The Modern-Day Pioneers Transforming Israel’s South

By JD Krebs


In the early days of the Zionist movement, Jewish pioneers like David Ben-Gurion trekked the length of the Jewish Homeland, building communities out of swampland and desert plains until it turned into the thriving country it is today. However, there’s still much work to be done. And residents in Halutza, an emerging town led by Israel’s modern-day pioneers on Israel’s southern frontier, are following in the footsteps of their ancestors by once again turning the desert into an oasis, with help from Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA).


Located in the Northwest Negev Desert, less than a mile from the Gaza border, Halutza was formed by families that were evacuated from several Gush Katif communities during Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005.


“We wanted to create something new,” said Yedidya Harush, JNF-USA’s liaison to the Halutza community and local resident. “We took what could have been a devastating loss an turned it into the creation of another beautiful, flourishing community despite the harsh environments.”


Those harsh environments include a barren desert landscape, a lack of rainwater, and incendiary balloons sent from terrorists in Gaza. “The conditions can be tough,” added Harush. “However, with grit, innovation, and support from our friends, we are tougher.”


Yedidya Harush


The support comes, in large part, from Jewish National Fund-USA and generous donors. With JNF-USA’s help, Halutza’s pioneers built roads, brought in prefabricated temporary housing, erected hundreds of greenhouses, planted crops, and built fields of solar energy panels.


“JNF-USA truly is a great friend of ours,” said Harush. “They understand we are building something incredible, and they have been with us every step of the way.”


Recent JNF-USA projects in the Halutza communities include the Halutza Medical Center, the Halutza Student Program, the Naveh Synagogue Project, and the Young Farmer's Incubator Project, which trains young Israelis to become farmers.


Today, Halutza has grown from its 30 founding families to over 2,500 families. “It’s amazing how our ‘little’ community has developed and flourished,” said Harush. “We embrace the pioneering spirit of our forefathers, and I’m so excited to continue creating a home in the desert for more families.”


On February 26 at 7:30 pm, JNF-USA together with Beth El Synagogue Center will host “Against All Odds: Building the Desert,” a community event featuring Yedidya Harush. Community members will learn  about life as a pioneer on Israel’s frontier and how they have made the desert bloom. The event will also be streamed online.


“The Westchester community is excited to have a true pioneering hero visit us,” said Diana Sklar, President of JNF-USA’s Westchester & Southern Connecticut Regional Board of Directors. “Yedidya is a shining example of the Zionist spirit in all Israelis, and JNF-USA’s support is a reminder of what we can accomplish on the American side.”


There is no cost to attend. To register or for more information, go to or contact Rebecca Zimilover, JNF-USA Director, Westchester at or 212.879.9305 x510.

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