Year-In-Israel Students Explore Israel's Southern Desert Communities

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Year-In-Israel Rabbinical Student Leah Sternberg writes: 

From November 26-29, 2014, Year-In-Israel rabbinical, cantorial, and education students took a trip to the South of Israel.  Along with being a mid-year break, it also gave us a chance to see more of the country.  Being so far from home over Thanksgiving weekend, it was a time when we all needed a little reminder of community. 

We began the tiyul in Sderot, talking with local young people to hear about what life was like during the war this summer, and why they chose to stay there.  Seeing the bomb shelter playground was especially impactful, as we were able to imagine a little better what it is like to grow up in this environment.  Following Sderot, as we made our way further south, we stopped at Sde Boker, the burial site for David Ben Gurion.  The lookout onto the Maktesh Ramon was the perfect setting for minyan, something to truly welcome us to the desert and take our minds away from the busyness of Jerusalem.  

We spent the next three days in the desert, exploring, learning, and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere.  Staying at Kibbutz Yahel, it was comfortable and exciting to be welcomed by another Reform community in Israel.  The kibbutz grounds and surrounding desert gave us space for a campfire and dinner on the first night, and plenty to explore over the weekend. 

Although it was different from most of our typical Thanksgiving Day activities, we spent the day hiking at Har Shlomo or Har Timna.  Both were challenging and rewarding experiences leading up to a home-cooked Thanksgiving dinner and Beit Cafe. 

On Friday, we started the day learning about some enviornmental projects at the other Reform Kibbutz in the area, Kibbutz Lotan.  They taught us how to build mud bricks and why it was an enviornmentally friendly tool for society.  We then spent the afternoon in Eilat snorkeling and hanging out at the beach before heading back for Shabbat, and Shabbat at Kibbutz Yahel was nothing short of perfect.  HUC-JIR students led Kabbalat Shabbat and Shacharit Services in the desert, organized a tisch following dinner, and Havdallah to end the weekend.  We spent the day exploring the kibbutz grounds, playing sports, and relaxing in good company. 

Spending the weekend in the desert, specifically away from our hectic lives in Jerusalem, was a much needed break.  We connected to the desert space through prayer, recreation, and learning, while appreciating Israel’s beauty in a way that we are not able to in the city.  For me, the open air space was a natural environment for relaxation and meditation, a time to continue to grow the intentional community the Year-In-Israel has created, and see Israel in a way I have not been able to in the first six months of my year.      


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.