Spring Semester of 2012 has just begun! This semester there are twenty-six students, fourteen of which are returning students from fall semester. In addition to the group of students from Israel, Palestine, Jordan and America, there are students from Brazil, Argentina, Switzerland, Canada and South Africa. Furthermore, nine interns are joining us from America, France and Finland. This is truly an international semester! The students arrived at Ketura on Monday the 13th, and they barely had time to unpack during orientation week! The students and interns went on a desert hike Tuesday morning, where they familiarized themselves with the geography of the Arava Valley and the Jordanian border. Later in the day, Dr. Avigail Morris explained how decision making happens on Kibbutzim, particularly on Kibbutz Ketura. Mud building and making art out of plastic bottles with Kibbutz children seemed to be among the most enjoyed activities of the day, as one can see in the pictures.
A fun trip to Nahal Kasui was planned for Wednesday the 15th. Here the students spent time enjoying the unique Negev desert sand and making music together. While at the breathtaking Kasui, Michelle Shachar and Uri Gordon introduced their Peace Building and Environmental Leadership (PELS) course that will delve into the cultural and political conflicts this region faces. Thursday’s highlight was a staff and student volleyball game, as well as an introduction to the academic courses that are offered this spring semester. After plenty of play time throughout the week, the students buckled down on Friday and registered for classes. Shabbat dinner brought some closure to our orientation week, as well as some time for the students to relax, reflect, and bond a bit more before the first day of classes that began on Sunday.
On Monday the 20th, Stanley Chesley, the president of the Jewish National Fund USA, came to visit the Arava Institute and Kibbutz Ketura. Stanley was mainly interested in meeting with the students, as well as seeing and learning about the first commercial solar field in the Israel. He was also given a quick tour of the school’s campus and the new dorms, funded by the JNF and currently under construction.
Stanley was very pleased to sit down with a few students and hear their personal stories about why they chose to come and study at the Arava Institute. After speaking with a diverse range of young adults committed to peace-building and the environment, he mentioned how the JNF wants to make future progress developing the Negev, and eventually see Arabs and Jews living together in peace.
The first week of classes gave the students the opportunity to check out all the Arava Institute courses before having to choose classes for their final registration. On Wednesday February 22nd, Arava Institute alumnus Shira Sternberg hosted a leadership workshop with the students as part of the PELS program focusing on Peacebuilding and Democracy. The workshop included topics such as campaigning during elections, building a professional resume, and effective communication.
So much has happened within the first two weeks of the semester. New friendships have been established and old friendships have grown stronger. All of us here at the Arava Institute look forward to a great semester with a wonderful group of bright young people!
Check out this site for more updates in the coming weeks! Thanks to Brian Hoefgen, Irene Schwieger, and Branwen Cale for their wonderful photos.
Miriam Sharton, Director