A building goes up in the Negev, a project made possible by the Central federation’s Mack Ness Fund.
May 21, 2009
The Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey took the lead this week at a national conference exploring ways to accelerate development of Israel’s Negev region.
Over 50 leaders from North American Jewish federations gathered in Miami May 17-18, sharing expertise and exploring philanthropic options.
The conference, the first of its kind, was initiated by the Central federation in cooperation with the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. The Central federation has had a longstanding involvement with communities in the region, through its Partnership 2000 programs and independently.
“The mere fact that this conference — which finally brought together most of the communities that have a relationship to the Negev for serious dialogue — took place is by itself a success,” said Central federation executive vice president Stanley Stone.
Stone, who chaired a panel on the economic development of the Negev, was impressed that there was a “dramatic change” among the federations taking part, “considering that up until recently, the thinking among federations was to do separate programs and not venture out of their own partnership relationships.” Equally impressive, he said, “was the willingness of the mayors in attendance who asked federation to be a convener of the mayors in this process.”
In addition to lay leaders and professionals involved with projects in Israel’s southern territory, taking part in the event were leaders and experts from the region, including former Israel Labor Party chairman and current Yerucham Mayor Amram Mitzna.
Speaking before the conference, Mitzna said, “While so many people concentrate on the major strategic, military, diplomatic, and geopolitical issues of the Middle East, it is indeed heartening to see committed people focus on the Negev and its special needs. I am greatly encouraged by the enthusiasm and professionalism of this group for their foresight and passion. Generations have spoken about the Negev; now is the time to create real change.”
Leonard Posnock, a former president of the Central federation and a member of the United Jewish Communities Negev Task Force, chaired a session with Shmulik Riffman, the mayor of Ramat Hanegev and chair of the Negev Development Authority. The discussion examined the impact of the planned relocation of Israel Defense Forces bases from the center of the country to the Negev.
The Central federation’s liaison person in Israel, Tehila Nachalon, came to the United States to attend the conference.
Eleanor Rubin, a past president of the Central federation, gave a presentation on Keren Ness, the Ness Business Loan Fund, during a session on economic development. The Ness Fund was established by the federation’s Jewish Community Endowment Foundation with the goal of promoting development in the desert region.
“With our P2K projects in Arad and our Ness legacy in Arad,” the Central federation “has been very much involved in securing the future of the Negev,” Rubin said.
“The focus of the conference was on creating a climate to encourage young people to move to the Negev, raise families there, and stay there to develop the Negev.”
The goals set at the conference include efforts to ensure that “people have housing, jobs, quality of life, and education and culture for children and adults,” said Rubin.
Rubin also pointed out that the Central federation has been supporting the Or movement, whose director was at the conference, developing cultural activities in the Old City of Beersheva.
Also present in Miami was Kher Albaz, director of social services at Segev Shalom — which Central leaders had also visited — who spoke about the needs of the Bedouins in the Negev. According to Rubin, he told the gathering that the inhabitants of Segev Shalom “are Israelis and want to feel assimilated and part of Israel.”
All in all, she said, the conference was “very exciting and encouraging” and left participants with a “feeling of cooperation and accomplishment through coalition.” Resolutions passed ensured that the partnership will go on, said Rubin, and that “by September, the next steps will be on the drawing board for projects to further the Negev as an exciting, wonderful, beautiful place that we want to fill with young energetic Israelis and others.”
Given the success of the gathering, said Stone, “one could say ‘dayeinu’ — enough. However, there was a unanimous feeling that this dialogue must continue.”