What is the safest place in Israel?
The answer, according to Ronnie Lotan, is the Golan, which hasn't had a single terrorist incident since the Heights, captured in 1967, were formally annexed to Israel 20 years ago.
Lotan, an avuncular looking man of 55, was in town to help organize Monday's tribute dinner to Jerry Weintraub, the first major fundraiser for the year-old Golan Fund. Lotan, the fund's president, says that his relatively modest goal for the next three years is to raise $3 million, with three projects topping the list.
Natura Village, a residential and social home for some 100 adults with mental and behavioral problems, due to open in July.
Ohalo College in Qatzrin, capital of the Golan Heights, and the only college in Israel's far North. Scholarships will help train teachers in physical education and fitness.
Fellowships and scholarships for the Golan Research Institute, which promotes knowledge and economic development of the region.
Cost of these and all other development projects are split -- with the Israeli government paying two-thirds, and the Golan Fund providing the remainder.
A native of Tel Aviv, Lotan moved to the Golan in 1968 and now lives in Kibbutz Mevo Hama, one of 32 communities on the Golan. The region now has a population of 18,000, of whom some 7,000 live in Qatzrin. About 45 percent of Qatzrin's residents are Russian emigrants. The Golan, which has no Arab residents, is an integral part of Israel, in contrast to the Jewish towns and settlements in the territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Fortunately, the region has been able to avoid the sharp ideological and religious confrontations plaguing much of the rest of Israel.
About one-third of the residents are observant Jews (though there are no enclaves of fervently Orthodox) and two-thirds are secular. There is one unified school system and kibbutzim and moshavim operate under a joint governing council. Lotan cites as the Golan's biggest concern a slow drain of young people to the cities, where job opportunities are more varied and plentiful. One of his main goals is to create more good jobs in the region to staunch the drain and attract newcomers.
The father of seven children, Lotan declares proudly that five have remained on the Golan -- the other two couldn't find the right jobs.
For more information on the Golan Fund, check its Web site at www.golanfund.org
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