Tourist Tip #126 / Sde Boker

Israel's first leader believed that cultivating the desert was the key to the country's future. When heading south, be sure to pay a visit to his beloved home in the heart of the Negev.

Brian Schaefer
Brian Schaefer
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David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister and one of its founding fathers, lived by his principles in a literal sense: He not only advocated the importance of "making the desert bloom," he relocated to the Negev and lived out his life doing just that. His home, Sde Boker, pays homage to its most famous resident and is an easy and rewarding stop when your travels in Israel take you south.

Sde Boker is the perfect rest stop on a journey to Eilat as it lies about halfway between the resort town and both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Stay for just a few hours for a glimpse or make it an overnighter to really get a feel for the land Ben-Gurion loved. A visit to Sde Boker is also a reminder of the untapped potential of the Negev, which covers more than 50 percent of Israel, and the hope it inspired in one of the country's most visionary leaders.

Kibbutz Sde Boker was founded in 1952 and Ben-Gurion joined up the following year. Initially it was a ranch where sheep and horses were raised, but agriculture soon took over and the community began producing grapes, olives and pistachios. Now, with a shift toward more industrialization, the kibbutz has added adhesive tape to its list of products. But the agricultural spirit remains and those grapes now serve the Sde Boker Winery, which is worth a tasting.

Still, the primary draw remains the opportunity to get to know Ben-Gurion a bit better. His original, modest hut has been preserved and the houses next door have been converted into a small museum displaying writings and correspondence from the quotable politician, as well as his collection of more than 5,000 books.  

Not far away is an education center called Midreshet Ben-Gurion, which houses a collection of schools and institutes dedicated to desert research and agricultural studies for high school students. Naturally, no desert would be complete without a desert sculpture garden. Luckily, there's that too.

The nearby Ben-Gurion memorial, where the leader and his wife, Paula, are buried offers dramatic views of the Nahal Zin rift, which can be further explored with a visit to nearby Ein Avdat National Park.

As the global community comes down hard on Israel's building beyond internationally recognized borders, Ben-Gurion's words about development in the Negev seem to call out even more today:

"The desert provides us with the best opportunity to begin again. This is a vital element of our renaissance in Israel. For it is in mastering nature that man learns to control himself. It is in this sense, more practical than mystic, that I define our Redemption on this land. Israel must continue to cultivate its nationality and to represent the Jewish people without renouncing its glorious past. It must earn this — which is no small task — a right that can only be acquired in the desert."

Ben-Gurion's house in Sde Boker.Credit: Moshe Gilad
David Ben-Gurion at his home in Sde Boker in 1968. Happily accepted American Jews' money while discouraging them from further interest in Israeli politics or society.Credit: Fritz Cohen / GPO