lights and 88.
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Open Day in the Arava was held this year for the first time at the Yair Agricultural Research Station in Hatzeva. The event lasted two days and was preceded by a modest publicity campaign. The result was surprising: thousands of people streamed from all over Israel to see the research station, its greenhouses and its magnificent displays. To observe - for some, for the first time in their lives - how Israeli agriculture is functioning in the 21st century, what it produces, and how. Many of the visitors learned for the first time that fewer than 3,000 people in the central Arava produce around 60% of all Israeli vegetables for export, and that they do so in the most difficult physical and climatic conditions in this part of the world.
KKL-JNF Foreign Journalists Mission joined the huge crowd of visitors. The dull and rainy weather they had experienced in Mitzpe Ramon followed them to the Arava, and they made the journey through a heavy cloak of mist. Even Ms Ronit Ratner of Moshav Faran, who was the journalists' guide for the visit to the Yair Research Station, felt the need to apologize for the sun's absence from the Arava on this, of all days: "We get an average of around 25 millimeters of rain a year, and of these nine millimeters have already fallen in the past two days. This weather is definitely not typical of the Arava."
Ronit Ratner, a long-time resident of Moshav Faran, the most southerly moshav in the central Arava, is a living example and personification of the strength and perseverance that characterizes early Arava settlers, who did not give up and leave in the difficult early years and would never consider changing to an alternative, easier way of life. The recent week of frosty weather did not spare the Arava, and has, in fact, destroyed any chance of exporting agricultural produce to Europe this year. Most of the greenhouses were badly damaged, together with the ripe fruit that was ready for picking and marketing. "The compensation we'll get from the State won't cover all the damage, and it most certainly won't mend the broken heart from which every farmer suffers when he loses his crop at one fell swoop because of a spell of unusually cruel and frosty nights," said Ronit in response to questions regarding compensation and financial aid for the farmers affected.
When asked just how important KKL-JNF activities in the Arava are to farmers, Ronit Ratner's response covered just about everything imaginable, from preparing land for agricultural use and the construction of reservoirs and flood-barriers to the agricultural research and development of which KKL-JNF has been meeting half the costs for many years by means of funds raised among its Friends throughout the world. "Without KKL-JNF, we wouldn't be doing anything here at all. It's KKL-JNF that performs all these sacred tasks," she said.
"By now, the fifth day of our trip, it seems to me that Israel without KKL-JNF wouldn't be Israel at all," remarked Swiss journalist Matthias Herren with a smile.
Later in the day the delegation members visited Kibbutz Lotan, which was founded by members of the Movement for Reform Judaism in the US in conjunction with young Israelis, and which continues to grow daily despite the harsh climatic and environmental conditions of the southern Arava.
The local mud is used for building. The playground created on the kibbutz a number of years ago, with a great deal of imagination and humor, is constructed mainly from mud, and serves as a venue for workshops for schoolchildren and groups of teenagers. This is where young people learn the elements of organic farming, the secrets of recycling and even the knack of preparing compost from materials provided by the public toilets, in which straw, rather than water, is used. Mark Naveh, a veteran member of the kibbutz, explained the classic communal kibbutz principles that still govern life at Lotan, whose fifty members believe that we can live in a better world if we can only combine the ability to use and recycle materials wisely with the principles of the Reform version of the Jewish faith.
The kibbutz recently inaugurated a tea-house made from mud and tires, which, after extensive resilience testing, received all the necessary engineering permits for its construction. It is a pleasant, intimate place, without air conditioning, as it makes use of the natural airflow to keep it cool inside even on a boiling hot Arava summer's day. The members of the journalists' delegation were also given the privilege of being the first to enjoy lunch, which did not consist entirely of locally-grown organic produce on this occasion, solely because of the recent spell of cold weather. The guests were also shown the therapeutic center, where a covered pool in a pleasant building constructed especially for the purpose provides facilities for watsu, a form of warm-water body massage based on shiatsu.
The day's tour of the Arava concluded with a special nighttime trip to Timna Park, whose principal sites were magnificently floodlit. This unique park, many of whose sites were developed with the help of JNF America, is also floodlit for the benefit of visitors on warm summer nights, when daytime temperatures are too high for people to enjoy the park's beauty and its wealth of history and archeology.
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