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March 16, 1973 - Image 59

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1973-03-16

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

March 16, 1973—Supplement to The Jewish News—Page 39

UJA's Immense Town Building Program

By HARRY M. ROSEN

About 10 years ago, a team went into the desert
east of Beersheba to lay out a new town. A young sur-
veyor in the group had the job of putting in stakes to
mark the chosen site. He couldn't get the stakes to stand
upright in the loose sand and finally threw them down in
disgust, exclaiming, "You just can't build a town here!
It's impossible!"
Impossible or not, the town was built on that spot.
The town is called Arad. It has houses and industry and
schools. There's an immigrant absorption center there,
and also a youth hostel. And there are people—new im-
migrants, veteran Israelis-5,000 of them at last count,
with hundreds of other families signed up for new hous-
ing as soon as it becomes available.
Carmiel and Nazareth Illit are two more "new
towns," or development towns. Development towns were
established almost immediately after the state was
born. There are 25 of these towns, with a population of
a quarter of a million people, the vast majority of whom
are new immigrants.
These towns are built for immigrants. The develop.
ment towns were built in the 1950s to provide a place to
live for thousands of immigrants who came from the Mos-
lem countries of Asia and North Africa—from Morocco,
from Iraq, from Jurdistan and Persia and Yemen and
Tunisia and Algeria and India. Not that this proportion
of three to one — Asia-Africa to Europe-America — was
planned that way. The original planners (and there are
many who insist there was very little planning — just
doing!) had in mind a population mix of immigrants
from these Asian and African countries and immigrants
from Romania and Poland and other European coun-
tries, the immigrants in turn to be supported by a healthy
infusion of veteran Israelis. These components made up,
more or less, the first populations of the development
towns. But the "mix" didn't last long. The conditions
of living were just too harsh and unattractive, the em-
ployment opportunities just too limited. There began the
"revolving door" phenomenon. For example Beit She-
mesh: it is estimated that 50,000 people went through the
town before it stabilized at its present population of
12,000.
That the living conditions were unattractive, to say
the least, is understandable, considering that nothing
was "built into" most of the towns to make living in
them anything but dull and difficult. The towns were
built often in harsh settings, like the desert towns of
Dimona and Yeruham, or the southwestern plain towns
like Netivot and Ofakim and Sderot. Because immigrants
were coming in large numbers and coming in fast, lots
of houses had to be put up and put up fast. The houses
were small concrete cubes or big concrete blocks. The
units were small, and the families were big. The streets
were asphalted later, adding black strips to contrast with
the overwhelming gray of the concrete. There was no
green. (The author had occasion to visit Kiryat Gat,
long after it had become one of the great success stories
of the development towns. He asked the town secretary
what she would do if someone gave her $1,000,000 to
spend on the town. "I would plant $1,000,000 worth of
trees!" she said, indicating with a sweeping gesture the
bleakness of apartment houses and other buildings.)
There was no communal facilities of any sort, not at
the beginning, at any rate. Just places to live. More
accurately just places to sleep.
It was assumed that by locating the towns near
agricultural settlements, there would be rslenty of work
for the immigrants, and that the veteran Israelis would
take care of the administration and public services the
towns would require. But the employment opportunities
in the farming settlements diminished rapidly as their
farming technique became more sophisticated and the
farmers themselves became more expert. That's when
people began to leave the new towns. The veteran Israelis

from the Kibutzim returned to their kibutzim, those
from the cities went back to them. Of the immigrants,
nose with any skills at all also went to the cities where
there were opportunities in industry, where a man might
set up a small business or shop, where there was some
life at least.
In the years just before the Six-Day War, the United
Jewish Appeal campaigns made the development towns
their major theme. The conditions of the towns war-
ranted this emphasis. And the emphasis gave the towns
a major lift. More western immigrants sought the oppor-
tunities which this development "frontier" offered, as
well as the special benefits in the way of taxes and wage
incentives which were offered for those who would settle
in the new towns. Veteran Israelis once again sought
new opportunities in the development towns, and this
time they remained. Although the immigrants from the
Asian and African countries were still the big majority,
the input of western skills and knowhow provided the
extra push which got the towns moving again and helped
maintain their momentum.
Most of all the towns helped themselves, with a big
assist from world Jewry in the form of Jewish Agency
rental subsidies for housing, high schools and pre-kinder-
garten through the Israel Education Fund; prevocational
training centers of Youth Aliya and the admission of
many youths to Youth Aliyah schools in youth villages
and kibutzim. Leadership developed among the younger
immigrants.
The picture today is — by and large — a hopeful
one. But some of the towns are still in the doldrums,
some of the towns are teetering between moving forward
and moving back. One of the key factors is the size of
the population. Some insist 10,000 is the minimum popu-
lation required to make a town viable.
Others believe the minimum figure can be 5,000.
Everyone agrees that population "mix" is still a basic
factor: until the youth from the Asian and African immi-
grant families acquire sufficient modern skills to assure
new industries of the number and kind of manpower
they need, these skills will have to be supplied by those
who already have them, and these are usually the
Israelis, new and veteran, of western origin.
Then there's the "hen and the egg" problem. Of
course the towns need people. But people need jobs, and
places to live. Which comes first? Industry is reluctant
to move into a town, primarily on the basis of belief that
housing will be put up to attract workers.
Sometimes there are intangible factors that get a
town moving. Hatzor, in the Galilee, has just over 5,000
people and it is one of the towns about which most
people, including the residents, were thoroughly pessi-
mistic. Two years ago construction was begun on a new
comprehensive high school, thanks to the generosity of
an American donor, through the Israel Education Fund.
Nobody can say just when, in the course of construction,
hope was kindled in the town leadership and the towns-
people. One mayor, a good man, had already resigned
because he thought nobody cared about saving his town.
Nevertheless hope was kindled. The town council and
the new mayor began to plan again, began to knock on
doors — the government, the Jewish Agency. Experts
and officials are beginning to visit Hatzor. First they
are shown the new high school, and then the pitch begins.
A small plastics plant. A hotel to attract tourists (the
town is beautifully situated, and there are famous "digs"
nearby). A commercial center. Apartments big enough to
rehouse the overcrowded large families. One-family
houses in a lovely wooded glen to attract "middle class
types."
These are the things the people of Hatzor are talking
about these days. It all started with the new high school.
There is a good chance that will end in a new town
reborn.

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