Menucha Saitowitz
JPOST

I won’t speak for all olim. But for my family, the Negev is home.

Like many North American immigrants to Israel, when I made aliyah in 2011, I moved to Katamon, Jerusalem. It was comfortable and easy. In fact, sometimes I forgot I lived in Israel.

Then I met my husband – a fellow oleh and chemical engineer, who was living in Beersheba and working in a nearby factory. I decided to give Beersheba a try, and we made it our home. It was the best decision we’ve ever made.

At first glance, Beersheba is not the easiest landing spot for olim. You can’t find American grocery staples like taco shells or canned black beans, so you learn to cook like Israelis. Not everyone speaks English, so you learn Hebrew – from patient and kind neighbors, babysitters, bus drivers and check-out clerks.

The beginning was hard. I once cried at the post office. But, I soon fell in love with this city. It’s impossible not to. I loved getting to know the warm, largely Sephardi community. They took us in, adopted us, gave us homemade matbucha on Erev Shabbat. I love how there’s no tension between secular and religious Jews, or between Jews and our Bedouin neighbors.

As Nefesh B’Nefesh and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael–Jewish National Fund began promoting the South to new immigrants through the “Go Beyond – South” program, we began meeting more and more olim. Young couples, families and retirees, moving all over the city and the South. Slowly, they became our second family.

Yes, there are rockets.

Yes, it is scary.

But this is such a small part of our world.

Our world in Beersheba is defined by Israel’s most beautiful children’s parks, where grandmothers distribute snacks freely – and by too many malls, where we frequently visit free play areas and buy four-shekel ice cream. It’s defined by our Shabbat lunches, almost always shared with friends and neighbors. Each month, I look forward to Rosh Hodesh ladies’ nights, where dozens of young women come together to drink wine, work on art projects, share divrei Torah or simply escape from our kids for a few hours.

Our energetic mayor noticed the growth of English-speakers and hired an even more energetic municipal coordinator just for us, who helps navigate our adventures in bureaucracy. There are vibrant pluralistic and Chabad communities for young English speakers, and it’s becoming more and more common to hear English in the street.

I work at an NGO called Eretz-Ir, which is dedicated to revitalizing Israel’s peripheral cities through civic involvement. I’m introduced to dozens of initiatives of young Israelis changing the urban fabric of the city through festivals and social businesses. Together with the Jewish National Fund-USA, we are creating high quality jobs at the Lauder Employment Center, and training Negev residents for careers in hi-tech. My personal and professional worlds blend together seamlessly, as my family is part of a core group of six couples creating an American-style community of National Religious families – and we receive free guidance from Eretz-Ir.

So, yes, my seven years in Beersheba have included two wars and occasional sprinklings of rockets. But those seven years have also seen the opening of Israel’s largest mall, a new hi-tech park, an annual night run where the entire city participates, IKEA, the birth and growth of our three sabras and so much more.

While the rockets seek destruction, we keep on building – thanks, in part, to organizations like Nefesh B’Nefesh and Eretz-Ir, which are committed to a prosperous South.

Our region continues to undergo exponential growth and development, making it an increasingly attractive option for new olim as well as veteran Israelis looking to relocate for a better quality of life. The rockets can disturb routines, inflict property damage and take the lives of innocent Israelis, but they can’t deny us our promising present and future in the South.

I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Original Article