American Zionist youth struggle to free themselves from a man-made swamp after many of them fell ill with malaria and diseases, just like the first Zionists.
(photo credit: JROAST STAFF)
When Marcus Aronowitz Goldberg thought of giving money to Israel one of the first things that popped into his mind was that the major problem facing Jewish youth today is an inability to connect with the early Zionist pioneers. “People always say that Israel is a wealthy western country and it is suppressing the poor Arabs, but we need to show them that the David and Goliath story is actually reversed. We Jews are the David, not the Goliath.”
In 2015 he quietly purchased 10,000 dunams in the Negev and partnered with the Zionist Agency to begin work on a unique Israel experience. “Everyone know that the pioneers drained the swamps and actually the draining of the Huleh was considered an agricultural disaster, but now we sought to return the swamp to the desert,” says agronomist Buber Ben-Passat. “Marcus said ‘let’s not make the desert bloom, let’s make the desert a disease-infested swamp like in the old days.’” Initially Ben-Passat was taken aback by such an awkward proposal.
“For years though, the Zionist National Fund has been talking about indigenous plants, so we said, let’s try to re-create a pre-Zionist swamp.”
After several months of pumping polluted water into the desert, the mosquitos and larvae associated with a swamp appeared. The stench and mud and grotesque, half-dead, environment sprung to “life” as it were.
Last Thursday the inaugural trip of young Zionist “pioneers” set off into the great new amusement park dubbed “Swamp pioneer land.” They were given similar impliments as the original Zionists worked with, such as wooden hoes and a few oxen and told to “drain the swamp.” Like the first Zionist they had no training and were ill-kitted out for the experience. “The first sign that something was wrong was when three wandered out of the swamp with hypothermia,” says Daniel Tet-Aluf, head of the emergency rescue squad of the Ophir council near the Besor stream where the swamp was. “We realized then it was a mistake to have confiscated their phones for the ‘experience’”.
Three days later only 23 of the 26-member youth pioneers have been rescued by helicopter and men operating ATVs. Three are still missing in the swamp, although rescuers are confident they will find them in the coming hours. “Luckily they have plenty of rats to feast on in their,” said a volunteers. “It really did create a pre-Zionist swamp.” Unfortunately what the youth pioneers have learned is that early Zionism wasn’t all its cracked up to be. “I thought we were going to die. There were huge mosquitos. Moshe and Moti got malaria. I had dysentery and all the bits of hard-tack food supplies went through me like water. It was horrific,” recalled Shlomi M. one of the counselers.
One of the oxen had to be butchered and eaten by the Jewish students and two of the group were found sleeping inside the still-warm carcass. “It was like the Revenant and Empire Strikes Back combined, I’ve never seen such horror,” Moshe recalled from his hospital bed.
His compatriot in the next bed still can’t get over the horror. “It’s a madhouse!” he kept shouting throughout the interview.