A culinary Birthright trip to Israel features a stop at Chan Hashayarot, a Bedouin camp where the food, stories and activities offer a glimpse of another world.
“Negev Desert, Israel — It was night in the Negev Desert, and our bus driver Mich’ael had just turned onto a narrow dirt road. I was on Day 6 of a 10-day culinary Birthright trip and was exhausted.
My 29 colleagues and I had spent the earlier part of the day exploring the old city streets of Jaffa, making our way down cobblestone walkways, through hidden alleys and into small shops. I had tried to stretch my weary legs as much as possible before boarding our bus for the 90-minute drive south to the next stop on our journey, an overnight stay with a Bedouin tribe.
Birthright is a free educational trip to Israel for Jewish youth ages 18 to 26, provided by a group called Taglit Birthright. My sister had gone on a Birthright trip a couple of years earlier and had told me how wonderful it was, but I never felt inclined to go until recently. I’d read that a culinary-themed trip was being offered in mid-February, and at 26, I was quickly going to age out of eligibility.
After sleeping in warm, comfortable hotels, I was less than excited about having to move on to a tent in the desert, but opting out wasn’t an option. Everyone must participate in every activity on the itinerary. That’s how I found myself on the trip to Chan Hashayarot, a Bedouin camp in the middle of the Negev off Route 40.
The Bedouins are an Arab nomadic people who live in the deserts of Israel, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen andSaudi Arabia. They once traveled with their camels and other animals in search of food and water, but now most live in settlements.
The 60,000 or so Bedouins in Israel had been living here peacefully for thousands of years, our tour guide Erad told us. For many, poverty continues to be a pressing issue. Some Bedouin tribes, like the one we were about to visit, had created camps, open to the public, as hospitality businesses.
When the bus finally crawled to a stop, we got off and made our way through the small camp to the sleeping and dining tents. They were not as tall as I had expected, but they were still large enough to hold about 100 people. Cold air nipped at my cheeks, forcing me to pull my hood over my face and tuck my fingers into my jacket sleeves. “If we have to spend the night in a giant tent in this weather, we’ll surely freeze,” I thought to myself.[…]”
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