You’re in Israel Now!

Guy Bar-Yosef amphitheater at Arava Institute Kibbutz Ketura Israel. (courtesy)
Guy Bar-Yosef amphitheater at Arava Institute Kibbutz Ketura Israel. (courtesy)

“Don’t be so polite!” greeted my new friend and first lunch hostess Dana as we entered her cozy home in Midreshet Ben Gurion, just north of Mitzpe Ramon. “You’re in Israel now!” And so this adventure had begun.

I hadn’t been on the ground for more than an hour before Lia’s friendly face (my new landlord) and her significant other, Kfir, picked me and my bags up from Ben Gurion airport and whisked me away on the last leg of my trip from Boulder, Colorado. Beginning with a family lunch at her friend’s home deep in the Negev.

Am I making aliyah? Many people were asking. How long do I plan to stay? Many of my friends had inquired. Why Mitzpe Ramon? Of all places? But most striking had been the universally positive reaction to my Facebook post — the BIG news that I was relocating my home to Israel. Not bragging but, over 400 “likes” or comments to my Facebook post with a large number beginning their comment with “Wow!” This appears to be a pretty significant decision.

As we left Ben Gurion airport, I couldn’t help but notice the highway signs on Route 40 heading south from Tel Aviv all featured the distance to “Mizpe Ramon”!  Great to know that anyone heading south knew about Mizpe Ramon, and given the number of signs, travelers must expect that upon reaching Mizpe Ramon, new wonders of Israel would certainly appear. Such a small town earning highway sign landmark status. How had this little town of 5,000 earned its prominence? More on that later.

Mitzpe Ramon’s Beresheet hotel overlooking Mahktesh Ramon

Forty-two years ago the summer of 1977, just weeks after the earthquake election throwing Israel’s Labor party out of governing dominance, I arrived for a year of studying politics and foreign policy at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Taking a year of college to move to Israel having never even visited before was a bold move, and the memory of waking up the first morning and glimpsing the Judean hills from the apartment window will never leave me. The realization of committing a year to living in Israel hit me square in the gut. What had I done?

Somehow, this arrival seemed more like a joyous reunion than a shock to the system. Still, internally, it feels like the snow globe of my life has been shaken up, the snow’s been released from its resting place and everything is up in the air.

In reviewing the twisting turning path which led me to this BIG decision, many mile markers along the way have popped back from memory. My first childhood awareness of Israel and my connection as a Jew to this place begins way back at Beth Joseph Hebrew school, the twice-a-week after school supplemental education that my parents insisted I have. Israel needed me to collect dimes to plant trees! That was my first fundraising gig, beginning in the mid-1960s.

JNF produced and had folding pamphlets handed out throughout American Hebrew schools so students would begin their exposure to our role in supporting Israel – making Israel green! Each pamphlet had 20 slots to insert dimes and when fully completed it was turned in to the teacher so our tree could be planted in Israel. And that’s where it all began.

About the Author
Ken Toltz began his professional career at AIPAC in Washington, D.C. after attending Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He's a 3rd generation Colorado native, businessman and long-time gun violence prevention activist. After 42 years from his first visit to Israel, in 2019 he relocated his home to Mitzpe Ramon in Israel's Negev. Ken currently resides in Herzliya. He writes about Israeli politics, relations with the U.S. and the Israeli creative class of writers and filmmakers.
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