The desert sings

Be’er Milka, Shirat Hamidbar. באר מילכה. שירת המדבר

August 8

I came to the desert Sunday. My cousin and I left Ramot Saturday for Jerusalem, taking the back roads to avoid tolls on the highway. Spent three hours with an atlas of Israel in my lap and New York Jew kvetching at the wheel. We stopped in Nazareth briefly, driving through some Arab villages to get there. Incredibly different feeling than what I’d seen so far.

Nazareth was quite visibly touristy and also it’s primarily Arab. Jewish residents are living next door, in Nazareth Illit (yes, like elite – although it means something else). Saw some swastika graffiti and “free Palestine”.

So Sunday I came from Jerusalem to meet the head volunteer at the Be’er Sheva bus station. I’ll always have this memory of coming in and seeing a huge smiling face on a chair and knowing instantly it was her. I’ll call her Leaf. And nearly a year later, we’re still friends. What a special soul.

From Be’er Sheva we took another bus, the 44, to a junction outside of Be’er Milka. BM is an agricultural settlement close to the Egyptian border. Not much else around except other farms, army bases, and solar fields. We hitched with a couple people to get through the moshav and into the farmlands.

Shirat Hambidbar – or, Song of the Desert – is a medicinal herb farm. Thyme, mint, sage, rosemary, lemongrass, lemon verbena, oregano … and more. All different herbs grown and harvested for essential oils. There are also fruit trees in an area called the “Bustan” – basically like a fruit garden.


The work here so far has been weeding in the argan field and cutting herbs.. We take breaks every few hours and have a siesta in the heat of the day. It’s nice like this. Waking up with the sun, resting when it’s blazing rays and picking up the rest of the morning’s work at the end of the day. The farm is owned by a super sweet family. I think they’ve got 3 or 4 kids. And it’s a real mix of volunteers. Leaf has been here almost 3 months, along with another Israeli and an American guy. Another American girl showed up last week with a young Israeli-pre-army.
One of the neighboring farms is owned by the host’s brother. A pomegranate farm. I’ve met some of their volunteers too. Incredible people. A Japanese girl, Yuki. Last year, an Israeli who left his orthodox community came to volunteer and ended up moving here after another year or so. He works on a neighboring farm with another resident of the moshav, managing the Thai workers. Thai people can come to Israel and work in agriculture for a couple years with a special visa.

Today Yuki called me “manly” or masculine, in describing my speech and voice and maybe something else? It was interesting to see her try and find an English equivalent to whatever she thought of in Japanese. Also since she just met me. I don’t commonly hear first impressions so blatantly. It’s refreshing. I think the masculine speaks of American/patriarchy and subculture I’ve grown up with.


So far I like the desert. It’s got a stark, endless beauty to it and the wind talks. A million stars punctuate the sky. Clouds cover in the morning and crystal clear in the day. We often hear the sonic boom of planes or  shooting from nearby IDF bases – or Egypt. It’s har d to tell.
It’s incredible all that can be grown in such a desolate place. All the surrounding farms have so much green (I’m sure with pesticides : 😦 . But still. And the community here is something I haven’t experienced much, just a little in New York. Eating meals together, cooking and talking and sitting. A slow, rich way of living simply.

August 9.

the smell of the desert is like the beach, but without water. Sun-drdied, sand and sweat. Our home base here consists of a small square house with 3 tiny bedrooms and a kitchen, compost showers and toilets and and outdoor covered living room. Everybody eats and hangs out mainly in the living room where there’s a good stereo. Outside the living room is a hammock in front of a small campfire. You could go weeks, months here without seeing the outside world. And that’s what I did for the month I was here.



“It’s the end of the world as we know it, but I feel fine” – Or, in other words: the bike is the answer

Since my post last week about climate change and the impending apocalypse for humans and the world as we know it (cue R.E.M., please), a massive chunk of the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica broke away from the larger land mass. This shelf is the third one to break away in recent years, and this one only in 3 years time.
The headline from the The New York Times?
“Maps will need to be redrawn – an iceberg the size of Delaware broke away from Antarctica”
TL;DR version of the Times article:
“The collapse of the peninsula’s ice shelves can be interpreted as fulfilling a prophecy made in 1978 by a renowned geologist named John H. Mercer of Ohio State University. In a classic paper, Dr. Mercer warned that the western part of Antarctica was so vulnerable to human-induced climate warming as to pose a “threat of disaster” from rising seas.
He said that humanity would know the calamity had begun when ice shelves started breaking up along the peninsula, with the breakups moving progressively southward.
The Larsen A ice shelf broke up over several years starting in 1995; the Larsen B underwent a dramatic collapse in 2002; and now, scientists fear, the calving of the giant iceberg could be the first stage in the breakup of Larsen C.
“As climate warming progresses farther south,” Dr. Rignot said, “it will affect larger and larger ice shelves, holding back bigger and bigger glaciers, so that their collapse will contribute more to sea-level rise.'”
While our homes may not be under water yet, think of all the wild life that will soon be extinct at the South pole. We have already seen horrifying images of emaciated polar bears, dying of starvation or floating helplessly on a thawing piece of ice. Soon enough it won’t just be the wildlife we have come to love going extinct – it will be us. Of course, the industries of capitalism don’t want to tell you these things. Frankly speaking, they would eventually go out of business or dramatically fall in their stock holdings – something to do with money.
An article I link to at the bottom of my post cites that for each child a family has (or in this case may choose not to have), it’s equal to 58.6 tonnes of CO2 /per year!
Want to make a change but don’t know how? Check out this other article, or if you don’t want to read it, here’s highlight:
“The four actions that most substantially decrease an individual’s carbon footprint are: eating a plant-based diet, avoiding air travel, living car-free, and having smaller families.”
AKA – ride your bike! The bike is the answer. Riding a bicycle is one of the best things you can do for yourself and the environment… Endorphins released from the exercise or minimal effort of cycling can promote positive thinking and encourage a state of overall happiness.
Don’t believe me? Try it! What better way to take charge of your transportation than at the handle bars of your own bike! Ditch the traffic jams and car insurance for an investment in your health and the health of your environment. And if you’re in the Athens area, there are some radical bike shops more than happy to help you find your two-wheeled mate. Ben’s Bikes The Hub Bicycles BikeAthens are just a few to name. And the relentless Tyler Dewey, who is steadfast in promoting and supporting a bike-friendly Athens! For my St. Simons or South Georgia folks, check out Monkeywrench Bicycles.
#bikefriendly #thebikeistheanswer
Here is another article from The Guardian, discussing further in detail:
…And another, of a climate scientist who gave up flying, among other creature comforts, for the sake of our planet:
Click here for a link to a free carbon footprint calculator, from the folks at the Nature Conservancy.

Apocalypse pending – but actually

The Uninhabitable Earth

above link and quotes below courtesy of NY Magazine

I have been vegan for 4 years and vegetarian for nearly 7 more – around 10 years of conscious awareness of my diet and lifestyle. I’m 24 now, so this began around age 14. If a young teenager can moderate her diet and lifestyle without too much ardor, it should be much easier for the adults living in the comfort of the western world. Or maybe not, as wealth seems to lend itself to the lovely “seven sins”: gluttony, wrath, sloth, envy, lust, pride, greed.  And once people have acquired what we in the western world consider “wealth”, they don’t like to give it up. This is the moment where we need to seriously sit ourselves down for conversation and take into account and question what are we doing? How can the western lifestyle possibly be good, sustainable, advantageous, etc., at all, if in the long run, when it is now harming more people than it benefits? (I’m referring here to all the thousands of people slaving away in developing countries to make your cell phone or trendy t-shirt … we can save fast fashion for another discussion.) We have lost touch with humanity at expense of humanity.

“By 2090, as many as 2 billion people globally will be breathing air above the WHO “safe” level; one paper last month showed that, among other effects, a pregnant mother’s exposure to ozone raises the child’s risk of autism (as much as tenfold, combined with other environmental factors). Which does make you think again about the autism epidemic in West Hollywood”

“It takes 16 calories of grain to produce just a single calorie of hamburger meat, butchered from a cow that spent its life polluting the climate with methane farts.”

“Remember, we do not live in a world without hunger as it is. Far from it: Most estimates put the number of undernourished at 800 million globally. In case you haven’t heard, this spring has already brought an unprecedented quadruple famine to Africa and the Middle East; the U.N. has warned that separate starvation events in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen could kill 20 million this year alone.”
#vegan #climatechange #bigag

we have a responsibility as stewards of the earth, not only to the earth but to ourselves, to take care of it. but taking care of the earth needs to be more than recycling plastic bottles and going bag-less at the grocery. that helps, but we can help more by looking at our diets and significantly reducing the amount of meat and dairy products consumed. don’t try to argue that consuming these things isn’t harming the planet – it is, it’s a fact and if you don’t know that and want to challenge it or tell me i’m an extremist vegan, go find the facts yourself as it’s obviously something you don’t know and need to know. it’s not pleasant to hear, or think about – cutting out comfort foods or favorite family recipes. i know people who won’t change their diet because of “comfort food”, which likely won’t exist by the end of our lives. but if you want your progeny to continue using those recipes or even have a moderately liveable life, seriously take a step back and see where you can amend your daily diet and lifestyle. . stop buying new / cars every 4 years and keep the same car until the damn thing falls apart. take the (gasp!) bus, ride a bicycle – one the healthiest things you can do for yourself and the world. keep your ass in shape, stay happier and reduce your carbon footprint simply by pedaling.
same with cell phones or any other technology. all this stuff takes oil to make, along with a lot of other environmentally hazardous materials, not to mention what happens when people get tired of whatever said device is, and throws it away. Some countries have recycling facilities, but many do not. all these trinkets end up in landfills, contributing hazardous pollutants to the atmosphere.
maybe you don’t live in an area where you think climate change is affecting you – but it’s a bigger picture than yourself. millions of people will die, and thousands already have died, due to summer heat waves on almost every continent. the international seed bank in norway nearly flooded this year, because the ice melted. and now millions of tons of potential methane gas are posed to be released if the permafrost (remember this from elementary school? supposed to be frost in the soil frozen PERMANENTLY) melts. literally hell will be on earth in less than a century if every person doesn’t make an effort to do his or her part (mostly in the comfortable, western world). ..
not to mention prehistoric bacteria, plagues, disease and all sorts of other humanity-killing things. it’s already happening. if you don’t make it to the end of the article, the writer mentions some boys who died from coming in contact with an unfrozen, dead reindeer and contracting anthrax released from the thawed out bacteria of the carcass in the area of sibera.
okay, so you don’t care? that’s fine (not really), but you could at least continue the conversation with other people who might be selfless enough to care.
or maybe a mass human extinction is what needs to happen. i bet the cows and all the other animals we torture would be a hell of a lot happier without us.



Sweat rolled down my back as I began my walk from the bus stop to the elementary school where I would be volunteering for the next 10 months. It was the end of summer and despite the stifling heat, I felt a nervous chill overtake my body. On the bus ride from the city, I already noted some major differences in my surroundings. For the first time since I was in middle school, boys and girls, or now, rather men and women, were sitting segregated by gender, gazes out to the desert landscape. It’s an unspoken rule but a look says everything.
When I stepped off the bus – again – more of the same. Girls walked in giggling groups down the street while the boys whispered together in clumps. And there I was, the only woman with her hair uncovered. The first day of many more days to come, where I would constantly feel the gaze of others, surveying me as “the other.” Distinctly one of the first times I would recognize and feel the privilege I have, whether I like it or not, or whether I want it or not, that I was born with.
Since my awareness of this issue, of people discriminating against people, I have supported my friends of minority- backgrounds and sought to unite with love over hate. As soon as I got my driver’s license I put a COEXIST sticker on my car – the one where the letters are different religious icons. But a sticker doesn’t change people.
Growing up as a Jew in the southern United States I was fortunate not to have experienced anti-Semitism firsthand. Through stories and history did I learn not only of the pain and suffering of my cultural people, but of the global people as humanity. However, I didn’t know the feeling like you know the feeling of a stomachache, until last fall.
A month or so into the school year, I remember having an exceptionally satisfying day teaching, and I think I may even have had a date that evening to look forward to. My students had listened and communicated in our groups, lessening the language barriers between us. All smiles and laughs carried us through the sticky morning. Phrases of English, Hebrew and Arabic mixed among us openly. With the afternoon sun beating upon me, I ended my day and headed toward the bus stop. Teenage chattering filled my ears as I approached the high school … and then the voices rose in volume and changed languages. Violent bursts of Hebrew made it to my ears. I understood I was the target of a group of rowdy boys within a rock’s throw – you know that old idiom? Well, it happens to be true. Within a couple seconds as I passed the group, I felt the impact of a rock, hurled at me simultaneously with their harsh words. I kept my pace and continued walking. The only thing to change was my expression, hidden by a pair of sunglasses.
It occurred to me later in the week after talking with a friend about the incident, that my sunglasses were a different kind of barrier, a very Western barrier. As an American, sunglasses have been a staple of my life since I found a pair that didn’t give me a headache. I always thought about them in terms of eye protection, something that helped me see without squinting. All that is true, but as with all things, there’s another side. Sunglasses keep the person wearing them masked and hidden, in a completely different way than wearing a hijab. At least with the latter, the woman’s eyes are still visible. Two women can make eye contact with each other, can make a human connection, a soul connection. Yet sunglasses turn us into a mirror, or like an insect, reflecting the image of the world around us back to the person or persons surrounding.
Who’s to say why those boys chose me as their target – because I look different from them? Because based on how I look they made assumptions that may or may not be true? Because kids throw rocks and I happened to walk by? Because boys like to pick on girls? I can’t answer that question but I can say since that day, I’ve made an effort not to wear sunglasses when I’m with the Bedouins, despite how much it hurts my eyes. I’ve made an effort to be as honest and open instead of putting up a wall, with my sunglasses.

philosophy of curiosity

philosophy of curiosity


Curiosity does not exist anymore in the average person. The average person is consumed with his or her cell phone, or another screen nearly 100% of their waking hours.

It’s the first thing they see in the morning after hearing the alarm, and the last thing they see before falling asleep.

This is pure poison.

Life existing prior to back-lit screens is merely a ghost of a memory, something unimaginable and unattainable for the masses. Pick five people nearest to you and chances are, they are all are using their phones or clutching desperately to them. The screen has mined our attention span; we can’t focus on books, on conversations, on social entertainment ­—  or on anything that might require some brain power and eye contact. We are drugged by the devices we so happily advertise as a key to freedom. What freedom is there in something that gives you anxiety if you forget it? Or if it’s stolen, or the battery dies?

In efforts to connect globally we have sacrificed the most important connection: the primal connection to ourselves.

Phone chargers dangle from the ceiling like an umbilical cord, slowly nourishing the living with sustenance until they are ready to be weaned. However, this phenomenon is perverse; the person holding the phone, plugged into the socket, more than likely will not be separated from this umbilicus. It somehow became an addendum to the body, like an external organ, an identity. Our habits have been reconstructed in a digital way; our faces are light-washed with that faint blue glow of the screen, perpetuating a superficial aura bathing us in hollowness; our minds are over-stimulated and suffocated with noise and chatter from a screen. And yet every day we come back to it, addicted, starved, begging, salivating … like a dog for a treat.



What I learned about mangoes

Navigating Israeli buses truly is something else. Monday was supposed to leave on a 12:15 bus to go north, but I missed it. Just barely made it to the stop and then it went right by me. Someone tried to help but I couldn’t understand the Hebrew. It would take a couple months before I learned that buses don’t stop if they’re already full – or if you don’t signal. It’s incredibly frustrating and humbling not communicating effectively. Forever embarrassing.

After about two hours (on a trip that should have taken half an hour) I finally made it to the CBS. First  bus I tried to take filled up and the door shut in face. It would take double those months of learning, to figure out how to assert myself in the non-lines of Israel, especially regarding the buses. Made it on the third bus and took it to Tiberias on the western side. Then another bus back over the eastern side.

The final bus driver over charged some people going to the same junction. Only a couple shekels. It didn’t bother me, but a few folks asked for the money back. I was surprised to see the driver didn’t argue or take it personally. H didn’t seem tomind or care about staying on schedule either. Got off at the junction and tried hitching but went the wrong way. Ended up back at Tzomet Kursi, waiting for a pickup. Noam drove down to get me. She and her partner Tom are long term volunteers at the moshav.

Everyone here is bi or trilingual. Spanish, Hebrew, English. I feel isolated.

It’s chaotic here with all the mangoes. And OMFG HOT. Waking up at 5 a.m. to work for four hours or so, while the temperature and sun are bearable. Average temperature is hovering at 40C, or 102-105F and not much cooler at night. Although there is a large, covered khan, or tent, I slept outside in the geodome, which is cool – not literally – but better than the stagnancy in the khan.

The family who run the farm: it’s a couple with three kids, all boys. There’s another Israeli volunteer couple with an 11 month old who’s adorable. And I don’t ever like babies. Then there’s a woman from Spain.

I think I’m glad I’m only staying here a week.


For privacy’s sake, I’m renaming the baby “Feather” and for reference.

Feather’s mom walks around with him in a sling, like a marsupial. I have spent 0 time around babies. Feather’s mom told me she and her husband are following an upbringing method from a book called “Continuum Concept“, about how the Amazon raise their children.



Here it is interesting observe the polar opposite of everything to Jerusalem – no one cares about clothing or being covered a certain way, according to halakhah – politeness.

The Spanish volunteer came to Israel part in interest of the conflict. She works with international development and wants to see and hear opinions of both sides. I think she’s planning on a West Bank trip next.


It’s a weird feeling to watch a child and know you weren’t raised in the same manner. And that’s not my fault, even if I rejected it.
The kids run around here so freely and inquisitively. Without clothes. Going to the bathroom wherever. No diapers. Seems a lot healthier for mind and body.. And this makes me happy and sad all at once.

Feather’s mom writes children’s books about fruit that goes on an adventure – her family is fruitarian as are Noam and Tom and the host family here at the moshav.


Still August 2

I’m homesick – for my town and familiarity and Gilmore Girls and coffee that tastes. And for home I’ve never had. Parents and a piece of childhood that’s lacking. This baby is killing me.

Earlier today we discussed diets. Like I mentioned before, everyone here except the Spanish woman and I, are raw/fruitarian. They seem to have an elitist attitude toward people who eat cooked food.  And their views on Judaism – they’re totally nonobservant. I got weird looks and funky vibe when I asked about Shabbat or Friday night dinner. And they work six days a week. Some of the people think the traditions are crazy – like circumcision, which I think I’d have to agree with. But still, it surprised me how critical they all were of something that’s still “theirs”, while not recognizing their chosen lifestyle is, or how it’s presented, a little extreme or unusual – to the outsider at least. Not to mention being so removed from modern society not to raise your kids with knowledge of the present day or the people different from them. It sounds like what the Haredi do in their communities. And the people can’t function well outside of it.

Where’s the balance?

August 4

there are a multitude of communities here, of people who essentially go off the grid and back to nature. Removed from society. I wonder though, how selfish or beneficial is it to yourself and others? What good is it to pick mangoes in morning and twiddle your thumbs the rest of the day? It’s so hot here you can’t do anything during the day except eat fruit and rest.

Doe removing yourself from society hurt or help? It seems to be if you have the ability to help, you must. And choosing to remain neutral is almost as bad as violence. Perhaps some are meant to live in recluse, to teach others like myself, wandering through. And when we leave, we can take a part of the teaching with us and share it with others.