Five years ago, Saar and Hadas Badash quit their jobs in the Galilee, and headed for the wide open space and unforgiving climate of the Negev desert. Therapists by profession, the couple sought to create an environmental and organic experience that reflected their own personal philosophy. Twenty months ago, they unveiled a cultural, educational and culinary center that is wholly desert grown. Hadasaar, a combination of the couple's first names, is primarily a dairy restaurant, serving dishes containing locally-grown ingredients. A small shop, Hadas' project, stocks organic produce, as well as jewelry and clothes from local artisans. They hold regular concerts and performances too, making the desert bloom with spiritual life. "We wanted to live our dream", Saar tells The Jerusalem Post. "We are therapists, not business people. And so we tried to find something ideological that connects to what we believe in. We live and think and do everything we can to connect to sustainable systems in every way." The desert is not the ideal location for a new, kitchen project, both freely admit. The landscape is bare, the human population scarce. "The desert is harder, less flexible; it demands more. In the quiet, you can hear yourself. Everything here takes on a new significance." Mitzpe Ramon certainly seems to be enjoying a revival. The crater (Machtesh Ramon) that shares the town's name has perennially had a steady flow of visitors eager to see one of Israel's most famous natural phenomena – a massive naturally formed valley that cuts across 40km of the Negev. But a brand new luxurious hotel has opened in recent years, and the number of visitors has increased. The old industrial area, where Hadasaar is located, is gradually transforming into a tourist hotspot. "Slowly Mitzpe is getting itself on the map," maintains Saar. And Hadasaar, despite its early struggles, is there to reap the benefits. "It was a slow process," recalls Saar. "Hadas opened a small shop, which we had for eight months, and then we started to think about the future. We started with niche [products] that were new, like an organic café. We wanted everything we have in the shop to be like how we live at home, like with the organic cleaning products. There is no place that does this like we do." The center strives to be an extension of its surroundings, rather than an intrusion. They cite the example of their mud oven, which they built themselves, rather than buy one. "We had a workshop on making mud ovens," Saar explains, "with idea that everything we do can be passed forward."
There is no doubt that it was tough at first, the couple says, but the 5,000- strong community of their small, far-flung town (Beersheba, the nearest city, is 85 rocky kilometers away) was on hand to help. The first customers were the town residents, who were quick to support the couple as they sought to make their mark. "When you decide to live here, you have a shared language - more than those people who by chance live in Bat Yam, for example. When we opened here we had not one shekel for marketing or posters. No one knew about us. For the first three months, the community kept us going. People here invest in each other," Saar says. He quotes a friend's homespun wisdom: "Either we hang together, or we hang side by side." The couple has long-term ambitions for their 225-meter center. A guesthouse is a future plan - for now, they direct visitors to the nearby Rujum boutique winery and farm, which does cater to overnight guests at its Desert Eco Lodge, another reflection of the community feeling they aim to foster. And when Hadasaar did begin to take off, success for them meant success for the community. "Everything is circular in the area," says Saar. "Every step has meaning. If I grow, then everyone else grows, like the boutique bakery next door that we buy from. It's hard, but in the desert if you do right by it, then you can make your dreams come true." Hadasaar center Opening hours: Sunday-Wednesday 8A.M.-8P.M.; Thursday 8A.M.-11P.M. (or last guest); Friday 8 A.M. until start of Shabbat Address: Har Boker 6, Spice Route Quarter, Mitzpe RamonTel: (972) 8-940 8473