Menachem's Writings

Some Musings on the City of Efrat on it's 25th Birthday

Last week my home town of Efrat celebrated it's twenty-fifth year of existence. They're calling it a half Jubilee. I couldn't find a reference in the Torah or the Talmud for this concept, but maybe there is such a precedent (after all 25 is half of 50).

They had a big central event last Thursday evening, and on Shabbat afternoon, people ad hoc arranged local get-togethers. It was all very nice, and people from my neighbourhood (Rimon, the oldest) told stories of the very beginning of our town. I have been living here for twenty-three of the twenty-five years so I can't reminisce about the very beginning; but I was here before the beginning, specifically to view the place, years earlier, in 1976 to be exact.

I've written about Efrat in an earlier posting (I've added to it while writing to this entry). I'll try not to be repetitive here because you can go back and read it.

I want to take this opportunity to debunk a couple of myths, or more exactly revisionist history -- this is history that is barely thirty years old -- image how they will be relating Efrat's chronicles at the Jubilee celebrations by which time I will be ancient and many of the other players will be all but a memory. I just hate to think about the centenary . . . but if I am granted to still be here, I'm sure there will be a blog entry.

As I related previously, the very first time my feet touched the hallowed ground of our town was in 1976. Following maps supplied by Moshe Moskovitch, the visionary force behind the rebuilding of Gush Etzion in general and Efrat specifically, my friend and I arrived on what was to become the hill called Zayit (Olive -- I guess Olive Hill in English). Today it is close to being the centre of Efrat, two hills Dagan and Tamar lying to the north and the other four to the south. I think it will eventually be the largest of the seven hills.

Unfortunately it took nearly twenty years from my first visit until houses were built on Zayit. So what took so long? In summary, I believe greed, politics, personalities. I think these are also the reasons that impede the "settlement movement" in Yesha (Judea, Samaria and what was Jewish Gaza), but that's a different story that I promise to reveal.

The initial delay, as I mentioned in my earlier post, was sewerage. I guess no-one really thought Efrat would grow as far north as Zayit, or indeed whether the "settlement movement" would survive long enough for this to occur. On a visit to Alon Shvut not long after approving the building of Efrat, still then prime-minister Rabin stated that he would be happy to return to Alon Shvut in the future, but on a Jordanian visa.

In order to give you further background, I have to take you to Beitar. Built in the area of the ancient city of Betar (not far from here) destroyed by the Romans in the time of Bar Cochva and Rabbi Akiva (1,900 years ago). The modern city was slated to be built on three hills. Two of these were earmarked for ultra-orthodox, haredi, Jews and one for a group of "white", religious, (national religious) Jews [I hate all these terms -- they are so politically loaded and thus meaningless in my mind, but some people will almost die for the right to be classified properly]. The latter group was based on rabbis and graduates from two austere national religious schools, Yeshivat Mercaz haRav [Kook] and Machon Meir. Their sugar-daddy was Knesset member Hanan Porat. They may have overestimated his political clout. At this point in our story, the latter were living in twelve caravans on the site, known as Hadar Betar; the former group had not yet commenced moving in.

It became apparent (because of haredi exclusionism) that the two groups would not be able to live together even on separate hills in Beitar. A solution had to be found for them. Rabbi Porat approached the Efrat local council to settle this group on Zayit. The lovers of Zion, who were granted decision making in Efrat, would not accept the group from Betar. Why? All kinds of reasons:

  • they'll build cheap housing, like apartment blocks. At that stage, there was only one block of flats in Efrat (and I agree, it is quite ugly). The cheap housing will cause a drop in our real estate prices (4 kilometers away)

  • they will want their own rabbi -- ours will not be good enough for them

  • they're too religious -- they'll change the liberal face of Efrat. [Efrat was designated an open city, meaning religious and non-religious Jews were welcome. However the company selling the initial houses, the Judean Hills Development Company, told religious people that Efrat is a religious town but told the non-religious who came to the sales office that it was to be a mixed, open city. Also Rabbi Riskin's Raishit Geula "the Religious Aliyah Movement" based in New York, advertised Efrat as "the new Torah community twelve miles south of Jerusalem". At the time of Hanan Porat's approach, there were five non-religious families living in Efrat (two of whom remain today. There may be others now -- I've lost track -- not that I care -- Efrat has grown considerably in the twenty years since the events related here.)]

  • They'll build their own school. This whole episode took place not too long after the founding of the Orot Etzion School (by a group including me). There were already calls that our school would make Efrat into a Haredi town (a really, really ridiculous claim, but caused much ill feeling in our small town).

For this and other petty reasons, this group were rejected. Efrat continued to grow, Dekel I, II and III and demand for housing was growing fast.

So interest in Zayit reawakened. We had passed the "first" intifada, and were now in the midst of the Rabin Oslo years. The government wasn't too interested in expanding settlements, including (so-called consensus) Efrat. We had to do something. Our political pressure, never overly great, was at an all time low. So we decided to move a "caravan" onto the hill. Of course our (secret and no so secret) police got wind of the plan and were out in force to stop the poor little structure reaching its destination. A couple of thousand people, from Efrat and the surrounding area, were out in force too. It was an impasse -- just outside the Sports Center. However, unknown to all at the Sports Center, someone had arranged another caravan. Escorted by 2 cars (your truly was there) without lights, the convoy went down a back street, not far away, arriving at the bottom of the dirt road leading to Zayit. All that stood in our way was an army command car, totally blocking the road.

Now this reminds me of the story of the two hassidic Jews who stayed with a couple over shabbat on the way to visit their Rebbe. The lady of the house, having been married for ten years was childless (so typical in these stories). She asked the hassidim to ask the Rebbe to bless her with a child. The next morning the hassidim went on their way and the lady bought a baby pram. Her neighbours asked if she was pregnant. "Not yet, but I am getting a blessing from the Rebbe."

A year later (again typical in these narratives) the Hassidim again passed through on their way to the Rebbe. One was overjoyed to see that their hosts now had a baby, but the second was angry. When he arrived at the Rebbe, he complained, "I have been coming to you annually for twenty years to receive a benediction and my wife is still barren. This lady's husband does not even come here in person and you give them with a child?!" To which the Rebbe replied, "Did you buy a pram?"

Now I don't know if you have ever tried to overturn a command car. You can't. Especially not with just four people involved. But we politely asked the driver to move out of the way. When he refused, we approached the command car and said. "If you don't move it, we will have to overturn it". And we proceeded to do so, well at least go through some motions. Those things are really heavy! And then, miraculously, the driver moved his vehicle. Without a word to us.

We drove up the hill and dropped the caravan into place. Word quickly got back to the crowd at the Sports Centre and we were suddenly surrounded by a large crowd, including (miraculously) politicians and journalists (where do these guys hide?). What a mix!? All of a sudden I see Hanan Porat in the doorway of "our" caravan, arms stretched out in victory, telling the press how we were here to stay. Like he did it all. The four of us were pushed somewhere to the back of the crowd.

But it was a victory, and I don't care for glory. Of course the government, clearly defeated, needed a way to climb down from their high perch. They agreed to allow a number of caravans onto the Zayit, on condition that "first" caravan was first removed. I was worried that once "our" caravan was taken away, the government would renege -- would not be the first time -- what the Israeli government renege? But they were good to their word. It was still some time until real, stone house would occupy the hill, but the wall was breached. Today there are hundreds of families living there and also on the two hills further north (for the moment in caravans). And some of the greedy peoples' prediction came true -- Zayit is an interesting mixture of blocks of small apartments and of large houses (and other dwellings in between).

But there are no new schools (just extensions of existing ones) and no new, super-pious rabbi. Indeed Rabbi Riskin often walks there on Shabbat and I for one, tip my hat to him for that. (And I do wear a hat.)

And a piece of irony . . . the theme of the Shabbat afternnon gatherings was, "Efrat is a great place to live, and what makes it great, is you, neighbor . . . and all I could think of was my neighbour the used tractor saleperson.

Previous posts:


Be part of the new Internet tapestry phenomenon:
      Help us sew the Logo Quilt. Add a patch with your logo.
      And add some Word Links to your site.