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ESRA Outing to the Negev

Beer-Sheva Members of ESRA Beer Sheva branch at the SodaStream factory in Rahat (Photo: Dennis Weintraub)

The ESRA Beer Sheva branch had its first outing to three interesting sites in the Negev. The first stop was at Sodastream near the Bedouin town of Rahat. Sodastream makes soda water and numerous flavored syrups. It employs 1,400 workers in Israel and sells its products worldwide. The main manufacturing facility is in the Negev.

Our tour of Sodastream started with a riveting presentation on the history of the company and its current status after being acquired by PepsiCo. We were shown a video which emphasized the company mission of reducing environmental plastic pollution by virtue of its re-usable bottles (which also save consumers schlepping single-use bottles of soda from the store).

A second video showed the day-to-day work in the Rahat plant, involving Jews, Bedouins, Palestinians and Druze. This video demonstrated the company culture of promoting respect across ethnic groups and providing equality in a harmonious environment.

We had a tour through the plastics factory, and saw how the machines and bottles are made and the care taken in checking each one for the next stage in the production process (labeling and assembling the entire kit). Afterwards we had lunch in the workers' dining room. There was a choice of meat or dairy, both of which turned out to be superb. Our tour at Sodastream ended with a stop at their store where we splurged on soda-making machines, bottles, and additional treats such as company logo T-shirts, stickers promoting environmental awareness, and kits containing two metal straws and a small cleaning brush! These kits are ideal for avoiding the use of plastic straws, a practice that is growing due to the distress inflicted on animals in aquatic environments.

The whole facility projects an atmosphere of innovation, peace and harmony, and is an example of what can be achieved when there is goodwill and a CEO with vision.

After Sodastream we traveled to the Bedouin village of Lakiya. We stopped at the site housing the Negev Embroidery Project. We sat in a tent and heard the leader of the project describing how it benefits close to 100 women who work at home and bring the finished items to the center to be sold. The women use traditional skills that have been handed down through the generations. Apart from earning money, the center teaches them how to manage a business. We toured the store containing beautiful items with traditional Bedouin motifs.

Next we stopped at another facility established as an income project for Bedouin women, the Lakiya Weaving Project. The traditional skills of spinning, weaving and dyeing the local wool were described, and in addition we learned about the history of the Bedouins in Israel. As in the previous project, many women provide finished items from work done at home for the store which contains beautiful carpets, bags, and other woven products.

The most impressive feature about the two Lakiya visits was the charisma of the women who described the projects. One of them spoke perfect English, and they both came across as independent and full of enthusiasm for their work.

This first outing of the Beer Sheva branch left us amazed at the inspirational endeavors taking place in the Negev, so close to home. 



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Sunday, 19 May 2024

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