Tuvia Book
Author, educator, Tour-Guide, artist

Birthright in the Desert

It won’t come as a surprise to any of the Birthright participants I have had the privilege to guide over the past thirteen years that my personal favourite place in Israel is the desert.  To see the look of awe and wonder on the faces of urban college-age participants as they grasp the unique spirit of the desert never ceases to amaze me.

The huge storm Sandy that hit the east coast of the United States this week reminded us of the power of nature and of the fact that we humans are just small cogs in a vast universe.  It humbled both those who were affected and those who witnessed the apocalyptic images.

The desert has a similar effect.  One of the experiential activities I do with my Birthright participants is to have them walk in single file in complete silence through the desert.  All one hears is the beating of ones heart, the sound of ones breathing, and the crunch of ones feet on the sand.  As the participants feel the wind in their hair and the sun on their face they begin to enjoy the “sound of silence.”  It is a sensual experience.

As we literally follow our ancestors’ footsteps in the desert, I remind them why we became a nation by receiving the Torah davka in the desert.  The desert reminds us of how small we are in the cosmos – the lesson of humility.  It reminds us of the importance of family and friends – the lesson of community.  Being in the desert exemplifies the importance of taking the opportunity to “clean out our heads” – the lesson of making time to reflect.

Our Birthright as a people started in the desert.  It is important to take time in our lives by either literally returning to the desert, as our people have done from the time of David and Elijah, to reflect and recharge our spiritual batteries, or figuratively by celebrating Shabbat with our family and friends.

What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery



About the Author
Dr. Tuvia Book was born in London and raised in both the UK and South Africa. After making Aliya at the age of 17 and studying in Yeshiva he volunteered for the IDF, where he served in an elite combat unit. Upon his discharge he completed his BA at Bar-Ilan University, as well as certification in graphic design. He then served as the Information Officer at the Israeli Consulate of Philadelphia, while earning a graduate degree in Jewish Studies. Upon his return to Israel, Dr. Book graduated from a course of study with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, and is a licensed tour guide. Tuvia has been working in the field of Jewish Education, both formal and informal, for many years. He has guided and taught Jewish students and educators from around the English-speaking world for some of Israel’s premier educational institutions and programs. Tuvia has been guiding groups for Birthright Israel since its inception and, in addition, has lectured throughout North America, Australia, Europe and South Africa. Tuvia served as a Shaliach (emissary) for the Jewish Agency for Israel as the Director of Israel and Zionist Education at the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York (Jewish Education Project). He was a lecturer/educational guide at the Alexander Muss Institute for Israel Education (AMIIE) in Israel for a decade. Tuvia has lectured at both Bar Ilan University and Hebrew University. He was a Senior Editor and Teaching Fellow at the Tikvah Fund. He is a research associate at the Hudson Institute. Tuvia is the author and illustrator the internationally acclaimed Israel education curriculum; "For the Sake of Zion; A Curriculum of Israel Studies" (Fifth edition, Koren 2017), and "Moral Dilemmas of the Modern Israeli Soldier" (Rama, 2011) and has a doctorate in Israel Education. His latest book, "Jewish Journeys, The Second Temple Period to the Bar Kokhba Revolt – 536 BCE-136 CE," was published by Koren this year. To order: