Kfar Hanokdim: Some COVID-friendly fun in the Negev

Kfar Hanokdim in the northern Negev hosts a weekend of activities.

 THE KFAR Hankodim festival – a chill-out ambiance you can only get in the desert. (photo credit: Mor Waldmann)
THE KFAR Hankodim festival – a chill-out ambiance you can only get in the desert.
(photo credit: Mor Waldmann)

Not all that long ago, even though the pre-pandemic world now seems a distant memory, if we wanted to get away from it all we might have thought about booking ourselves a weekend in Paris, London, Berlin or any other reasonably short flight away, reasonably priced destination.

COVID regulations have forced us all into a radical rethink on that front, and many of us have taken to checking out our own home patch rather than getting a snapshot of foreign pastures. That has upped domestic tourism figures, and gotten Israelis venturing into parts of this little country for the first time.

The latter may include Kfar Hanokdim in the northern Negev, a hop, skip and jump from Arad where this weekend visitors can get into all sorts of fun frolics orchestrated by the village’s media and content manager, Joni Gritzner, and his pals.

The two-dayer, which kicks off on Friday, offers workshops, a plethora of hikes, camping facilities, live music, plenty of tasty sustenance and, basically, a chill-out ambiance you can only get in the desert.

“There’s something special about the winter here,” says Gritzner, who has been happily employed down there for the past 17 years. “We’ve had some rain, and the desert looks and feels rinsed.” That is pretty surprising considering the annual mean precipitation in that neck of the woods covers a paltry three and a half days.

 Heavy rainfall in Tel Aviv, on December 22, 2021. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90) Heavy rainfall in Tel Aviv, on December 22, 2021. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

Still, they do get some rain over there, a fact to which I can personally attest. When I visited the village a couple of years ago, on the cusp of the corona era, there was quite a downpour. A local then observed that if the far heavier rainfall up the road at Arad had the desired effect we were in for a rare treat. We duly piled into a couple of 4-wheel drive vehicles and made our way over to the plain that overlooks a deep canyon and, more importantly, the Berekhat Tzefira cliff-top pool.

Our luck was in, big time, and we caught what aficionados call “the first wave” as the floodwater inexorably wended its way along the meandering wadi from Arad and, finally, slipped over the edge of the plain, crashing down in torrents to the Tze’elim riverbed well over 100 meters below. It was a stirring primordial sight and one in which, if it gets a reprise this weekend, the Camping Festival participants will surely revel.

The Friday-Saturday rollout is, in fact, the first of a couple of winter events on offer from the Kfar Hanokdim folks, with the second due to take place January 28-29. “It is a bonfire festival called Hasoed Hanoded (The Wandering Diner),” Gritzner explains. That, naturally, takes in plenty of vittles with the added value of having your meal prepared for you al fresco, in the seemingly unbounded desert expanse, and right before your very eyes, by chefs Tomer Solana and Yohai Nevo. There’s nothing like the great outdoors for getting the taste buds up to speed.

Sitting around a bonfire, as darkness falls and, no doubt, nightlife rouses itself for some foraging and other existential activities, is always a joy no matter whence you hail or how old-young you are.

For Eran Peer, the fun factor of the above escalates when it is experienced in unison. Over the past three or so years, the former hi-tech professional has built up a community of people looking to get out there and see some of Mother Nature’s treasures for themselves, in our own backyard.

“There are people who have never taken trips around Israel before,” Peer notes. “Before corona they would just buy a plane ticket and fly to the United States. Now more and more people are getting to know their own country.”

That, says Peer, who is overseeing the bonfire-oriented program in a couple of weeks’ time, applies to all and sundry.

“We have a photography workshop for kids and adults alike. Someone will come and show us how to take nighttime and other photographs on our smartphones.”

The mass appeal factor has already been evidenced in the field.

“We had a similar event in October. A sort of summer event. We had 700 people, of all ages – married couples, divorcees. That is one of the great assets of the desert. It brings people together.”

Gritzner says he is not perturbed by the prospect of “inclement” weather this weekend. “We have plenty of room indoors, and it is all weather proof.” Indeed they do. The accommodation offerings at the village run the gamut from basic Bedouin-style communal tent spreads, to relatively luxurious suites complete with all kinds of mod cons, and fetching wall ornamentation, fixtures and fittings. And the food ain’t half bad there either, even for vegans such as myself.

And, if it does turn a little wintry, Gritzner says visitors need not worry about being cooped up inside while the great outdoors gets a wash.

“Even if it does rain here it doesn’t last long. We’re hoping we might catch a flood too. Who knows?”

Trekkers of a certain vintage will, no doubt, be reminded of the laissez-faire ambiance they enjoyed down south four decades or so ago.

“Yoram [Roded], the owner of the village, set this place up as a sort of continuation of Sinai,” Gritzner notes. “Yoram felt bereft after Sinai was returned [to Egypt]. He was a tour guide there.”

But Roded didn’t mope around for too long. He set up a tent site near Arad, which he called Hamachaneh – The Camp – which offered tourists a range of desert experiences, and which ran from 1983 through to 1991. That was swiftly followed by the beginnings of Kfar Hanokdim. “Yoram wanted to introduce people to the desert. He had camels and that sort of thing,” says Gritzner. “His son now runs the village.”

If that all sounds a little far out, in the geographical sense, fear not.

“We live in a small country,” says Peer. “You can get from the center of the country to the Golan Heights in an hour and a half, and down to the Negev in not much longer. It is all here just waiting for people to come and enjoy.”

He might have added that taking a time out in the Negev also comes without having to fork out for plane tickets and PCR tests, and with little danger of having to isolate thereafter. You may even get to witness a desert downpour.

For more information: (08) 995-0097 and https://www.kfarhanokdim.co.il/soednoded/