Posted: 7/1/2010 6:46:00 PM
Author: Edited by Paul Hare and Gideon M. Kessel
Source: This review originally appeared in the SPME* Faculty Forum on June 21, 2010.

Reviewed by Dr. Ofer Schiff, Senior Lecturer at the Ben-Gurion Research Institute (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev)

Paul Hare and Gideon M. Kressel, eds., The Desert Experience in Israel: Communities, Arts, Science, and Education in the Negev, Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America, 2009, 211pp.

The Desert Experience is a highly interesting, varied and readable collection of articles on different aspects of recent history and society in Israel's Negev desert. The book is divided into five parts with an explanatory with an engaging preface, written by the editors. The preface describes the evolution of a book devoted to one of the greatest Zionist endeavors in the Land of Israel. The editors of this book are the late Paul Hare, professor of sociology, and Gideon Kressel, professor of anthropology, respected senior scholars affiliated with the Blaustein Institute for Desert Research at the Sede Boqer campus of the Ben Gurion University of the Negev, which is located some forty kilometers south of Beersheba. Written in an understated and circumspect manner, the chapters of The Desert Experience recount the story of the heroic pioneering effort of the greening of the Negev, the vast desert which makes up nearly sixty percent of the State of Israel.

The sections are arranged as follows: Part One, "Communities in the Desert," treats the history of the region and includes testimonies of veteran pioneers who participated in the settlement of the Negev. Part Two, "What is a Desert?" features articles which focus on the differences between midbar (desert) and shmama (wilderness), the settlement ethos, and the "perception of the four winds." Part Three, "Inspiration," is composed of penetrating and sensitive discussions of religion, literature, photography, theater and the arts. The authors of these articles live or have lived and created in the Negev. Their works reflect an ongoing dialogue with their surroundings and the influence of the desert environment on their works. This section is particularly interesting and innovative. Part Four, "Research," deals with the founding of the Desert Research Institute, the leading institute on the Sede Boqer campus, and describes its various scientific projects, which are devoted to developing the area. Finally, Part Five, "Education and Scholarship," describes several educational institutions in the Negev, such as the Environmental High School and the Field School, the Ben-Gurion Heritage Institute, as well as the academic Ben Gurion Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism which belongs to Ben Gurion University and houses the important David Ben Gurion Archives. Further, the editors provide documentation, name and subject indices, and biographical notes on the contributors.

The Desert Experience presents the reader with a comprehensive view of life in the Negev over the past decades and specifically the people of the Sede Boqer campus who have endeavored to make it thrive, who have deliberately chosen to contribute to the region's welfare and development. This pioneering ethos lives on, discernibly, in the artistic, scientific and ecological endeavors of the Negev's residents and their communities. Gradually, more and more of these individuals relate to life in the desert as a normal condition and not as something extraordinary. Thus, they currently are living out David Ben Gurion's dream of turning the desert into a flourishing home.

*SPME is the acronym for the excellent organization, Scholars For Peace In The Middle East. Professional librarians and archivists are among its members.