Unless you have been asleep under a rock for the past few years, you are probably aware that a few bad apples, whose extremism and intolerance are against everything that Judaism stands for, have blemished Bet Shemesh’s reputation. Now that I got that unpleasant part out of the way, let’s discuss what a great town Beit Shemesh really is.
Beit Shemesh was founded in 1950, but its history goes back thousands of years to Biblical times, where it is prominently mentioned in the books of Joshua, Samuel and Kings. In addition, it is located in close proximity to where the famous battle between David and Goliath took place.
Beit Shemesh was a classic “development town” with a large segment of its initial population arriving from North Africa. Over the years, many Russians and Ethiopians moved in during later waves of aliyah.
Beit Shemesh is centrally located, thirty minutes from Jerusalem’s city limits and less than an hour from Tel Aviv. With trains linking Beit Shemesh with both cities, the city is a commuter’s dream. In the 1990s, new neighborhoods, such as Sheinfeld, Nofei Aviv and the first communities in Ramat Beit Shemesh, were established and drew many Anglos, and these neighborhoods flourished. At about the same time, the Charedi community also discovered Beit Shemesh, and its first neighborhood, Nachala U’menucha, was established.
Today, Beit Shemesh’s population is just about 100,000 people, and is expected to exceed 150,000 residents by 2020 due to the seemingly endless development that is occurring in Ramat Beit Shemesh (RBS). RBS Gimmel and other surrounding new developments will add 5,000 units, and RBS Dalet and Heh, which are in the planning stages, are slated to add another 13,000 units. Why the tremendous growth? In four words: price, location, community and convenience. One can buy a home for less than half the price of a home in Jerusalem, and have excellent access to most of the country’s population and business centers. In addition, the city boasts many synagogues offering countless Torah classes, outstanding educational institutions, numerous retail options and medical clinics, plus a wonderful infrastructure of social programs and charitable organizations. Beit Shemesh and RBS are vibrant and diverse communities that provide the physical, communal and religious infrastructure to address the needs of its residents.
The challenging past few years have caused me to overlook Beit Shemesh’s strengths, but this past Friday night reminded me of the city’s uniqueness and its potential for greatness. My family attended Kabbalat Shabbat services that my friends Goel Jasper and MK Dov Lipman run in Goel’s large back porch. I absolutely loved the amazingly diverse crowd of over 100 people that crammed into the backyard. The minyan was comprised of Dati Leumi people in knitted kippot, Charedim in black hats, and multiple sects of Chassidim bedecked in bekeshers (long jackets) and streimels (fur hats). What a great reminder that there are so many wonderful people from all the communities of Beit Shemesh who yearn to cast aside the silliness that divides us and seek out meaningful opportunities to unite us.
Gedaliah Borvick is the founder of My Israel Home (www.myisraelhome.com), a real estate agency focused on helping people from abroad buy and sell homes in Israel. To sign up for his monthly market updates, contact him at gborvick_gmail.com.
By Gedalia Borvick