January 2009
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Goshen’s William Sanders Expands His Horizons on Israeli Kibbutz


William Sanders on his last day of work on the kibbutz. They were repairing the irrigation system. It was a wet job, but that was ok since it was around 115o outside.


Dreams don’t always come true but, when they do, it’s not by some stroke of magic. It’s because a lot of planning and energy have been devoted to the dream.

That was the case for William Sanders of the Goshen community.

Sanders, age 24, grew up on a fourth generation farm in rural Pike County, but he was not cemented to the red clay soil. He often traveled with his parents, Bill and Ann Sanders.

When he was 10 years old, he traveled with his parents to Israel and did the "tourist" thing. Sanders was so impressed with the country and the culture he wanted to go back. The want turned to a strong desire and then a consuming dream.

"For all those years, I dreamed of going back to Israel but I didn’t want to go back as a tourist," Sanders said. "I wanted to live among the people and experience the culture as a part of it."


View of the kibbutz from the top of a nearby mountain. This is the Arava Valley portion of the Negev Desert. The mountains on the far side are in Jordan.


Sanders graduated from Auburn University in the spring of 2008. His goal was to get a job and to visit Israel, but not necessarily in that order.

For two years, he researched opportunities to live and work in Israel and he realized his best chance was to work on a kibbutz.

"Working on a kibbutz was not a way to make money but it was a chance to live and work among the people and get room and board," Sanders said and added with a smile, "And make a few dollars — 50 a month."

In early 2008, Sanders applied and was accepted at Kibbutz Yotvata, and, for two months last summer, he labored on the kibbutz in Israel’s Arava desert just north of Eilat. It was the place where Sanders was to realize the dream that had been with him for nearly 14 years.


Valley center pivot. Notice the sand dunes at the edge of the field.


"I arrived at the kibbutz in the hottest part of the summer and, if I’d had a choice, I would rather have gone during the growing or harvesting seasons but I was just proud of the opportunity to be there," Sanders said. "Our volunteer leader took a little time to explain what the kibbutz is all about. Although she said the kibbutz is a free-society and people are encouraged to live their lives as free-thinking individuals, when you were on the job that was not true. You did exactly as you were told."

Sanders found the mindset was to work as you were told and not to deviate from the accepted operating procedure.

"One day we were loading crates on to a trailer," he said. "They weren’t that heavy but there were a lot of them. The guy I was working with parked about 100 feet from the crates. I asked him why he didn’t pull up closer and he said because he would have to back the trailer to get out."


They even use John Deere tractors in Israel.


Sanders said the man had never backed that kind of trailer and had no training on how to do it.

"He had a government issued license to operate the tractor, but because he didn’t have specific instructions from his supervisor, he wouldn’t even try it even though it would have saved a lot of time," Sanders said. "That’s the way things worked on the kibbutz and I learned quickly to fall in line."

The main products grown during the fall and spring on the kibbutz were lettuce, corn, onions, potatoes, garlic, hoodia, mangos and dates. Grasses were grown year round for the dairy cattle.

"Since I was there in the summer and it was too hot to grow anything, we spent our time getting ready for the fall season," Sanders said. "Every day we worked in sight of the Jordanian border. Several times a day we would see both Jordanian and Israeli military vehicles patrolling the border."

Israeli drip irrigation.


Sanders usually worked with a crew of three to five people repairing irrigation systems for the fall season.

"The repairs were basic —- replace a seal here and a pipe there," he said. "The work could get repetitive at times, but everyone I worked with, mostly South Americans and Koreans, spoke great English so we could pass the time talking.

"The kibbutz had three primary irrigation systems being used on a daily basis. The most widely used was the Israeli invented drip irrigation system, which is the most water efficient irrigation system in the world but it’s very labor intensive and expensive."

Sanders’ work crew also worked quite a bit with a system with long pieces of aluminum pipe connected to each other with sprinklers at the top.

"The kibbutz also owns two Valley center pivots," Sanders said. "When worked on the stationary aluminum sprinklers, we would have to turn them on to make sure they were working properly. Getting soaking wet is not a bad thing when it’s 115o outside. It cooled you off and you would dry in five minutes out in the sun."


Lettuce greenhouse.

About once a week Sanders said he would have to work on that type irrigation in the grass and millet fields.

"These fields were being irrigated with sewage water from the dairy and the kibbutz," he said. "The smell was not as bad as you would think, but it was always in the back of your mind knowing where the water came from. I found the best way to get through it was to keep my mouth shut very tightly and work fast."

Almost every corner of the kibbutz had some type of experiment underway.

These date trees were only a few years old. Some grew to over 50 feet high. Dates are the second most profitable enterprise on the kibbutz.


"There were tests trying to improve the efficiency of the irrigation systems and tests seeing what new crops could be grown," Sanders said.

There is a very serious water shortage in the Middle East and efficiency is extremely important when it comes to water.

"In Israel, it’s against the law for a private citizen to own a well," Sanders said. "All water must come from the government and the kibbutz must find ways to lower its water usage every year. It’s because of this that water leaks always take top priority over other jobs. Even the smallest leak is repaired immediately after it has been found. It’s amazing to see these people are able to fight back the desert and actually farm in this place. Along the eastern edge of the property there are sand dunes just feet away from fields."

The lettuce is grown in a very large greenhouse. The temperature is controlled by the same type of cool cells used in American poultry houses.


In some fields the rows were covered with plastic for a few weeks before planting. The plastic absorbed the radiation from the sun and killed any fungi or bacteria in the sand.


"All of the lettuce is grown hydroponically," Sanders explained. "It’s cut and bagged in the greenhouse and shipped to clients across the country. The lettuce is inspected by a rabbi every few weeks so it can be marketed as kosher and be sold at a premium price."

The largest enterprise for the kibbutz was the dairy. Six hundred cows were milked three times a day.

"The milk goes next door to be processed and bottled," Sanders stated. "More than 70 percent of Israel’s chocolate milk is made right there in the desert. One of my bosses invited me to help with the milking one night. That was a real experience. Three people and I milked 600 cows in under two hours."

Work on the kibbutz was hard and the living conditions weren’t the best —- seven in a small two-bedroom house. But he wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

Before and after his "kibbutz experience," Sanders traveled to places including the Lost City of Stone, Petra in Jordan, the Sea of Galilee, the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv, the Western Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock in the old city of Jerusalem, and the Jordan River. Each site made a lasting impression on him and increased his will to go back to Israel again.

"But maybe not to work on a kibbutz," Sanders said smiling.

The Israel experience was one Sanders will always treasure but one memory of his summer on the kibbutz stands clear.

"I’ll never forget seeing the sun come up over the mountains in Jordan," he recalled. "It was an awesome sight. And, at each breaking of dawn, I knew my life had been made better because of my time at Kibbutz Yotvata."

Author’s Note: William Sanders began working with Bonnie Plants as of January 1.

Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.