new-found friends.
See more photos and read more about Toni’s adventures on her blog