The people living along the trail are essentially people deeply connected with the desert. The communities differ quite much from each other both in traditions and in their visions. They present a wide spectrum of attitudes and form together an interesting and curious human mosaic.
Merhav Am, the trailhead of the Negev highland trail, was founded at the end of 2001 by a group of traditional religious Jews. These Jews live according to the laws of Torah and Halakha and commit the Mitzvot of Eretz Israel. They keep the Shabbat and conserve the old traditions and at the same time keep an open mind and an open dialogue conserving the desert's way of hospitality and sharing. Many of them are artisans of different crafts.
Shabbat is primarily a day of rest and spiritual enrichment and its the most important ritual observance in Judaism.
Like all Jewish days, Shabbat begins at sunset. Candles are lit by the women, a short service is due and then the men recite Kiddush and the family sits for a festive, leisurely dinner.
The people of Merhav Am will be happy to host you at their Shabbat table for no charge at all if only you call in advance to announce your arrival.
On weekdays you may visit the synagogue for the daily morning or evening prayer and get an impression of the Jewish traditional way of life.
Women and men pray separately and a basic dress code is respected. Jewish people are keen to discuss anything though timing and manner are always important.
The Kibbutz of Sde Boker was established in the Negev in 1952 by a group of young enthusiastic men and women, who sought to realize their (and Ben Gurion's) dream of "making the desert bloom" all while conducting a collective communal lifestyle.
As any other Kibbutz, Sde Boker was founded on the principles of communal ownership of property, social justice, and equality. Unlike many others, it managed to adapt to Israel's economical evolution and is keeping to its original identity up until today. Sde Boker has orchards and vineyards as well as chicken coops, a factory, and a winery. Members work either in one of the Kibbutz's sections or out of the Kibbutz. Profits and Wages are put together in the secretariat and are then used to finance the shared needs of the members (kitchen, dining room, laundrette, vehicles, education, etc.) as well as divided to individual budgets to provide for personal needs.
David Ben Gurion, Israel's first prime minister and one of its greatest leaders, applied for membership with his wife Pola in 1953. They were accepted and soon after moved in. After Ben Gurion's death, his hut was turned into a museum commemorating his Legacy.
Both the kibbutz and the hut are well worth exploring.
Midreshet Sde Boker was founded in 1963 following Ben Gurion's initiative to build a university in the Negev desert. A field school, a boarding school, the Institute for desert research and the Ben Gurion University have quickly formed a thriving educational cluster that will later expand and include many other departments.
Not long after, educators, researchers and service givers started building their homes in the immediate vicinity.
Midreshet Sde Boker was actually a government corporation until it was declared a municipality in 2003. The change of status was only natural, implicating the residents and giving them responsibility for their lives as a part of a community.
Today some 450 families, mostly secular, live permanently in Midreshet Sde Boker. The boarding school is home to about 200 pupils and hundreds of academics, exchange students and other learners populate it at different times of the year.
A walk around Midreshet Sde Boker will get you acquainted with a very knowledgeable lot who might just speak your language. Some special buildings, eco-friendly and often daring, can also be visited.
There are more than 200,000 Bedouins in the Negev of whom the most part is sedentarized in towns around Beer-Sheva. The Bedouin population is considered one of the poorest in Israel, suffering a high toll of unemployment and problems related to difficulties in adaptation to modernity and to the political reality of the region.
while Bedouins are eligible for welfare services and Bedouin children go to school (according to the law), many live in villages unrecognized by the state and receive no water and no electricity.
About 50,000 of the Negev's Bedouin manage to continue living as close as possible to their semi-nomadic traditions, residing in camel and goat hair tents and raising livestock. Among these proud people, about 200 families living in 3 different villages in the Negev Highland do so with success.
Islam is embedded and deeply rooted in the Bedouin culture. The Bedouins don't drink alcohol and the Bedouin women do not come in contact with strangers, particularly men. Respect that by not imposing, by dressing modestly and by having your beer elsewhere.
In any tent you will visit, you will be shown to the "Sig", the area designated for guests in the north part of the tent and you will then be served bitter black coffee and sweet tea by your host. As long as your language is not offensive and your intentions are not provocative, he'd welcome your questions and converse with you lengthly. If you stay for dinner you'll be seated around big trays piled with food and eat together.
Staying with the Bedouins is an exquisite opportunity to experience the life and traditions of culture on the verge of extinction.