22 Feb Nitzana: Harnessing The Sun And The Great Human Spirit
About 30 minutes beyond the last signs of civilization, and just before the Egyptian border, you’ll find Nitzana—a global educational eco-village in Israel's Negev Desert. It was imagined by late Labor party visionary Lova Aryeh Eliav, and built by The Jewish Agency for Israel. Eliav wanted Nitzana to become a “school to teach respect for humanity and its place in developing the arid wilderness,” and that’s exactly what it is.
Administered by The Jewish Agency and the Negev Regional Council, Nitzana has a wide range of residents and guests. Many are Mechinot students at the post-high school service learning program (Derech Eretz)—kids from Israel’s periphery who spend six months learning and volunteering during the time between high school and IDF service. They return home sunburned, independent, empowered, and with a strong sense of communal responsibility.
Nitzana is also home to participants of an Aliyah program called MIR, who are young people from the Former Soviet Union learning Hebrew and getting acclimated to their new country and culture, with the help of a well-trained staff.
Other students occupy Nitzana, as well. A Masa Israel Journey program called Desert Challenge that offers a semester, or two, of Hebrew study and sport-instructor training, in cooperation with the famed Wingate Institute. They swim, work out, learn physiology, and hike. Many students fall in love with Israel and stay, while others go back to their countries of origin as excellent ambassadors for Israel and Judaism.
In Nitzana you can also find Eritrean refugees. They walked across Sinai, often brutally abused on the way, to seek human rights and refuge in Israel. A boarding school at Nitzana provides these unaccompanied minors with supervision and a vision— several years of being held by kind, professional arms, and an education.
And finally, there are some two dozen young adults doing a year of service before being conscripted to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) living in Nitzana. These are Israel’s elite. Demand for a volunteer year at Nitzana is in the hundreds, but only the top few percent are chosen. These volunteers (called "ShinShinim" in the Hebrew slang) guide school children at the solar park and guests at Nitzana’s hostel, act as big brothers and sisters to the Eritrean kids, tend arid crops, and generally behave as if the future is in their own personal hands, which it is.