In 2003, having spent five years in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, it was time to move on from the city. I'd always wanted to live in the Negev. The last piece of sovereign, Jewish land waiting to be developed. It takes up 60% of the Israel's land! Israel's north and center are always full of newcomers. Less so for the Negev. The Negev's two largest cities, Beersheva and Eilat, are mid-sized towns. The rest - small towns, villages, kibbutzim and moshavim.

I was looking for a place to start. Somewhere in the northern Negev (so I'd be closer to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem). I ended up at Kibbutz Ruhama, a small kibbutz of 450 people. Like most kibbutzim, Ruhama went through a process of privatization in the late 90's. Most people work in one of the two factories (brushes and plastic) or in the area. Just about every kibbutz rents small and large apartments. The nearest city was Sderot, a development town that at least had two burger places! Beersheva was less than a half hour away.

The kibbutz itself was beautiful. The landscaping and grounds were well taken care of. Thai workers seemed to do most of it. There was a grocery store, a post office, a library, work-out room and a pool. The dining room is still there, but not used like it used to be -- no more free lunches from the kibbutz! Students rented apartments and studied in the college in Sderot. But there wasn't much of a party scene, unless I totally missed it. Lots of old people riding around on things looking like golf carts. There was an outdoor amphitheatre outside of our apartment - never had that kind of view before! And of course a few horses to look at while walking around.

Kibbutz Ruhama is surrounded by a nature reserve. Leave the kibbutz via any gate on all sides and you're in the middle of a huge nature reserve. It was great being able to leave the house and go on a hike so easily. Rolling hills and blue skies.

Atar Ha-Rishonim, or The Negev Pioneers, is Kibbutz Ruhama's best kept secret. This is where the first Jewish settlers in modern times settled in the Negev! As the sign says, a group of Russian olim first settled Ruhama in December 1911. The kibbutz had its ups and downs throughout the years but its still here. This is where modern Jewish settlement in the Negev began. The site itself is just outside the fence surrounding the kibbutz. A few buildings and even a well are preserved, as are farming tools used almost 100 years ago. The picture with the ladder is the well. Nice place for a picnic if you're in the area.

And finally a picture of me there.. I had a relaxing time at Kibbutz Ruhama. The people were polite and the pace was slower. I enjoyed listening to the stories that the kibbutznikim told me -- they came to an empty piece of desert land and made it bloom. That's their legacy -- the northern Negev is green with trees and yellow with wheat.

Looking back a few years later..

By the time I got to Kibbutz Ruhama near the end of 2003, I was as needing of quiet surroundings as I've ever been in my life. Two years of living in the center of Jerusalem during the Intifada took its toll. Its hard to express what it felt like to be able to walk around without the fear that was part of being in Jerusalem in 2002 -2003. Kibbutz Ruhama is a quiet, relaxed place. The nearest town, Sderot, is 20 minutes away and Beersheva is a half hour or so. I made use of the extra rooms I had and organized my music, books and videos better than ever.

Since putting this page up, I've received a bunch of emails from people from all over the world who volunteered at Kibbutz Ruhama through the years. From the stories I've read, there was a fun scene on the kibbutz back then. The volunteers loved working and socializing on the kibbutz. They all tell me that they got along well with the Israelis. If any former Kibbutz Ruhama volunteers see this, you should check out Kibbutz Reloaded, a website dedicated to helping kibbutz volunteers and friends find each other. Here are some of the best Kibbutz Ruhama stories that I've received.

I received this email on January 3, 2009. This is Chuck Bale's experience at Kibbutz Ruhama during the Yom Kippur War. At the time I'm writing this, Israel is at war with Gaza.

I loved looking at the pictures of Ruchama that you have on your site. I as well stayed in Kibbutz Ruchama in 1973, before, during and after the Yom Kipper War. I arrived there because my great Aunt’s daughter’s fiancée lived on Ruchama. I initially arrived as a volunteer, living in the mitnadvim shacks located alone far from the main kibbutzim apartments & kitchen. I attended my cousin Tali’s wedding on the kibbutz which was so fun, everyone attended from the kibbutz. A few months later, I entered the 6-month new immigrant Ulpan with a few Americans as well as many new Russian immigrants.

During my time out of classes, I worked in the Chicken Coops, months after becoming almost ready for the market, they caught some kind of disease that blew in the wind. Thousands of chickens died that year. I drove a tractor out to the field where I dumped and burned the dead chickens. Sad! I also worked in the cotton fields, picked apples, oranges, apricots, avocado and lemons in the Ruchama orchards.

Our studies went well until the war broke out, then we only learned mostly military vocabulary. I remember at the start of the war, I hand dug a grave (for an elderly Kibbutznik) with 3 other volunteers which took all day! All the male kibbutzniks were gone to fight so we picked up the slack. A Georgian new immigrant horded food, she stole from the main kitchen because she thought they would run out of food because of the new war.

On the 2nd night of the war (there was no moon - pitch dark at night), at dinner we (the volunteers) were told that there would be an air raid that evening and be prepared. We all put our wallets & cash in our pockets, put on our best boots and waited for the sign to dash to the bomb shelter. We all waited, a guy from France, England and 5 from the US sat a few hours just waiting for something………finally we heard the siren blaring out. We all made a major dash to the bunker. When we arrived, all of the kibbutzniks were coming out of the shelter! The siren was the “All Clear”! Well, we were freaked, we were then told that the notice to go to the shelter was in Hebrew on the government radio station. Us volunteers got very drunk that evening.

Unfortunately, my cousin’s new husband was killed in that war. A few months after the war I left Ruchama and returned to the US. I have very fond memories of spending that year of my life in that beautiful place. I have since been to Israel a half a dozen other times but have never been back to Ruchama.

This one is from December 2007

I really enjoyed your site. It is well put together. I was in the Ulpan there. I went by myself as an immigrant in may 1976. It was just beginning to be built up. I did not even have an indoor bathroom. I worked in the bet cheroshet and in the bet yelodim. I also worked in the pardes and the kitchen. My teacher was Mazel and Eliyahu. I had the best experience of my life. Without a dime in my pocket I managed to sight-see, take trips with the kibbutz and have amazing parties. I met older people who lived through the camps. I listened to people who went through so much to make it to israel. It was a quieter time then and I remember being able to shop in the eastern quarter of the shuk. I have a few pictures, but through the years and a few huricanes I do not have much left. Do you have any pictures from 1976 that you can post on yur web site? I would love that! I wish I had stayed. I was called home when my father was dying of cancer. He passed away after I came home. My mother had my six year old sister so I stayed to help support the family. A young man I was serious with that I met on Ruhama,( he was a volunteer) ended up visiting me in America. We married and moved to Germany of all places. He was a German jew. All his family lived in Israel except for hisfather and mother. His father had a few bierstubes in Frankfurt and my husband was learning to run them. Of course after three years I did not feel comfortable there. I moved back to America with my husband. We had one child, divorced and both live in Florida. About the Israeli heart: I had a very bad accident when I was there. I was burned in the factory and taken to Beershava hospital. I was in severe pain, a young girl away from her family alone. I was on the plastica unit. Families I did not know came and visited me, they held my hand and calmed me, people brought me fruits and chocolates. It does not matter who you are. In Israel everyone is your family. That was something I will never never forget. When I had to go back to the kibbutz, I was ordered on bed rest until I could be exposed to sunlight again. Kibbutniks made sure I had my meals every day, volunteers and ulpanist took turns visitng me. We would sing songs around my bed. Someone was always there to watch me. There is no other place in the modern world that would take care of a stranger like that! So if you can find picutres that would be great! Thank you for putting that site together.

This one is from the summer of 2007

Obviously I still think about Ruhama often. I Google it now and then and pleasantly find sites like yours. I was at Ruhama from 2/1977 to 7/1977. Thirty years ago now. Then Ruhama was about 700 or so people. I don't remember exactly, but wasn't small and size didn't matter. It was a wonderful experience. As an ulpanist I studied Hebrew 1/2 the day and worked the other. Getting to class or work by 7AM there was plenty of free time in the afternoon to relax or play. The uplanist and volunteer houses that time were not luxurious but we didn't need that. The food was plentiful, the bed good enough and the roof didn't leak.

I remember the one food that was always in the cheder ochel was matzo and chocolate sauce, so for afternoon snacks after work we made matzo cakes layering the two. Milk however was generally too precious for volunteers. Chaim the crazy old manager of the CO, usually went nuts at the asking.

Some of the best times I had were in the pea Fields. You had to be on the jeep at 6:30AM if you wanted coffee Arab style made in a finjan. The breakfast at 9AM was of eggs, fresh tomato's, peppers and feta cooked on a hot plate in the field house was always great.

Later I worked in the watermelon fields. The volunteers and uplanists had occasionally raucous parties based on watermelon and ouzo feasts. I longed for the taste of those round sweet "Carmel" watermelons for years before they ever showed up in US markets.

One of the highlight's of my stay was us Americans throwing a 4th of July part with a bonfire at the fire pit between our house and the swimming pool. We got permission to drive one of kibbutz's Mercedes Benz's to Ashkelon to buy ice for beer. As I recall ice was more precious then gold at Ruhama then and volunteers just couldn't have any. My friends to this day wonder how I can tolerate anything less than ice cold beer. Small pleasures! Dov the Swede, went nuts and attacked the fire with our house broom. We had to redeem ourselves with midnight shifts in the chicken houses to get another.

One of the great memories of Ha' Eretz then was that 1977 was a time of peace there. As it was Pre- intifada and just two years after the Yom Kippur war we could travel freely around the west bank on the few occasions we could leave the kibbutz. We played shesh pesh with the Palestinians in the ancient town squares of Ramallah, Jericho and Hebron. There was no fear, no sense of insecurity. Just citizens of earth form different worlds sharing evenings and good times, learning from each other.

One of these days I'll return to Ruhama for a visit. Till' then, thanks for your site and I hope you enjoyed some of my reminiscences.

John Schwam
Bronx, NY

This one is from the summer of 2006

I stayed at Ruhama from September to December 1992 and had a wonderful time. There were around 200 families then - counting all together probably 1,000 people including around 20 volunteers. I used to work in the dining room and my friend worked in the kitchen washing chickens all day. Every Tuesday and Friday night there was a pub night which most volunteers and some kibbutzniks attended, always a place for a good laugh and lots of beer and Raki. At the end of my stay, an Australian volunteer joined the kibbutz, having travelled around the world for almost two years, and like you, was looking for peace and quiet at the kibbutz. Things happened quickly after that. My time at the kibbutz was up, so I left. My Australian friend came to visit me in Sweden a couple of weeks later. We travelled to Asia together. We have been together since and are married. All thanks to Kibbutz Ruhama. We are both very keen on going back one day as we have such fond memories of our stay. Anyway, it was great reading your story. Thanks for that.

And this one is from 2005

This morning I woke up and its been a long time since I had Kibbutz Ruhama on my mind. I was there, let me count, 19 years ago. It was an experience that changed my life. I met so many volunteers there from all around the world. Some I later visited in their own countries.

I jumped behind my computer and hoped that I would find anything about this wonderful kibbutz, and there I saw your story, and to be honest, I was very pleased that it still exist, but...

I was in a kind of shock to about the changes that you wrote about. The amphitheater gave me goosebumps - what wonderful evenings we spend there. But back then it was a very big place with over 2,000 people living there. In the evenings we ate with everybody including the original kibbutz people and the volunteers in the big dining room. I can honestly say that the food was WONDERFUL! I gained so many pounds there, haha, it was really a joy to be all together there in the dining room. I worked there in the kitchen, in the stamps factory, in the melon factory and the last months I worked in the baby's daycare. Tears come to my eyes now as I think about it again. I met so many lovely original kibbutz people who lived there and spent so many evenings in their pleasant company, learning so much from them. Most were younger but all older by heart because of the knowledge that they had to go in the army without knowing if they will ever return home again. I hope by God that they all found a nice new home after they left the kibbutz.

I want to thank you very much for your site, Kenny. It took me back to memory lane. Very dear memories.

Before receiving all of these emails, I hadn't thought of the impact that the kibbutz volunteer program had on the volunteers. Looks like it helped create many families all over the world! The kibbutz volunteer scene ended in the late 90's. When I visited kibbutzim in the 80's and 90's, I remember seeing and hearing about the volunteers. Its a cool part of Israel's history.

If you're interested in Israel, visit my other related pages...
Israel Culture in Israel Israeli Music Hadera Arad Eilat The Negev Kibbutz Ruhama The Israel Trail Jerusalem in the Snow Jerusalem during Passover 2009 Aliyah Tips

Kenny Sahr