Jacob Isenberg | Masa Israel

Jacob Isenberg
participant year: 


In August of 2010 I embarked on a journey to the Arava Desert in Israel. There, I would spend the next four months living at the Eco-Village at Kibbutz Lotan, participating in the Living Routes study abroad program, also known as the Peace, Justice, and the Environment program. During the first couple of weeks, we were asked to write about a place that was near and dear to our hearts.  In the spirit of our program, I am going to revisit this assignment and write about Kibbutz Lotan, a place that is still very special and important to me. 


When I arrived at Lotan, the first things I noticed were the rugged mountains, the quiet desert, and the dry heat.  Even after I became acclimated to my new setting, the overall natural beauty and magical aura of the area continued to inspire my work. The Bustan neighborhood, where students and eco-volunteers reside, felt like a desert paradise due to extensive permaculture preparation, sustainable design, and creative artwork. I loved hiking in the mountains and working in the beautiful gardens in the Eco-Kef. Shabbats on Lotan were simply some of the most peaceful and restful days I have ever experienced.  


After moving into our geodesic domes and taking a brief tour of the Kibbutz, we were invited to have dinner with our teachers, fellow volunteers, and other members of the community. During this first dinner, the entire kibbutz welcomed and embraced us. It was then that I knew that I would be surrounded by good quality people for the next four months. The mission and values of Lotan seemed to attract people who had the right priorities in their lives.


As an Environmental Studies major, I was interested in the permaculture and sustainable design courses that were a part of the program. In addition to studying these topics, we implemented the knowledge in various projects on the kibbutz. While learning how to build structures out of all-natural earth materials, my peers and I built a bench and a chicken coop. My teachers, who were all part of the Center for Creative Ecology branch on Kibbutz Lotan, empowered us with their passion and intelligence. I learned by doing, and as a result, I left with the confidence to take on future projects.


I could never have imagined that in the midst of the desert, my life would change so drastically, but one has to experience Kibbutz Lotan to believe it. In one of the most arid places on earth, the desert blooms in a unique and elegant manner because of the community members' and volunteers' hard work. They are at the forefront of permaculture and sustainable design, and have inspired hundreds of students to make a change in the world. Most importantly, Kibbutz Lotan teaches its volunteers to imagine and dream. My experiences instilled in me the belief that, with hard work, I can make anything happen.