Quite literally among the booms and billows of black smoke across the nearby Gaza border deep in Israel’s southern Negev Desert, Shlomit, one of three communities of Halutza, laid a cornerstone and broke ground for its future community center. The new Jewish National Fund (JNF-USA) project, currently being constructed, will boast a new library. The library is being built thanks to the generosity of Scottsdale residents Dr. Mel and Mim Bottner. The facility is meant to serve not only the residents of Shlomit, but also the entire Eshkol region of southern Israel.
The Bottners visited Halutza two months ago in the midst of what is now the ongoing barrage of terror from Gaza. They came to show their support for the region during this dark time and took the opportunity to put their money where their hearts are. The family decided to sponsor a library in memory of their daughter, Lauren, who was an avid reader, writer and journalist.
“We’re so thrilled to hear of the meaningful groundbreaking ceremony in Halutza,” the couple said in a joint statement. “The future community center and its library in memory of our daughter Lauren will nourish the lives of young and old for years to come. May they all be blessed with much success and peace.”
In addition to funding the library, the Bottners have set up an online campaign to help fill the shelves and e-readers of the library.
In the presence of distinguished guests, such as Eshkol Mayor Gadi Yarkoni, Member of Knesset Nurit Koren, WZO’s Settlement Division Regional Director Itzik Bar, Jewish National Fund-USA CEO Russell F. Robinson, JNF Chief Israel Officer Eric Michaelson, as well as Ron Werner, a member of JNF’s national board of directors, members of the Shlomit community planted trees in their soon-to-be first permanent neighborhood. The occasion was made even more joyous with children singing “Hallelujah” in sign language and guest speakers recounting the inspiring story of a new community that was just sand dunes and dust a mere decade ago.
Halutza, a partner of Jewish National Fund-USA, is a group of three communities headed by Rabbi Eli Adler and made up primarily of former Gush Katif residents who were evacuated from their homes during Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza. Given a choice to move elsewhere, families rebuilt their lives in this area of the desert that had never been inhabited or farmed. After just over a decade of hard work, Shlomit is taking shape and is driving change in the region, showing that growth and development are possible in even the most remote areas of the Negev Desert.
The groundbreaking of the Shlomit community center is important, not just as a sign of endurance in an embattled region of Israel, but also as a critical source of services for the Eshkol region, as it will include the Lauren Bottner Memorial Library, classrooms and communal spaces, and provide learning opportunities, extracurricular activities and community events for all the region’s residents.
“The growth and development we are witnessing in Shlomit has a special emotional appeal for American Jews, like the Bottners, who are supporting such amazing endeavors,” Robinson said. “It is also a loud and clear symbol that says, ‘We are here to stay.’” JN
If you are interested in giving books to the library, please visit support.jnf.org/goto/laurenslibrary