Imagine a desert oasis so lush that it kicked my allergies into high season! That's what we discovered when we headed down a dry road deep in the Arava, tight up against the Jordanian border, and were warmly greeted at Kibbutz Lotan. Our friend, Alex Cicelsky, along with other Reform youth movement grads, established Lotan in the early 1980s as an eco-Jewish collective based on a creative approach to egalitarian Judaism and a deep commitment to environmental protection.
Where once was a solitary acacia tree, there is now a thriving community of a couple hundred people, partnered with other kibbutzim and a village in the region just north of Eilat. They are the premier growers of the best dates in the entire universe (they admit that themselves!) and mega-sized produce. They also have a large dairy operation.
Perhaps their greatest success, though, in addition to living life well in such a harsh climate, is serving as a world-class model and education center for building sustainable community. We stayed in comfortable ecotourist guest lodging and also visited their eco-campus for the Green Apprenticeship, Eco-Experience, and other environmental educational programs.
WRJ has made grants to Kibbutz Lotan through the years for various projects, including a cow, a kitchen, and, more recently, the funding necessary to build a new kind of home that serves as the prototype for more they plan to build to house programs for NFTY and Netzer students. This new building even uses 70% less energy than the guest houses of the same size that we stayed in.
Lotan’s esthetic style is not only fanciful and fun to look at, but has been inspirational to people all over the world, as examples of building earthquake-sturdy, energy-efficient buildings using materials readily available, in all sorts of climates.
How fortunate we were to join them in celebration of Shavuot, a festival of harvest and Torah study!