“The pioneering spirit in the early years of Israel.”
As a child growing up in the United States, I heard a lot about the pioneers who built the State of Israel – how they drained the swamps, and turned sand dunes into cities. Contrary to a prominent misconception, however, this remarkable spirit has not disappeared. This special determination to building the country and “making the desert bloom” against all odds continues to this very day.
The last few months have been challenging ones for Israel. Hamas terrorists have been sending fiery kites and balloons from the Gaza Strip into Israel, causing some 800 fires that have burned 6,500 acres of Israeli farm land and forests. Israel’s retaliation – aimed directly at those terrorists sending the kites – has led to Hamas rocket fire, and the situation could very well escalate to all-out war. One would think that the people living in the Israeli neighborhoods close to the Gaza border would be fleeing to cities located in the country’s geographic center. But the opposite is happening. More and more Israeli families are moving to the Gaza border region, and new communities are being founded.
Hamas Shoots. Israel builds.
Shlomit, a relatively new neighborhood on the border of Egypt and just a kew kilometers from Gaza, is a classic example of this phenomenon. Standing in Shlomit, one clearly can hear the fighting between ISIS and other terrorist entities in the Sinai, and it is certainly within range of the Hamas kites and missiles. Nevertheless, five new families moved in just this week.
Driving through Shlomit, one sees construction of new homes everywhere. It had a population of just 250 people living in mobile homes in 2016 but is now flourishing, with plans for 1,500 families to move into new homes in the coming years.
Schools and an industrial zone are being established, and thanks to JNF-USA, Shlomit will soon have a spectacular community center, together with beautiful parks that are already fully functional.
I had the great honor of spending time with some of the pioneering families of Shlomit this week. JNF-USA arranged for a professional artist who lives in that region, Elyasaf Miaara, to come and paint the playground’s bomb shelter along with the children. Painting shelters throughout the region has been life-transforming for the children. Nine-year-old Chaya used to get off the school bus one stop early. When her mother asked her to explain, Chaya replied that the stop close to the house has an ugly grey bomb shelter and simply seeing it made her sad. The shelter at the previous stop, however, “is painted and gives me a better feeling.” Chaya’s mother Dina explained: “This makes a big difference for my daughter. Walking near the painted bomb shelter changes everything for her.”
The mothers of Shlomit explained how they feel like they are on a mission – turning empty desert land into a beautiful city is their contribution to the state, and while it is not easy living so close to the border and far away from the amenities of the country’s center, they see that the values their children are gaining from the experience outweigh those other concerns. These are young men and women who have the exact same pioneering spirit displayed by the founders of Israel.
Shlomit is not the only example of this pioneering spirit. With the assistance of JNF-USA, that entire region of the northwest Negev made up of Nave, Bnei Netzarim and Shlomit – called Halutza – has flourished from desert into vibrant communities. Founded in 2005 by a group of families who were evacuated from their homes during Israel’s disengagement from Gaza, the area is now filled with new homes, acres of fields filled with organic crops, and numerous buildings and industrial zones under construction.
Hamas Shoots. Israel builds.