Between the Tamar Regional Council, which encompasses the area near the southern part of the Dead Sea, and the Hevel Eilot Regional Council in southern Israel, lies the Arava. The Arava region boasts of a number of nature reserves and is home to only seven residential communities. This week, I will focus on two of these: Hatzeva in the northern Arava and Tzukim in the southern Arava. So, let’s get started on this exciting journey.
Hatzeva, which is located four kilometers east of the Arava highway and was established in 1965, is one of the oldest moshavim in the area (it was the second of the region’s five moshavim). The region was named Hatzeva after the name of the prodigious spring in the area known by local Bedouin as Ein Khachab. Despite the moshav’s location in the middle of the desert and on the Syrian-African rift, Hatzeva is renowned for its extensive and thriving agricultural output. In fact, it is one of the few moshavim in Israel that still relies on agricultural crops for local use and as export to countries all over the globe. If you’d like to learn more about the region’s prosperous agricultural activity, the best place to start is at the Vidor Center.
1. BEIT HASHITIN FARM
Another great place to visit in the Arava, which is no less exciting, is Beit Hashitin Farm. Located just a short drive from the Vidor Center, Beit Hashitin Farm, run by the Beit Hashitin NPO, was founded in 2017 and is spread out over a little less than two acres. The farm was established to function as a bridge between the Israeli people and the story of the region’s settlement. This is accomplished by having visitors engage in agricultural work with their own two hands. This isn’t just another place where you can engage in self-picking to take home.
The visit starts inside the greenhouse, where participants will hear about the challenges farmers face growing produce in the desert, such as dealing with brackish water, extremely high temperatures and lack of rainfall. The guides will also tell their own personal stories about what brought them to the area (spoiler – many times it’s connected to the ideals of Zionism and the desire to settle the land). Participants will be offered a chance to look at the crops and see up close how farmers have overcome these challenges that are unique to growing produce in the desert. Lastly, participants will get to partake in actual planting or harvesting (depending on the actual needs of the farm at that time). Of course, at the end of the tour, visitors are welcome to purchase fresh locally grown produce in the shop.
If you happen to be visiting on a Friday, you are in luck, as every Friday there is a lively fruit and vegetable shuk, as well as vendors selling freshly made sandwiches made from local ingredients, coffee and other hot drinks, as well as lots of fun music. There are also cooking workshops you can partake in on site.
Tours at Beit Hashitin Farm take place every hour. Pre-registration required.
Price: NIS 27 from age 3 and up.
Cooking workshops are NIS 30 to 50 (depending on ingredients and number of participants).
Details: 052-218-1665, www.facebook.com/hashitinfarm
2. VIDOR CENTER
Located at the entrance to Moshav Hatzeva, the Vidor Center is a window into Arava agriculture. The center is open seven days a week, with wheelchair accessible tours running on the hour that include a 3D film, an interactive museum with a number of stations and games, and a visit to the greenhouses.
Even before the tour begins, visitors can purchase treats and drinks in the coffee shop located in the large lobby or buy fruit and vegetables in the shop that is stocked with a nice assortment of locally grown produce. Guests can also peruse works of art created by some of the best artists in the region. (The tour ends in the same spot, so you can make your purchases at the end if you prefer.)
After you’ve finished watching the short video, which clearly describes how local farmers are able to grow fruits and vegetables so successfully in the arid desert, the tour will continue on to the second stop. There, tour participants can attempt to “make it rain” as they learn about the advanced irrigation systems that are used in the desert, and how local farmers have dealt with challenges such as aridity, brackish water and extreme temperatures.
In the last stop of the tour, guests will get to see up close a number of technological inventions that have enabled the moshav to become one of Israel’s greatest agricultural exporters.
Tours begin on the hour. Due to COVID-19 regulations, it’s best to pre-register.
Price: NIS 29 adults; NIS 23 for children, age four and up.
Details: 077-568-1608, www.vidor-center.co.il
3. TZUKIM ARTIST COLONY
From the Hatzeva area, it’s time to drive down toward the southern part of the Arava to Tzukim, a community made up mainly of residents who hail from central Israel who were looking for a means to get away from the commotion of the city and live in a community that focuses on art, ecology and tourism. About 100 families currently live in Tzukim, and a large number of the residents are talented artists who make up the local artist colony, which is located in older buildings that served as the homes of the original families. Visitors are welcome to browse through the eclectic galleries and participate in workshops offered by local artists, who specialize in sculpture made from iron and recycled materials, in drawing, in cosmetics made from locally grown herbs, and in jewelry making. If you happen to be visiting on a Friday, you will also get to enjoy musical and theatrical performances that take place in the artist colony.
4. MA PREM URSULA
When your tummy starts grumbling, you’ll know it’s time to make your way to Ma Prem Ursula, a wonderful restaurant in Tzukim. Since there isn’t a large number of dining options in the Arava, this is a favorite among locals and tourists alike. Ma Prem Ursula offers a unique combination of Middle Eastern and European cuisine, and is famous for its boutique sausages served with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes. I recommend ordering a pint of beer to go along with this scrumptious meal. The malfouf cabbage and the roasted cauliflower are also amazing.
Details: (08) 644-4421
5. KAPOT TAMAR CATERING
Before you leave the area, I suggest stopping to buy take-away food from Tami Faber, the owner of Kapot Tamar Catering. For many years, Tamar and her husband grew peppers, but the recent economic crisis taught them that they need to open themselves up to a greater variety of opportunities. At first, Tamar began cooking for people living near her, but soon other people began hearing about her incredible culinary talents and her catering business began to take off.
Currently, Tami is offering customized lunch and dinner baskets, including vegetarian, vegan, dairy and meat options. She uses almost exclusively locally sourced products, and the baskets are beautifully packaged.
Price: NIS 60 to 200 per person for meals. NIS 40 to 70 for delivery, depending on distance.
Translated by Hannah Hochner