Midreshet Ben Gurion - A vision of bringing people, science and education to the Negev
Deep in the Negev desert in Israel, perched at the edge of a spectacular wadi (canyon), sits a remarkable community. Those approaching it from the north first see a field of solar panels. Up close, one sees groups of research buildings, schools, an historical archive, museums, a few shops and clusters of homes.
Midreshet or midrasha means "a place of learning." Midreshet Ben Gurion is a unique place for research, education, cultural inspiration and home for many. Researchers and educators come to study and teach about the desert and to find what it can best provide. The international reputation of the educational community serves as proof that the desert can provide a place for research and education as well as a community for people to live in.
David Ben-Gurion's Vision
The creation of Midreshet Ben Gurion was inspired by the vision of David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister and leading visionary (1886-1973). Ben-Gurion advocated the creation of a "Midrasha" that would bring scientists and educators to work in the Negev.
More than 50% of Israel is in the desert. Ben-Gurion believed that the settlement of Israel's "empty half" was necessary to absorb Israel's expanding population. A center for higher learning in the desert, (at a midrasha) would also attract thinkers who would add enlightenment to the new settlements and further scientific advances relating to life in this new environment.
Ben Gurion's ideas triggered the foundation of Midreshet Ben Gurion as a high school and teacher's college in 1965. During the following thirty years, the midrasha has established more than 12 major scientific and educational institutions which can benefit from its desert location. It has also successfully attracted a thriving population of thinkers to live in the desert. More than 30 years after its beginnings, the ideologies which inspired the midrasha's creation are still strong.
"... Let me add just a few words on the importance of the Midrasha. What this country needs is not only science and technology. But the spirit of the pioneering - and we shall need it for many, many years. The spirit of pioneering is the moral power which springs from vision and the belief in vision, and which arms the man imbued with it to overcome obstacles which appear insurmountable to the ordinary person. Every project in the Negev demands such a spirit, and every project strengthens that spirit. Without it, it is not easy to live in the Negev.
But the Negev, more than any other region, has a special quality which evokes in man wonderful powers which are normally dormant, or which he is unaware of, powers which reside in every individual, but which rarely come to the surface. The Negev turns an ordinary person into a creative human being. This spirit of pioneering is also demanded of Israel's scholars, and particularly its teachers. Our teachers must not be simple people who have mastered the art of imparting knowledge of a particular subject; They must be guides in the full sense of the word - or teachers in the old sense of the word - People who by their spiritual quality and by their integrity serve as an example to their pupils.
And this is the purpose of Midreshet Sde Boker. We seek to build a scientific research and teaching center which will be a source of moral inspiration and courage, rousing people to a sense of mission, noble, creative and fruitful."
David Ben Gurion
From a letter to H. Montor
A Place for Research and Education
Part of the midrasha's success as a research and education community may be due to the careful selection of institutions that can benefit from being in the desert. As of 1997, the midrasha includes more than 21 research and educational centers, including:
The Desert Research Institute, for example, was created to study and disseminate knowledge about desert environments and the people of arid lands, for the purpose of exploring sustainable use of dry lands and to combat desertification. The Institute houses 13 departments including desert architecture, desert agriculture and desert ecology. The community's expertise in desert issues, such as combating desertification, makes this an ideal training site for representatives of other desert communities throughout the world.
- The Jacob Blaustein Institute for Desert Research (includes 16 research divisions)
- The Ben-Gurion Heritage Institute (in Hebrew)
- The Ben-Gurion Research Center
- The Technology Incubator (a high-tech development institute)
- The David Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center
- The Nehami and Joshua Cohen Field School
- The High School for Environmental Studies
- The Zin Elementary School
- A Special Unit for Developing Curriculum Materials in Environmental Education
- The Computer Communications Center
- The Desert Sculpture Museum
The Field School and High School for Environmental Studies also take advantage of the setting and the presence of desert researchers to teach students and tourists about desert environments.
A Thriving Community of Researchers and Educators Living in the Negev
The midrasha is also home for more than 1,000 researchers, educators, workers, students and their families. Community programs and services are critical for the community to continue to attract scientists and educators to work and live at the midrasha. The midrasha and the nearby regional council work together to provide extensive facilities and programming for sports, arts, community and holiday activities. With services such as cultural events and a computer communications center, distances from major cities and the rest of the world become less important.
In addition to its major research institutions, the community provides:
- post office
- medical clinic
- kindergarten and preschool
- community swimming school
- tennis courts
- computer and video communication services
- desert museum