Part of a Series – Hanukkah 2020 – Nes Gadol Haya Po – Beer Sheva and the Negev
I love the story of David Tuviyahu. It’s a simple story, without intrigue. David Tuviyahu knew who he was and what he needed to do. In short, David Tuviyahu, Beer Sheva’s first mayor (1950-1961), was the right man for the right job at the right time.
Tuviyahu was born in Galicia, today’s Ukraine, in 1898. After World War I, he made aliyah in 1920 as part of the third aliyah, and immediately went to work. This is what Tuviyahu was in his essence, a man who knew how to work and get things built. In fact, immediately after his arrival, he was set about as a construction worker on the road between Afula and Nazareth (the northern segment of Route 60 of today). He went on to be a construction worker in Jerusalem and worked at Rutenberg’s power plant in Naharayim (read about that project here). He saw working and building the land as part of his destiny.
His life may have continued on peacefully, rising higher and higher in the construction company, Solel Bonei for whom he worked, had not world events in the 1940’s changed everything. First came the threat of invasion by the Nazis. Tuviyahu was enlisted for his engineering and building skill to work on fortifications near Jericho in preparation of an attack by Rommel and the Desert Foxes. The Nazis, together with their Arab collaborators headed by Jerusalem Mufti Haj al-Husseini, planned to destroy the Jewish community in Palestine. Rommel’s quick advance across Egypt threatened the Suez canal. During the 200 Days of Dread in 1942, the Jewish community planned for survival and built defenses against the Nazi plan. Thankfully, Rommel was defeated by the British in el-Alamein, Egypt and never made it to Palestine.
The Nazi threat was thwarted, but the British were not too supportive of the Jewish settlement either. Tuviyahu again used his building expertise to further the Jewish cause. During the summer of 1943, 3 lookouts (Mitzpot) were established to secure Jewish lands in the Negev. Tuviyahu was there to build homes and secure the land in Gvulot, Revivim and Beit Eshel. Settlement and building were seen as an effective way to claim land when the British would leave and lines would be drawn separating Jewish land from Arab land. A few years later, on the night after the holiday of Yom Kippur in 1946, 11 settlements in the Negev would be established, again with the Tuviyahu’s participation.
After Israel’s Independence War, David Tuviyahu was invited to Beer Sheva by Ben Gurion and named mayor of the empty city. During the war, the Ottoman city had been bombed and its population fled. David Ben Gurion’s vision of the blooming of the desert certainly included the flourishing of Beer Sheva. Who better to rebuild it than Tuviyahu?
Tuviyahu brought the city into the 20th century, paving roads, connecting the city to electricity and water grids. He rebuilt the Old City and added an industrial park along Derekh Hebron. The masses of immigrants entering Israel in the early 1950’s from Arabic speaking countries were sent to live in tent cities in the Negev to aid settlement in the periphery. Tuviyahu took his experience with Solel Bonei and built for them neighborhoods in Beer Sheva; under him, the neighborhoods Alef, Bet, Gimmel and Dalet were all built.
Tuviyahu also built services for the growing city. Soroka hospital and the Negev University (now the Ben Gurion University of the Negev) were founded. During the time he was mayor (1950 – 1961), Beer Sheva grew to 112,000 people and became the capital of the Negev.
The main street heading west out of the city was renamed to honor him after his death in 1975. His legacy and the changed face of Beer Sheva because of his work established him without a doubt as a Gadol, great personality, of Beer Sheva and the Negev.