I have lived in Beit Shemesh for almost nine years. This year will be my last. I am dragging my family out of here, uprooting my kids, saddling my husband and myself with additional financial burden and walking away from the only place we have ever been a family. And as bad as it hurts, I won’t look back. Beit Shemesh is a wonderful place. It is a warm, welcoming home for many Orthodox Anglo olim, as well as olim from every other corner of the world. It is simply not wonderful for us.
Since the municipal elections two weeks ago, my friends and neighbors have been pitted against each other. Most of them are enraged, organizing demonstrations, spending incredible amounts of time and energy debating one another on-line and generally occupying Facebook. Among the many, many, many things I have read are a number of well-meaning monologues expressing how important it is for everyone to stay here despite the perpetual unrest.
These patriotic sentiments are touching. However, they tend towards self-righteous martyrdom. I may be defensive, but the whole “rah rah Beit Shemesh is my home, I have no other home” implies that if I defect, it is because 1. I am too weak to fight the good fight, 2. I am not committed to making my home a better place for all residents, and 3. I am giving in to scaremongering and actively contributing to the decline of the city… and you know what? These accusations may all be true. But I don’t care. I don’t want to be a martyr to Beit Shemesh.
There are pockets of this neighborhood that are incredible. These pockets, and our extended family, are what have kept us here all these years. Our neighbors and our friends are wonderful. The schools and day cares, synagogues and doctors that we have chosen are wonderful. We are reasonably happy. But it is not enough for us. It is not enough that I am only comfortable and content within the boundaries of these little pockets. It is not enough that we are happy only within a four block radius of our house. I want something different.
I want my children to have extracurricular activities in adequate facilities. I want parks that are not mostly loose dirt, broken glass and dangerous structures. I want to walk into any store in my neighborhood and not wonder if what I am wearing is acceptably modest. I want libraries. I want commercial centers that do not operate on the basis of fundamentalist religious doctrine. I want post offices, and health clinics, and government departments that serve the population.
I believe that we deserve to be protected under the law, and not live in fear of break-ins, drunken hoodlums, aggressive ultra-Orthodox whack jobs and reckless drivers. We deserve to vote in municipal elections and believe that our votes count. I believe that this will be the reality in Beit Shemesh. I just don’t have the patience to wait.
It is not enough that we love the people; we deserve to love the place as well. I don’t love Beit Shemesh. There is Old Beit Shemesh, Yeshivish Anglo Beit Shemesh, Russian Beit Shemesh, Ethiopian Beit Shemesh, Chareidi Beit Shemesh, Modern Orthodox Beit Shemesh, etc… which is wonderful from the perspective of theoretical pluralism. In reality, however, these communities have not yet overcome their disparate world views and joined together in ‘building a brighter future’. The city has unraveled into a Hobbesian war of all against all over religion, funding, real estate, politics. Beit Shemesh just seems to be a place where people have to fight.
Ever since the Orot controversy, Beit Shemesh’s problems have become fodder for bad journalism and worse politics. In a bid for headlines and campaign material, the news people and politicians we invited into our hometown have used our faces, but have let our interests fall by the wayside. I hesitate before I respond to inquiries of where I’m from. If one has never visited Beit Shemesh, all they will know is that we are the city where little girls get spat at for being female, where women wear burqas and chain their children to radiators, where buses are stoned (and not in a good way), where elections are rigged. Yes Beit Shemesh is so much more, but it’s depressing and exhausting to constantly rehash these conflicts, correct falsities and analyze possible solutions. I’m tired of tilting at broken-down windmills. I want to live in a city that is not infamous.
I get why people believe in Beit Shemesh, it has the potential to be a great mixed city. A microcosm of this great Jewish nation. A shining example of coexistence. The problem is that for now it is not any of those things. In the meantime my children are growing up with extremism and contention. I respect my friends who love Beit Shemesh as it is, blind to the potholes and placards. I admire my friends who love Beit Shemesh enough to fill those potholes and tear down those placards. But ideology and hope and turning a blind eye are not enough to keep me here. I just want to live my life in relative peace and quiet. This may make me a sell-out, a coward, or whatever…but I want something else for my family.
And so, I apologize if our decision to leave this city is an affront to the sensibilities of those who think nothing is wrong, or to those who have chosen to dig in their heels for better or worse, but it’s time for us to cut the BS.