By Megan E. Turner
“Mitzpe Ramon is in the house!” exclaimed the emcee at the opening ceremony of Mitzpe Ramon’s first skate park in mid-April.
The air was buzzing with excited chatter and the ‘swooshing’ sounds of professional skater demonstrators and novices testing out the new curves and ramps of this unique and beautiful park. What sets this park apart is that it’s the only one of its kind, not only in this dusty development town, but also anywhere south of Be’er Sheva, the capital of the Negev Desert. Children and teens, both boys and girls, religious and secular, could be seen gliding around on their skateboards and roller blades, catching air and laughing with excitement. One girl rolled up yelling, “I love to skate!” before grabbing her friend’s hand to run off and perform her next trick.
Six months ago, this patch of land was nothing more than dry, desert sand in the middle of a town home to just over 5,000 residents. “It’s very different now,” said Norman Weiss of Scarsdale, who together with his wife, Bonnie, donated the funds, vision, and motivation to make this project come to fruition. It all began when the Weiss’ were approached by Russell F. Robinson, Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) CEO, with an idea of creating a skate park deep in the heart of Israel’s Negev Desert. “I instantly knew we had to get involved,” Weiss said.
The Weiss’ wanted to make a difference in Southern Israel, and this was made possible thanks to JNF’s groundbreaking Blueprint Negev initiative, that seeks to settle and strengthen Israel’s Negev region and to draw 300,00 new residents to the area. Mitzpe Ramon Mayor Ronen Marom told the gathered crowd at the opening ceremony that the park’s addition will add much depth and value to the town and the region. “If it’s not here in Mitzpe Ramon, it wouldn’t exist anywhere else,” Marom said, driving home the message of how extraordinary the creation of this park is to the town. “Even though you are not residents, you are a part of Mitzpe Ramon, and that excites me,” Mayor Marom told the Weiss family.
According to Marom, the park will address three main goals for the town and the surrounding area: to provide a place for local youth that allows greater involvement in Mitzpe Ramon’s city life; provide a common meeting place for Mitzpe Ramon’s heterogeneous community, which consisting of a wide range of ages and social and religious backgrounds; and to instill a sense of social responsibility in residents who use the park.
In addition to Norman and Bonnie, three generations of the Weiss family were present to take part in the opening ceremony. In his address to the crowd—in flawless Hebrew—Norman said, “All of you deserve thanks for building up this wonderful community and for being part of the miracle of miracles that is the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel.”
The Weiss’ are another example of the unbreakable connection between the State of Israel and JNF’s generous partners and donors. “This is a high-class park,” the emcee shouted out to the crowd as international skating stars flipped and performed tricks around the park. And by the cheers and smiles that accompanied this statement, it’s safe to say that the residents of Mitzpe Ramon wholeheartedly agree.