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Medical Center Changing Lives for Pioneers in Israel’s Remote Border Communities

JNF Wire Report

Medical Center Changing Lives for Pioneers in Israel’s Remote Border Communities

By: Allison Levine

It’s amazing what a new medical center can do for a community based in the middle of nowhere. On a bright Tuesday afternoon, a state-of-the-art medical center was opened in the remote area of Southern Israel called Halutza. Located in the western corner of the sparsely populated Negev Desert, the communities of Halutza are in an area of tension—one or two wrong turns brings you to the border of Gaza or Egypt. Halutza was under rocket and mortar fire during the last conflict with Gaza in 2014, and the threat of a flare up along the border is not far from the imagination. The communities that make up Halutza—Bnei Netzarim, Naveh, and Shlomit—were founded by modern day pioneers who were evacuated by the Israeli government from their villages in Gush Katif in 2005 during the disengagement from Gaza.

Overcoming the emotional hardship of leaving their homes and neighborhoods, the residents of Halutza-a Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA) built community-restarted their lives, business, or farms, and continued with the dream of building the country. Overcoming the emotional hardship of leaving their homes and neighborhoods, the residents of Halutza—a Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA) built community—restarted their lives, business, or farms, and continued with the dream of building the country.

“These people did not lose their pioneering spirit,” said JNF Chief Israel Officer Eric Michaelson. “It is difficult to imagine how hard it was for them to restart their lives after leaving Gaza.” And being far from the center of the country presented a challenge in terms of receiving some basic services like adequate medical care.

While the determined residents of Halutza have been seeing doctors in Be’er Sheva, an hour’s drive away or further, plans were made to build a small medical clinic in Bnei Netzarim, but when presented with the plans, JNF CEO Russell F. Robinson told them to make it bigger, ensuring that it would serve all the needs of the growing Halutza communities.

The ribbon cutting ceremony for the new multi-million dollar medical center was attended by 200 JNF supporters as well as hundreds of community members, celebrating the official opening.

Hila Halevy, a mother of three young children from Shlomit, spoke about how this would change the quality of life for all residents of the area. “It will save so much time,” she said. “Until now we’ve driven at least an hour each way to Be’er Sheva just to take the kids to the doctor. Most of us had to give up a day’s work to do that. Not now – this is great and will add to our quality of life so much!”

Ran Sa’ar, director general of the Maccabi Health Fund, said that they were committed to providing health care across the country. “The health clinic here had been operating until now out of a small trailer, but it did not have the right staff or facilities,” he said. “The new clinic will help us provide the best service we can. This area is going to bloom, and people who make their home here deserve high quality health care.”

During the ceremony, Drs. Edgar and Huguette Moran of Long Beach, California, and Jane and Alan Cornell of Boca Raton, Florida, were each honored for their generous financial support toward the realization of the medical center.

“Some of these people were born in Gaza,” said Edgar, a professor emeritus of medicine at the University of California, Irvine, who sponsored the beautiful and welcoming entranceway of the new medical center.

“They were forced to leave their homes with the promise of peace. What did we get instead? Rockets. It’s not fair.” Focusing on providing basic needs for the pioneers of Halutza’s communities, Edgar continued, “As a doctor, I did not accept their lack of local medical care. It was clear to me that we had to build the clinic. I actually came to Halutza two years ago to check on this project—it was very important to me that these people get the highest quality medical center.”

The new medical center, which was able to open with the support of the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and JNF-USA, features a dental and pediatric clinics, maternity care, physical therapy center, x-ray capabilities, and many other services. The rooms are spacious and well-lit with most of the center bomb and rocket proof as well—a necessity for day-to-day life along the border.

“I just admire the people who live here—I admire them so much and my heart goes out to them for what they’ve been through,” said Jane. While touring the new clinic, she was visibly moved when talking about what inspired her to support this project. “I just kept thinking about the mothers here, having to deal with complicated logistics and driving hours just to get their kids to the doctor,” said Jane, who was a major supporter of the child care section of the clinic. Talking about the tense area in which the residents make their home, “There was a lot of thought involved in building the center to make it safe for when there are threats from rockets—supporting the medical center was important to me but also ensuring it was built with the area’s security needs in mind.”

“These families have been through a lot—they deserve the best care,” added Edgar. “And beyond that, I know the medical center will draw new families to the area. The lack of local medical services certainly pushes people away from moving to such a remote place.”

Gadi Yarkoni, mayor of the Eshkol Regional Council, also spoke at the event. “The fast development of this area following the evacuation from Gaza was made possible by the support of JNF-USA.” Yarkoni, who himself was critically injured and lost both legs in 2014 during Operation Protective Edge on the last day of fighting. “It is a privilege to meet the new pioneers who choose to move to this area and make it their home. We will continue to work and grow, and raise our children here. I thank everyone for their partnership in making our development possible.”

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JEWISH NATIONAL FUND (JNF) began in 1901 as a dream and vision to reestablish a homeland in Israel for Jewish people everywhere. Jews the world over collected coins in iconic JNF Blue Boxes, purchasing land and planting trees until ultimately, their dream of a Jewish homeland was a reality. JNF gives all generations of Jews a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.

JNF embodies both heart and action; our work is varied in scope but singular in benefit. We strive to bring an enhanced quality of life to all of Israel’s residents, and translate these advancements to the world beyond. JNF is greening the desert with millions of trees, building thousands of parks, creating new communities and cities for generations of Israelis to call home, bolstering Israel’s water supply, helping develop innovative arid-agriculture techniques, and educating both young and old about the founding and importance of Israel and Zionism.

JNF is a registered 501(c)(3) organization and United Nations NGO, which continuously earns top ratings from charity overseers.

For more information on JNF, call 888-JNF-0099 or visit www.jnf.org.

 

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