What’s going on in the Negev?

It is common knowledge that the Negev, the huge triangle forming the southern part of Israel is 60% of the land mass of the country and is home to barely 20% of the population. The Negev is an arid desert where , for thousands of years, it was inhabited by nomadic tribes of Bedouins, and others living on sheep and goats. Because of the hot dry , sand swept topography, with little water source, nomadic tribes had to keep moving to find new grazing grounds for their flocks. Little vegetation could be grown for lack of water and compatible soil.

Today, 68 years after the establishment of the State, water sources have been developed so that vegetable farms and fish farms are big business . Young men and women are moving out of the crowded and more expensive north and central cities to raise their families in the burgeoning new communities in the Negev where they can enjoy the beauty and peaceful landscape of the desert and bring their children up in small towns with good schools, fresh air and centers of culture.

In order to encourage movement to the south, public transportation has been growing so that folks who work in the central or north can reasonably travel to and from work. For those who wish to establish new business in the Negev, loan funds have been set up to encourage entrepreneurship even for those whose credit is not yet worthy of regular bank loans. A recent report of one of the loan funds, supported, by the way, by Jewish Federations in the United States, is an example of what is going on in the Negev. Business men and women present their plans and strategies for establishing a new business or increasing a standing business as they request loans of a certain amount. These are loans, not gifts and they are usually granted without interest fees, but with required payback schedules.

Here are some of the types of businesses that those living in the Negev, generally from Beer Sheva to Eilat, are engaged in. A young man wants to open another “Wine in the City” store where he will sell kosher wines in Eilat. A Bedouin woman wants to open a bridal shop where gowns will be purchased as part of the inventory and they will be rented, not purchased, for use again. Someone wants to open a pasta restaurant in a small town. A unique request came recently for a loan to increase a hot air balloon business. The young business owner has balloons that accommodate 5 people but wants to purchase larger balloons so as to accommodate a larger party.

There was a request for a loan to open a gourmet restaurant that was denied for a variety of reasons. Dress designers, interior designers , farmers who need to purchase new equipment, a young couple who want to open a toy shop, an experienced carpenter who wants to develop his own construction company.

While the brilliant scientists create miracles in this “Start up Nation” the pioneers, the dreamers and visionaries are enriching lives in the south. This is what’s going on in the Negev.