Near the southern edge of Beersheba (Be’er Sheva), what was once a neglected area filled with sand, sewage, and mud, will soon – through the efforts of Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA) – become a major global destination for learning and studying in Israel.
On February 24, JNF-USA unveiled the latest addition to its activity in the Negev at the groundbreaking ceremony for the $250 million Israel Education and Technology Center located in the brand new Be’er Sheba River Park, also a JNF-USA project, that is three times the size of New York’s Central Park and includes a 23½-acre man-made lake. The campus is the single largest urban investment JNF-USA has made in Israel and is an integral part of its $1 Billion Road Map for the Next Decade.
The campus will include three major components – a technology center for graduate students from the United States; an Israel education center for visiting groups; and a new southern campus for Jewish National Fund’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI-JNF), whose current location is in Hod Hasharon, just outside Tel Aviv. Dr. Sol Lizerbram, JNF national president, explains, “The technology center will bring graduate students from the US to Be’er Sheva and offer them internships with large technology companies located nearby. Additionally, it will give students an opportunity to live on our campus, be part of the local community, and enjoy all that the region offers.”
The second component, the Israel education center, will attract tourist groups from the United States and countries across the globe who will spend time at the center learning about the history of Israel and Zionism. The center’s proximity to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev will also provide educational assistance.
The project’s third “leg” is the second campus for the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, which will accommodate the burgeoning enrollment of the school, which has increased by 50% since merging with Jewish National Fund-USA in 2013. It is hoped that the high-school students who will study at the southern campus will eventually return to Beersheba for graduate studies at the technology center.
Russell F. Robinson, Chief Executive Officer of JNF-USA, stresses that the Jewish National Fund-USA Israel Education and Technology Center is part of JNF-USA’s larger effort in the Negev Desert.
“Our vision has always been to add 500,000 people to the Negev. To do that, Be’er Sheva had to become the functional capital of the Negev. When we started working in Be’er Sheva 17 years ago, the population was 190,000, and decreasing every year. Now, the population is 240,000 and growing. Within the next 10 to 15 years, we expect the population to grow to 500,000 people, making it one of the largest cities in Israel.”
Added Lizerbram, “We strongly believe that Be’er Sheva is the epicenter of change in the South.” Joseph E. Wolfson, JNF chair of the Educational Campus initiative, explains that the mixture of teens, post-college students, and adults – all studying at the new Center – “is directed towards enhancing love of Israel and Zionist education, making people proud of our heritage.
They’re all going to be on the same campus, from the adults through and post-college and high-school students, all learning about Jewish history. Once we instill the love of our history and our heritage, we then create the future of the Jewish people.” The new campus is scheduled to open in 2023.
The festive groundbreaking ceremony was attended by a delegation of 150 JNF leaders from the United States, as well as local dignitaries, including Mayor Ruvik Danilovich, who was instrumental in arranging the partnership between Jewish National Fund-USA and the city. The ceremony was marked by an abundance of hugs, smiles, felicitations, and goodwill. Educators from the Alexander Muss High School in Israel proclaimed, “We are changing the Jewish world,” as they inserted their gold-painted shovels into the ground.
In his remarks, Danilovich, gazing at the vast area under development, said that when he was a child, people frequently spoke disparagingly about his city. He congratulated JNF-USA’s leaders for their assistance, investment, and encouragement in helping transform the city from a “city of camels” to its rightful place as the capital of the Negev.
Danilovich expressed hope that students who study at the new Center will eventually decide to stay. “It’s a historic opportunity for young Jewish people from all around the world to come here and make aliyah. This is a tremendous anchor for Be’er Sheva and the Negev which will enable us to draw people to the area. We want them here. This is the future of Israel, like Ben-Gurion so long ago correctly predicted.”
The area surrounding the Center is being transformed into a go-to place for leisure and entertainment for the entire region. The nearby Be’er Sheva River Park includes the brand new 23½-acre lake, using recycled water, with aquatic activities, a restaurant, and walking trails in the works. The once neglected Be’er Sheva River has been rehabilitated and will be completed within the next four years. By far the largest attraction is the 12,500-seat amphitheater – built with the support of JNF-USA – the largest of its kind in Israel, spanning an area of over 25 acres. With a stunning green park surrounding it, the amphitheater is drawing leading Israeli and international stars, and last summer, JNF-USA brought thousands of youngsters from “the Gaza Envelope” (Western Negev communities) for a free benefit performance to help relieve the stress they were living through during months of rocket attacks along the border. All of the improvements, explains Wolfson, are designed to “make the city a better and more livable place and to attract people to come and make the Negev their future home.”
Lizerbram says that the River Park complex “is not only for the residents of Be’er Sheva, but also for people from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. This is a place to spend time and enjoy the outdoors with friends and family.”
Summing up the importance of the new educational center, Robinson added, “This new campus is going to bring an international flavor to Be’er Sheva from the Diaspora.” Referring to Abraham’s Well, the ancient site located in the city, he adds, “The beginning of Judaism took place here and we are bringing in a continuum of Judaism from the international perspective right to the city, where it all began. We have built a Jewish world that people merely talked about, but Jewish National Fund does more than talk. It does.”This article was written in cooperation with Jewish National Fund-USA.
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