Aug 6, 2019  By Megan E. Turner  Category: Blueprint Negev,

Saving lives in Israel's Negev desert: U.S. doctor settles in to new life

Dr. Michael Star, a neurologist in the Negev desert.


As one of only two stroke specialists in the entirety of Israel’s Negev Desert, this Indianapolis-born neurologist is a coveted gem. With that status, the glaring question is: why did Dr. Michael Star, 34, and his young family make aliyah and decide to live in Yerucham, a once dusty development town that is now experiencing a revival and building boom thanks to Jewish National Fund?

"We knew we didn’t want to live in the center of Israel," said Star of his and his wife's choice to make their home in the south in 2016. "We started out in Be'er Sheva, but we didn’t find a community that fit us," he said. "I was happy with my job at Soroka Hospital, so, we decided to start looking for communities around Be’er Sheva, and that's how we found Yerucham."

Star and his wife, Ariel, used Jewish National Fund partner Nefesh B'Nefesh's community database in their search for the perfect place to call home. For decades, Yerucham suffered from negative emigration and economic stagnation, but today, thanks to Jewish National Fund's Blueprint Negev initiative to revitalize Southern Israel, the city is bustling and is now a bastion for high quality education and hi-tech development.

Star, a neurologist with a specialty in stroke care, had landed a job at Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva before making aliyah. 

"I had a personal connection in the neurology department at the hospital, and Nefesh B’Nefesh got ahold of my information," said Star. "When I came to Israel to interview for the job, they made sure I was set up with a family for dinner and had a room in a hotel. That may not sound like such a big deal, but it helped solidify the feeling of the south being a more open and inviting place than the rest of the country."

Dr. Michael Star and his family at their home in the Negev desert.
The Stars are not alone. More and more olim are making the south their home with the help of Jewish National Fund and Nefesh B'Nefesh. And the two organizations work hard at bringing to the forefront the warmth and southern hospitality that tzabarim [native-born Israelis] and olim experience that encourages others to follow suit.

Much of the aliyah spotlight focuses on what it takes to get people to Israel, and while that is a big part of it, the work that must be done after arriving -- such as helping newcomers connect to and integrate into Israeli society -- is most critical and key to ensuring each oleh’s aliyah is successful.

"What we found here was a community that was happy to embrace olim, and a community we can integrate into as well," Star said. "We recently welcomed a new baby into our family, and people were bringing us meals, stopping us on the street, and even the guy at the meat counter gave me a hug. Yerucham is just that kind of place. It's special."

Nefesh B'Nefesh's unique programs, such as Go BeyondSouth and Frontier Physician Initiative, helped ease the Star family into life in Israel. 

"These incentives certainly made the landing here easy, both financially and professionally," Star said. "I had been told all of these horror stories about physicians trying to get their licenses transferred over [to an Israeli license], but I didn’t experience any of those complications. I was working in the hospital within two months of making aliyah. That’s impressive." Nefesh B'Nefesh's job board also helped Ariel find her job as the head marketing strategist in a high-tech firm in Yerucham’s burgeoning tech park.

Star has big dreams of helping improve the Negev region even more: “I’m already helping build my department and the brain center at Soroka, improving medical care and stroke treatment in the south. I want to raise my three boys to be proud members of Israeli society who want to stay here and continue that process.

To join the Yerucham Task Force or to learn more, contact [email protected].

This story originally appeared in the summer 2019 issue of B'Yachad. Click here to read the rest of the issue.