26 August 1991;
4 October 2009
I have only recently taken the opportunity from personal interest only to peruse the Renewal and Development Plan for Beer Sheva and the Negev, which was presented in three parts in 1989. Even though I may be late, I did notice that public involvement would be restricted to dialogue, and I do not know whether the plan has been accepted as proposed, or whether recent developments related to aliyah necessitated any substantial changes. Therefore, I am taking the liberty to write to you now. We do notice and appreciate the beautification works being done and the much needed additional sidewalks.
My wife and I immigrated ten (28) years ago from the United States, and have since become a family of five (six). After arriving in Israel, we traveled around the country, having Netanya as a base, and we actually chose to live in Beer Sheva. The reasons were that Beer Sheva seemed to us an Israeli, Middle Eastern, non-touristy city, located geographically in the center of the land, with a good climate. The moderate size of Beer Sheva (90,000 pop.) suited us. The university, hospital, and music conservatory give it a certain quality of being a “city”. Even though we rarely (at that time in 1991) have practical use for any of these particular facilities, we were and are glad for their presence here and the type of persons which they would help to attract to the area.
The high density population strains the existing (1991) infrastructure and municipal services outlets, which were not designed for today’s norms. The increasing number of cars presents increasing logistical problems. The parking situation in the Old City is difficult at best, and poor drainage during the rainy season makes auto, pedestrian, and bicycle passage at intersections very unpleasant. The traffic flow in and around the main post office, Migdal Sheva, the Kanion, and central bus station is congested in a high pedestrian center, with difficult access especially to the P.O. and even to the Kanion parking area at peak hours.
The location of the Kanion is excellent – if it were not for the fact that it is right next to the traditional commercial district, which has, of course, suffered severely, requiring, as your plan indicates, reconstruction and renewal (which was already apparent). While we from necessity utilize the Kanion, it seems that with that same money from the city’s sources of revenues and benefactors, much could have been done to enhance the Old City– both from the perspective of the resident and also of the visitor and tourist. As experience teaches in every place, when the downtown is “abandoned”, the lower elements of society move in. Beer Sheva is not nor will be an exception. The highly restrictive parking scheme (then, but still today around the Lev Ha’Ir section) only further discourages normal daytime commercial activity downtown.
The findings of the Renewal and Development report clearly show Beer Sheva to be historically, from Abraham (who named the place 4000 years ago) until now a regional center of significant importance for administration, justice, and commerce (and, sadly, later for idolatry) for the Negev as a whole, and as a departure point to “greener pastures”. This is confirmed by both fact and perception. Wonderful! Let us work in Beer Sheva to enhance it with this natural reality in mind, rather than resisting it and allowing dissatisfaction, greed, envy, pride, and ambition to impose themselves upon us in order to lure us to become what apparently is not the primary purpose of this city and its location. Instead of chasing after “becoming a national city” and losing our proper character and contribution, let us look and see that, by fulfilling the place and status we have been given (but perhaps not willing to accept or receive), we do in effect become a national city (a city of the nation) in that the country and nation benefit, and we ourselves prosper in our own natural and appropriate domain.
A healthy person requires each and all of his/her members [of the body] to do what its purpose and function is in a cooperative manner, and a healthy person is a benefit to itself and to others. This is true physically and psychologically, and applies equally to cities and countries, which are peopled by many and diverse individual persons. The character of a people or of a city is a measure of their ultimate goals, the means employed to attain them, and the willingness and determination to see it through. If pubs, clubs, restaurants with pornographic menus and videos, noise into the night disturbing those who live in the vicinity – if these are considered vital to make Beer Sheva vibrant and productive – then surely know that this will feed on itself and grow (but not in good health!), and the City of the Patriarchs will revert to being a lawless, bandit town, and we will undermine the very objectives you claim to desire, or else attain them by unjustifiable means without any real satisfaction or peace.
Another significant point noted by the committee is the importance of training and educating our children to become good citizens and members of the society. It is mentioned that this responsibility falls principally on the educational system. This has come by default, for, in truth, the primary responsibility (and so accountability) for bringing up children rightly lies with the parents. The educational system can and should provide a setting for promoting and reinforcing the underlying values of the community and nation, as well as providing instruction and training which helps promote good works and bonding of the numerous members of the society through developing mutual relationships of responsibility and accountability for one another and for the larger body politic. It is the family, however, which forms the fundamental social unit, and as this is undermined – whether by design or not – so will be also the cohesion of the society: it will become more and more dysfunctional.
It is quite clear that discipline in homes in Israel is lacking generally, and this manifests itself in the schools, in the “streets”, in the IDF, in the government at all levels, and in the religious bodies and practices – in other words, in the entire social fabric. Many of those in these positions of authority and influence have themselves not learned from proper role models or from self-control (self-governance). To encourage mothers of young children in particular to work outside her primary sphere — of service and influence for helping to build, develop, and promote the foundational parent-child relationship and training — and rather transferring this privilege and right to day-care centers, is not to promote or develop the welfare of the person or of the community or persons.
I have worked for the past 15 years (at the time this letter was written) in computer-based companies, in both managerial and clerical positions. I have learned that computers can be excellent tools to serve in numerous fields of operation; my experience also shows that they all too easily and quickly become the masters, subjugating the people and companies, and even some homes. Your development plan calls for the intensifying of efforts to computerize the schools all the way down to elementary levels. This greatly disturbs me, for at this early and young formative period, we will be taking from our children a vital part of learning to think and to reason (even simple basic arithmetic when calculators are permitted to early). they will “develop” with a greater affinity for mechanical communication and functions rather than for human (personal) requirements on an individual and societal level. We will produce hybrids with no life in themselves to reproduce after their kind. Rather than renewing and developing Beer Sheva, we will actually accelerate her decline in a truer sense.
I understand that the focus of the studies and proposals is on the Jewish population, but Beer Sheva also lends itself to being an area of encouragement and hope for the indigenous Arab (especially Bedouin) population, which ought not be overlooked or ignored.
Without knowing our purpose as human beings or as a city, it is like groping in the dark to fulfill our calling: we cannot see the way and so go astray – whether from ignorance or from stubbornness. Admittedly, there are longstanding and deep-rooted problems, producing uncertainty, even despair, and beyond our capabilities to manage them. Most of the difficulties we have brought on ourselves; some have been inherited; others simply given to us. There are no simple solutions. It is appealing to avoid the real issues and to give our attention on diversions. How we deal with and learn to overcome our circumstances will characterize Beer Sheva and the people who have positions of accountable responsibility, and those who have talents and skills and other qualities to contribute and invest.
Surely Beer Sheva and the Negev have a vital place in Israel’s history – past, present, and future. What we do in the present will partly determine whether we are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob by ethnic heritage only, or whether, more importantly and hopeful, we are also their children by faith. Beer Sheva and the Negev have a place in the Glory of Israel, for His prophets tell us that the desert shall bloom and blossom as a rose – but not apart from or without Him! Let us not despise Him nor His covenants, but turn back to Him in true repentance and faith in His sufficient provision for atonement, and we shall see that our personal relationship with our God, YHVH God of our Fathers, is the key to our own renewal and development. His rest and joy and peace and love awaits us, along with the fulfillment of His renewal and development plan for Beer Sheva!
Howard M. Bass
P. S. I hope you will excuse my use of English. While my Hebrew is sufficiently functional, it is not up to this letter. Thank-you.