From the big city to Negev luxury in Carmey Avdat farm nearby Sde Boker
by Adam Molner
In 1953, David Ben-Gurion left the office of Prime Minister and moved to Kibbutz Sde Boker, south of Be'er Sheva, where he lived out his vision of settling the Negev. Today not far from that spot, his vision lives on at the Carmey-Avdat vineyard.
Carmey-Avdat was founded 10 years ago by Eyal and Hannah Izrael as part of the Negev Wine Route project. The venture was launched in 1995 by organizations including the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Ramat Negev Regional Council and aimed to promote tourism and create jobs. Today, the couple offer wine, relaxation, and ideology.
The Negev constitutes 60 percent of Israel's land mass, but only accounts for 8 percent of its population. According to Eyal, the Negev has not been a focus of national development priorities since the 1950s.
"The State of Israel was very busy doing other things -with developing Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and developing the Galilee," he says. "It seems that it is the turn of the Negev to be the next place to develop."
While a pro-development ideology played a large role in founding Carmey Avdat, it was not the sole reason. For the founders, it also required a strong element of passion.
"You cannot take a vision of somebody that lived 50 years ago and say that I'm following this vision unless it goes with your vision," Eyal maintains.
Hannah nor Eyal were born in the Negev, in fact, both were northerners - Eyal from Haifa and Hannah from Kiryat Shmona. But during their travels and army service they fell in love with the Negev and a decade ago decided to take root where a vineyard existed 2,000 years ago.
The couple decided to expand Carmey-Avdat into a bed and breakfast business by building six guest cabins in 2002. The function of the guest cottages is not merely to provide an escape from mundane city life; part of the Izraels' vision was to bring "people that don't really know about the desert and don't really know they could love this region."
To achieve this end, the two took a unique approach: "There are no televisions in the cabins because we think television and computers and that kind of stuff is what people have in their houses in an ordinary life and we think this will take the focus from the desert."
But a stay at Carmey Avdat does include some luxuries. The guest cabins are equipped with a refrigerator and espresso machine. Each morning a full breakfast is delivered to the cabin.
For those looking for pampering, local alternative treatment practitioners also come make cabin calls. Dana ( 054-549-2415 ) offers shiatsu massages and Liat ( 052-339-3319 ) offers deep-tissue massages, both for NIS 250.
Recently, the Israel Lands Administration and the State Prosecutor's Office made the decision to close 23 farms along the wine route, including Carmey Avdat, but Eyal does not seem worried.
"First, we do not believe the government will close the farms. The prime minister and ministers are very fond of our project and have been very supportive throughout the ten years that we have been here," he says.
Eyal believes that if the closures become a reality, it will not only be bad for the farmers, but also for the whole region.
"There has been economic development since we established this wine route. A few years ago, nobody would buy a house in the Negev. Now people are starting to buy houses. If you take that part out and ruin it, people will say this is not the place we want to live. It will be a disaster for the Negev, if somebody ruins this project."