Congregation Beth Jacob has always been in the forefront of activities supporting Israel. The Israel Action Committee members strive to increase our community’s awareness of Israel’s struggle for peace and security and to facilitate pro-Israel activism in our community, media and government.
The Central Arava Medical Center project was spearheaded by our congregants Barbara Sommer Fisher and Alan Fisher, and will be supported by our Israel Action Committee.
The Central Arava
The Central Arava is Israel’s most remote region, midway between the Dead Sea and Eilat and following the rift valley forming the Jordanian border. Mostly below sea level, it is hot and dry, receiving about an inch of rain a year. But with Israeli ingenuity, its 3200 residents produce 60% of the country’s exports of fresh vegetables and 10% of the exports of cut flowers, using organic farming in extensive greenhouses. This tiny population supports a research center and an international agricultural school with 700 students from Southeast Asia.
The Need: Medical Care in the Arava
The Central Arava’s medical care is currently provided in an old, rundown clinic in the town of Sapir, staffed by a nurse and a part-time doctor, with occasional visits by specialists. It lacks basic diagnostic and medical equipment like an X-ray machine, fetal monitors, and defibrillators. Residents must drive nearly two hours to Beersheva for most specialists, medical tests and such services as prenatal, optical, dental, and psychiatric care. In an emergency, the nearest hospital is an hour and a half away by ambulance, either to the north in Beersheva or to the south in Eilat.
Women from the Central Arava often give birth on the way to the hospital. Blood samples are collected once a week and sent to a laboratory in Beersheva for testing. People suffering from acute back pain wait an average of one month for an appointment with a visiting specialist. The need is growing as the pioneers who established these communities in the 1950s and 1960s age, and as the Arava plans to draw 2500 more families over the next 20 years.
Congregation Beth Jacob and the Origin of the Project
CBJ members Barbara Sommer and Alan Fisher visited the Negev In January 2010 with the Jewish National Fund. The focus was Blueprint Negev, JNF's project to fulfill Ben-Gurion’s dream of building up the Negev, which covers 60% of Israel’s land but has only 8% of its population.
The mayor of the Central Arava, Ezra Ravins, greeted the group and described his vision for the area. Alan and Barbara took note of the poor state of the region’s medical care, observing that it you can’t draw many new residents without addressing this need.
The next morning they approached JNF CEO Russell Robinson and Mayor Ravins with a proposal to build and staff a modern facility. Robinson took the plan to the Israeli Health Ministry and received a government commitment to join with JNF and the Regional Council. An overnight suggestion was transformed into a project.
The Plan: A New Medical Center for a Growing Population
In the coming year a modern, 24-hour medical clinic will be built in Sapir providing internal medicine, gynecology, pediatrics, physical therapy, and a pharmacy. Two full-time doctors have already been hired. A second phase will add X-rays and urgent care, to address issues like setting broken bones and immediate treatment in emergencies—including heart failure, strokes, births, and serious injuries—until patients are stable enough for transfer to the hospital.
Alan and Barbara are actively working with a JNF committee to move it along. They have visited Soroka Hospital and Ben-Gurion University Medical School in Beersheva to discuss closer links through the residency program and telemedicine technology to connect the clinic with specialists. This facility will be a template for upgrading care in other remote areas.
Construction of Phase 1 will start on November 15, 2012, when the cornerstone will be laid—three years from the vision that started it all.
Rabbi Ezray’s Call to Action
In his sermon on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Ezray spoke of Israel as the embodiment of the hope—hatikvah—that we have held for 2000 years to be a free people in our own land. “Not only is Israel a safe haven, but a thriving country that is the realization of generations of hope and prayer.” But the work is not over. Hope leads us to activism, to play a role in building a better Israel. “Nurturing and realizing hope requires commitment.”
The Rabbi called on the congregation to take on the building of the Central Arava Medical Center as a synagogue project, “to join Barbara and Alan Fisher in their work building a medical center in an underserved part of the central Negev.”
What You Can Do
CBJ has set a goal of raising $50,000 for the project. You can donate through this JNF link, which will track CBJ contributions and show our progress. You can also donate by sending a check to the CBJ office, made out to Congregation Beth Jacob and with "Central Arava Project" in the memo. This site will soon announce events at the synagogue with more information about the Medical Center and the Central Arava.
As Herzl said: “If you will it, it is no dream.”