Recently, CBS’s renowned primetime news magazine 60 Minutes featured an interview by Leslie Stahl with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu focusing heavily on Middle East politics and policy. Yet, the most powerful element of the entire episode was not that at all. It was where Stahl and Netanyahu went in their Israeli flyover and what they saw.
Viewers gazed out onto the desert floor of the Negev and took in a growing city that now calls itself home to high-tech companies like Oracle, IBM, Lockheed Martin, Deutsche Telekom, and many others, and what is quickly becoming Israel’s Silicon Valley.
In their few seconds of coverage, 60 Minutes, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Ms. Stahl verified our actions.
In other words, and through its own optics, 60 Minutes confirmed and validated the work begun 15 years ago, when Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA) launched its Blueprint Negev campaign and announced to the world that we aimed to bring 500,000 people to the Negev. Today, our philanthropic investment in this effort is over $65 million in Be’er Sheva and more than $100 million throughout the Negev; Jewish National Fund has made a difference.
Thanks to Jewish National Fund donors, who bought to fruition our plan to transform Be’er Sheva into the capital of the Negev, we can now say we delivered on it. In their few seconds of coverage, 60 Minutes, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Ms. Stahl verified our actions.
Fifteen-years-ago, Be’er Sheva was a dusty town of 193,000 in population, losing 3% per year. Something was not working. Yes, it offered good schools, plenty of land, shopping centers, even the fantastic Ben Gurion University. Yet, it was still losing residents each year. Quite simply, Be’er Sheva had a self-image problem, as most Israelis felt that the city was nothing more than a place where they had served in during their army service or stopped for gas on the way to Eilat.
Well, Jewish National Fund took on the challenge.
We knew that our donors would respond and make a difference through our Blueprint Negev campaign. As we were then, we still remain committed to bringing 500,000 people to the Negev and revitalizing Be’er Sheva and its image. Since we got involved we have built a seven-mile Riverwalk out of a dry riverbed that used to be full of old junked cars and tons and tons of garbage. This riverbed ran through the middle of town past the historic Old City where buildings were used as storage warehouses, and where today one houses the Lauder Employment Center. Located on the Riverwalk was a site known to locals and historians as Abraham’s Well – it was situated behind a locked fence and out of reach of those who revere the patriarch of the great monotheistic faiths – namely Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
Jewish National Fund saw the potential, and together with the people of Be’er Sheva, began to build. We dredged the old riverbed, developed a park three times the size of Central Park, put down seven miles of beautiful promenade space, and a signature new “Pipes Bridge” that allows pedestrian access from one side of the Riverwalk to the other. And, Abraham’s Well no longer sits isolated. We’ve since created a $5.5 million world class Visitor’s Center at Abraham’s Well, turning it into a “must-see” destination place for pilgrims and tourists traveling through Israel.
Today, Be’er Sheva is a town of 230,000 and one of the fastest growing cities in Israel. Indeed, it is often referred to as a metropolis. And it is where Prime Minister Netanyahu chose to take Ms. Stahl to see the future of Israel. Above all other cities and locations in Israel, he took 60 Minutes to Be’er Sheva, the capital of the Negev. Prime Minister Netanyahu showed her the new cyber security center being built, explained how Israel is now using and sharing this technology with the rest of the world – perhaps as a pathway to peace – and from their vantage point you could make out the new 13,000 seat amphitheater, built by Jewish National Fund, now the largest outdoor entertainment venue in Israel.
With all that we have already accomplished, we still plan on doing more. Next year we will open a 23-acre lake that when complete will be filled only with recycled water and hold the record as the largest manmade body of water in Israel. Within a few years, residents and visitors will be able to walk alongside our Riverwalk or take a boat ride down the river that will be filled year-round with reused water. And, private investment is following. Right now, one of the largest malls in the country is being built, and IKEA and other major corporations are breaking ground. If you are looking for work, now is a good time to go the new Lauder Employment Center to find a decent job – for the long term.
Through it all and with the strong leadership of Mayor Ruvik Danilovich, Be’er Sheva is vibrant, growing, and is no longer the place in which you stop for gas on the way to Eilat. Now you come to his city to stay, raise a family, and find success.
Sixty Minutes confirmed what we already knew. Jewish National Fund-USA and the people of Be’er Sheva have a wonderful partnership. Yes, it took 15 years to transform her, but Be’er Sheva is back in its rightful place – like it states there at the J. Lew Scheppes Recognition Plaza – as the “Gateway to the Negev.” In many ways, Israel’s future starts here. Now, the rest of the world knows.