‘Not many people can go out to their backyard, look up at a sky full of stars, live in the middle of nature, or take an afternoon stroll with an almost biblical view,” says Nadav Eylon as he looks happily at a plot of land where his family’s new home will soon be built in Moshav Hatzeva, in the Arava, deep in Israel’s Negev Desert. But that’s exactly what’s happening, and thanks to Jewish National Fund-USA’s (JNF-USA) Housing Development Fund, Nadav and his family are able to realize their dreams. “JNF-USA is making it possible for younger families, like ours, to return and build their dream home in the Arava. It’s incredible.”
In the 71 years since Israel’s founding, the country has grown from a population of 806,000 to just over 9 million. Housing prices in the Tel Aviv-Haifa-Jerusalem corridor, where 90% of Israelis live, are constantly on the rise. Where – and how – can young Israelis, like the Eylon family, find affordable housing?
Jewish National Fund-USA’s Housing Development Fund is facilitating the movement of population to the Negev and Galilee by providing targeted funding for the physical infrastructure needed to begin the home building process in these areas, enabling construction to begin rapidly without delay.
In Israel, all development is controlled by municipalities and local councils, and while many communities in the Negev and Galilee have wanted to expand, they lacked the means to develop their land for housing – until now. The Housing Development Fund solves this problem by providing interest-free loans to communities, allowing them to complete the necessary basic infrastructure for home construction to begin and avoid the red tape often associated with housing development. Individual JNF-USA donors contribute a minimum of $5,000 to participate in the project, and $100,000 donors become “stakeholders,” participating in meetings and missions to Israel to assist in the review of current and future projects for the Housing Development Fund.
Alon Badihi, director of JNF-USA’s Operations in Israel, says that “the main goal is to shorten the time until construction begins. Once the shovel is ready, we start digging and the families see that we are serious. The infrastructure gets completed and the family can plan and build their home.”
Badihi explains that the Housing Development Fund is part of JNF-USA’s larger plan to attract 500,000 new residents to the Negev and 300,000 to the Galilee, respectively, through their groundbreaking Blueprint Negev and Go North initiatives. The short-term goals for the Fund, Badihi says, are to build 50 housing lots in 50 different communities by the end of 2021. He adds that the communities the Housing Development Fund assists are open to both native Israelis as well as new immigrants from around the world. “We are open to everybody.”
MYA CARMI moved to Israel from London eight years ago, and she and her husband, Gal, and two young children are building their home in Kibbutz Gesher, located in the Beit She’an Valley in Israel’s North. “Without JNF-USA’s Housing Development Fund, we wouldn’t have been able to make our dream a reality. When we came to the kibbutz, we wanted to start building, but the kibbutz leaders said they would start only when half of the people had put money down,” says Mya. “The reason we could start building, without waiting for another 10 or 12 families to come, is due to the Housing Development Fund. It wouldn’t have happened without JNF-USA.” Mya and Gal’s home is currently under construction and is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2019.
Mya, who lived in Tel Aviv for three years, says that she doesn’t miss living in Israel’s center. “I don’t have that ‘stressed out’ feeling anymore. Everything is much more relaxed here. We love nature and we can take it easy.” She adds that Israel’s small size ensures that no one is far from the action. “Even when you live ‘far’ from the center, in just a few hours’ drive you’re there. I think that the advantages of living in ‘Israel’s suburbs’ is that you get to enjoy many things without being far away from anything.”
Before deciding to move to Moshav Hatezva, Nadav Eylon served as a shaliach (emissary) for the Jewish Agency in Long Island, New York, from 2013 to 2016. When he and his wife, Merav, returned to Israel three years ago, they decided to move to the Arava, the desert valley stretching from the Dead Sea to Eilat. Living in the Arava can be challenging, says Nadav, because of its remote desert location, extreme temperatures, and lack of water. But Nadav, Merav, and their three young children, love the area and that’s when they decided to build their new home in Hatzeva – with the assistance of JNF-USA’s Housing Development Fund.
A loan from the Housing Development Fund enabled the local council to begin working on the infrastructure in Hatzeva, building sewage lines, adding electricity, paving roads, and marking lots, thus enabling the beginning of home construction. “This is the only way to expand in the Arava,” says Nadav. “Otherwise, we would be stuck. Without the Fund, it would be impossible. If you want to develop the Arava, you have to have a space for people to build their homes.”
Construction on Nadav and Merav’s home is expected to begin within the next year. Living in the Arava is not for everyone, says Nadav. “It takes a certain breed,” he says, adding, “The Arava is Israel’s last frontier, where people are living the Zionist dream as pioneers, and JNF-USA’s Housing Development Fund is a pioneer in making the desert bloom in 2019.”
Said Alon Badihi: “People will tell you that these days American Jews are less interested and less committed to Israel. I can say that this is not the case. JNF-USA says: ‘We are here – partner with us.’ There is not one community that is not important to them. They do everything with love and passion. This land is being cared for, together with American Jewry. It’s beautiful.”
This article was written in cooperation with Jewish National Fund-USA.
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