Jewish Federations Strengthening Communities Through Negev Now

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Here in Philadelphia, we have a partnership with Netivot, which has a significant immigration population from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, and Sdot Negev, which incorporates 12 religious moshavim, two kibbutzim and two community villages.

Bringing the Negev to life has been critical to Israel’s security and economic development since the modern-day state’s early years, and Jewish Federations long have been part of that effort. Throughout the years, our Jewish Federation communities have developed strong partnerships with towns and regional councils in the Negev.
Here in Philadelphia, we have a partnership with Netivot, which has a significant immigration population from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, and Sdot Negev, which incorporates 12 religious moshavim, two kibbutzim and two community villages.
In 2014, as thousands of rockets fired from Gaza rained on the Negev, destroying property and peace of mind, and injuring, sometimes fatally, dozens of Israelis, Jewish Federations boosted its efforts to assist the Negev. The Federation movement raised $55 million, some for immediate needs such as trauma support, respite to people living in the conflict zones, and assistance to businesses that suffered economic losses; some for long-term programs to strengthen the Negev by building hosen (resilience) and enhancing quality of life for its current and future residents.
Through one long-term program, called Negev Now, we are supporting projects that strengthen the Negev’s appeal as a creative and vibrant place to live and raise a family — for both current residents and those to come.
Among the main elements of the Jewish Federations’ Negev Now approach is advancing wellness in the region by encouraging active and healthy lifestyles that are critical to an attractive and vital community. Health care for residents of the region should be not only about treating disease or providing services for those who are unwell, but also about encouraging healthy lifestyles. Negev communities should be places where people have the tools and options they need to lead such a health-conscious lifestyle, and Jewish Federations have allocated significant funds to wellness and nutrition programs.
These grants include support for a Jewish Agency for Israel Garden to Plate project to establish and operate community gardens and kitchens in Dimona and Arad. The Jewish Agency’s hallmark Youth Futures initiative, which provides community-based mentoring for at-risk youngsters, will run the new program that will involve kids in growing their own healthful foods.
Federations are also partnering with the Israel-based Shahaf Foundation, which represents a coalition of funders from around the world, to strengthen vibrant community networks and develop a strong cadre of local leaders. For more than five years Shahaf has worked throughout Israel to pioneer the effort and the new Jewish Federation funds will propel their work in the Negev.
In addition, Jewish Federations provided a grant to a Negev-based Jewish-Arab organization, AJEEC-NISPED, to build on the local organizations substantial work with Bedouin women in the areas of health and safety. We also distributed a number of smaller grants to local groups focused on revitalizing public and private spaces.
Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion often spoke of the Negev’s paramount significance, and noted that the effort to populate and make this wilderness flourish “will determine the fate of the State of Israel and the standing of our people in the history of mankind.”
The Negev is our generation’s “new Zionism” — the next great project of the Jewish people. I am extremely proud that Jewish Federations — including our Philadelphia Jewish Federation — are part of this effort to ensure a vibrant Negev.
Michele Levin is vice-chair of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Negev Creative Vitality Initiative steering committee and past co-chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Center for Israel and Overseas.

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