Onward Israel Cincinnati 2021 Week 7: A Duo of Community

A Kibbutz and the Gaza Strip

This weekend, it was time for a drastic change of scenery from everyday city life. I, along with the other trip participants, partook in our Shabbaton, a weekend overnight planned by Onward that took us far from Tel Aviv. We escaped to the south and entered the Negev, Israel’s desert that spans most of the countryside threatening extreme temperatures, dehydration and scorpions. 

Sadly, I had to miss the first day of our excursion due to a frustrating and debilitating throat infection. After talking to others about their experience, it’s evident that this day was remarkably unique and left them asking a multitude of questions that lacked answers. Onward participants were taken to the border of the Gaza Strip, a heavily politicized area governed by the Palestinians. Just a few weeks ago, this area was overrun by rockets and sirens, but on this Thursday, it was silence and tension that lingered in the air. 

“As we pulled into the small Israeli town next to the border, I noticed shelters, the safe areas where residents run when a rocket is launched towards them, along the main road. Shelters were painted with flowers, butterflies, or simply a fun design. At the Path to Peace, we met the woman who works on educating others on life so close to conflict. We learned about why she and other residents decided to stay in the settlement and how she copes with fear through art. The group got to choose a ceramic tile and write a wish on the back. Then, we traveled to the wall that separates Gaza from Israel. We placed our tiles on a large section of the wall, adding to the mural. On another section of the wall was a completed mural that said ‘peace’ in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. 

“Honestly, I would have liked to learn more about what, if any, efforts are being done to unite Israelis that live close to Gaza and Palestinians that live on the other side of the wall. For example, are there community-building efforts outside of the government? The day seemed centered on the Israeli experience, and our tour guide didn’t seem to want to talk about how the Israeli government treats Gaza and only about how Hamas shoots rockets into Israel.” – Maddy W

“I naively thought this area would be dreary and fear-stricken, but I couldn’t have been more incorrect. What we saw was a colorful and lively neighborhood. We spoke to a woman who gave us some insights as to how the residents on the border cope with living in a hotspot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This woman started an initiative to bring more life and color to the border walls by spreading messages of peace. It was so inspiring to see the strength, resilience, and positivity of people who live in the border area.” – Nina D

I was overjoyed when the time came to reunite with my Cincinnati family of 34 at the Kibbutz Mashabei Sadeh located about thirty minutes from Be’er Sheva, the largest city in the Negev. If you’ve seen The Nanny, you might recall an episode (season 3, episode 12) that flashes back to Fran’s experience on a Kibbutz where she proudly tosses her thick dreadlocks and flaunts her “in-style” crop top. I hate to shatter any preconceived images, but The Nanny didn’t exactly get it right. 

Kibbutz Mashabei Sadeh is somewhat of a utopian society where everyone has an assigned job, green grass on their lawn (in the desert), and gossip spreads like wildfire in such a small, exclusive community. 

During our extended stay, we met other Onward participants from Detroit and the Bay Area, but of course, Cincinnati ranked supreme. We were taken on walking tours through the Old City of Be’er Sheva, and some strengthened their carpentry skills while others attended a lecture about the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel. 

Shabbat fell on the Kibbutz as we watched the radiant desert sunset from the top of a water tower. This was a moment where we welcomed a comforting silence and time for reflection. 

With this reflection, some of us still had Gaza on our minds. 


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