Wednesday, October 19, 2016

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Chabad & Beit Shemesh, Israel

A while back someone asked me about Beit Shemesh, and Chabad in Beit Shemesh.  Here’s my reply to their email, with a few adjustments (as this was about a year ago)…

Beit Shemesh, Israel is a town of about 125,000.  It's laid out across a series of hills and valleys, with different sections having significantly different cultural mixes.  It’s considered a suburb of Jerusalem, being about a 40 minute car drive away.  There’s also train service to Tel Aviv.  While it’s definitely suburban, housing construction in Israel in “towns” still is much higher density that U.S. suburban (with row homes and condo buildings of 2-8 stories).

It’s a town growing quickly, with many immigrants, and each phase of growth has turned into a different cultural mix and different immigrant mix.

- Old Beit Shemesh...  Sephardi traditional Israelis, Russian Jewish immigrants, Ethiopian Jewish immigrants.  Housing is equivalent to what you might call row-houses of Eastern US cities.  Very few English speakers.  There is a Chabad house here.  Probably 20 synagogues. It’s divided between a poorer section and a long term resident section in individual homes (on very small lots).

- Kiryat Charedit...  An older ultra-orthodox neighborhood, very space compressed, very few English speakers.  Probably 30 synagogues.  Think of a cross between Williamsburg in New York and Monsey in New York.  It’s also a poorer area.

- Cheftzibah... A series of apartment towers, small apartments, young ultra-orthodox families, some English speakers, some extremism / ultra-religious zealots.  Probably 20 synagogues.

- Sheinfeld... Small homes, some row homes, some apartment buildings, mixed modern orthodox and zionist community, lots if not majority English speakers.  Probably 10 synagogues.  Moderate price.  This is the neighborhood that abuts the next on the list and makes international news on cross neighborhood conflicts.

- Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet... "Rama" means "Heights", the next 3 neighborhoods are on hilltops.  This is an extreme ultra-orthodox community, majority moved from Jerusalem and Bnei Brak.  Maybe 20% English speakers.  Yiddish speakers.  Decent sized apartments but limited green space.  2 Chabad shuls and a Chabad boys school and a Chabad girls school.  Probably 50 synagogues.  Moderate price.  Up the hill is more mixed and “normal”, down the hill is the zealot zone – with monthly public riots about the religious insult of the moment (or entertainment for the teens – riots are fun!)

- Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef... Mixed orthodox, modern orthodox, zionist, and ultra-orthodox community, about 60% English speakers.  Decent sized apartments with decent green space.   Probably 50 synagogues, including 3 Chabad shuls.  Expensive.

- Ramat Beit Shemesh Gimmel... NEW neighborhood.  Mixed ultra-orthodox community.  15 synagogues, about 30% English speakers.  Reasonably priced.  1 Chabad shul.  Nice apartments but still a lot of construction in progress.  So far the zealots have not been welcome in the neighborhood.

Lots of Americans that come to Israel arrive in Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef.  It’s worth checking out, and yes the schools and yeshivas can deal with lots of immigrant children arriving – but checking out and arranging for schooling BEFORE YOU ARRIVE is important, as schools are at capacity.


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