Ayalim’s plan is to build several more student communties in the Negev and the Galilee. It’s easy to miss the village of Adiel as one drives south of Beersheva on the Mitzpe Ramon highway into the heart of the Negev.
But the unique new town, built under the sparsely clouded sky of the Negev desert, the first settlement founded by the non-profit Ayalim Association, shouldn’t be passed by.
It all began in September 2002, when Jerusalemite Matan Dahan founded Ayalim with the vision to create new settlements, populated by students, in outlying areas within the national consensus, where the community members could make contributions to a nearby town.
Dahan, deeply tanned with a shaved head, recounts the conversation that triggered his idea. It happened after he was discharged from the Israel Defense Forces and came back to his mother’s house and began chatting with an older relative, who was a division commander in the Palmach, the military organization created in pre-state Palestine.
“He asked me what my plans were and I said, ‘I’m going to England to earn some money and then I’m going to the Far East. And then I’ll move on,’ He replied, ‘If we were like you, back then, this country wouldn’t have been created.'”
Danny Glicksberg, the deputy director of Ayalim, founded Adiel together with Dahan. Following the purchase of two trailer caravans with money from a loan the two took out; Adiel was set up next to the agricultural settlement of Ashalim, near the city of Dimona. They lived on the site for eight months, just the two of them and equipped with a generator, began to prepare the desert landscape at the site for the first 25 students from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev who would live there.
This coming year the student population at the village will expand to 70. The students themselves are preparing the site, as it was for the first round of inhabitants. All the residents are required to spend one week of the summer living at the village and working towards its development.
While working on expanding Adiel the students live in the existing housing – trailers placed along stone paths laid down along flowered gardens, all with a cloth shaded patio, all put there by the students’ own hands. During the year the students run various social activities, open to the larger student community, including running a pub Monday nights.
Their accommodations at the village are highly subsidized and the students also receive academic scholarships, in exchange for which they work ten hours a week doing community service.
Their activities in and around Dimona and other neighboring towns with disadvantaged populations include establishing city gardens and reinforcing schools and absorption centers – and the number of students participating in these projects is not limited to those living at Adiel.
Strengthening the local community is one of the main components to Ayalim’s vision, Glicksberg stresses. Yehuda Biton is the manager of Youth at Risk in the distressed city of Dimona, one of the organizations to which Ayalim students give their time. The students of Adiel have worked “miracles” there in such a short amount of time, asserts Biton who attributes Ayalim’s success to its commitment to building upon the strengths of the local community.
The first location was chosen because “the Negev is historically where Israel sends the disadvantaged, so it’s critical to bring strong populations there as well to help them,” said Glicksberg, who, in contrast to Dahan, sports long, curly hair gathered in a band behind his head.
“People think this country was established in 1948. But, we are still establishing it.”
Glicksberg, who has now been living at Adiel for two and a half years, says he no longer views it as a project but as his home.
While Adiel is still growing, there are already plans moving forward to establish Ayalim villages next to Dimona, Tel Hai and Sderot – all of which have a university or college near by.
The effort tends to attract a certain kind of student – more idealistic and adventurous than most.
Zvika Deutch, a blond haired, Kfar Saba native, who lives in Adiel calls the village an “endorphin saturated atmosphere,” referring to the pioneering spirit of the original group – of which he was a part. The 27-year-old earned his first degree in chemistry at BGU and decided to apply for Ayalim while studying for his MA in the same subject. Deutch, the son of British immigrants, who brought Adiel into the national spotlight when he participated in the reality television show “The Ambassador,” says that living at the village has a kind of summer camp feel to it – everyone works together and plays together.
Living there has involved sacrifices – the logistics of traveling back and forth to Beersheva for classes aren’t simple for those who don’t own their own car. And for a long time, there was no telephone line or internet access from the village.
This coming academic year Hila, a 24-year-old from Kiryat Motzkin, will join Adiel as she begins her BA in social work at BGU. “When I heard about it I thought it was perfect for me,” she says of her decision to apply for the Ayalim program. “I met people there who think a little different than most people our age,” she says, explaining that she was impressed by the emphasis on service and community and the lack of materialism there.
Increasingly, Adiel has become a showcase for young Israeli idealism. Recently, a mission of Democratic congressmen visited Israel, led by the AIPAC organization, and toured the sun-baked grounds of Adiel. After viewing a short video about Ayalim, the Congressmen sat down to lunch along with the students, who, in their jeans and t-shirts, offered a cultural contrast to the American’s dress of carefully pressed pants and button down shirts.
Amongst the Congressmen was Steny Hoyer, the House Democratic Whip from Maryland. Speaking to the group, he offered his own thoughts about the village, “I work hard to introduce legislation. But, then you need someone to get the job done. And that’s what these young people are doing here. The people of the United States are with you young people in your hard work.”
And so is the Prime Minister of Israel. At the cornerstone laying ceremony for the village held on the 31st anniversary of David Ben-Gurion’s death, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, welcomed them – as a fellow resident of the Negev – and gave them his blessing.
“I view you as an indication that pioneering acts still take place today in the State of Israel, and that a group of ideological and motivated young people can bring about genuine change in the character of the country and Israeli society,” he said.
“I believe in young people – but not in young people who wait for instructions. Initiative! You have come up with an excellent idea, and you will lead it.”