The Negev holds a place at the center of Israel - opinion

The work isn’t done. In the coming years, there is a significant window of opportunities for Israel to absorb hundreds of thousands of new immigrants, who will strengthen the country even more.

 Ronald Lauder (photo credit: NOA GRAYEVSKY)
Ronald Lauder
(photo credit: NOA GRAYEVSKY)

Every once in a while, I wonder how the visionary of the Jewish state, Benjamin Ze’ev Herzl, and its founder, David Ben-Gurion, would have reacted if they had jumped on a short visit to the young, strong and growing Israel, which is not even 74 years old.

The Jewish state is an undeniable fact; it thrives, flourishes, reaps Nobel Prizes and is an object of admiration around the world. Her prime minister even mediates in the war between Russia and Ukraine, she absorbs refugees and serves as a light to gentiles.

Herzl would probably rub his eyes in astonishment at the realization of his vision. The reality, he will discover, surpasses all imagination. Ben-Gurion would look at the country he established gaining achievements, growing and developing, defended by a strong army, welcoming diaspora from dozens of countries, initiating regional peace processes, and producing agriculture, science, technology and world-class medicine.

However, Ben-Gurion’s main pride will be in seeing the developing Negev; the highways, the railways, the science and technology park, the military bases, the university, and the overall central place the Negev now holds in Israel.

A MOSAIC OF Herzl, representing Zionist imagery. We no longer hug perfect strangers on the street on Independence Day, or reflexively start dancing the hora every time the country achieves a milestone. (credit: DAVID HAREL/PHOTOWEB)A MOSAIC OF Herzl, representing Zionist imagery. We no longer hug perfect strangers on the street on Independence Day, or reflexively start dancing the hora every time the country achieves a milestone. (credit: DAVID HAREL/PHOTOWEB)

Ben-Gurion and Herzl are indeed no longer here with us, but their vision, spirit and work are evident throughout Israel and among its leaders and citizens. All of them know they must complete the job and turn the small and young country into the world’s pearl Ben-Gurion and Herzl have envisioned.

The work isn’t done. In the coming years, there is a significant window of opportunities for Israel to absorb hundreds of thousands of new immigrants, who will strengthen the country even more.

Decades ago, the country was blessed with the immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands of women and men who turned to academia, research, medicine, science, security, industry, culture and art. They enriched and strengthened Israel’s society, economy and national security.

The expected rise now is just as important and powerful. It’s not just due to the horrors of the war in Ukraine and the fear of the Iron Curtain coming back to Russia. It is also the understanding that there is a strong, independent and democratic Jewish state – who just recently was on the list of the “Top Ten Happiest Countries in the World.” This is also the reflection of Israel’s functioning during the COVID-19 crisis, with excellent medicine, vaccine distribution and a society with mutual commitment.

But, the key to a successful assimilation, beyond housing and education, is employment – the right to make a living, to contribute, develop, promote and advance. The future of this new wave of immigrants lies in the state’s ability to offer them attractive jobs, adjacent to thriving localities, with rich community life, spaces, quality education and infrastructure, trade and leisure. All of these exist today in both the Negev and the Galilee – the railroads and highways have turned these beautiful areas from a periphery to a center.

As an American Jew and president of the World Jewish Congress – which has its feet in New York, but has its head and heart constantly in Israel – I founded the Lauder Center for Employment in the Negev and recently, also in the Galilee. This center and its people are now harnessed at my request to assist the government, as much as needed, to absorb immigrants in places of employment in the Negev.

This will be a huge message to the prosperous Jewish state, and it will be a salute to Herzl’s vision, the work of David Ben-Gurion and the founding generation.

I’ve established my home in the Negev in Israel, where I live when I stay in the country. I did this because I know it will soon be the center of Israel and a place from which great news comes out to the world.