The Most Pioneering of Israeli Pioneers

This past weekend I traveled with my congregation Darchei Noam to visit a fellow community in the Reform Movement, Kibbutz Lotan.

Kibbutz Lotan is located in the Arava Desert, a half hour drive north of Eilat. It is one of a handful of kibbutzim on this stretch of road – tiny oases in the vast desert with the beautiful red mountains setting an awesome backdrop to the daring acts of Zionism that these pioneers are living in the sandy valley. Kibbutz Lotan was established in 1983 by a seed group of young adults who had grown up in the Reform Movement in North America. Today, its members come from all over the world, including native Israelis. In a time when kibbutzim are slowly becoming privatized, this dedicated and ideological group of people maintain a totally communal lifestyle, including an equal distribution of financial resources, eating in the cheder ochel (communal dining room), and sharing in all aspects of the work of kibbutz life.

And they are doing amazing things out there in the desert. We were given a tour of the kibbutz by the mazkir (general secretary) Mark Naveh. We toured the Bustan (Orchard) ecological village where people come from all over the world to participate in the “green apprenticeship” program in which they learn how to build ecological buildings, cook using ovens generated by solar heat, grow gardens with recycled water, and more. These programs now are available as semester-abroad courses where college students can even get college credit for the program. Then we saw the “Eco-fun” park, built entirely by recycled materials, a wonderful gift shop stocked with unique items designed by local artists, and, of course, the world famous giant compost toilet. (totally clean and no smell!) For younger groups, there are many workshops including brick-making and ecological arts as well as a puppet theater. We toured the bird-watching center (birds migrating between Africa and Europe fly exactly through Lotan twice a year) and walked through the wadi which had been drenched by a winter flash flood last week – you could scoop up a piece of ground and it was a perfect, cool clay. Lastly, we climbed the sand dunes and were reminded at that moment that we were truly in the desert.

In the middle of the tour, I led the group in a short ma’amad (kind of experience, kind of prayer) as we connected our traditional morning prayers of giving thanks for the world and being alive with finding a spiritual connection with the mystical desert surroundings – the deep, reflective silence of the sand and rocks, the fragility of life and nature, and each of our connection with the immense world surrounding us, the reminder of the mystery of it all.

Oh and I have to mention the unique spa treatment that Lotan offers called Watsu, I guess like water shiatsu. In a covered pool which looks like a Turkish hamam, we had a unique treatment in which you float on your back and are guided in movements and sort of massage. For me, it was amazing to hear only my breath for this hour, to experience the movement of water, and a very relaxing light massage. Very unique and worth a try!

And kibbutz life was at its best – my son (2 1/2) visited the cows and the goats twice a day, ran free on the kibbutz grounds, and made instant friends with the local kids. Some people rented bikes and went riding in the area. We enjoyed a boisterous Kabbalat Shabbat with adults and kids wearing funny hats to welcome the joyous Hebrew month of Adar, the month of Purim, singing, and playing percussion instruments. A huge communal dinner in the dining hall. And just downright fun doing Israeli dancing in the courtyard which was enjoyed by all ages from 2 1/2 to 75 1/2. We also had a wonderful meeting between kibbutz members and our congregation members which was a time to get to know each other, each other’s communities, and to discuss our relationship with Reform Judaism, the Israeli Reform Movement, and to share the challenges facing us.

Kibbutz Lotan is one of the most Israeli and one of the most Reform places in all of Israel. True Zionists who are willing to sacrifice to reach their ideal and who have a special entrepreneurial spirit that is carried out in the vision of tikkun olam, repairing the world, and bringing the best of Jewish values into action. The amazing things that they are doing in the middle of the desert are going to change the world. Not to mention, if you don’t need too fancy accommodations and are looking for a relaxing get-away with a breathtaking landscape in close range to many attractions, this is the place. I can’t wait for my next visit!
(will try to add photos this week)

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One Response to “The Most Pioneering of Israeli Pioneers”

  1. Eliza Mayo Says:

    Thanks Rabbi! We loved having you.

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