AABGU Impact Spring 2013 : Page 1




<br /> FEBRUARY 14 marked the first cohort’s completion of AABGU’s groundbreaking Zin Fellows Leadership Development Program. The 14 fellows, chosen from a pool of candidates from across the country, began their journey in September 2011. The program’s goal was to provide the fellows, all between 35 and 50 years old, with an immersion into the issues confronting the development of Israel’s Negev desert region, in hopes of inspiring them to take on leadership roles in furthering its development in the years ahead.<br /> <br /> The impetus for the program came from AABGU Board Vice President Wayne Woodman. He asked us to design an initiative that will help fill the leadership pipeline for AABGU, a pipeline that will ensure that our support for Ben-Gurion University of the Negev will not simply continue in the years ahead, but will grow in both scope and magnitude. Wayne played a leading role in creating the program. Funding quickly followed, provided not only by Wayne and his wife, Lisa Scheller, but also by a host of others.<br /> <br /> Why Zin? The name was taken from the desert canyon near Sede Boqer, home of the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research at BGU.<br /> <br /> It is also the place David Ben- Gurion chose to be buried after his death. The gravesite sits on a cliff-side overlooking the Zin wilderness, through which the children of Israel came following the Exodus from Egypt. They had been made to wander for 40 years so that the generation which bore the mentality of slaves would fade and a new generation of leaders could arise in their place— a generation ready to take the Jewish people back to the Promised Land.For David Ben-Gurion, who believed that the most important decision he had made in his life was to move to Israel, there could be no other option.<br /> <br /> For 18 months, with the help of BGU’s remarkable faculty, the Zin fellows learned about the region’s history, the rise and fall of its civilizations and the process by which it became an integral part of the Zionist dream.They explored its topography, its diverse populations, and how science is driving its development as a living laboratory for discovering how to make the world’s arid zones more Hospitable for human habitation.They examined the current approaches to education and social welfare, and delved into the region’s security challenges in the aftermath of attacks from the Gaza Strip.<br /> <br /> The program’s culmination took place in Israel. By its final day, the essence of the matter was clear. The future of Israel will largely be defined by how successful we are in the Negev, which comprises roughly 60 percent of the State and yet is home to fewer than 10 percent of its people.It is here that much of the unfinished work of nation-building lies—and where the pioneering of Israel’s future continues unabated. Ben-Gurion University is the engine driving this development.<br /> <br /> In his introduction to a 1961 book chronicling 6,000 years of Negev history, David Ben-Gurion wrote: “The transformation of the Negev into a center of agriculture, industry, mining, commerce, learning, and research, and as a bridge of trade and political ties between the continents of Africa, Asia and Europe, is the central pioneer task of this generation of Israelis and of world Jewry.” That work continues.And now a new cadre of leaders will lend their skills and dedication to making this vision a reality.<br /> <br /> Perhaps Rob Mann, a Zin fellow and business and Jewish community leader in Chicago, put it best. He told us that even upon arriving in the Negev for the program’s final week, he still wasn’t certain what he was doing there.But by its final day he knew.<br /> <br /> “I’m a Zionist,” he said, for the first time in his life. “Where else should I be?”<br />

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