David Palmach, Nitzana Educational Center’s director, has an intense, tigerlike presence; you can immediately feel that this is a man with a vision, fully ready to enact Lova Eliav’s concept of Nitzana as “a school to teach respect for humanity and its place in developing the arid wilderness.”
At the Nitzana Educational Center’s Solar Park complex, young children are taught the concepts of living well and sustainably. The school’s huge swimming pool, heated by solar panels, is bright blue and inviting. One of the outdoor classrooms has a rather unusual feature: the chairs are elegant, purple-lidded toilet seats—something visiting children are likely to remember for a long time! (This, of course, is the class that deals with wastewater and solutions to the world’s water crisis.)
Nitzana’s handsome recycling center is nearby, with benches surrounding an inspiring wall of art made from recycled bottles, plastics, and other strangely gorgeous detritus. A very tangible lesson takes the form of a wall covered with two hundred empty liter-bottles. David explains: “I ask the kids, ‘How much water do you or your mom or dad use in one day?’ They have no idea. ‘About two hundred liters,’ I tell them. ‘And how much is that? Look how many bottles. That’s two hundred liters.’ . . . You get the idea. We try to open the box, to let them think outside it.”
While an important part of Nitzana’s mission is about exploring environmental issues through the lens of Jewish values, the team here is keenly aware of their non-Jewish neighbors and strives for peace with them. David tells us:
What’s the saying from the Bible? “Better a neighbor who is nearby than a brother who is far away.” That’s our situation here. We don’t bring non-Jews here and try to teach them Zionism and the Bible. We teach them about solar energy, science, sports—how to make a step into the near future and the far future as our neighbors. If you want to serve the Negev, help the neighbors. There are Christians, Muslims, and even pagans. We are open for them. They should feel like what they are, where they come from. I don’t want to convert them. That’s not the idea. To be a human being—that’s the main idea.
There is an overlook at Nitzana from which you can see the border with Egypt. Tracing the route outward is artist Dani Karavan’s stunning site work known as Way of Peace: a hundred sand-colored columns lined up along two miles of the desert. Each column is carved with the word peace in a different language.