Sixteen months after making aliyah, we find ourselves busier than ever and well-integrated into our Ramat Beit Shemesh community.
Our successful absorption is largely a result of the neighborhood in which we live, which is virtually 100 percent English-speaking. Our community is a magnet for religious, English-speaking immigrants from North America, South Africa, England and Australia.
Several synagogues are on our street; the one directly across the road from our home is Kehillat Menorat Hamaor, which was founded about 18 years ago by a group of South Africans and other Anglos who had moved into the newly constructed neighborhood. Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph was only mud and foundations in 1995; buildings were occupied shortly after.
The first minyan on Nachal Maor Street was held in 1998, and eight years later the congregation moved into its still-incomplete building. A page from our synagogue’s promotional literature states, “Kehillat Menorat Hamaor is a dati leumi (national religious) synagogue following the Ashkenazi tradition. We nurture a closely knit … and loving community … where Jews of all ages and backgrounds, new immigrants and native Israelis, are welcomed and feel comfortable and valued; where a deep abiding love of Eretz Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael is manifested.”
The Torah sermons are in English, and perhaps that says it all. There is an old joke about where we live: “Here, in our community, you can get on a bus and in only 10 minutes you are in Israel.”
The practical aspect of living here is that neither of us missed a beat after moving from Atlanta to Israel: Our skill bases and experiences were immediately applicable here. It was easy to find friends and integrate into our community, and in June both of us assumed leadership positions in our community.
Edie resumed her involvement in senior matters through her elevation to chair of Maor Seniors, a group loosely affiliated with our synagogue that runs social programs and trips for the older generation. Mort was elected by the Menorat Hamaor membership to be the board chairman. Such opportunities to contribute to our community would not have been possible in a Hebrew-speaking, more native Israeli community.
There is, of course, a flip side to this instant integration: Despite completing ulpan, the immersive, five-month Hebrew language course we previously wrote about, our Hebrew language skills have been retarded by the ease of navigating in English. We are forever grateful to Google translate, dual-language neighbors, and our children, who live nearby and can help us read our mail.
A lack of Hebrew fluency also is not a barrier to being the rosh vaad habayit (head of the building cooperative) of our apartment building. Mort took on that job in June 2016, two months after we made aliyah.
Collecting monthly vaad dues of 150 shekels ($42), ensuring the building is well maintained and clean, paying bills, and managing sudden repairs are the key responsibilities.
Our plumber and several handymen are from Britain or the United States, and that makes life easy. Indeed, one of our plumber’s employees is an ex-Atlantan. Between community and building, we are now fully engaged.
Language aside, to live in Israel is to be a witness to biblical prophecy. When we read in our prayers that we want to see the rebuilding of Jerusalem in our days, we only have to drive 20 minutes to see the progress being made.
We usually enter Jerusalem from the south through tunnels under Bethlehem and Beit Jala into the Gilo neighborhood. Construction is almost complete to connect the tunnel road to the Menachem Begin Highway bisecting Jerusalem. Soon we will be able to cross from south to north along a superhighway in the middle of Jerusalem.
Our own Ramat Beit Shemesh is expanding so rapidly that new neighborhoods seem to grow overnight. If we keep our windows open, everything becomes covered with the dust of construction, but we do not complain because we are witnessing the rebuilding of Israel. New immigrants will occupy many of the new buildings.
This year marks 50 years since the reunification of Jerusalem. It is interesting that when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, it was about 50 years until Cyrus, the Persian ruler, let the Jews start rebuilding. Then 20 years later the Beit Hamikdash (Temple) was rebuilt.
In modern times, Theodor Herzl prophesied in 1897 that there would be a Jewish state in 50 years. The United Nations voted for the creation of Israel in 1947, 50 years later. In 1967, 20 years later, Jerusalem was reunified and totally in Jewish hands. Coincidence? Maybe.
To celebrate this momentous occasion, we attended the World Mizrachi celebration of Jerusalem’s Jubilee. It was quite an event, lasting from Monday, May 22, to Thursday May 25. The kickoff event was dinner and music featuring Yaakov Shwekey and the IDF Choir. Speakers included Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Economic Minister Naftali Bennett, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Racheli Fraenkel, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Chief Rabbi David Lau, Natan Sharansky and entrepreneur Jon Medved.
Also present were the three soldiers from the iconic picture of the paratroopers at the liberation of the Kotel in 1967. We were able to meet them, take pictures with them and have them autograph their photo for us.
Of significance was the description of Jerusalem as the city on earth and the city in heaven. Anyone who has been to Jerusalem has experienced its otherworldliness, yet it is a pluralistic city with many modern challenges.
Even its name reflects duality: Yerushalayim is plural.
Barkat says the city has opportunities, not challenges. If Jerusalem can work, any city can deal with its problems.
Jerusalem was created by David as a capital of all of Israel that was not located in any tribe’s area (the same idea was used to create Washington, D.C.). Thus, Jerusalem belongs to all Jews anywhere.
Medved told us about all the international companies that are coming to Jerusalem to be part of startup industries. In fact, 6,000 people came to a high-tech conference recently to learn about investing in high-tech Jerusalem.
At the closing session, Rabbi Lau spoke about how Jerusalem is the heart of the Jewish people. That is why hardened, nonreligious soldiers cried when they liberated the Old City in 1967.
Sharansky, who heads the Jewish Agency for Israel, spoke about how the Six-Day War made the Jews of Russia proud of being Jewish instead of simply suffering discrimination.
He learned that Jews could fight and win, giving him the strength to fight for freedom in the Soviet Union in the 1970s. His only words to the Soviet court when he was sentenced to prison were “Hashana habaah b’Yerushalayim” (next year in Jerusalem).
On the day after Yom Yerushalayim, we went to Hebron for Hebron Day, which marks the day in 1967 when IDF Rabbi Shlomo Goren and his driver entered Hebron alone, and the whole city surrendered to them without a shot being fired. He opened the Cave of the Patriarchs to Jews for the first time since 1929, when we were forced out after bloody pogroms by the Arab population.
We ended the conference on the Mount of Olives, looking at the Temple Mount. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Tzipi Hotovely, the deputy foreign affairs minister, spoke of this special time in Jewish history. What a wonderful time to be able to live our dream of aliyah.
After living in Atlanta since 2006, Mort and Edie Barr made aliyah March 30, 2016. Mort retired as the director of technology at Colgate-Palmolive, was the executive director of Congregation Beth Jacob, and was the founder and CEO of Jewish Interest Free Loan of Atlanta. Edie retired from a career as an assisted-living activities director for NORC, Berman Commons and the Carlton. She is a former president of the Mount Scopus Group of Hadassah Greater Atlanta, served on the Hadassah Greater Atlanta board and was active in the Beth Jacob Sisterhood.