How can we re-awaken the Jewish pioneering spirit with strengthening Israel and helping to make the Jewish future more secure? Dr. Jason Goodfriend’s proposal for the Bronfman Big Idea contest presents the possibilities.
This is the 6th entry in the Bronfman Big Idea Series.
About the Author
Jason H. Goodfriend is a senior forecast analyst for a major corporation. He holds a PhD in Systems Engineering (decision sciences) from the University of Virginia. He has held a variety of posts in industry, government, and academia, and he is the author of the textbook A Gateway to Higher Mathematics .
Dr. Goodfriend has volunteered within the Jewish community on numerous occasions. He has always been deeply concerned for the Jewish people and for Israel ever since his parents played Yiddish and Israeli folk songs to him when he was a young child.
The Executive Summary
The goals of the proposal for “Renewing the Jewish Pioneering Spirit by Volunteer Work in the Negev” are the following:
- Establishing a large-scale volunteering program for Jewish young adults and teens to help the Jewish National Fund, the Daroma Association, and other organizations working to develop the Negev region of Israel
- Creating programming for and trips to biblical sites in the Negev and other parts of Israel as part of the volunteer experience
- Designing a marketing and outreach program to the Diaspora to promote the Negev volunteer experience and to make the Jewish community worldwide aware of the efforts being made to develop the Negev
- Creating programming that focuses on the central importance of the desert and the pioneering spirit in Judaism
The Proposal by Jason Goodfriend
The Desert as a Place of Spiritual Rebirth for the Jewish People–
The desert has played a central role in the history of the Jewish people. The patriarchs and matriarchs sojourned in the Negev. The Israelites received the Torah in the desert, and then wandered there for 40 years as they fused into a people. Moses and Elijah, as well as countless others, fled to the desert to “find” themselves.
The narrative history of the Jewish people is infused with stories of the desert as a place for finding ourselves and developing our connection with G-D. There is something about the desert that fosters a spiritual reawakening.
In the modern day, the desert provides an opportunity for reigniting the Jewish pioneering spirit, the kind that lead to Israel’s miraculous rebirth 60 years ago.
Developing the Negev–
The Israeli government and a number of major Jewish organizations have recognized the importance of building an infrastructure in the Negev that will attract new residents to this vast land that constitutes 60% of Israel’s land mass, but where only 8% of its population is settled.
In an effort to achieve the Negev’s development potential, the Daroma Association in partnership with the Jewish National Fund and the OR Movement released The National Strategic Plan for the Development of the Negev.
While the plan recommends participation by Jews in the Diaspora, it is unfortunate that most people in the Diaspora are not yet aware of these efforts. One of the central aims of this proposal is to change that. I seek to communicate to the Jewish community how development efforts will make the Negev into an attractive place to live and work, while simultaneously providing a physical locale where the Jewish community can rejuvenate its spirit while helping make Israel stronger.
This proposal is designed to further the following goals:
- Helping Israel achieve its critically important goal of developing the Negev
- Reinvigorating the Jewish pioneering spirit
- Enabling Jews to experience how volunteerism and service to Israel can change their lives
- Helping Jews reconnect with their biblical desert past
- Working to ameliorate the demographic imbalance in the Land between Jews and Palestinians
Components of the Proposal: Actualizing Our Goals
Part 1. Creating a Large Scale Volunteering Effort in the Negev–
The first step is to establish coordination between the Daroma Association, the Jewish National Fund, and other stakeholders in order to develop a volunteer program for teenagers and young Jewish adults in the Diaspora to work on development projects in line with the organizations’ and the Israeli government’s goals.
For example, volunteers could engage in construction work, ecology projects, and assisting Bedouin families. Different volunteer tracks would be developed to suit preferences and interests among volunteers.
Different time intervals could be available so that high school students could volunteer during their summer vacation, and young adults (college or post-college) would have the opportunity to volunteer longer periods of time to deepen their impact. Room and board would be provided, but the volunteer would have to pay for airfare and any additional expenses.
Part 2: Visits to Biblical Sites to Enhance the Volunteer Experience
The leadership would create programming and host trips for the volunteers to Biblical sites in the Negev as well as in other parts of Israel. They could follow in the footsteps of the patriarchs and matriachs. For example, they could camp under the stars at historic locales.
They could visit industrial and agricultural sites in the Negev to understand Israel’s ingenious breakthroughs in drip irrigation, desalination, and other technologies that enable life in the Negev.
Part 3: Reaching Out to Jewish Communities
Speakers will be sent to Jewish communities around the world to introduce Diaspora Jewry to the importance of the Negev for the Jewish future, raise funds for the volunteer program, and make contact with potential new volunteers.
An important aspect of this outreach program will be to generate excitement about the miracles that Israeli technology is achieving in water resources for alternative energy. Israel is now a world leader in desalinization and drip irrigation.
These speakers will additionally work with Jewish organizations to generate interest in Negev investments and aliyah to the Negev.
How the Proposal Supports Our Goals
Over the last one hundred years, the Jewish people have been energized by the heroic acts of the Zionists in their successful efforts to rebuild the Jewish homeland in Israel. Today, there is a new frontier that needs to be tamed– the Negev.
Allowing Jewish young people to actively participate in making the Negev thrive will help to reawaken their Jewish spirit, as they emulate the early Zionists. It will also provide young people with the volunteering opportunity of a lifetime, while they connect with sites that are important to Jewish Biblical history.
Volunteering in the Negev will serve two purposes: to strengthen the volunteers’ feelings of identification with the Jewish people and to help them make a real contribution to developing the Negev, which in turn will positively impact the Jewish people and the State of Israel.
Points of Impact–
Outreach for the volunteer program will therefore focus on these two points of impact. It is critically important for the Jewish community to understand that too much of Israel’s population is concentrated in a small land area in the center of the country. Attracting people to move to the Negev will help ameliorate this problem. In order to do so, we must build up infrastructure and create high paying jobs in order to entice people from the center of the State to Israel’s periphery.
Demographic Threat to Israeli Democracy–
There is another important reason why Negev development is important to the Jewish people. At the time of this writing, Jews constitute only 75% of Israel’s citizenry and only about 67% of the population of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea (not including the Gaza Strip). Even optimistic demographic studies admit this.
The Jewish community at large must be warned of the danger of a future Israel having to choose between staying a democracy and staying a Jewish State. There are many who think that Israel should not withdraw from the West Bank, or will be unable to due to an inability to reach a settlement with the Palestinians.
Under this scenario, if West Bank Palestinians demand voting rights, then Israel will have to choose between staying a democracy and staying a Jewish state. The Jewish people have waited more than 2,000 years for the restoration of the Jewish State. It would be more than a sad irony if we were to lose the state because not enough Jews wanted to live there.
The lure of low cost housing and high paying jobs can assuage the demographic situation by attracting more Jewish immigrants to Israel. The speakers who visit the Jewish communities to generate support for the Negev volunteer program can help ignite excitement about the advantages of moving to the Negev. These speakers can also make Jews aware of the investment opportunities that Negev development creates.
Jewish Community Speakers–
Finally, the speakers who visit Jewish communities can increase Jewish pride through education about the work of the Negev’s Jewish pioneers in the areas of science. Israel’s scientists are world leaders in desalinization, drip irrigation, medical technology, and alternative energies. Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is a major leader in the world’s effort to combat desertification.
While much of the world that faces the advance of the desert looks to Israel for help, Israel’s role in cutting edge technologies in this area is not sufficiently known or recognized by the Jewish community. The Jewish community needs to know that they truly are “a light unto the nations” with respect to critical issues affecting the Negev desert region (and many others).
So what do you think of these ideas? Are they valuable? How could these plans be further developed to meet your needs more fully? What are your reactions and thoughts?
We can’t wait to hear your comments.
All photographs of the Western Negev taken by Yaniv Ben-Arie, with thanks.
Recommended Reading about the Negev
- “Jewish National Fund Hosts Alternative Spring Break in the Negev”
- “Jewish Princess Desert Odyssey: Adventure in the Negev”
- “Jewish Princess Desert Odyssey: Raising Money for Children in Need Across Israel”
- “Sarah Schlesinger: The Power of Israel, a Birthright Experience”
- “The Future of the Israeli Hi-Tech Sector: Questions on my Mind” (includes ideas about making the Negev a center of technology)
- “Israel Innovation: Bedouin Town Develops Unique Form of Sign Language”
- “Middle East Environmentalism: Blogging for the Environment”
Like what you are reading? Please subscribe by e-mail or feed reader by clicking the sidebar icons.