I’ve been hearing lately about a number of middle-class Modern Orthodox folks who are considering a move in Israel and I wanted to personally invite you to stand with the sunrise on your left and start heading south. Yup, to the Negev. (Unless you’re in Eilat, in which case, turn around.) There are a number of friendly, affordable, and convenient communities in the Northern Negev that would welcome, appreciate, and use your energy and idealism.
The following statistic deserves to be reiterated – the Negev makes up 60% of Israel’s landmass but only 8% of its population. Consider one of these communities – you are wanted and needed in each of them:
1) Beer Sheva
Beer Sheva was historically viewed as the country’s largest “development town” – a mix of religious and secular immigrants from Morocco, Ethiopia, and Russia. But Beer Sheva’s population is unified in its determination to build, develop, and transform the city. The incumbent mayor Rubik Danilovitch, who was reelected with 92% of the votes, speaks often of the importance of “achdut yisrael” and he himself is a traditional Jew – who straddles the religious and secular worlds.
Beer Sheva is home to hundreds of traditional Sephardic synagogues but also hosts a Conservative synagogue, a partnership-style minyan, a Garin Torani, Chabad, and a student Hillel and Beit Midrash. In my years living in Beer Sheva, I have never felt any tension between these religious streams or their secular neighbors. Instead of focusing on their differences, they seem to be united in their desire to improve, beautify, and advance the city – something that is now happening at an amazing pace. In the past three years in Beer Sheva, I have witnessed the opening of Israel’s largest mall, its new advanced hi-tech park, a state-of-the-art science museum, the JNF riverwalk, plus new parks, preschools, high-rises, fountains and attractions.
A Modern Orthodox family could easily find a place for themselves in the Hey or Tet neighborhoods of Beer Sheva – where there are two Ashkenazi Anglo-friendly shuls and local Mamlachti Dati and Torani schools. These are shuls and schools that are already solid but would welcome and benefit from the impact and contribution that strong Olim families can make. Real estate prices in Beer Sheva are still significantly lower than the rest of the country but they are rising fast so act now and you might still be able to buy a spacious 4-bedroom apartment for under 1 million NIS…
If Beer Sheva is too much of a big city for you, Yerucham – thirty minutes southeast of Beer Sheva – is an intimate small town of about 9,000 residents (Beer Sheva has 200,000). Yerucham has a vibrant Garin Torani and a Hesder Yeshiva. According to Aela Sapir, who made Aliyah from the US to Yerucham just this year, the opportunities for impact are endless.
Aela moved specifically to Yerucham to help develop the town and is teaching English throughout the school system. She says there is a need for good people in all fields – doctors, teachers, fundraisers – “they will be eaten up.” Aela describes the religious community of Yerucham as close-knit and welcoming, with particularly strong female leaders and educators. Kamah high school for girls attracts students from all over the region and the country.
Over the next ten years, it is estimated that the population of Yerucham will increase by 1,000 residents a year. New neighborhoods are being built and large private homes are available for about 1.2 million NIS.
3) Even Shmuel
If you decide you no longer want to live the diverse city life, consider the conveniently located religious yishuv of Even Shmuel. Even Shmuel is fast becoming a prime destination for Dati Leumi olim (national religious immigrants). The Yishuv is currently growing at a robust pace, and the first wave of English-speaking Olim has already settled in.
Even Shmuel is currently in the middle of a major expansion project. 280 families are in the process of building homes and moving into the community. Elana and Lloyd Schroeder made Aliyah from the UK straight to Even Shmuel this past summer. They did tremendous research on communities throughout Israel before choosing Even Shmuel because they wanted to be a part of building something new. As Lloyd told me, “Even Shmuel offers affordable housing while being situated on several key transports links to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beersheva. We are truly part of the development and there is so much potential for the future. The community is mainly Israeli and they have welcomed us with open arms and made us feel part of an extended family.”
These are just three of tens of communities in the Negev that could be a good fit for national religious ex-pats – either as individual families or as a group of re-locators. They provide a wonderful quality of life that allows you make a real difference. You have already taken the big step of making Aliyah, now take it one step further…South.