It cannot be denied that Israelis have a strong pioneer spirit. It was on the sweat and blood of the many waves of immigrants that this country was founded. Although the days of the first kibbutzim are past, the pioneer flame still burns in the eyes of every Israeli that moves this nation forward toward its economic, political, intellectual and diplomatic betterment. It the large cities of the Merkaz it is easy to see a modern version of the pioneer spirit within the hustle and bustle of start-up companies and fast-paced business.
Some may argue that it is in this area that the fate of the country is forged, but this would ignore a crucial segment of the population; the Periphery. It is in these areas of the country that the original pioneer spirit of the first immigrants still shines through in a tangible manner.
During our Shabbaton trip to Arad there was much discussion regarding the nature of the Periphery. Is the Periphery merely a geographic location? Is it a state of mind? Is it a lifestyle? Is it, perhaps, a mixture of all of the above? Masa participants from various programs in different locations, both in the Merkaz and in the Periphery, were not able agree on a concrete answer, a testament to the rich nature of this discussion.
Some felt that the Periphery was a mindset determined by a geographical location and that those who live in it live and think the way that they due because of the economic and political effects of living outside the Merkaz. Others in the group felt that the Periphery perspective was not a response to living away from the Merkaz, but rather a state of mind without geographic boundaries. What does the Periphery really mean? Is it a divergence from a majority mindset, perhaps the one found in the Merkaz, and is it existent regardless of location?
Or, on the other hand, is it necessary to live in the Periphery, and away from the Merkaz, to truly embody this lifestyle? Whatever the answer may be, this debate is greater than what can be discussed in a few paragraphs. One thing is certain, however, and that is that Israel’s personality and social richness is equally fueled by those living in the fast-paced Merkaz as those who still pioneer the vast majority of the country’s land in the Periphery.
One of the best ways to experience and understand the Periphery mindset and lifestyle was to share Shabbat dinner with local families. It was beautiful to see that despite the differences in mindset between the Merkaz and Periphery and even the variety of national and linguistic backgrounds, there was a strong heritage that brought us all together; that of sitting together around a table in thanksgiving and unity.
The experience with my Arad host family was incredibly memorable. We ate, talked, sang and shared stories that surpassed culture and distance. The family shared about their love for the desert and for the lifestyle it represented. In a city where much of the youth desires to move to the bustling center, it was both refreshing and inspiring to see the young members of the family exuding such passion for nature. It was beautiful to listen to them describe their city as more than just a location in the Neguev. They spoke of the desert and the wilderness as a reflection of G-d and I could not help but wonder what it would be of Israel if this awe and respect toward nature and hardship was not still alive.
Inspired by the Shabbat dinner conversation, the following day I headed out to the desert lookout across the street from the hotel and simply sat in silence pondering what it meant to live in such a harsh but strikingly beautiful landscape. Surrounded by the desert I felt both insignificant and recharged at the same time.
The wild nature of the Periphery grounds us and serves as a foundation for the country. Just like a tree is only as strong as the root system below it, and only a fraction of its total size is above ground, Israel’s Merkaz is held up by the nature of the Periphery.
The argument is not whether the Merkaz or the Periphery is better because, in fact, the welfare of both is intrinsically bound to each other. The Merkaz and the Periphery are merely complementary parts of a larger and greater whole, Eretz Israel.