Bridging the Gaps: Jewish National Fund-USA and Lauder Employment Center Help Create New Employment Opportunities in Israel’s South

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By: Alexa Goldstein


In the heart of the winding streets of Be’er Sheva’s Old City, far from the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv, the third cohort of the Lauder Employment Center’s fellows gathered to celebrate the completion of their internships with representatives from some of the Negev’s leading companies. Looking to build a life in the Negev’s growing technology district, the Lauder fellows are defying the norm and are becoming the new pioneers of Southern Israel.


When it comes to life and work in the Negev Desert, there are many gaps to be filled: the disparity between the number of people moving to the Negev for education and those who come to stay; differences in the level of practical training experience and what employers are looking for; and gaps between the reality of tech jobs in the region and the perception of Israelis still flocking to the crowded cities in the center of Israel.


Bridging these gaps by empowering people to succeed is what Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA) does best, particularly through its partnership with the Lauder Employment Center. Established by JNF-USA Chairman-Emeritus Ronald S. Lauder, the Lauder Employment Center assists in the rapid development and advancement of the Negev and its capital city, Be’er Sheva. Operated by Eretz Ir, a JNF-USA affiliate, the Center runs training programs, operates state-of-the-art facilities, and offers internship and skill building opportunities for anyone with the pioneering spirit. To date, the Center has succeeded in providing 7,000 job offers for residents of the Negev. In the surrounding communities, a network of NetGev Hi-Tech Hubs—operated by Eretz Ir—offer high level co-working spaces and professional training. Just hours before the Lauder Fellows’ graduation ceremony, NetGev Dimona hosted Amazon Web Services for a full day of competitive training seminars, attracting over 50 young developers from around the Negev.


While big international names, like Amazon, have elevated career advancement opportunities for young professionals, many more Israeli companies, such as RoboTiCan, IMP Engineers, SodaStream, the Be’er Sheva Municipality, Osem Foods, and more, have emerged on the scene and are providing opportunities for fellows. The program also provides field experience and connects fellows with job opportunities following graduation to ensure workforce integration.


There’s a high demand for practical engineers in Israel, but often times employers are faced with a lack of senior-level engineers and developers, and, according to Chofi David from Sapir College in Sderot, students can only learn so much in their classes. By participating in programs like the Lauder Fellowship, students can merge their studies with hands-on experience.


Eli Assayag, a graduating fellow, was working for Osem, one of Israel’s largest snack production companies. Originally from Jerusalem, Assayag chose to move to the south to help strengthen the Gaza Envelope communities, and now feels he’s been given the opportunity to prosper and grow. “I learned how to ask questions that I didn’t know I wanted to ask,” said Assayag. Alongside gaining field experience in electrical automation and The Internet of Things (IOT), Assayag was able to land his dream job with the Electric Company in Ashdod.  


Ofir Bustan was representing the start-up RoboTiCan, a company specializing in developing autonomous robotic platforms. For his tech company, every employee they hire is a huge investment. “This program enabled us to take two students and see how they do in the world of robotics—without financial risk,” said Bustan. According to Bustan, RoboTiCan was only supposed to take one intern, but after interviewing two of the fellows, he hired Be’er Sheva locals Norah Adamov and Maor Cohen. Adamov described their first day “like two kids in a toy store,” and both Adamov and Cohen were instrumental in the design of a bomb disposal drone for the Israel Defense Forces.


Menucha Saitowitz, the associate director of development and partnerships for Eretz Ir, said that the Lauder Employment Center is working to mitigate financial loss for employers through pre-employment training and continuing education. The Lauder Fellowship prepares recent graduates to be efficient employees and makes the south more than a stop along the road. It is cultivating a robust tech scene to draw more residents to the Negev and requires continuing training opportunities.


While the physical gap between Be’er Sheva and Tel Aviv cannot be changed, the next generation of driven young professionals are closing the gap between career opportunity and the ability to build their lives in the Negev. Thanks to the support of Jewish National Fund-USA, the Lauder Employment Center, and Eretz Ir, students, graduates, employers, and those looking to lay roots in the Negev have opportunities to gain experience, training, and venture into new ventures.



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