Mar 25, 2018  By Menucha Saitowitz  Category: Blueprint Negev,

Women's History Month: Working to have it all in Israel's Negev desert

Menucha Saitowitz, partnerships coordinator at Eretz-Ir.

We're celebrating Women's History Month all March long by sharing stories of the amazing women who make up Jewish National Fund! In addition, we're matching all donations up to a total $1 million during this time. Learn more:

For cities in Israel's Negev to prosper and grow, young adults and families must see cities there as viable, desirable places to live, with ample opportunities for employment, high quality of life, and upward mobility. Jewish National Fund works with local residents to propel education and economic change from the bottom up, motivating new populations to settle in cities that now offer opportunities that match the crowded Tel Aviv-Haifa-Jerusalem corridor. Eretz-Ir is a local organization that helps us achieve these goals.  

As Eretz-Ir’s English-language grant writer, I regularly sit down with our entrepreneurs and social-change leaders to hear about what's going on in the field. A few months ago, I was catching up with Ilana Kwartin, director of entrepreneurship for Eretz-Ir, who had just celebrated the opening of "SifriHub," a shared work-space for residents of her small community called Eliav. The launch featured a panel of local business owners about entrepreneurship in the region. 

Ilana Kwartin and family.
As Ilana listed the names of the entrepreneurs, I realized they were all women. "Did you intentionally look for women entrepreneurs?" I asked, knowing she is finishing up her PhD in gender studies. "Actually, no! There are so many women opening businesses here, so it happened naturally." 

Intrigued, I asked her why. 

As women, our lives move in pulses. I myself just returned to work after a five-month maternity leave, my third in four years. As women, we are strong, we are resilient, and we aren't afraid of change. We can't be -- our lives are always changing. Men's career paths tend to be more linear, as they gain experience year after year in the same field. 

There is nothing straightforward about being a mother. So we adapt, we change, we thrive. 
Often, a family moves to the periphery of the country in search of a bigger house at a lower price. Generally, one parent will continue their previous career path and commute to a central city, while the other parent, typically the mother, needs to remain close to home to be able to care for the kids. What does this mean for her?

It could mean working from home, studying a new profession, finding a local part time job, or opening a business- one that invents a solution to a need felt by local mothers. Working at Eretz-Ir,  I am privileged to meet many such women. Their new businesses in peripheral areas are often community oriented because it comes from their experiences living in an isolated community, and their desire to make life better for their family, and others like it.