General Mitzna took them to Mount Avnon on the township's eastern outskirts, where they stopped to gaze at the Great Crater. They were greeted by a convoy of camels, a herd of sheep and a group of fifth- and sixth-graders holding a welcome sign in English.
JA board chairwoman Carol Solomon said they came to Yeruham to see the fruit of their investments in projects to advance youth and children. She said they also came because of their admiration of Mitzna for leaving his comfortable life in Haifa and coming to Yeruham.
If somebody in his position believes in Yeruham, she said, it must be worth the effort.
The atmosphere was festive. In the Ort school's Scientific Center for Technological Education, local pupils gave the guests carnations and explanations in English about sound waves and soap bubbles; in the library, the guests wondered if there had ever been a man who headed two cities. And when Mitzna told them he was celebrating his 61st birthday, everyone burst into a round of singing "happy birthday."
Then he preached Zionism to them.
"At the age of 60, I decided I hadn't done enough yet," he explained, and told them why he volunteered for the mission in Yeruham.
"The real enemy to Israeli society is within," he told the delegation. "If we don't deal with this challenge, the best tanks and missiles won't save us. Yeruham is a test case we must succeed in. I hope my moving here will create a momentum of people who want to make the dream of Zionism come true."
The guests sampled Moroccan, Indian, Yemenite, Ashkenazi and Farsi dishes, to the strains of Yiddish songs by an immigrant Russian duo and a darbuka drummer from India. After a huge cake was served, the guests wrote a $50,000 check for an employment agency in Yeruham.
Shimon Levy and his friend Kfir did not fall off their chairs at the Crunchy Burger diner, opposite the community center, when they heard of this gesture. In their 24 years in Yeruham, they have seen many contributors and heard many promises.
"There's nowhere to advance to, here," says Kfir. "There's no standard of living."
The two are unemployed. Kfir, who asked not to disclose his family name, lives on income guarantee, and Levy receives help from his parents. They both want to leave but don't know where to go. They regard Mitzna with mixed feelings. "He has a vision and a rich resume, but he is here temporarily," says Kfir.
"I want someone to come to pull this place into shape with his whole family and settle here, not someone who will leave," says Levy.
"See, people don't like politics because it brought us only corruption and discrimination," says Kfir. "The prime minister's son is going to jail. There's no ideology. Everyone cares only about their own pocket and seat."
He intends to vote for Amir Peretz because of his promise to raise the minimum wage. Levy will vote for Kadima. "I cannot vote for Bibi after what he did to the poorer people," he says.
"Bro, bro," admonishes Kfir. "Didn't we agree you were going to vote for Peretz?"
Levy remains unconvinced.
"I agree with what Sharon did," he says.
In the nearby hardware store, Nadav Betito, 22, is not enamoured of Mitzna, perhaps because his dad, Moti Betito, was the deputy of Baruch Almakayas, the council head who was ousted last year and replaced by Mitzna. Betito Sr. has already secured a job as head of the Mitzpeh Ramon religious council.
Young Betito would like to cast one ballot for Degel Hatorah and another for Peretz. "Because he's Moroccan and comes from a peripheral township," he says. "He wouldn't kick people out of their homes like Sharon. He'd find them alternative places."
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