We awoke in the desert town of Yeruham, plopped right in the middle of the Negev. If you took an aerial shot of it, you would see miles upon miles of desert, with a small, tiny speck of green in the center. Fifty years ago if we arrived in Yeruham, we would be standing in just some sand. Absolutely nothing was here except a few wooden shacks for immigrants and Israels crater, which was used as a quarry. We were told stories of immigrants who, when moving to Israel, asked to be placed in Haifa or Tel Aviv, but instead found themselves stuck in the middle of nowhere. It was the Romanians who started in the quarry and worked on roads. Then came Morrocans, Indians, Russians, Christians, Jews, and Muslims. People from all walks of life settled here, creating a miniature Israeli biome-a wonderful example of plurism and how everyone still works and lives together.
Now, while Yeruham has truly thrived, it is still a very small town representing the past and the present. Right outside of town is a Bedouin village, which we were lucky enough to be invited into someone’s tent. This village is just some tents set up, with a few temporary metal shacks, and lots of metal scraps and trash surrounding it. We were able to experience first hand the Bedouin hospitality, with our host, Selema, ushering us in and serving us delicious tea in her tent. In Hebrew with a translator, she told us about the old nomadic ways of the tribe, as well as the present situation. She explained to us how women in the tribe have no rights, they do all the work around the house, and are always second to the men. Selema then said that when she was 28, she went to her first library, which was where she learned about feminism. Knowing what she knows now, she said she wishes she could do something to change the system of the Bedouin, but she is powerless in her position. If it wasn’t for a Jewish man she met in town, she wouldn’t have been able to even open her own business of welcoming tourists.
One student in my group asked how she met her husband, to which she responded all marriages in the tribe are arranged. However , with a giggle and her cheeks blushing, she explains that after she met this man that she fell in love with, she marched up to her dad and said she would not marry anyone else, and was permitted to marry the man she loved. It was at this moment one of her seven children ran barefoot across the hot sand into the tent to grab an iPhone and run back out. “Cartoons,” Selema sighed to us.
Funny little story here, Selma told us that the first time she heard the word “vegetarian” was when she had Jewish guests, as no bedouin is a vegetarian!
But take a look back inside the town of Yeruham, and you’ll see the future again. Yeruham has a top rated science center for students, which hosts the world champions team in robotics. Yeruham has the highest robotics team per capita in the world, with over 70 teams in their small town. After being shown the amazing robots kids build, we were told they start teaching robotics to kids in kindergarten. This, they explained, is so they have an incredibly useful skill that will help them get amazing jobs in the future, breaking the poverty cycle in the town. No student is ever turned away from the robotics team, and it is this wide acceptance that truly helps the kids.
Through these two opposite lenses, we were able to get a broader picture of a city which, from a glance, seems like a lifeless desert town. When, in reality, it is a bustling and pluristic town offering up any and every walk of life.
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