Kibbutz Ir Ovot (the town of Ovot) was established in the Arava in Southern Israel in 1967, by a group of Messianic Jews from the US led by Simcha Pearlmutter. It was named after
Biblical Ovot, one of the Old Testament localities mentioned on the way from Egypt to the Land of Israel (Numbers XXI, 10). Today the site is identified as Biblical Tamar (Kings I, IX, 18).
Simcha Pearlmutter was born to a Jewish family in Miami, Florida. At the beginning of the 1960s, inspired by some ideas of the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlibach, he created a small Orthodox community. He and his family and disciples later became Messianic Jews, believing in the near coming if the messiah, and settling in Israel for that reason. He published a book: “Behohalei Ha-Shem” (In the Tents of God), writing about his belief, the role of Jesus in the restoration of Israel, and the End of Days. Over time they started to believe that the Messiah will arrive first from Mt. Edom which is opposite Ir Ovot.
Ir Ovot was a religious agricultural cooperative (kibbutz) form 1967 until mid-1980s, and still refers to a small, unincorporated group of homes located in the Arava. It is situated within the boundaries of Tamar regional council.
In 1966, rejected by the Jewish communities in Florida, Perlmutter began negotiations with the Jewish Agency to settle in Israel. In 1967 he immigrated to Israel with his two wives (Rachel and Yehudit), his three children and three other members. Their first attempts to join a Hebrew “ulpan”, or a kibbutz, were rejected. At the end of 1968 they settled, with the support of General Yashaayahu Gavish, the IDF’s Southern Regional commander, at a deserted army base in the Arava, which they named Ir Ovot. Several years after, they received official recognition from the state for their settlement.
Past and Present demographic and economic condition
The demographic situation of the settlement was fragile from the beginning. Its population in 1969 reached twenty-five adults, and ten children. In 1982 the population reached seventeen families and twenty children. In end of 1982 a crisis began when one of the wives (Yehudit) left with her five children, and other families left as well. In the 1990s only ten people were left. They lived communal life as a Kibbutz with a common dining room, laundry, children’s house and school, and central work planning and institutions. The Supreme Court approved their Kibbutz status. Rabbi Ami Katz who was evacuated from the Sinai Jewish settlement of Yamit moved to Ir Ovot and at that time the original commune hid their messianic ideology. Chief Rabbi Goren explored in 1982 the option of the conversion of eleven members to Judaism. This began the disintegration of the settlement which worsened as Pearlmutter joined the Satmar Hasidim in order to get economic and political support, and the commune became ultra-orthodox. Shortly after newspaper articles and rumours as to its being a settlement of messianic Jews led to the Rabbi Katz’s departure as well as Simha’s wife Yehudit, and other members. As a result Pearlmutter renewed the name: Ir Ovot: the community of Jesus the messiah.
In 1975 they joined the Ichud Chaklai, the Israeli Agricultural Union, which is a non-political settlement body, a step which helped them get land and water quotas, and development loans. This ended in 1986 when the Ichud Chaklai ended its relationship with the commune.
The economy that at the first stages was based on agricultural crops such palm trees, tomatoes and eggplants, and Jojoba (a shrub used for oil), suffered due to the limited land
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and water quotas in this dry area. They tried to open a wooden toy factory, a truck company for transport, and bottled spring drinking water. The Kibbutz fell into debt, and after that, it survival came to depend on donations.
The establishment and spiritual and economic existence of Kibbutz Ir Ovut is based on its charismatic leader Pearlmutter. The ups and downs of the settlement were related to the non-stable core of members, changes in faith, and in the attitude of the Israeli establishment. Thus after the death of its leader in 2003, the community declined to such an extent that it can longer be considered a commune because it only consists of a few family members and people.
At present there are four groups in Ir Ovot: Perlmuter’s wife and a German family who host volunteers from Germany and the Netherlands who work on the 40 dunams family plot, an Evangelist organization from the US, called Blossoming Rose, who work with Rochester College near Detroit, Michigan opened an archeological park and educational center at the ancient Tel of Tamar, an extended Swiss family, and the extended Danish Larsen family, who arrived with religious visions, and is active with rehabilitating Arab, and Jewish youth in trouble.
It is the site of an extensive archaeological complex known as Tamar Fortress or Hatzevah Fortress (Hebrew: מצודת חצבה) which dates to the 10th century BCE (United Monarchy/First Temple period).
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Remains of several Israelite fortresses at Ein Hatseva (Ein means spring in Hebrew) are located on a low hill in the Arava Valley, some 35 kms. south of the Dead Sea. The spring a source of fresh water in this desert region and the strategic position of the hill at the intersection of the main Arava road and the Negev-Edom road were the reasons for the building of consecutive fortresses on this spot over the course of about 1,000 years. Each fortress served as the military and administrative center for the region as well as a caravan station.
The ruins of Hatseva had already been surveyed at the beginning of the century and identified as the Biblical Tamar: The border shall be even from Tamar by the waters of strife in Kadesh (Ezekiel 48:28) and as the Roman Tamara. The identification was confirmed in the course of excavations conducted between 1987 and 1995.
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