Holy Name to host gathering on new towns in Israel’s deserts
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Holy Name to host gathering on new towns in Israel’s deserts

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Dr. Jacqueline Brunetti organized an event at Holy Name Medical Center on Monday to introduce the community to the OR Movement, which helps to create towns in the Negev and the Galilee.

Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck is hosting an event that aims to breathe new life into underdeveloped regions of Israel.

The informational gathering, scheduled for Monday, June 28, at 6 p.m., will introduce participants to the OR Movement, an organization devoted to populating Israel’s Negev and Galilee.

OR is settling desolate areas of Israel that are important to Israel because of the demographics and the natural resources found there, said Shai Baitel, the U.S. director of OR, Hebrew for light.

“We are bringing Ben-Gurion’s vision [of making the desert bloom] to the next level,” said Baitel. “The Negev and Galilee are the most unpopulated, undeveloped regions of Israel.”

Since OR was founded in 2001, it has established six communities in the Negev region. The latest is Carmit, a town for English speakers in the northern portion of the Negev.

OR is unique, said Baitel, because it crosses all religious, political, and socio-economic boundaries. “People of all groups come together under our umbrella to work on building new towns,” he said. “It’s a cause everyone can agree with and they all work hard together to put together communities in the undeveloped portions of northern and southern Israel.”

Dr. Jacqueline Brunetti, director of radiology at Holy Name, is a testament to OR’s capacity to inspire people from all backgrounds.

Brunetti, who grew up in an Italian -merican family in New York and attended Catholic schools, said she became acquainted with OR’s work when she visited Israel for the first time in 2008.

Her friend Angelica Berrie brought her to an OR settlement, where the physician was so moved by the idealism and can-do attitude of OR’s pioneers that she wanted to share the group’s mission with others. With the support of Holy Name’s President/CEO Michael Maron, Brunetti organized Monday’s event.

“We went to this settlement in the middle of the Negev,” Brunetti recalled. “Here we were in the desert, there was nothing, and they had created beautiful homes with grass and trees. I was blown away by the energy and the ability of these young people to successfully accomplish something that is against the odds. Imagine what could be accomplished if more people had this degree of drive and commitment.”

OR is unique, she said, because it is doing more than bringing people to settle in Israel. “OR is helping to create new communities in parts of Israel that are considered undesirable. It’s the politically safe thing to do. It’s important to the future of Israel to increase the population in these regions.” Settling that region of Israel, she noted, can help Israel from a security standpoint. And Israel needs to survive for the sake of the world, she added.

Brunetti quips that she returned from her trip a “raging Zionist.” Visiting the land and its people gave her an appreciation of Israel’s unique challenges. “Unless you’ve actually been in Israel, you don’t understand what Israel means to the world. It is symbol of democracy and creativity and strength of the human spirit and it’s surrounded by countries bent on its destruction.

“Maybe not being Jewish and seeing Israel for the first time with a wide-eyed view affected me in a different way. I know sometimes people can take things for granted when it’s a daily part of their life, and the sense of critical importance of some issues may lessen.”

OR was the brainchild of four childhood friends, including Ofir Fisher, an Israeli submarine captain and the son of renowned Israeli entertainer Dudu Fisher. The men had just completed their military service in the late 1990s and were searching for a way to make a positive impact on Israel’s future.

“The big moment came after our army service, when all of us climbed into a car and over a month drove the length and breadth of Israel, meeting people in different communities, asking lots of questions, probing for answers,” Fisher has said. “What stared us in the face was that 80 percent of the land of Israel was in the Galilee and the Negev, and only a small percentage of our population lived in these areas.”

In 1999, the crew of idealistic friends established their first settlement, Sansana, in the Negev, with 15 families. They realized they were onto something and established the OR Movement, which today has a staff of 30 and more than 6,000 volunteers.

They decided that this was a region where pioneers could establish settlements in Israel free of the highly politicized Palestinian-Jewish conflict over disputed “occupied territories.” It is an area, they believed, where young idealists could bring Israel’s founding father David Ben-Gurion’s vision of making the desert bloom to the next level. And it’s a part of Israel where Jewish and non-Jewish Zionists around the world can talk about hope for Israel’s future.

Baitel said he and Fisher are coming to Teaneck because they realize the vision for Israel’s future is not a monopoly. “There are a lot of different people who care about Israel’s future and the vision belongs to them,” he said. “We are happy to share the vision so they can help us make this dream come true.”

The program will include a short video presentation about OR and a question-and-answer session. The event is free and there will be no solicitation of funds. Refreshments will be served.

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