Yeruham, the Boomtown of the South

Although once thought of as a backwater, there is increasing interest from residents of the center of the country to move to the Negev town of Yeruham. Five years ago the Yeruham council issued its first public tender for 24 residential lots in the town, but received only eight bids. Then a year and a half ago 30 people vied for 24 additional lots. And when 24 lots with a desert view came up for bid two weeks ago, a record 264 people participated, each of whom had to put down a NIS 700 deposit just to participate. Forty percent of them were out-of-towners from the center of the country.

"If I had asked a Yeruham resident four or five years ago where they lived, first he would have said the south, then near Be'er Sheva, and only nine questions later would he have admitted that he lived in Yeruham," said town council secretary Rafi Fahima, who serves as an assistant to the city's appointed mayor, Amram Mitzna.

Mitzna served in a range of senior positions in the army and in government, among them as mayor of Haifa, before he was appointed council head in Yeruham by then-Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz over three years ago.

So how did Yeruham become such a sought-after place? The answer, Mitzna said, is a matter of image, along with other reasons: "It's much cheaper to build in Yeruham than in the center of the country. The cost of living is also much less, and residents get a tax deduction if they live there. Another reason is the beginning of infrastructure work on a major army education center, which will provide work to a lot of people."

There is also new student housing for university students attending Negev institutions, he noted.

"But the primary reason is image," Mitzna said. "The residents of the town themselves have changed their opinion of the town and in the past two years, many businesses have taken a look and have been very enthusiastic about the city."

Fahima added, "We invest a lot of money and resources in education. With the help of the Yeruham Foundation, we bring outstanding teachers here, who receive NIS 8,000 a month from the Education Ministry," to which the town adds additional sums, he said. Yeruham resident Nissim Avitan noted that in the last year it has become hard to find an apartment in Yeruham.

"Something good is happening here in recent years. The level of education has gone up and infrastructure has been developed," he said.

Residents from the center of the country who have bid on new lots in Yeruham cite a variety of reasons for their interest, but the one that gets repeated over and over is money.

Adi Adler, of Or Yehuda, east of Tel Aviv, hopes to snag a lot in the latest round of bidding.

"Yeruham is one of the most beautiful towns in Israel," he said. "I was looking for a peaceful and quiet place. I love the Negev and the desert landscape."

He added that a lot in Yeruham is a fraction of the cost of a lot in Or Yehuda.