Senior Bruria Mille designed a three-week field course in Israel as part of her Senior Applied Research Project which focuses on ecotourism design. She, six other Sterling students, and faculty member Ned Houston carried out her design over three weeks in late January and February. The course intention was to foster genuine interaction with Israel people through active engagement in hands-on work, homestays, shared time with Israeli university students, visits to farms and research stations, and appreciation of Israeli culture. Throughout their travels, the group used public transport or local drivers, camped or stayed in local hostels or with Israel hosts, and was educated by Israelis ranging from academics to local Bedouin leaders. They saw cutting edge research in renewable energy technologies as well as millenia-old nomadic ways of life, modern cities and ancient landscapes, great possibilities and serious environmental constraints. In short, they got an inside view of many of the issues and challenges Israeli people live with every day, challenges seldom seen or appreciated in standard tourism.

A member of the Global Ecovillage Network, an international association that promotes sustainable living, Kibbutz Lotan promotes outreach and education through its Center for Creative Ecology which offers courses of varied lengths for Israeli and international visitors. Bru Mille worked closely with Lotan’s Mark Naveh to design 10 days of programming, regional investigation, and local work. Our sessions included appropriate technology analysis for building design, water systems, and agriculture; detailed discussions about the kibbutz model and Lotan’s particular history; middle east geopolitics and sustainability from the political perspective; and the how’s and why’s of desert living. We also celebrated Sabbath with the community as well as a wonderful tree planting ceremony known as Tu B’ Shvat.

We spent a half day with a local Bedouin leader at his encampment, discussing the challenges of indigenous people in the current era. We had sessions with researchers at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies and at the Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center. Here we saw fascinating research on concentrating solar collectors and solutions for practical challenges of solar electricity. Researchers at Ben-Gurion have developed an electrostatic micro-charge that prevents dust from lodging on solar panels. With fixed-panel arrays that involve more than 10,000 individual panels already in place, such a solution has great potential impact.

In a completely different line, we visited a newly established winery that turns out to be new only in a particular sense, for the vines are planted exactly in the same dry wash that supported vineyards of Nabatean settlers from over 1500 years ago. The owners of Carmey Avdat cherish the historical roots of their wine making and have incorporated ecotourism principles in the guest housing they offer as an adjunct to their wine operation.

The next phase of our course began with a public bus ride to Masada National Park, site of a spectacular Herodian fort where the last Jewish rebels held out against Roman conquest in 73 CE. We arrived at our hostel in the dark, excited to climb the 1200 vertical feet to the fortress to watch dawn rise over the Dead Sea to the east. Masada is one of the most visited historical sites in Israel, and the dawn hike is a modern-day observance for many young Israelis. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Masada has both the fortress ruins and the largest remains of a Roman siege campaign ever found.

Who could spend substantial time in Israel and not visit Jerusalem? Bru arranged homestays for all of us in the neighborhood she grew up in. We attended evening services at the local temple and had Sabbath dinner with our families. Family guests at the dinner with my host family included a father who had been a tank commander in the significant Yom Kippur War and his son who was currently serving as a tank commander stationed in the Golan, the area to the north bordering Syria. The discussions that came up over dinner regarding security, the conflict in Syria, and the problems in responding to the threats of that conflict had a striking and compelling immediacy.

While in Jerusalem, we had a walking tour of the central part of the old city with Shaul Sapir, an academic trained in Hebrew studies as well as a certified tour guide and a long-standing friend of Bru’s family. All of us felt that the old city deserved a great deal more of our time, but Jerusalem has many significant other sites which we wanted to see. These included the Museum housing the Dead Sea Scrolls—how astonishing to see original documents dating from over 2000 years ago!—and the Holocaust History Museum, Yad Vashem. Our Israeli driver commented that people enter Yad Vashem smiling and come out in tears, and we were hardly exceptions. Seeing that display, however, makes abundantly clear many of the defining qualities of the modern State of Israel.

We finished our travels with three days in the north of Israel where we camped outside of Tiberias and stayed in a scout facility in Haifa. During these days, we toured the Golan Heights where significant military action took place in Israel’s major conflicts, discussed water management with a water specialist from the Kinneret Water Authority, had a scenic canyon hike in Zavitan National Park, toured Nazareth, and had an inspiring couple of hours with researchers at the Technion, Israel’s predominant technical university. They are working on game-changing storage systems for intermittent energy such as p.v. and wind that will move us past batteries.

Bru had a final unusual connective experience for us as we made our way south to Tel Aviv for our flight home. We spent an afternoon and night with Israeli college students and members of a band where a barbecue and impromptu jam session on the beach in Netanya. It was a great time for Sterling students just to hang with contemporaries and chit-chat about life, prospects, college, etc.

Mother Nature offered another surprise when a major snowstorm closed the airports in the eastern US, obliging us to spend an extra day in Tel Aviv. We consoled ourselves with a cloudless, summerlike day along Tel Aviv’s spectacular several kilometers of Mediterranean Beach where the beautiful weather drew thousands out to savor the beach, outdoor restaurants, bike paths, and people watching.

Twenty-four hours later we were zipping up our winter coats in Craftsbury.

For her SARP, Bru posed the question: “. . . can you achieve cross-cultural understanding in a completely new environment for young adults in a constrained amount of time, under a constrained budget, while adhering to international sustainable travel standards of practice?” Our trip was a focused and successful exploration of that question that we all found compelling and durable. Our thanks to Bru for her hard work making this course come to life. •

Ned Houston is a Distinguished Professor at Sterling College.

Filed Under: Blog Global Field Studies

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