Tzur Hadassah update: The border town gets border police

Hello and welcome to our border town. It looks like we’re finally getting border security treatment.

Back in the summer I noticed these posters go up at either entrance to Tzur Hadassah, and during the Gaza operation, we were emailed by the va’ad about some new details.

When it comes to Tzur Hadassah and security, it’s a touchy subject. For as long as w’eve been here, and before, car thefts have been fairly common during appropriate seasons, and we’ve heard of more than one house robbery during high periods (including our neighbors).

It’s a bit of a contradiction here; it feels so safe being out in the hills, but on the other hand, the seclusion can be a little intimidating at times.

Anyway… the משמר הגבול presence has definitely been upped.

The new American consulate in Jerusalem (now with room to breathe!)

Let’s hear it for American consulate 2.0!

Had to go back to ze Fatherland territory to register new baby’s citizenship, get her passport (1/3) and apply for her Social Security number.

For a while now, Jerusalem and Jerusalem-area American-Israeli residents have been going to the shiny new consulate in ‘west’ Jerusalem (is Arnona not a hop-skip away from East Jerusalem, in reality? I kinda thought it was East Jerusalem).

The building is really nice and there’s a lot of American-ness in it. The giant, thick glass window-walls of the interior facility made me feel at home for some reason. It’s a bit airport-y but that makes sense; what with the security details swiping the cars in the (spacey!) parking lot to be tested for chemicals… and all.

Basically, it’s not a dank, old, claustrophobic ichsa with no parking in East Jerusalem. So, win!

Kudos to security for making me drink my own poison (water in an opaque bottle) instead of taking it away and wasting/pouring it out. That’s an Israeli airport technique. As opposed to an American airport technique. So I guess American security is learning?

I had heard that the new facility would be ‘mother-friendly’ which I assumed meant a nice nursing section. If you turn back the time to the last time I went to the American consulate – two years ago – I thought I was meant to breastfeed in public and then got sent to a tiny little corner with a shower curtain around it. This time, from what I could tell, I was supposed to nurse in the bathroom, in a separate space from the toilets and sinks which had a couple chairs. Next to it was what I suspect was a change area (a long counter top). Definitely an upgrade, but most breastfeeding moms would complain about having to use the bathroom.

Well, in any case, I nursed the little one in the gorgeous courtyard outside the bathroom, complete with park benches, shady trees and patches of grass.

In other news, the ordeal was fairly quick, except having to wait nearly an hour at the end for the passport papers to be approved. I’d recommend going on a day when you can get the first appointment slot. The parking is spacious, so if you can drive, go for it. Otherwise – I’m not sure if/how the public transportation works (I saw other people pulling up in cabs). I also think they need to get a bit more organized with how you line up once you’re inside.

But otherwise, not bad, American compatriots.

Tzur Hadassah update: It’s not *all* Pleasantville.

I get a lot of email from people looking to move to Tzur Hadassah, our 1,000 family size yishuv in the Jerusalem hills. I tend to paint a rosy picture here, and get more honest in the emails, but I think I’m going to be honest here and allow myself to complain a little bit.

You know, in case you were interested.

Here are the complaints that I would say are fairly universal among most Tzur Hadassah residents, with the exception of a few here or there (depending on whether you are actually characterized by being the source of a complaint).

  • Questionable security
    When we moved here in February 2008, there was a spate of car thefts going on. Car thefts here are relatively common in the winter months, and it’s not shocking why. We’re technically a ‘border town,’ being that the ‘Green Line’ is across the street from the end of the yishuv. The fence that is supposedly the edge of the town is quite literally a backyard fence. Parts of it used to be electric, but that is no help in the fact that there are at any time several holes at different points.

    A couple weeks ago, not one but two families I know were robbed in their homes – within 24 hours of each other. That was news to me – cars are one thing, but break-ins are another.So, all that said, what is security like here? When we moved here, it was a professional and a volunteer from the yishuv every night. And by volunteer, I mean husbands and sons from the yishuv doing a shift every three months or else paying a ridiculous fee. Until recently, it was one or two ‘professional’ guys on shift without guns; while we all paid a ridiculous fee. Now, we all pay a ridiculous fee and it’s a couple of guys with guns and a boom gate. So… most of us are not very happy with the security situation.

  • Poor public transportation
    This is probably the most common turn-off for people who consider moving here. We have access to three Superbus/Egged lines outlined here.

    All together, there are about five trips outside the yishuv and five incoming every week day. It’s not enough for most people who commute and there’s no convenient way to get to the train in Beit Shemesh – unless you tremp. In fact, tremping is pretty common. So is having cars; actually, owning a car is pretty much mandatory.

  • Careless pet owners
    This is probably the most common ‘small’ problem for people who already live here. I don’t know what percentage of the population actually owns dogs, but whatever it is, too-large a percentage let their big dogs run loose in the streets all day. So there is dog shit everywhere for all seasons, as well as lazy dogs sitting in the middle of roads so you have to drive around them or stop to avoid hitting them.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs and wish I had the space to own one, but I don’t. So I don’t. Owning a dog while living in an apartment is unrealistic and irresponsible if you’re going to choose a big lab, husky or shepherd and let it run outside all day. It’s not safe for drivers, it can be terrifying for kids, and it’s just a poop hazard for pedestrians.

  • Religious people
    There are definitely exaggerations about the secular-religious divide here. I’ve written about it before. For all the rumors, the fact is traditional, open-minded ‘religious’ people have no problem really. And there are plenty of Sephardi-traditional-Shabbat observing types as well as Reform/Progressive types.

    The issue is with the fear of Charedi families moving in, with Beitar Illit across the hill and expanding constantly. There are actually a few families here for some reason (one of them being the token Chabad family). I’m highly skeptical, but then again, who knows.

  • Rising prices
    What can you do, it’s a popular place and the prices across the center of Israel have gone up tremendously in the last few years. Our apartment, which we currently rent, has gone up in value over 400,000 shekel since we moved here.

    In Tzur Hadassah, the prices have gone up about 17% a year. So it’s not really the affordable non-Jerusalem option it once was – especially because you need a car (see bullet #2).

  • Traffic hazards
    Ok, truth is, I haven’t heard many people discuss this one, but it’s growing. Nearly six months ago, we got a  small shopping center including supermarket on the second largest thoroughfare road which until then had been completely residential (aside from the small medical clinic inside a house). To drive down that way now is to weave through a narrow busy street with two constantly-full parking lots leading into it. Drivers not watching, kids crossing the road to get to the candy store, and soon it will be worse with a planned coffee shop.

    Another issue is driving in the old yishuv, where roads are actually narrow, barely two-way, and for some reason, prone to speeding drivers in nice cars. Most of the nurseries and gans are located there, so driving through around 8 am and 4 pm is a ball.

So that’s my rundown of complaints for Tzur Hadassah. The pros outweight the cons, whןch is why we’re pretty much settled here for now. But if you were wondering… there you have it.

Drink to your own security.

My husband is at the Knesset today for a meeting. He was standing in the security line, which you can imagine is pretty intense over there in the Knesset. They went through pretty much everything, which is a lot more than they do at airports.

Even more, we’re all used to getting rid of our bottled water as we get in line at the airports in England, Australia, the U.S., and wherever else security makes a lot of sense. We know that beyond a certain point, our liquids might suddenly become poisonous and that after they take away our liquids, we can’t possibly access more liquids through a shop or bathroom sink.

Which is why we both thought it pretty clever (and a little medieval) that at the Knesset security line, the officers made the guy behind my husband – instead of discarding his liquids – actually drink from his own bottled water. The guy didn’t hesitate, but I guess if he had then the officers would have followed up. What better way to figure out if something is poisoned?*

*Of course, they were both poisoned. I spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder.

Bring out the big guns: Shmira for Tzur Hadassah.

We’re now officially Tzur Hadassah residents, no matter what amounts of arnona tax we’ve been paying for the last six months.

We got our first shmira (security) service notice in the mail. Of course, it’s not really we, it’s more he. I’m too woman to be standing alone at gate of the yishuv, I suppose.

Basically, you can either do volunteer shmira service and get called up for a shift every half a year or so, or you can pay 80 shekel a month and get out of it. Which means that everyone is drinking coffee at 10 pm and enduring a six-hour middle-of-the-night shift every once in a while.

It feels so wild, wild west.

Things I can't believe when I return to the States.

It was my longest stretch between my last visit to the States, and I have compiled a quick list of things I’m mildly shocked to notice during the past two weeks I’ve been in New York:

1. Capitalism.

Oh, how I have forgotten this. My concept of capitalism has been dumbed down to long Supersol lines on erev Shabbat. The day I arrived in JFK, I had trouble remembering how to say the word for the big advertising message thingies on the highway… ah, right, billboards.

2. Water usage.

Not gonna lie: I get freaked out here how high the water comes up in the toilet before, even before flushing.

3. Tasteless produce.

My chicken soup is drastically different (and needs drastic amounts of salt) in this sad state. It’s also unfortunate how expensive it is to buy fruits and vegetables. The chicken may have been cheaper.

4. ‘curity.

I suppose there are different types of security. House security, car security, building security, financial security, emotional security… But none of the American types of security are Israeli security. It gets me every time.

5. Loneliness.

In my years as a resident New Yorker, I’ve felt hurried, hasty and rushed through crowds in New York City, but never lonely, not until now. It’s the first time I’ve felt alone in my city of bajillions of people.

Ynet's perception of Israeli soldiers on Facebook: Naked.

I gave away the punch line in the title, but there ain’t much more to say than that. Here’s the headline of a Ynet news article from today:

Classified info exposed on Facebook

Basically, some members of the Israeli security establishment were caught with photos of classified soldiers and locations exposed on their Facebook accounts. But what interests me more – aside from the stupidity of the Israeli security establishment – is Ynet’s perception of Israeli soldiers surfing the web:

Israeli soldier naked on Facebook

Is Ynet so desperate for female readership?

Tzur Hadassah in the Jerusalem Post – look at her grow!

I haven’t even moved there yet, but I feel like I’m already getting cheerleader-syndrome for Tzur Hadassah. Looks like the Jerusalem Post is either reading my stuff or recognizes the quickly-growing settlement:

On Location: Between chalets and minarets

The feature article starts off like this: “Nestled somewhere between the hills of Switzerland and the mosques of Baghdad is Tzur Hadassah.” I love that description and it’s completely true.

There’s a detailed description of the history of this section of Jerusalem hills and its humble beginnings:

“[Moshe] Tubol… came by boat from his hometown of Oujda, Morocco, to Haifa in 1956…

At the time, the authorities were looking to build some new communities in the area. Tubol latched on and helped lay the foundations for Bar Giora, Mata and Tzur Hadassah…. Tzur Hadassah was intended as a service center for the area, and thus the local school was transferred there from Ness Harim. And Tubol went with it.

At the beginning, he lived in Tzur Hadassah with two other families. But one left rather quickly, and the other followed not too long after. There was no electricity and the water was intermittent. There was no road – just a path. There were no phones to communicate with the outside world, and a school bus just made it to the entrance of the settlement to drop off and pick up the pupils…

But in 1967, says Tubol, things got better. The settlement was no longer on the Jordanian border, so people were less afraid to come. Tzur Hadassah was hooked up to the neighboring settlements’ generators, and phone lines were installed…”

After 1980, there were 40 families and Tzur Hadassah was growing. Today the place is home to 1,000 families.

The main drawback to Tzur Hadassah – which the article mentions – is the lack of activities for kids and community centers. For now, it also lacks a mikvah (the demographic is mostly secular). But these are all projects that the community leaders are working on and apparently the government is fine with encouraging the town’s growth.

The variety of people – from Sephardi to Ashkenaz, Israeli-born to immigrant and religious to secular – is a major point made by Rabbi Levi Cooper, resident rabbi, who was interviewed for the feature.

Because Tzur Hadassah essentially borders the Green Line, security is something on the minds of the residents, but it is dealt with as best as possible. Each resident is charged with shmira duty – either they take the all-night responsibilities once in a while, or they pay a sum towards the community. Either way, every resident is made conscious of the need to stick together as a community in this respect.

The conclusion of the article pretty much sums up the way any small settlement has become a recognized city in Israel:

“And thus, life in Tzur Hadassah has evolved from a sparsely populated little border settlement into an in-demand community for middle-class professionals looking for a green nook near the center of the world.”

And we’ll be joining it the first week of February.