February 4, 2008

The residents of Hatzor Haglilit hope to turn the impoverished Israeli development town into a thriving community.The juxtaposition of expensive villas and poor slums is not unusual in many towns across the globe. But in the northern development town of Hatzor Haglilit, this occurrence is substantial. Almost 60 years after the development towns of Israel were formed, this town still hasn’t been able to channel the large amount of potential it holds, and 95 percent of its young citizens leave the city after their army service.

Last week, I went to Hatzor. I was early for an appointment with the director of the community center, and I found myself amongst a group of people – parents to children not much younger than myself – who gather weekly for a class in entrepreneurship and to talk about Hatzor and the problems it faces.

We went around the room and everyone shared their thoughts. One woman told us that her main concern was that her children moved to Tel Aviv and did not want to return to Hatzor. They moved to Tel-Aviv to study, she explained, but have long-since finished their studies and continued living there.

And that’s exactly what these meetings were about: these parents were prepared to do whatever it takes in the town in order for their children to want to return. Everyone in the group expressed their desire for Hatzor to develop and become a better place to live in – but how? How could they turn Hatzor into a place where people didn’t just drive by on their way to somewhere else, but where people would stop by and enjoy their stay – where its own residents would proudly return?

Well, the first step is through such gatherings. It was incredible to see this group of people come together to talk about the town’s problems. They weren’t politicians. They weren’t being paid to come. Most of them had never taken part in such an initiative before. Simply put, they were there to make a difference.

Like so many Israelis, these individuals, most of whom arrived in Israel as children in the early 1950s, had struggled through the economic and social hardships of the first years of the establishment of the State of Israel. This year, Israel will be celebrating its 60th anniversary. The country is flourishing, there is so much prosperity and economic growth, yet these people are still struggling. Now, however, they are struggling to bring Hatzor’s next generation back ‘home’.

I thanked the group for letting me participate in their meeting. They immediately replied by thanking me for being there – for coming all the way from Jerusalem, for investing my time in acknowledging them, and for the fact that the organization I work for, the United Israel Appeal of Canada (UIAC), is investing time, effort, and funds in their town. They were amazed that someone actually wanted to listen to what they had to say.

There is a lot to learn from this development town. It has much to offer. Every town should be so lucky as to have a group of people that care so deeply about the wellbeing of their town and its future. Investing funds in Hatzor, primarily in educational programs, is a noble and wonderful mitzvah (good deed). Philanthropists that do so are certainly improving the lives of many of its citizens.

But the point is this: without the citizens themselves being involved and wanting to change and improve their town, there is only so much that funding can do. This sort of change has to come from within.

As I entered my meeting with the community center’s director, I thought of another juxtaposition. Hatzor is situated not far from the quaint, well-known town of Rosh Pina. I wondered what it would take to make Hatzor become as well known and amply visited as Rosh Pina, and if UIAC’s allocated post-war funds, along with the efforts of the town’s citizens, would be enough to help Hatzor achieve such status.

I was glad I came early that day. After meeting with Hatzor’s group of dedicated citizens, I no longer think this goal is far-fetched.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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