Residents of the Western Negev and visitors from all over Israel have spent an entire month celebrating the Darom Adom (Scarlet South) Festival, which has been held in conjunction with KKL-JNF for fifteen years now. Hundreds of thousands of participants enjoyed February weekends packed with events, including nature walks, heritage tours, and fun activities in nature suitable for the entire family.
“The whole area is covered with stunning anemones, and hikers and visitors appreciate having nature all around them,” said Galit Vaknin, KKL-JNF’s Western Negev community and forest coordinator.
The Anemone Walk, the Anemone Race, a special event in Shokeda Forest, tours of the flowering areas, bike rides, visits to heritage sites, markets and fairs – these are just a few of the varied attractions the festival has to offer.
A meaningful highlight was the group bike trip in which cyclists who are blind and sighted cyclists rode together in Gerar Gully’s Sharsheret Park. Some two hundred cyclers pedaled in tandem pairs for 20 kilometers among the green slopes of the flower-studded hills.
“Even though I can’t see the scenery, I can still really enjoy it,” said Lior Mahrabani, a cyclist from Beersheba who is blind. “I can feel the air and the wind, I can hear the birds singing, and my cycling partner tells about the sights along the way. Usually I get around independently with a cane, but on all-terrain rides like this one I have to rely one hundred percent on someone else, and that’s a very special feeling.”
Yoram Bernstein was also out with his cycling partner, who is both blind and deaf. “When you ride a tandem with a partially-sighted person, a special bond forms between you – between the captain who steers the bike and the stoker sitting behind him,” explained Bernstein. “I don’t think of this as volunteering, but as a shared cycling experience. The truth is, I feel that I get back a great deal more than I give.”
Zohar Tzafon, director of planning in KKL-JNF’s Southern Region, spends a lot of his time making nature accessible to people with disabilities, and, among other things, he designs specially adapted cycling routes. “The idea is to make it possible for everyone to cycle amid natural surroundings,” he said. “KKL-JNF is a world pioneer in the development of disabled-accessible single-track cycle trails in nature, and today’s bike ride is a prime example of this.”
The tension on the border with the Gaza Strip did not deter the thousands of visitors who converged upon the various festival sites on this sunny Friday (February 28, 2020). Beautiful weather and glorious flowers combined to create a pastoral atmosphere, and it was hard to imagine that an alert could sound at any moment and irretrievably shatter the peace of the day. This was a time to enjoy nature, not reflect upon complex security problems.
Apart from magnificent scenery and flowering anemones, the Darom Adom Festival also offers participants an opportunity to explore local heritage sites and connect with the pioneering spirit so characteristic of those who have settled the Negev. One such venue is the Negev Pioneers’ site at Ruhama, for which KKL-JNF offers guided tours. The Ruhama farm was first established in 1912 to develop agricultural settlement, and today, at this unique heritage site developed with the support of KKL-JNF, visitors can view a building from the Palmach era and the remains of a well dug by the original pioneers – the first Zionist well in the Negev.
After the historical explanations, which included a demonstration of how the restored well operates, the tour group set out to see the flowers in the Ruhama Badlands Nature Reserve. Ori Stav of Tel Aviv, who had joined the excursion together with two friends, told us: “It’s great to hike on such a beautiful day when there’s not a cloud in the sky. We’re enjoying seeing the red carpets of anemones and all the greenery around them.”
Another guided tour was underway in Erez Forest. Its starting point was the Ibim Recreation Area, which was developed by KKL-JNF with the help of its Friends worldwide, and the route led the walkers through farmers’ fields, pastureland, carpets of flowers and the ruins of an abandoned village.
Twenty-three-year-old Adir Ben-Gur of Yavneh took part in this tour together with his girlfriend Yuval. “We wanted to see the area when it was in full bloom, and nature certainly hasn’t disappointed us today,” he said.
The Scarlet South Festival has now come to an end. Not to worry: the anemones will be back next year, and they will again draw crowds of visitors to the Western Negev to enjoy the beauties of this region and meet its local residents.