This column was written by Dan Brown, founder of ejewishphilanthropy.com, and is crossposted to that esteemed Web site. Dan wrote the columns during and after participating in UJC's next-Gen Breakththrough solidarity mission to Israel's Gaza perimeter region.
The Negev: for decades home to Israel's pioneers, in more ways than one. Perhaps a place of refuge. Maybe, a place to set out on your own and create your own destiny, by choice.
Some came from Georgia to the Gaza periphery -- more correctly, they ran, as fast as they could, from the fighting that erupted during the past summer in this former FSU country. And once again, they find themselves in a stressful situation. Five months, two wars.
This time, though, there is a difference. As we heard from Itan Peysahovich, JAFI's former man-on-the-ground in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, these new Israelis consider themselves at home. With a whole new perspective. These Olim are 100% convinced that the IDF "is taking care of the situation" and they would never consider returning to Georgia.
A few kilometers away, we met a group of young Israelis -- students at Sderot College or Ben Gurion University of the Negev and living at the Ayalim Village on Moshav Yachini. In a caravan community they built themselves.
From the moshav the horizon is serene and filled with beautiful views -- that is, until the bombs fall. And that constant barrage only let up a little more than a day before we visited. But these young Israelis are part of a generation willing to do whatever is necessary to succeed. Most are children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren of settlers who rolled up their sleeves and labored to build this country. This group has every intention of developing the periphery and making it flourish.
The challenges are many, including gaining acceptance from their moshav's neighbors who find it difficult to let others help them in time of need. However, more than any other group of post-IDF sabras I have met in a really long time, the Ayalim students have the idealism and the determination to make these projects succeed. And I will tell you, seeing the exact same presentation, listening to the same young woman, in the community clubhouse outside of Sderot is literally worlds apart from viewing it in Nashville.
There is always an open invitation from the many Ayalim communities to spend Shabbat. I encourage you to consider it on your next visit.
-- Dan Brown