Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Meet the Mayor (10/14/2009)

I had outlined a great article for this week. Chol ha'moed in Israel is always a treat, especially when the yomim tovim both land on Shabbat so we get a full week of chol ha'moed. Between concerts and the perennial ATV trip, we always have things to do and fascinating places to go.

However, I am also busily adjusting to a new travel schedule. My position at Machon Puah will require much more travel than I have been used to (no fewer than ten trips a year, versus three or four). In the past, I had been able to prepare for each trip as its own unit and schedule my time in the weeks leading up to the trip. This year, with trips scheduled to the USA in October, November, December, and January-as well as an anticipated trip to England sometime in November-December-I need to start thinking two and three trips ahead in order to make sure I maximize my efforts. And I have not been doing that.

So I will instead share an invitation with you-an invitation to meet some of the players in Bet Shemesh and find out for yourself what their vision is for the future of Bet Shemesh.

As some of you might already know, the mayor of Bet Shemesh, Moshe Abutbul, will be visiting the Five Towns on Tuesday evening as part of an international tour he is conducting to generate interest in the growth and development of Bet Shemesh. Shalom Lerner (the guy I voted for in the mayoral elections) will be on the trip as a member of the city council coalition. Part of their focus on this tour is generating further interest in Bet Shemesh as a destination for olim and investment.

As you know, Goldie and I have been debating our personal long-term plans for the past several months. Without a permanent solution for housing, we have been weighing the pros and cons of staying in Bet Shemesh versus leaving. It is a very difficult consideration. After all, we have planted roots with our neighbors and with our shul. Our children are extremely happy here and have terrific friends that they aren't excited about leaving behind. Perhaps most importantly, the community was incredibly supportive in a tangible way when Goldie was ill, similar to the tremendous emotional and spiritual support we got from our friends in the Five Towns.

We know the system here (at least enough to get around in it). We have a routine and quality of life that is terrific and provides us with great satisfaction. So leaving would be tough. Yet, as you know, I have grave concerns over the future of Bet Shemesh and the demographic shift that is being proposed by the current mayor and the Ministry of Building and Housing. I am also frustrated by the lack of achdut in the city and the friction that exists (thankfully for now it is not being expressed) between the various communities.

I believe that the future of Bet Shemesh could be bright . . . or perhaps not. And a lot of that future is tied to the people who will be coming to meet you this week. So please take a minute to stop by and meet the city officials who are there and ask them serious questions about the future of our city. It could continue to be a great destination for olim-but our voices need to be heard.

When the mayor invites you to consider investing in infrastructure, make sure he knows that it needs to be invested for all demographic groups, not just his own. When he talks about the diversity of the city, ask him why he supports vast expansion in the city for only one of the demographic groups instead of continued proportional growth designed to maintain the demographic balance that currently exists. Ask him what the plans are for continued investment in new neighborhoods for the religious Zionist and the non-religious citizens of the city. And pay attention to his answers.

We need you in Bet Shemesh; there is no question of that. Yet we have a responsibility of providing you with a place that you (and I) can continue to feel comfortable living in and be proud of. Make sure that the people making the decisions for my future (as well as all of your friends-those who live here and those of you who have not yet made the step up) know that the partnership they seek is not one-sided.

You can be part of the solution for all the residents of Bet Shemesh and help us continue to be a beacon for Anglos and native Israelis alike who share similar values and desires to be a part of the Jewish National dream. The first step of the process happens Tuesday. Take it.