Federation Coalition Fostering Development of Negev Communities
David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, once said, “It is in the Negev that the creativity and pioneer vigor of Israel shall be tested.” Today, decades after Ben-Gurion’s death, the desert is being challenged to grow as a welcoming home to thousands of residents and as a center for the development of new products and services. The Greater Miami Jewish Federation, together with eight other North American Jewish Federations, is playing an active role in this expansion as part of a planning and financing entity called the Negev Funding Coalition.
At 4,700 square miles, the Negev covers nearly 60 percent of Israel’s territory, yet is home to just eight percent of the population. Communities in this southern region have consistently lacked sufficient resources for residents, resulting in an ongoing exodus to amenities-rich, highly populated cities. In an effort to reduce the “brain drain” and to make the Negev more attractive to new residents and businesses, the Israeli government, the Jewish Agency for Israel and other nongovernmental organizations have been working in recent years to inspire and support development of cities and towns in the region.
The Greater Miami Jewish Federation has been deeply committed to the Negev community of Yerucham through its Miami-Yerucham Partnership, which was created in 2007 to achieve sustained spiritual, social, cultural and economic growth for both communities. Participation in the Negev Funding Coalition enables Miami’s Jewish community to actively assist in broadening impact on the region.
“This combined effort is an example of community building that is dynamic and offers us the opportunity to make a difference,” said Richard Bernstein, who chairs the Negev Funding Coalition and is a member of Federation’s Board of Directors. “It gives us a sense of building something new and represents the next evolution in Zionism, reflecting the spirit of Israel’s early Halutzim (pioneers) and Bonim (builders).”
In its first year, the Negev Funding Coalition was involved in important projects designed to enhance the quality of life in the region. Young Communities, Sustainable Future is a project operated by a partnership of four Israeli organizations, the Jewish Agency and several private foundations collaborating with 10 communities throughout the Negev. Its objective is to provide infrastructural support needed by younger adults living in lower socio-economic conditions; projects include nursery schools for children ages one to three, as well as afterschool programs for at-risk youth. In addition, the group explored projects in the field of renewable energy, where the area’s natural resources are being harnessed in clean, sustainable ways, including new solar and heat technologies. Projects relating to renewable energy will be considered for funding as the Coalition enters its second year.
Richard Bernstein has tremendous confidence in the ability of the Negev Funding Coalition to have a powerful impact on the future stability and prosperity of developing cities in Southern Israel. He expressed hope that more Jewish Federations, additional foundations and individual donors will support the Coalition to subsidize other innovative new programs designed to enhance conditions in the Negev.
Other participating Federations include the Federation CJA of Montreal, Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, Jewish Federation of Delaware, Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, Jewish Federation of San Diego County, UJA Federation of New York, UJA Federation of Toronto, and United Jewish Community of MetroWest.
“Miami has been a leader in the Negev Funding Coalition because what happens in Yerucham isn’t in isolation,” Bernstein said. “Together, the Federations and others involved in the Coalition can take a regional approach that also touches lives in Dimona, Beer Sheva, Sderot and other Negev cities.”
For more information about the Negev Funding Coalition and other Federation-funded programs in Israel, contact Dahlia Bendavid, Israel and Overseas Department Director, at IsraelOverseas@JewishMiami.org or 786.866.8445.