It is common for most people to have a home away from home, a place with significant meaning or memories. For me, my home away from home is the Arava

By Beau Landes

In June of 2017, I was lucky enough to be offered an opportunity by the Arava Australia Partnership (AAP) to travel to the Central Arava in Israel, with four Australian youth leaders, and be a leader for a Summer camp. Being my second time in Israel, I was excited to go back and relive my memories. Little did I know how much of an impact the Arava would have on my personal connection to Israel and Judaism. The moment I arrived at Moshav Zofar, after a three hour long cab ride from Tel Aviv, I knew that this leading experience would be unique. I remember being greeted at our apartment by Orit Elkayam Cohen, (AAP) Director, and instantly being supported by her motherly affection and warmth. It truly was the start of a beautiful friendship.

The summer camp experience was fantastic. It was great to see so many young Israeli youth want to engage with Aussie leaders and learn English through fun games and activities. Even in the dry desert heat of 40C the kids were always eager to participate and have a great time. During my time, it was amazing to see how welcomed we were by the locals and how much the kids learnt, it really was a special place. As my time as a summer camp leader was coming to an end, I knew that it was too short a time to truly experience the beauty of the Arava. Luckily for me, a timely opportunity was presented by the AAP to get involved in the Arava Research and Development Centre for a four month internship. Having only just finished my Biomedical Science degree at Monash University, I was a suited candidate for this privileged role and eagerly accepted the offer to stay longer and work in a laboratory.

Being freshly unpacked and relocated to Moshav Idan, I could not wait to get started. I was joined by two fellow Aussies; Stephanie Zwi and Jessica Snir, together forming a little, but perfect family. As our internship was four months, it was vital for us to integrate into the community of the Moshav. We each were partnered with host families and were given accommodation next to other agricultural volunteers similar to us in age. My fondest memories are my Shabbat dinners with my host family, joining in with song and celebration.... not to mention delicious home cooked meals.

Interning in a laboratory was a new experience, and when I was told that I would be investigating Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in Zebrafish... in the desert, I knew my decision of staying longer in the Arava was the right one. At first it was tough to settle down and understand my role in initiating experiments, but after great support by the laboratory team and my incredible mentor Niva Russek-Blum, Ph.D. I landed on my feet in no time. The commitment and passion to Microbiology and Immunology in the field of Health Sciences was remarkable, and there is no doubt in my mind that progress towards ALS discovery and prevention will be found there.

The four months passed by faster than I could imagine, and I gained so much from my experiences. In the laboratory I gained ability and confidence in myself to inquire, use equipment and initiate my own experiments... even though I had little luck in my findings. This could not have been done if I was not supported so heavily by my mentor, and encouraged to push myself. As for my time in the Arava itself, it truly will always be a special place in my heart. The people who live the Moshavim communities are warm and friendly, always willing to host meals or engage in conversation about memories of their visits to Australia many years ago. I was lucky to find true friends and partners in the Arava, many of whom made my experience beautiful and difficult in the end to leave.

There is an amazing beauty about the Arava, one that can only be experienced to truly understand. The desert for all its emptiness is filled and rich with life; and the agricultural, scientific and communal development there is ever more impressive to witness. As my host father ‘Yochi Lazarah’ would persistently remind me on every drive or Shabbat dinner “David Ben Gurion told us (the Jewish people) to move to the Arava. He had faith in it. And he was a smart man”. I couldn’t agree more, the Arava really is an incredible and unique place. So much so, in my most recent trip back to Israel, the first thing I did after my 22 hour flight from Australia was take a 3 hour long bus ride back down to the Arava, to see my Israeli family.

I would like to thank the Arava Australia Partnership, Jewish Agency, Zionist Federation of Australia and the Arava Research and Development Centre and the for providing me and countless others this opportunity to discover and spark our connection to Israel and Judaism in the Arava.

Beau Landes

 

 

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19 Feb 2019 / 14 Adar 5779 0