Dimona: The UCJF’s Sister City in Israel by David Drimer, executive director

Dimona, Israel

Think about the modern-day economic miracle that is Israel and what probably comes to mind is the unceasing vertical expansion of a few metropolis-like cities carved out of the desert, a vast array of religious holy site and lush beaches, adjacent to lively bars and restaurants. It is the country with the most patents per capita of any nation in the world, and it is strongly associated with high tech development, especially innovative in software and health care. 

At least, that is the 30,000-foot view of Israel that gets all the ink. 

But Israel, like all countries, is in reality a bit grittier at street-level. 

Take Dimona, an Israeli city in the Negev desert, 19 miles to the southeast of Beersheba and 22 miles west of the Dead Sea. In 2019, its population was 34,500. The most famous economic feature of Dimona is the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center, colloquially known as the Dimona Reactor, located 8 miles southeast of the city.

Dimona was one of the premier “development towns,” conceived in the 1950s by David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister. These new settlements were built to provide homes for large swaths of Jewish immigrants from Arab countries, plus Holocaust survivors from Europe and other new immigrants (Olim). The first residents were immigrants from North Africa; 36 Jewish families from Morocco were the first residents.

I suspect virtually all Kadima readers are proudly aware of the multi-ethnic makeup of Israeli society today. But what one does not often hear about Israel is that one in three children live below the poverty line, and many of those at-risk children live in peripheral cities like Dimona. These locales continue to have large immigrant populations and many single-parent families, with startlingly high rates of unemployment. 

Nearly 500 at-risk elementary school students in 13 schools across this Negev city receive extra academic help and a hot meal each school day, along with subsidized schoolbooks and the opportunity to participate in class trips. This major Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) subsidized project, called Lunch & Learn, is a supportive educational program targeted at improving educational outcomes for these at-risk students.

Formal program evaluations have proven that participants in Lunch & Learn show “significant improvement in educational achievement, behavior and self-confidence, and continue to excel as they transition to middle school.” The positive educational outcomes experienced by these students, their continued educational achievement and improved economic opportunities over time are eye-opening, indeed. 

JFNA supports a wide range of Israel charities. Since the Jewish Federation of Ulster County is officially classed by JFNA as a Network of Independent Communities member, Dimona is officially designated by JFNA as our “sister city.” We’ve supported JFNA’s philanthropy for Dimona in the past. Monies we raise in future will be applied to continue the proven success of the Lunch and Learn Project.

In 2016, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro visited Dimona. This is a short (4:00) but highly informative video regarding his visit, conditions in Dimona, and its prospects for future growth. By any standard, Dimona and the JFNA-sponsored, proven educational initiative there are indeed worthy of our Ulster community’s philanthropic support.

We hope by now you are all looking forward eagerly to the Federation’s Gala fundraiser on May 21 to celebrate Israel’s 75th Birthday. Part of the funds we raise through that effort will be earmarked for distribution to support Lunch & Learn in the Dimona schools. As always, one hundred per cent of those funds will be applied to their intended charitable purpose. 

Your local Federation has a variety of mission-based goals that are at the forefront of everything we do. One is Tikkun Olam (Repair the World). Another is Tzedakah (Charity). We also advocate for social justice for all Ulster residents, regardless of religion. And, we are committed to supporting peace and prosperity in Israel, our cultural and religious homeland. Our promised land. 

Dimona needs our help, and we will answer that call. Please join us.