Friday, June 22, 2012

A day at work.

Having lived in Israel for over 30 years and having traveled its length and breadth,  it amazes me that there are still places that, not only have I not been to (there are 1000s of those!) but that I’ve never even heard of.
Last week, my department at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev had its yearly ‘fun day out’. I don’t know if other places in the world do this, but many companies and institutions in Israel sponsor what they call a ‘yom gibush’ or, according to Google translate a ‘formulation day’. The idea of a yom gibush (the verb form l’gabesh actually means to crystallize) is not to learn how to work together and solve problems together in a relaxed atmosphere but simply for members of a work team to bond outside of the work environment and to create lasting friendships. These days are supposed to be pure fun. There is something to be said for seeing your boss in shorts and a floppy sunhat.
Usually these fun days take the form of an outing to places around the country. In years past, my department spent a day touring different neighborhoods of Tel Aviv and another hiking up and down the hills outside Jerusalem. During these days, there are also stops for coffee and cake and for lunch in a restaurant. All part of the service.

This year, our department went somewhere a bit different. We started the day in Moshav Bnei Atarot. A moshav, for those who don’t know, is – historically – an agricultural village, whose members own their own fields, earn their own living (as opposed to a kibbutz, where everything is communally owned, and the kibbutz pays ‘salaries’[1]), but have communal buildings and equipment.
Moshav Bnei Atarot was founded in the summer of 1948 during the War of Independence and was originally made up of survivors Moshav Atarot outside Jerusalem, which had been destroyed by the Arab Legion of Jordan. (Bnei means ‘the sons of’). Situated a few miles from Petach Tikvah, the moshav was built on the evacuated Templar settlement of Wilhelma.
The Templars were a German Christian group who came in the 1800s to settle the Holy Land. For a complete history of the Templar movement in the Holy Land, you’ll have to Google it yourself. This blog is about Israel….
Suffice to say, there were about five different settlements of Templars, including Acco, Haifa, the Sharona neighborhood in Tel Aviv (which today is the command headquarters of the IDF) and the ‘German Colony’ neighborhood in Jerusalem (complete with a little-known Templar cemetery).
The Templars, being German and card-carrying members of the Nazi party, were evacuated by the English from ‘Palestine’ in 1942 and sent to camps in Egypt. Eventually, I suppose, they were sent home.
But their settlements remained in the Holy Land, and Wilhelma – named after the Kaiser Wilhelm – eventually became Moshav Bnei Atarot.
Young members of the Moshav, dressed as 19th century German farmers, gave us a tour of the preserved buildings of the Templars. All two-storied (the families lived in the top floor where it was cooler, and the animals lived on the ground floor), the buildings are made of wood and mud. Many of the then-communal buildings have been preserved and are used today as Moshav communal buildings. The Templar school is used as administration buildings, the congregational building (the Templars didn’t have churches) is used as a community center and the post office and clinic still retain their original uses. There is even a hotel (called the Wilhelma), which is a redone visitors home.
We spent a very pleasant couple of hours wandering around the Moshav, listening to our young guides put on a German accent and speak bad Hebrew and explain the various buildings. We also spent a fair amount of time watching planes land, as Bnei Atarot is only a mile or so from Ben-Gurion Airport. The day was hot and humid, but somehow this bit of countryside in the middle of Israel’s most congested area made it very pleasant to be outside.
I was aware of the Templar history in the Holy Land; How this Protestant sect felt that settlement here would hasten the second coming, and how they set up settlements around the country. My family has visited Acco and Beit Lechem of the Galilee, and of course Jerusalem’s German Colony (not many original buildings left there), but I’d never heard of Bnei Atarot. It was worth the day just to learn something new of the history of Israel.

After a pleasant lunch in Kibbutz Be’erot Yitzchak [2], which took me back to my own Kibbutz days, we continued on our way to the Ariel Sharon Park, just outside Tel Aviv, about a 20 minute drive.

The heart of the Ariel Sharon Park, which has not actually been built yet, is the Hiriya Waste Dump. This massive mountain of garbage is located southeast of Tel Aviv. After accumulating 25 million tons of waste, the facility was shut down in August 1998 after the birds that fed there became a menace to the planes taking off from adjacent Ben-Gurion Airport. Today, it is a flat-topped mountain. Since 1998, the dump has been covered with earth, trees have been planted, and it has become a center for recycling and ‘green’ building. The Park itself, planned to cover 2000 acres (!) is set to be twice as big as Central Park in New York, and filled with cycling paths, a lake, zoo, and whatnot. From the top of the mountain of trash one can see into Tel Aviv. It’s scheduled to be completed by 2020, but will be opened in stages over the next eight years.
The place is very impressive because an unsightly, hazardous area and has been changed into an educational and positive site, where many school children come to learn how to recycle and how to conserve our Land. The Hiriya center is one of the largest of its kind in the world, recycling plastics, glass, and building rubble. And in 10 years or so, one of the largest urban parks in the world will be filled with cyclists, picnickers, and zoo visitors.

CNN doesn’t tell you about that.



[1] A history of the moshav and kibbutz movements are fascinating and worthy of an article of their own. What’s written above is a nutshell definition.
[2] Be’erot Yitzchak is a religious kibbutz situated five minutes from Bnei Atarot and founded by survivors of Be’erot Yitzchak outside Gaza, which had been badly damaged by the Egyptian army during the War of Independence. Some of the survivors of the Kibbutz originally went to Bnei Atarot, but moved, shortly after the war to their present location. The original Be’erot Yitzchak has been rebuilt as Kibbutz Alumim.
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