I am not a hi-tech person at all but every time I go to the Gav-Yam Advanced Technologies Park in Be’er Sheva, I am truly inspired. Just from the parking lot I get views of the lovely residential neighborhood of Ramot, the impressive Negev Brigade Memorial, and the recently completed bridge connecting the park to the train station and Ben Gurion University. I find it amazing that I’ve watched an area go from nothing to something before my very eyes.
I have been to the park many times, but today I am here specifically to visit the newly opened WeWork – the leader in the co-working space “movement.” WeWork has over 50 locations across the US, Europe, and Asia. Be’er Sheva is the fourth location in Israel, after Tel Aviv and Herzliya. In the WeWork model, members – freelancers and small companies – have access to its common spaces, game room, conference rooms, social events, professional workshops, and (most importantly) coffee and beer bar! Wework takes up the entire third floor of the second Gav Yam building. It is impossible not to feel energized by the young, hip vibe of the space which allows (and encourages) dogs and bikes. As I walk around, I am greeted by a number of familiar faces from different parts of my life in Be’er Sheva – a neighbor, a parent from my kids’ school, and a synagogue member. Be’er Sheva is still a relatively small city and it is fun to mingle in the brand new and beautifully decorated office space.
But, I am truly blown away by the large number of English-speaking Olim who have all found their professional home at WeWork. First, I meet up with Dani Horwitz, originally from Cleveland. Dani is the co-CEO of Digipave, a boutique online marketing company. He and his partner signed on the WeWork offices as soon as they opened in January 2016. Dani sits in the “open space” – a common area that has a number of desktop computers. He explains to me that his monthly membership of 750 NIS per month is at least half of what it would cost him in the Herzliya or Sarona WeWork. He says one of the greatest benefits is that he can easily set up meetings with his partner or clients in any other WeWork space in Israel or abroad because of his membership. Additionally, clients can easily meet him in Be’er Sheva since the train from Tel Aviv takes under an hour and has a stop at the Park. Dani and his wife Donna, who works at Ben Gurion University, travel together into Be’er Sheva every day from the southern Yishuv of Tene Omarim. “We love the South. We have the ‘American dream’ in Israel – a house, a dog, kids, a small business.”
Beth Kesselman Newmark, made Aliyah from Atlanta, Georgia 15 years ago. Although she lives in Ra’anana, she is the general manager of Emmaleh Student Housing in Be’er Sheva. Emmaleh offers 50 newly renovated apartments for college students in the growing Gimmel neighborhood, located right across the new pedestrian bridge. Back in November 2015, Newmark participated in the Go South tour of the Gav Yam hi-tech park. She was particularly interested in WeWork– which was then still a construction site. She explains that the young people on her staff specifically requested that she consider a move to WeWork because “they wanted to be where the ‘happening’ people are.” She is glad that they convinced her.“I am thrilled that we made the move because the energy in the hallways and the bar area is very inspiring and we are all finding that we are working more efficiently and creatively. The services provided are worth every shekel!! We also meet fascinating people – and everyone speaks English!”
Rachelle Amar made Aliyah to Be’er Sheva two years ago from New Jersey. She recently became the E-commerce manager of the American company Hampton Forge, a leading brand of flatware and cutlery. Amar is newly married and lives with her husband in the Ramot neighborhood of Be’er Sheva, which is adjacent to the hi-tech park. After two years of commuting to Tel Aviv and Herzliya, she now has a 5-minute commute to work. “It still feels like a dream in this space, it’s really amazing.” Amar was particularly excited that in her new position, she was able to offer employment to two more English-speakers to join her in the new office. Laura Hen, a native Canadian, jumped on the job opportunity as soon as she saw it posted on the Go South NBN Facebook group. She is now working alongside Amar as the company’s Product Content Marketing Manager. So far, she loves the WeWork atmosphere and culture: “I still have pinch-me moments and am thrilled to be a part of a fantastic community of entrepreneurs smack in the middle of Be’er Sheva’s sandbox! WeWork truly encourages people to ‘Do what you love’, a slogan seen adorning many of their gorgeous walls. There is never a dull moment here; A work hard, play hard environment, Gav Yam is a revolving door for creatives in droves! Working here, you feel like you are part of something big, an internal social network with an enriching and collaborative startup culture – plus there is free beer and coffee!”
Zvi Pardes made Aliyah with his wife and baby daughter this past summer, also from Canada. Like Hen, he applied for a job he saw posted on the Go South Facebook page a few months ago and quickly became an account manager with the new digital marketing company – ROI Escalator. ROI was founded by two young entrepreneurs – Arik Berzak and Igor Zvagelsky. Although almost all digital marketing companies are based in the center of the country, Berzak and Zvagelsky are ideologically committed to the development of the Negev. Berzak is from Be’er Sheva and Zvagelsky spent many years studying and then working at BGU developing their digital marketing department. Because of their ideology, they offer training courses in digital marketing in order to increase the human resources available in the South. Berzak and Zvagelsky, both themselves children of immigrants, are also committed to helping those whose stories remind them of their parents. “Our parents made Aliyah in their 30s and had to struggle professionally. Olim from the US have the advantage of native English, which is something we are looking for in our company,” explains Berzak.
As an example, they hired Pardes because of his sales and marketing experience back in Canada plus his native English. They have dedicated great resources in training him in other aspects of the field. They are also planning to offer a digital marketing course specifically in English in partnership with Nefesh B’Nefesh. When Pardes first started working for ROI, their humble office was located in Be’er Sheva’s old city. He notes that the difference between working in the Old City and in Gav Yam is “night and day. Our old offices were sadly decrepit and isolating. Gav Yam and WeWork create a very productive atmosphere with great networking and collaboration opportunities. WeWork raises the bar for what offices and startups can be in Be’er Sheva.”
My day at WeWork came to a close, but I had the chance to return just a week later for their grand opening party, which featured an ice cream and toppings bar, dance music, the mayor and lots of free WeWork paraphernalia. As always, the vibe was hip, young, and fun. As we were leaving, we overheard the following conversation in the elevator, “Is this Be’er Sheva?” “No, it is just very southern Tel Aviv.”
To learn more about the living and working opportunities in Israel’s South, visit: www.gosouth.org.il