Tamir Idan sees his city’s partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia as way beyond a financial arrangment. Like his counterparts here, he frames it as connecting people with people.
The mayor of Sedot Negev, the regional council of 16 Israeli communities that has become a centerpiece for education and agricultural development over the past two decades, said that’s one of the reasons he came to town Oct. 15 to 17. He not only wanted to see Philadelphia and get a sense of its history, but to meet the people who make the local Jewish community hum.
Together, he wants to make what has already been a 20-year relationship even stronger.
“I come to visit because I want to know the people who are working with us,” said the 46-year-old Idan, a commercial real estate attorney from Ashkelon until he was convinced to run for office five years ago. “We love this partnership. These are good friends. But I don’t like the idea that the meaning of a partnership is money. It helps, but this is about more than the money you give us.”
Specifically, Idan wants the next generation to get more involved. He believes that’s not only crucial to Sedot Negev’s growth, but will make a difference here, too.
“The first thing I want to do is rebuild the connection between young people here and in Israel,” said Idan, who has four children ranging from 5 to 23. “The most important thing is for the communities to get to know each other. I want students from Philadelphia to visit each other and build things together with our students. It was happening before, but then it stopped.”
In addition to meeting with Jewish Federation officials, he met with area businessmen.
“We talked about the cannabis market,” said Idan, who grew up in the Ma’agalim community and received his degree from Sapir College. “They represent companies looking to invest in factories. We have the farmers, the research and development center and great knowledge of the process. Now we need to find factories to grow it and be able to export it outside the country.”
After first meeting Idan in the midst of Operation Protective Edge in 2014 and spending 10 days with his family, Jewish Federation President and CEO Naomi Adler said it’s nice to reciprocate.
“It’s an honor to have him come,” she said. “It feels like having a member of our family here. The most important thing about his visit is having more people from Philadelphia get to learn how special our partnership is and how it touches everything from supporting education of young families to economic and security issues.
“That understanding is much easier when you can learn directly from the person in charge. It’s been wonderful to hear Tamir’s perspective and hear him tell the story of what we’ve been able to accomplish and how important this partnership is.”
Since defeating a 15-year incumbent, Idan has seen Sedot Negev become a popular landing spot. He said the region’s award-winning education system, along with its expanding economic opportunities, make it an attractive site. At the same time, being situated within proximity of Gaza can make it a target.
“People always talk about the threat of terrorists, but now there’s a bigger threat,” Idan said. “We know Hamas has rockets with 200-kilogram warheads. The last war they were 20 kilos. This kind of missile is a bigger threat than terrorism, so we have a plan to evacuate the kibbutzim because we think Hamas is going to attack the area surrounding Gaza.
“But we talk a lot about being in this protective age and wonder why people would want to come here. First of all, the education. The community’s very warm, and there’s Zionism. So a lot of new families have come. A lot of good things have happened.”
Over the course of his next term, the mayor expects to see further expansion within a region that was recently singled out for having the least violent school system within the country. That’s a bit unexpected considering the smoldering tension being so close to the battle lines.
He said he promised his constituents he’d serve two terms, which he admits has already taken a toll.
“There’s a big price you have to pay to be a public servant,” he said. “People don’t call the mayor here to complain about their garbage, like they do with me.”
As for his visit here, it far surpassed expectations.
“People in Israel don’t really know about this place like they should,” he said.