Mar 24, 2016  By Jewish National Fund  Category: Travel,

Surprises abound in Yerucham, a little Negev town with big dreams

Visiting the new Perrigo Pharmaceuticals plant in Yerucham are (l to r) Ido Eisikovits of JNF partner Green Horizons,
Yerucham Task Force Chair Geri Shatz, and task force members Bob Weiss and Bruce Goldberg.  

As the newest member of the Jewish National Fund's Yerucham Task Force, this was my first visit to the town. I’ve only been active in JNF for a year or so, and thought, as a "rookie," that maybe I'd been assigned to Yerucham as a sort of a JNF hazing.  It can take awhile to find Yerucham on a map -- it's about 18 miles southeast of Be'er Sheva in the Negev desert. 

After my first visit, during the $1 Billion Roadmap Mission earlier this month, I fully realize my good fortune. I had read that Yerucham was a development town from the 1950s, challenged to keep young people or attract new families. When I got there, everything I found surprised me.   

I found a town poised to become the template for new development in the Negev.  Physically, Yerucham is a town of about 10,000 with a history of stagnating population and lackluster economic growth. But recent construction of a new 65-unit luxury hotel has made the town popular as a base for Negev adventure exploration. U.S. pharmaceutical firm Perrigo recently completed a new plant. There are over 1,000 units of new, mostly single-family homes in early construction, and they are already spoken for through a lottery that was over-subscribed by a factor of five to one. And the IDF has just completed building the second largest training base in the country just outside town.

Photo: Yerucham Task Force/Facebook
Members of the Yerucham Task Force and JNF CEO Russell Robinson 
(center left) attend a brainstorming meeting at the town's Desert Iris Hotel.
Running through town will be a truly visionary park -- a long 3.7-mile development of an existing Wadi structure, stretching from the existing lake park to the Yerucham "makhtesh," or crater, a stunning natural feature. The park, supported in its planning phases and early infrastructure by JNF, will anchor the old and new portions of town with places to stroll, bike, and sit.  Yerucham is going to be an even nicer place to live. And it's underway! Dirt is moving.

But the people made the greatest impression. I met the charismatic mayor and his committed senior staff, and I met young technicians in startup companies that support education technology. I was welcomed by a Sephardi family that runs an Arak distillery and liquor distribution business and that wants to expand and build a visitors center. And I watched a science teacher work with the ninth-grade girls who won a recent national robotics competition

More on the $1 Billion Roadmap Mission 

Yerucham is full of people who love to live there, and who want to make it better. Their overall enthusiasm bodes well for the Negev, and for JNF's Blueprint Negev initiative to develop the region as an attractive, lower-cost alternative to the Israel's crowded center with good options for employment, housing, medical care, and lifestyle. The Yerucham 2020 Task Force, established in 2012, is working to help the municipality prioritize its needs as it looks ahead.

My special thanks to fellow task force members Geri Shatz, Bruce Goldberg, Ze'v Steinmetz and Vicki Schwartz for taking the time to share their insights. They brought me up to speed and made me feel like a member of the team within a matter of days. Next year, T-shirts.

Bob Weiss recently retired from a career in human resources and executive compensation. He lives in Brooklyn and has been a proud Red Sox and Patriots fan for 30 years.