Be’er-Sheva, Israel is ca.31 degrees North by ca.34 degrees East and ca.267 meters (ca.876 feet) above sea level. It is the Capital of the Negev Region, located right in the middle of the slender State of Israel, like a ‘belly-button’. This oasis-metropolis sits in the midst of the semi-arid Negev Desert, surrounded by all the Negev Bedouin tribes, at the hub of smaller, ‘satellite’ cities and towns: Arad, Dimona, Kiryat Gat, Lehavim, Meitar, Mitspeh Ramon, Netivot, Ofakim, Omer, Sederot & Rahat (the first Bedouin city), and many other Jewish kibbutzim and “recognized” & “unrecognized” Bedouin settlements. Be’er-Sheva is located only ca.90 km (ca.60 miles) south of Jerusalem; only ca.100 km from Tel Aviv (ca.62 miles); ca.200 km from Haifa (ca.124 miles); ca.250 km from Eilat (ca.155 miles); and only ca.85 km (ca.53 miles) from the Dead Sea.
Size and ambience
The Be’er-Sheva metropolitan area is the fourth largest in Israel with an overall estimated population of ca.750,000. The City of Be’er-Sheva covers ca.118,000 dunams (ca.30,000 acres), more than twice the size of Tel-Aviv! It has the 8th largest urban population in Israel (over 205,000 residents), producing a very low residential density of 0.8 people/room, in total opposition to the extremely cramped situation in Jerusalem. Roughly 25% of the population are minors (0-18); ca.48% are adults (19-55); and senior citizens make up the remaining ca.27%; about 50% of the residents are under the age of 40.
Be’er-Sheva has broad thoroughfares and open horizons that keep it bright, spacious and full of fresh air. The traffic jams and sand storms are rare and usually short-lived. The city does not suffer from the underlying tensions of Jerusalem, nor the frenzied pace of Tel-Aviv. The city now has 16 residential neighborhoods and 5 more being built. Be’er-Sheva is usually quiet at night and the night sky is typically clear and stunning.
Symbols and names
The Be’er-Sheva city logo and the City Hall building were both designed recalling the Hebrew biblical verse from Genesis (XXI:33): “…And [Abraham, the Patriarch] planted a tamarisk tree in Be’er-Sheva…” making the native shade-tree one of the city’s symbols.
The 12 vertical columns repeated around the City Hall edifice represent the 12 Tribes of Israel, suggesting the “ingathering of the exiles” in the city of the forefathers. Indeed, Be’er-Sheva has absorbed Jewish immigrants from 72 countries of origin, including the last Jews from Albania, Iran & Yemen, as well as the highest percentages of Jews from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia per capita.
The Hebrew name Be’er-Sheva (Beersheba) literally means: “the well of the oath” based on the oath sworn by Abraham, the Patriarch (Genesis XXI:22-33) to resolve the dispute regarding the ownership of the well and to forge a peace treaty with Avimelekh, King of Gerar. Throughout recorded history, Be’er-Sheva was known for having many wells, including that of Leah, the biblical Matriarch. The Abraham’s Well International Visitors’ Center (founded 2013) provides a 3D biblical experience (available in English & Hebrew, Chinese, French, German, Japanese & Spanish. It also has a unique wall displaying the “Peace Mosaic” (created by artist David Vekstein & his pupils, 2017), as well as offering Old City tours – 08-6234613, http://www.abraham.org.il.
The City of Be’er-Sheva, Capital of the South, has also been called “The Desert Rose” and “The Queen of Chess,” because it’s Be’er-Sheva‘s E. Levant Chess Center (founded 1973) by Eliyahu Levant, a.k.a. “Mr. Chess” (1928-2017), is famous in all the international chess circles for having the second-highest rate of Grand Masters per capita in a city in the World (9 and counting…)–as a longstanding chess superpower.
It is customary in the desert, and in Be’er-Sheva hospitality, to receive guests with a drink. The tap-water in Be’er-Sheva is good, safe drinking water. One traditional greeting is: “Barukh ha-ba!” (He/she who arrives is blessed!), to which the proper response is: “Barukh ha-nimtsa!” (Blessed be the one who is here!). Note that Orthodox Jewish men and devout Muslim men do not shake hands, hug, or kiss women–greetings are spoken and heads nodded. Men may hug or kiss other men on the cheeks, as may the women. Couples do not usually display physical affection in public.
Some private stores (especially in the Old City) and offices are closed between 13:00-16:00 on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday & Thursday [regular hours: 8:30-13:00 & 16:00-18:30/19:00] and have only morning hours on Tuesdays and Fridays. Most of the stores outside the malls and all the offices are closed on Saturdays (the Jewish Sabbath) and Jewish holidays. On national days of mourning (Holocaust Memorial Day and the Memorial Day for Fallen Israeli Soldiers) places of entertainment are closed. On the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) everything is closed except for medical emergency rooms, ambulance services (dial 101), the Police (dial 100) and the Fire Department (dial 102).
Note that in Be’er-Sheva, there is no public transportation on Saturdays (the Jewish Sabbath) and Jewish holidays (private cabs are available). Bicycles and motorbikes are preferably ridden on bike paths, but where there are none, they are ridden on the right side of the right-most lane with the traffic. Bike helmets are mandatory. Motorbikes are limited to those over 16. Be’er-Sheva has a few biking clubs, bicycle tours and several annual bike rallies and races.
It’s a sign of respect to cover one’s head (men and women) when entering a synagogue or a mosque during prayers, or while attending Jewish or Islamic ceremonies, such as weddings, funerals, etc. Usually, Muslims and visitors remove their shoes before entering a consecrated mosque; however, this is not required before entering the restored Be’er-Sheva mosque, serving since 2011 as the Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Cultures.
For more information on Be’er-Sheva (mostly in Hebrew), the Tuviyahu Archives are open to the public without charge, located on the 4th floor of the Aranne Central Library on the BGU Campus – http://in.bgu.ac.il/en/aranne/Pages/Tuviyahu-Archives.aspx.