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.

Tzur Hadassah update: Small town news.

On Shabbat, I met a couple that is considering moving to צור הדסה and found information about it right here. Not much out there about this yishuv, in English or Hebrew, so I’m happy to fill in when needed.

But I realize I haven’t updated properly in a while, and we have some ‘drama’ going on, as well as accomplishments/planned accomplishments brewing.

So here goes, a Tzur Hadassah update:

Secular high school

Ground broke this year on the building of a secular high school; up until now it’s been grades aleph through chet. From what I’ve heard, high school students have begun learning here in temporary situations while the building gets built, presumably over the course of this year.

Religious elementary school

Last year, a dati elementary school was started in the area. The school is not actually located in the yishuv, but in Bar Giyora nearby, where there was a vacancy. It services students from around the area, and is up to kita gimmel at this point (in its second year). From my understanding, it’s not just religious families who send their kids there, but also traditional and secular, who want a Jewish base to their kids’ educations.

Community center TBD

There have been talks and plans for the ground-breaking of a community center, which would include a pool. The location for the building has been chosen (towards the valley, inside the U of the yishuv) and ‘they say’ that will begin in the next couple years.

New construction controversy

Small town drama? Not really, if some governmentals, architects, planners, and realtors get their way. Then it’ll be much-bigger-town drama. And demographic-completely-altered town drama.

I don’t know the nitty-gritty details, so everything I tell is from what I’ve heard and seen in emails to me by the va’ad of Tzur Hadassah.

There are plans to expand the yishuv in ways that would totally alter its character. There are a lot of kablanim hungry to build here; desired location, lots of potential, etc. The local va’ad is trying to stop it, or at least halt it, which I heard they have succeeded in doing by appealing in court.

But I’m not sure the relationship of that information with the following, which seems a lot more imminent:

There are also plans to build a new section to Tzur Hadassah for 1400+ families, which would be located across the main road, next to Mavo Beitar (a quiet, small yishuv behind the Delek gas station). This community, apparently, would be bigger in land area than Jerusalem’s Gilo, filled with apartments, and would cater to – and be offered to – the well-off charedi public. In fact, according to what I read, the only public services offered in the building plans were four synagogues. No parks.

If this happened, there are a lot of downsides spelled out by the local admin here, including: limited to no public transportation (I presume that would change), clogging of the area’s main roads, and severe altering of the character of surrounding communities, which range from pretty much secular to moderately traditional, with a few dati leumis sprinkled about.

That last bit hits a sensitive nerve in Tzur Hadassah; it is joked that Beitar Illit, the ultra-Charedi yishuv next door, over the Green Line, is trying to turn Tzur Hadassah into ‘Giva’a Gimmel’ with all their expanding going on.

Many who hear I live in Tzur Hadassah comment on the same point: Don’t they hate religious people there? I don’t think it’s that they hate religious people necessarily;  I think they want to live free from the influences of that lifestyle, namely Charedi lifestyle, which will cramp their own. They don’t want the character they’ve built to change. They don’t want to be put in a position where they have to start sacrificing for something that doesn’t interest them.

Which I can understand, though I do believe it’s important to know your neighbors and promote tolerance, living among diversity, for the sake of balance and your children’s education.

Which is why I live here, by the way.

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.

B’kitzur… Israeli advertising is scary.

So I’m going through my July edition of “בקיצור” (b’kitzur, in short)  which is a newsletter for yishuvim in the Matte Yehuda region. It’s packed with ads and superficial articles, but once in a while there is a gem – or two – that must be shared.

Take the following advertisement, for example. It’s a sale at Super Pharm, everyone’s favorite Walgreen’s attempt. It’s having a sale on its home brand products – three eyeliners for the price of one, various hair products for two shekel each… and then this:

Buy a box of condoms, but don't forget the bandaids!

‘Buy one get one free’ between first-aid gear and condoms. What kind of kinky sex do you think we’re having, Super Pharm?

Which leads to the second bizarre inappropriate ad in the bunch… Dancing is big in Israel, especially folk dancing. What a wonderful chug to send your kids to during the summer. You might want to consider this dance instructor:

Um... what kind of dancing do you teach, exactly?

On second thought, you might not. Her name is Pipi Nes. Go on, say that quickly. Drop one of the ‘p’s and say it again.

Feeling the home land.

After almost a week of driving back and forth to work through trees and hills (the way God intended, no doubt) I have to say that it’s as if I’m only just now settling into my Israeli life. Jerusalem is more international, more global… in importance, position, people. It was a very different Israel, if Israel at all.

Now I feel tucked away on an Israeli yishuv, surrounded by nature and silence. No one has to know I’m here and I can just look up and feel like I’m standing with thousands of years of history, the image of God and myself.

I’d suggest to people that if they’re thinking of moving from Israel because it didn’t work out – and they’ve only lived the city life – try this for a change of pace and appreciation. Of course, I’ve only just arrived, but for now I’m betting that this will be a very different experience.

Bet Shemesh trees and hills