Ariel Gabay loves the Negev Desert. He lives in Kibbutz Mishmar Hanegev, which was built in the early years of the State of Israel at the gateway to the Negev Desert. He grew up there during the 1970s and 80s, and now he and his wife are bringing up their two children there.
“I love the feeling of peace that you can experience in the desert. It is still so clean and untouched. It is one of the only places where I feel G-d’s presence.”
Ariel loves to take his kids Ella and Dolev camping in the desert, sleeping in a tent together and building a fire to cook their food. “There is so much that you can learn and teach when you go out into nature”, he says. “When I guide groups with children, I show them how to forage for food in nature and how to recognize the tracks of different animals. It’s an amazing opportunity for them to explore the world that they live in but only usually see from the inside of a car or bus!”
“My favorite place in Israel is the Hativat HaNegev Memorial near Beersheva. It is a stark and beautiful war memorial and it reminds me how much we owe to the brave pioneers who fought for this vast desert in 1948. Some of them sacrificed their lives so that we could have our own State and live in the Negev, and their sacrifice is an inspiration to me even today.”
Ariel served in the IDF as a paratrooper and then studied for his Bachelor of Education degree in Land of Israel Studies at Beit Berel, one of Israel’s top schools for tour guides. “During my four years studying geography and history, we went out one day every week on field trips to explore every corner of Israel. I was privileged to study with the best professionals, educators and guides, which was both intense and rewarding.”
Talia, Ariel’s wife, grew up in the Conservative Movement, and so they decided to spend time in the United States as emissaries for the Jewish Agency in Oakland, CA. Ariel taught in the local Hebrew day schools and helped to run summer programs in Israel for 10th and 11th graders from the Bay area.
“During the four years that we lived in the U.S., I managed to tour around California, Arizona and New Mexico. I was drawn to the amazing, enormous desert landscapes, which are so different from the Negev. It was a really enriching experience, and we got to know many great people, but we came back to Israel with an enhanced appreciation of our own great landscapes, society and language.”
Ariel guides community groups and families from all over the world, and believes that it is important that people visit Israel before forming their opinions. “I encourage visitors to travel around the country and to understand its history and its geography before we talk about its politics. I want them to see for themselves what it is like here, rather than believing what they have seen on TV. Although Israel is a place with many conflicts and challenges, it is also a country of great beauty and diversity.”
“It is so important for Jewish kids to appreciate Israel, to be proud of the country and to have the opportunity to discover their own identity here. Whether I’m guiding kids or adults, I am always open and honest with them, and I enjoy hearing what they think.”
Ariel and Talia are actively involved in their kibbutz and supportive of the kibbutz ideology. She looks after the senior citizens there, including many Holocaust survivors, to ensure that they enjoy a good quality of life. Ariel is happy that many young families are joining the kibbutz and moving to southern Israel.
He says: “Our nearest city, Beer Sheva, is growing and developing at an amazing pace and it’s exciting to be living here at a time of great change. We want to bring more people to the area, but we also need to preserve the desert. It is a constant balancing act to build up the country and to preserve the natural environment, and I am involved in helping to maintain that balance.”