The Negev is blooming

What I found was a refurbished, very user-friendly historical site that even screens three short interesting films.

Zman Midbar is a great place to relax and clear your head (photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
Zman Midbar is a great place to relax and clear your head
(photo credit: MEITAL SHARABI)
All schoolchildren in Israel (at least those from my generation) remember their school trip to Ben-Gurion’s house at Kibbutz Sde Boker.
This was the field trip when our teacher aspired to imbue us with the spirit of Zionism, and teach us how special it was that we were Jews with the willpower and perseverance to make the desert bloom.
Now that I’m no longer a teenager with raging hormones, I thought I’d go back and try to understand what was so magical about that place, and rediscover how our first prime minister succeeded in creating something incredible in the middle of the desolate desert.
What I found was a refurbished, very user-friendly historical site that even screens three short interesting films.
Kibbutz Sde Boker
When you enter the site and pay the entrance fee, you receive a map of the site and the option to buy a children’s activity booklet (NIS 10) that includes puzzles and activities. On the map, you will see how to reach the first stop, where visitors can watch a short 12-minute animated movie with animation in the style of Waltz with Bashir. You can press the play button by yourself, so you don’t need to wait for a guide to start the film. The film traces David Ben-Gurion’s life, how he came to live at Sde Boker and his dream of making the desert bloom.
Ben-Gurion believed that it was a great honor to be able to return to the land of our forefathers and embrace the Zionist dream. When he took over the leadership of the Jewish Agency in 1935, one of his main goals was to create agricultural settlements in the Negev.
When you’ve finished watching the movie, you can move on to the next building, where guests are invited to either watch a second film, or continue to the main part of the site, which includes Ben-Gurion’s house and three other small houses. The first one, called the plaster house, is currently displaying an exhibition. The second house is full of interactive games, and in the third house, which was where Ben-Gurion’s guard would sleep, visitors can watch a third film.
The plaster house was built in the early 1950s, and it received its name from the plaster that was used in its construction, which was taken from the quarry in the Ramon crater. The building originally served as a laboratory for examining regional flora and ecological phenomena. Later on, it was converted into the kibbutz’s children’s house, after which it was used as a cultural center, a library, and even as a second- hand clothing store.
Nowadays, it houses an exhibition that describes the lives of Sde Boker’s founder members and shows how hard they worked just so that they could have running water and a place to sleep at night after a long, hard day of toiling.
The gallery also includes pictures and documents that show Ben-Gurion’s work and the gradual development of the kibbutz. The most interesting part of this exhibition, in my opinion, is correspondence between Ben-Gurion and teenagers during the years he lived at Sde Boker.
Inside the second house, visitors can participate in the “Ben-Gurion Test of Time,” which takes place at a number of interactive tables where children and teens can take a virtual tour of the kibbutz. There are quizzes on three topics: youth, the Negev and the IDF – through which youth can learn about the history of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.
Ben-Gurion’s house
The third house was Ben-Gurion’s simple, modest home. Here, you can see how the prime minister lived and how his home reflected his beliefs. In his last will and testament, Ben-Gurion wrote that he wanted his home to be open to the public so that they could see how much he loved the land of Israel. And it is pretty incredible to see the old map of Israel on the wall and the plate with an Israeli flag imprinted on it.
Aside from Israeli symbols, Ben-Gurion also surrounded himself with pictures of individuals he revered, such as Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi and Moses. He also loved Buddhism and Eastern culture, and his living room contains Buddha sculptures, which shows that he had a less conventional side, too. He and his wife, Paula, slept in separate bedrooms, since she apparently preferred sleeping at night, as opposed to her husband, who worked late into the night and viewed sleep as a waste of time. They also had a kitchen, which was not typical in kibbutz houses in the 1950s, since Paula was very concerned that her husband could follow a strict diet.
In Ben-Gurion’s modest bedroom, the only pieces of furniture are a bed and a bookcase with 50 books. Paula’s room, on the other hand, feels much warmer, and features pictures of family members, whereas Ben-Gurion’s room had only a picture of Gandhi. The largest room in the house, not surprisingly, is the library/ study. This room contains more than 5,000 books in nine languages.
When we think about Israel’s more recent political leaders, it’s hard to imagine any of them living so modestly. Visiting this house gives us a sense of proportion and makes us think twice about our own pursuit of money and materialism, and teaches us that all you need to pursue your goals is ambition and ideology.
Ben-Gurion’s grave
When you’ve finished visiting the place where Ben-Gurion spent his last years, it’s time to visit our first prime minister’s final resting place.
His grave, which lies next to that of Paula, overlooks the breathtaking Tzin Valley desert. The impressive national park that surrounds Ben-Gurion’s tomb includes a beautiful garden, as well as Midreshet Sde Boker, also known as Midreshet Ben-Gurion.
You can reach the grave easily from the parking area, and from there you can take a scenic walk along the circular path. You’ll notice the incredible desert plants on the side of the path, and at the top there is a panoramic view of the Tzin Valley.
Where to sleep
One of the things that is so magical about the desert is its simplicity. In contrast to Eilat, there really aren’t any pretentious hotels in the Sde Boker area.
Instead, what you will find here is a nice variety of quaint bed and breakfasts that will help you wrap yourself peacefully in the gorgeous desert.
I often hear people say that all they need is a clean, simple place to lay their heads after a long day of traveling, and that’s exactly what’s available here. One of my favorites is Zman Midbar, which is located at Midreshet Ben-Gurion. Granted, it doesn’t sport a plasma TV or a hot tub, but it does have a large hammock where you can spread out and relax.
Because there are no TVs in the rooms, it’s advisable to stay there with someone pleasant who you like spending quiet evenings with, or at least bring a good book! This is a great place to just relax and clear your head.
If you like hiking, the owner of the bed and breakfast, Dana Meir, has lots of great suggestions, since she’s also a tour guide and a biking instructor.
There are numerous paths you can take from Zman Midbar – by foot or by bike, whichever you prefer.
If you want to prepare a nutritious breakfast before you set out for the day, there’s a fully equipped kitchen, or Meir can prepare a picnic basket for you for just NIS 50 per person.
Price per night: NIS 400 to NIS 450 per couple, NIS 75 for each additional guest.
Location: Negev – Sde Boker
Length: Half day
Level of difficulty: Easy, appropriate for families
Type of hike: Includes easy walking
Season: All year, but not during heat waves
Disabled access: Full
Directions: Drive south on Route 40. Follow signs for Midreshet Sde Boker.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.