UWI Staff writer Rachel Avraham blogs from her own experience about why English-speaking Jews are returning from exile to make Aliyah to Southern Israel.
An increasing number of Jewish immigrants from English speaking countries are deciding to make their homes in Southern Israel, a peripheral region of the country, rather than in the Anglo enclaves in the greater Jerusalem and Tel Aviv areas. While there have always been more adventuresome Anglo Jewish immigrants who have made Aliyah to Southern Israel, this phenomenon is speeding up following a decision by Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization that assists North American Jewish immigrants, to launch a Go South Program to encourage Anglos to move to Southern Israel. Since the introduction of this program, the number of Anglos moving to Southern Israel has tripled.
I recently made Aliyah too, and I decided to move to Be’ersheva because I wanted to pursue a masters’ degree in Middle Eastern Studies at Ben-Gurion University. I felt that I could improve my Hebrew language skills significantly and learn more about the Middle East region by not living in an Anglo enclave. The gimel and dalet neighborhoods that surround Ben-Gurion University, where I live, have many Mizrahi Jewish inhabitants who immigrated to Israel from Arab states. Speaking daily to people whose ancestors hailed from Arab countries offered me an in depth understanding of Israeli politics, Middle Eastern and Jewish Diaspora history, the Israeli-Arab conflict, and Mizrahi culture, which one merely would not get by living in an Anglo bubble. Residing in Be’ersheva also sped up my immersion into Israeli society in a way that one would not get in places like Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. I also had other Zionist reasons for wanting to move to Israel, which included a desire to find a Jewish spouse, to live in the midst of rich historical sites, and to provide a better Jewish education for my future children.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO LIVE IN THE SOUTH
It is critically important for Israel that Jewish immigrants settle in all parts of the country and not just the greater Jerusalem and Tel Aviv areas. Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, believed that the future of Israel lies in the Negev, since it consists of 66 percent of the land within the State of Israel and offers much open space for Jewish communities to be established. The Negev is an integral part of Israel’s past, present, and future, hosting flourishing Jewish historical sites dating back to antiquity. The fortress at Masada was the last Jewish zealot stronghold against the Roman forces, while Ein Gedi boasted a Jewish community dating back to biblical times and Be’ersheva, as the home of the Jewish patriarch Avraham, is the cradle of Jewish monotheism. The Negev is rich in Jewish history and Jewish immigrants from English speaking countries like myself really want to live surrounded by this majestic historical heritage.
Also a strong Jewish population in the Negev counters the Palestinian Authority claim that the Negev is a settlement as some Israeli Bedouin have protested that the Negev should belong to them, not the Jewish people.
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