Tzur Hadassah update: small town, big plans, lots of drama

Oh, hi. To say it’s ‘been a while’ is an understatement. Yes, I still live in Tzur Hadassah. Yes, I’m still the mayor (what?).

To say ‘a lot’ has been going on here is an understatement, and also, an overstatement, because let’s face it – we are still a small town and content to sit and wonder if that proposed gym will really open or not (no. UPDATE: yes!).

But there has been much talk on several topics, so here is a breakdown.

1. Tzur Hadassah is being annexed by Jerusalem (!!!?!?!!)

Here I am, all ready to start making protest signs out of ‘saki kaki’. The word spread around a few months ago that an evil plan has been hatched by Jerusalem (ahem, Nir Barkat?) to annex Tzur Hadassah for secular votes. Maybe a potential 3,000 votes to save a city so far gone. Or maybe it is to gain a double-digit arnona tax increase for a city so far gone. It seems laughable. Except that, well, maybe it would happen and it isn’t funny.

(And not so laughable when you see #2 below).

Oh how we get screwed, let me count the ways:

  1. No one will pay for anything we need anymore – like roads between us and Jerusalem – being fixed, never mind being built.
  2. This does zero for us. There are no benefits for us being considered a suburb of Jerusalem. Except maybe some kind of club card.
  3. Seriously, the arnona is high enough. We are suburbia. We moved out of Jerusalem for a reason.
  4. Politically this makes me want to vomit. Politically I have a hard time with being considered Jerusalem.
  5. Who you callin’ a pawn?
  6. Just in case that wasn’t clear, EVERY SINGLE SOUL IN TZUR HADASSAH MOVED AWAY FROM JERUSALEM FOR A REASON.

We were assured by Matte Yehuda Regional Counsel leader Moshe Dadon, our current ‘owner’, that he’d never let that happen. Unless he gets to drop his most expensive asset onto someone to make his numbers look better?

I don’t know who to believe anymore but I know that being flippant about it is totally keeping me calm for the time being.

 2. They’re gonna turn Tzur Hadassah into a GIANT METROPOLIS

This has been a rumor/plan/thorn for a while. Tzur Hadassah: the Modiin of the Jerusalem Hills (with character).

The plan, 15 years ago, was that Tzur Hadassah would eventually be developed as a 20,000-unit mega-town/minor city, eventually reaching 100,000 residents, independent of a regional counsel. Think Beitar Illit and grander.

It keeps being brought up, and subsequently fought, by our Va’ad. Apparently where it stands now is that the town should be no more than 20,000 residents (as opposed to units). It’s even an official national plan – תמ”א 35. This is still hella more than we have now – which is lower single digits.

This was also not in my personal game plan, and for years we have been having a town-level conversation about the small-town character we all bought in to. Unfortunately, we may not have much choice here. The 20,000 residents part is coming into effect.

As our Va’ad head, Shlomo Magnezi, said himself in the bulletin where I got this info (translated) –

“In both cases (#1 and #2), residents of the community and its representatives do not share the decision-making process, which is done in the dark and does not reflect the planning and democratic decision-making.”

3. Another construction site in the forest between Tzur Hadassah and Beitar Illit

There are another 1,000 units planned for the forest area between Tzur Hadassah and Beitar Illit, presumably on the Tzur side of the machsom (checkpoint), presumably yet another corner of the land encroaching on Wadi Fukin, the tiny Arab farming village in the valley between the two towns.

(Note: Tzur Hadassah is within the Green Line).

The Va’ad and environmental groups are very much against this move, but it seems it is already in the works on a national level. Not shocking, and very disappointing.

What I have heard recently is this is slated for a specific demographic – namely, people who served in the army or got their degree – something to that effect. I assume to combat the inevitable outlook that this is just a way for Beitar Illit hopefuls to gain property close enough.

4. Oh, wait – EVEN MORE MESSY HOUSING PLANNED

On top of all that is the 1500-unit plan that’s been fought about for years – the Makbat housing plan west of Mavo Beitar, across the road from Tzur Hadassah. This is completely unorganized, taking into account not traffic needs, nor traffic dangers, nor lack of resources for such a population increase, nor the marketing of these units as idea for, let’s just say, Beitar Illit hopefuls, who are increasingly locked out of the charedi utopia which can’t build fast enough and because of demand, awards applications for housing ownership based on lottery.

In fact, there is a potential housing grab here ripe for conflict. While we’d like to think we can all get along, it seems fairly clear based on, oh, Jerusalem, that this just is not the case in practice. The quiet towns of the ‘mazleg’ region of the Jerusalem Hills operate very well – personally, I’d include Beitar Illit in this equation – we are friendly, we are peaceful, we are live and let live because for the most part, no one is trying to force anyone else into a lifestyle.

5. Advertising of all these units

Maybe this isn’t PC, I don’t know. But I’m not a huge fan of the way new housing units are being advertised – namely within and to the Gush Etsion communities.

I always told people who asked about Tzur Hadassah – if you’re considering between Tzur and a Gush Etsion town, you probably don’t understand the lifestyle and character of Tzur Hadassah.

It’s bad enough a lot of people assume it’s a ‘settlement’ over the Green Line.

We are so so proud to be apolitical, pluralistic, relaxed, laid back, non-denominational, mostly non-religious-in-nature town. We do respect each other, even if some of us don’t agree with others of us sending to the Chabad gan or using the mikva. And others of us understand the source of that disagreement fully, even if we do it.

People here generally don’t want to feel like they can’t be who they are, comfortably, out in the open. People here are generally comfortable being non-inflammatory, being open minded with each other, being totally different on the outside, cherishing particular values on the inside.

Maybe when I say ‘people’ I mean me. And my circle. But that’s the character of this place I cherish. That’s why ads catering to a certain kind of family make me think twice about what’s going on and where we are going.

I know change is a part of life. And change moves at an even faster pace here in Israel. And people need to live somewhere.

But it’s still hard to watch forests go down, even knowing they went down for me to. And it’s hard to know the fate of your town is not in your hands, and not even in your representatives’ hands because the state is controlling it. Especially the demographics, different than your own, to who it markets.

Perhaps the next post I write will be a positive look at how we’ve grown – at our desired pace – and what’s to come for us on a small town-level.

Please, if you have more info, or notice an inaccuracy here, let me know and I will fix. This is based on correspondence by the Va’ad, past conversations with people considered ‘in the know’, and what I’ve seen.

Getting your feet (ritually) wet: An American-Israeli’s mikvah story

Perhaps, for a taharat-mishpacha-keeping American-Israeli olah (female American immigrant to Israel who keeps laws of family purity), nothing else can quite epitomize the cultural differences of here and there better than… the mikvah.

Because I got married in Israel, my mikva knowledge and experiences have been molded here. The closest I got in the States before emigrating was a very swanky, fancy Sephardic mikvah in Brooklyn, that my high school class was taken to on a school trip while learning the halachot (laws) in our senior year. A gorgeous facility, including pre- and post- manicure, robes, blow driers, and made-up balaniyot.

The idea to me seemed, pretty clearly, to make the practice more attractive.

Fast forward to 2006, when I became engaged in the monthly ritual in an old, very ‘Jerusalem’ mikva facility tucked into a shoddy building behind a meat market in Katamonim.

Out of any of the mikvot I’ve been to, I came to love it the most.

I hated going, but I loved coming out. I loved the sound of Kaaaaasherrrr rolling off the tongue of the elderly Mizrachi balanit. Deep, warm, the rrrrrr is what made me really feel purified. I loved that she wished me the best of luck, speedy pregnancies, a million children, a good life. I loved believing her, that it would all come true this month, even though the next set of birth control pills were somewhere in the depths of my handbag.

To contrast that, there were the few times I’ve gone in New York during visits. It was my hometown mikva, a place I had passed a billion times during childhood, the heavy red door shut tight during the day. I had known what it was, but I had never been inside.

It was classy enough, comfortable, even kind of PC.

And it was home. Imagine my delight when the first time I lifted my head out of the water, the middle-aged New Yawka balanit was shrilly calling, KOH-shuuuh!

I’ve even been to the mikvah in Melbourne, Australia. This was by far the most comfortable, beautiful facility I’ve dunked in yet. Everything was provided; everything was just right.

Later, when I moved to Tzur Hadassah, I experimented before settling on a permanent mikvah. I tried what seemed like a tiny pre-1967 free-standing stone room in Bar Giora. I visited Efrat, where I felt I had entered an alternative universe (we spoke in English of course). I’ve been to the small but equipped mikvah in Nes Harim.

But where I’ve mostly settled, and returned to every month, are the mega-mikvot in Beitar Illit.

Israeli mikvah: Beitar Illit

These are free-standing buildings with their own identities; secret entrances shield visitors from publicity. A reception desk greets you. Corridors of prep rooms are available. Two mikvot are rotated inside, available depending on your tradition.

And the pre-check questions, oh, the questions.

It’s a personal challenge. I don’t love it like I was able to come to love my elderly Sephardi balanit in Jerusalem. I’ve had to make the experience completely separate and personal so as not to claw at the kisui rosh of an unassuming ‘just doing my charedi job’ Beitar Illit balanit, who to her credit, as she checks the length of my too-long nails, never fails to ask,

‘So, are you from around here?’

 

P.S. I have it on good faith that I’ll be able to report on the ever-in progress Tzur Hadassah mikvah very soon. It’s been completed and waiting for electricity, so they say. Stay tuned…

 

 

On Jews, Jerusalem, Women and Walls

Note: Reflections based on my rare February and March 2013 trips to the Kotel. Based on today’s news, I figured today’s as good as any to post. 

I’ve been to the Kotel, the Western Wall, way too many times in the past year. Previously, I had a comfortable average of maybe once every two or three years. Maybe less. It felt long enough between trips. And the trips are always for the sake and pleasure of other people.

But throughout the last year, I’ve accompanied various visiting family members through the Old City, the pathway inevitably leading to the token Kotel visit. Some pray, some don’t. I never do.

The Kotel, the Old City, and even Jerusalem for that matter have come to symbolize discomfort, pain, ambivalence, shame, conflict. I don’t want to pray in those places. I don’t want to pray alongside people I can’t trust. I don’t want to reach deep into myself and summon a spiritual presence in such a political place.

You know where it’s lovely to pray? In a forest. There’s plenty of forest around Jerusalem. I live in it. I think it’s a not-so-big-secret that many other ancient sects of humanity get that we don’t. Man-made holiness hurts. Holiness existed before we did. Why wouldn’t we jump over each other to access that?

By all means, if the Kotel means something to you, enjoy it. Women of the Wall, Women for the Wall, women who wear falls, women who wear shawls. Men who throw garbage, men who who wear jeans, men who think learning is working, men who think working is earning.

When I’m standing in the Kotel plaza, I’m filled with anger and pain. So please, count me out. Take my spot. I hope though that between me and you and everyone else, some kind of spirituality will eventually solve our crisis.

——-

Things I can’t handle #745873: Beit Shemesh Taliban mother and daughters. Visiting the Kotel in March 2013.

 

Liz’s How To: become a total creep over Hello Kitty

Racing through Malha mall for errands today, the heavens opened up and rays of sunlight poured down and unicorn angels sang and my eyes fell upon this… mecca of old school cuteness…

Granted this would completely make my daughter’s day, week, month, year – somehow she’s head over heels in love with ‘KITTY! HELLO, KITTY!!!’ – I was totally confused when I saw this.

What’s the date? Is it 1984? Where am I? FAO Shwartz? I’m in Jerusalem? There are a few more grown women than I’d expect pushing their newborns in expensive strollers into this completely unnecessary store?

Don’t get me wrong, I was a huge Hello Kitty fan as a kid (for reasons I can’t really figure out now, decades later). Japan knows what it’s doing. Sanrio was pure  genius, right there with Lisa Frank.

It was just surprising to come across an entire shop right here in Israel’s capital,  dedicated entirely to Hello Kitty merch – shirts, dolls, bags, pencils, dolls, suitcases, bikes, and dolls.

First I snapped a few pics to show Bebe – her reaction every time she sees a Hello Kitty image is priceless: <squeal> HELLO, KITTY! KITTTTY!</squeal>

Then I walked in to fully take in a really big piece of childhood awesomeness.

Then I walked out, made it a few steps, and looked down. I happened to be wearing – a couple months after my mother gave it to me as a nostalgic relic – well, when I realized what I was wearing, I was quickly transformed into a total creep at the dawn of her fourth decade, having attempted to be ironic this morning when I had put on… this very t-shirt:

(I now understand better the sales lady’s face after I responded in the negative to whether she could help me…)

 

And now for some local horror.

I don’t miss the part of living in Katamon, in Jerusalem, when a Beitar game would be on.

Beitar Jerusalem fans are known for a right-wing/arse/loud/violent combination of stereotype.

This, though. This is disgustingly criminal. It’s been a bit buried in the papers – partly because it happened around the time of the France Jew murders, and partly because, well, it is not flattering and since when do Israeli papers post something that admits to this level of wrongness?

Hundreds of Beitar Jerusalem fans beat up Arab workers in mall; no arrests

Hundreds of Beitar Jerusalem supporters assaulted Arab cleaning personnel at the capital’s Malha shopping center on Monday, in what was said to be one of Jerusalem’s biggest-ever ethnic clashes.

Despite CCTV footage of the events, no one was arrested. Jerusalem police said that is because no complaint was filed. Witnesses said that after a soccer game in the nearby Teddy Stadium, hundreds of mostly teenage supporters flooded into the shopping center, hurling racial abuse at Arab workers and customers and chanting anti-Arab slogans, and filled the food hall on the second floor.

It’s not the first time Beitar fans have acted utterly stupid in the name of a game won or lost. There have been tramplings, stampedes. But this is a fit of violence that goes beyond a game.

I despise the violence that erupts from sports frustration or elation (ahem, Red Sox fans). And I despise even more when  hate crimes are done from within my own people to minorities living among us.

How short are our memories? How immature are our minds?

These fans were young – who hasn’t been teaching them?

 

(And by the way, Arutz Sheva, seriously? There’s camera footage and you’re saying fans ‘allegedly attacked Arabs’?)

Exceptional Jew vs Jew hatred, brought to you this time by Charedi protesters.

This is an incredible low. Something I didn’t expect. It only helps a little that I know for a fact, from personal relationships, that sane, rational, open, and loving charedim do exist in Israel and beyond.

However, this – this is unforgivable.

The chilul Hashem, the national insult, the Jew vs Jew hatred that has come to this before dialogue or attempts to fix it without corruption, politics, leadership silence.

Ultra Orthodox protest ‘incitement’ and ‘hatred’

Approximately 1,500 ultra-Orthodox men gathered at Shabbat Square in the capital’s Geula neighborhood on Saturday night to protest what they called the “oppression” and “incitement” of the “secular community” against them.

Dozens of men wore yellow Stars of David on their jackets with the word “Jude” in the center, and banners bearing slogans such as “Zionists are not Jews” and “Zionism is racism” were paraded at the rally.

Orthodox Jews demand the presence of international forces to protect them,” another sign read.

“What’s happening is exactly like what happened in Germany,” said one man wearing a yellow star, who gave his name only as Moishe. “It started with incitement and continued to different types of oppression. Is it insulting that we wear these stars? Absolutely, and it hurts people to see this, but this is how we feel at the moment, we feel we are being prevented from observing the Torah in the manner in which we wish.

It’s so disgusting, I don’t even want to redisplay the images here, but in case you’re too lazy or too biased or too ignorant to click, here’s a teaser that should get you in the know:

What we need as a country and Jewish society, right NOW, is a national dialogue, for leaders to set their pride and balls aside and have a freakin conversation. No one is understanding, or trying to understand anyone here. Tisha B’Av was only a few months ago – let alone Yom Kippur – and it seems anything related to ‘Adam l’chavero’ is completely neglected.

It’s sickening to see what this ‘secular’ ‘charedi’ divide – or perceived civil war – is coming to. Is it not possible for us all to have what we absolutely need? Maybe because I straddle the religious/secular divide, it’s just a little clearer than for extremists on either side?

And as long as our Palestinian ‘friends’ stay quiet, this is just going to get worse and worse.