Arava Valley

Three Special Kibbutzim -- As Israel has solidified its position as a 21st-century, high-tech, business-savvy nation, it's become increasingly hard for travelers to find the idealistic, hardworking, "reclaiming-the-land" society that is so much a part of Israel's image. The once simple guest rooms of kibbutzim in the Galilee and central Israel have morphed into three- and four-star country hotels where travelers experience little interaction with the workings of the large and thriving kibbutz communities that manage them. However, three small desert kibbutzim in the dramatic Arava Valley -- Kibbutz Lotan, Kibbutz Yahel, and Kibbutz Ketura -- 30 minutes by car north of Eilat, are becoming places where Israel's pioneering vision and spirit can still be shared.

Founded in the 1970s and 1980s, largely by Israelis from English-speaking countries (although now home to residents from a wide range of backgrounds), these kibbutzim, supported by the Movement for Progressive Judaism, are all involved in building creative, ecologically sensitive communities in the desert. In a time when most Israelis have forgotten Ben-Gurion's prediction that the country's future lies in the Negev, these kibbutzim are living his vision. Though minuscule in size, they are showing Israeli society how to recycle, live inventively, and create communities that are fun, filled with beauty, and in harmony with nature and the land. All offer very simple guest facilities and a wide variety of programs that allow travelers to interact with both the desert and the kibbutz experience. Again, guest facilities are very simple -- this is the desert and you may find ants in your kitchenette and no pay TV movies in your room. But for travelers not into luxury, this is a chance to see a special side of Israel.

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