What could change in Beit Shemesh

Beit Shemesh is facing a critical election: between incumbent mayor Moshe Abutbul, who has been mayor for the last 10 years, and challenger Aliza Bloch, head of the Branco Weiss school network.

Bloch is running on the platform of “עיר מאיחדת” — the city of Beit Shemesh should be united and not divided between competing sectors, and that Beit Shemesh needs a leader with Bloch managerial experience, leadership experience, and good relations will communal leaders in all sectors of the city.

Abutbul is running on a platform of “הנסיון להמשיך את התנופה” — that he has the experience to complete the changes he has already made, and that Beit Shemesh must vote for him because the gedolei hador have commanded it.

Many Beit Shemesh residents who really care about their city have asked:

What could be done differently to solve some of our city’s most pressing concerns?

To answer this question, we’ve gathered some of the most important issues facing Beit Shemesh into one table, to show how Aliza Bloch plans to fix them, in contrast with the approach that current mayor Moshe Abutbul has taken toward them in last 10 years.

[This is a grassroots initiative and does not come from Aliza’s campaign headquarters. Any omissions or mistakes are our fault entirely.
~ Amanda Bradley, Rifki Orzech, Chanie Rosenfelder]

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To quote Aliza Bloch’s 5-year plan, we must remember that she is not a magician, but she intends to work hard for everyone and that work has begun.

Aliza Bloch’s column is based on answers given by her at “chugei bayit,” and her 5-year plan.

Problem Moshe Abutbul Aliza Bloch
Infrastructure not keeping up with home construction.

Due to a lack of forethought, yeshivos, chadarim, schools and shuls are operating out of caravans and need permanent premises. Many of these caravans do not seem to have been safely installed.

Built RBS Gimmel with dangerous roads:

  • planned bus routes travel on streets too narrow for two directions for large vehicles.
  • allocated insufficient infrastructure for the number of residents (including schools, kupot cholim, parking, parks, and mikvaot.)

Moshe Abutbul did not ensure that water infrastructure would keep up with construction, and issued the Tofes 4 without noticing this lack. He has blamed his lapse of oversight on the housing ministry.

He is now claiming that he issued Tofes 4 forms prematurely, as a favor to the residents. This is highly irresponsible. It still doesn’t explain why, two years later, basic infrastructure and resources are still lacking (mikvaot, school and preschool buildings, a library).

Ignored repeated requests by schools to find permanent buildings, telling school administration that it is their problem.

Aliza Bloch has assembled a team of experts in specialties that include engineering, transportation, emergency services, housing, infrastructure, and more.

These professionals will help Bloch meet the demands of a growing population.

Aliza Bloch will ensure that existing agreements with the Ministries of Finance and Housing are implemented. And will work to cut through bureaucratic procedures for pinui u’binui projects, (government program for urban regeneration) mechir lemishtaken (programs for cheaper new housing), and purchasing groups.

Aliza Bloch has already helped schools and shuls to move into permanent buildings, through her excellent connections with menahalim and government workers at all levels.

Bloch is committed to ensuring that every single child in our city learns in a proper, safe classroom by the end of her first term of office. And that each community has adequate shuls, mikvaot and matnasim.

 

Problem Moshe Abutbul Aliza Bloch
Vulnerable families need a Revacha that is accessible and responds to their needs

Special needs issues aren’t being tackled effectively.

Under Abutbul, the revacha has gone from barely coping with demand, to falling apart.

The director of the Revacha did not meet the criteria for his position but was hired anyway. The Revacha has been run into the ground. Abutbul refused to replace him. Eventually, national government stepped in in order to dismiss him. He is still there but no longer has official title of Director of the Revacha. No one has been hired to replace him.

The city stopped funding 8 shenat sherut volunteers (ie. providing technical fees and an apartment) who work with underprivileged residents.  

Additionally, the city closed the Mercaz Zechuyot office, which helped residents understand their rights vis a vis government offices, work laws, etc.
Aliza Bloch has experience working with vulnerable populations. She will ensure that a qualified candidate is appointed to head the Revacha, and focus on restoring it to working order.

Specifically, the aim is to make the revacha a “springboard of growth for residents who need its services.”

An Urban Sustainability Center will be established to to better assist residents in need of welfare services. A residents’ helpline will be set up. These two services will replace the Mercaz Zechuyot. It will also provide legal counsel and services will be adapted to all population groups; there will be Rabbis with professional knowledge on call. Aliza Bloch intends to set up a special needs department which will raise the quality of provisions so they don’t have to be bussed out the city.

 

Problem Moshe Abutbul Aliza Bloch
Roads and sidewalks with deep and dangerous potholes and cracks. Sidewalks are mostly inaccessible to those in wheelchairs. In ten years, holes in sidewalks and local roads have caused many injuries. The injured have sued the city, and the city paid damages out of public money that should have been spent on maintaining the pathways. Damage done by last winter’s rains still has not been fixed. Areas that should be disabled-access have not been made accessible. Aliza Bloch has written a 5-year action plan which includes fixing the roads and pathways of Beit Shemesh, and upgrading the road network to make it more accessible to wheelchair users.

 

Problem Moshe Abutbul Aliza Bloch
Most residents of Beit Shemesh have to travel outside the city for work.

There is little provision for local businesses and employment, forcing parents to return home late to their children. This reduces the quality of life for thousands.
Abutbul led strong opposition to proposed development of the מע”ר (the  old city center), including threats of demonstrations if any work were to be carried out there. The proposed development would have created additional employment and higher education opportunities for residents.

He has refused to allow ‘1st 3 hours parking free’ in the shopping center of Old Beit Shemesh, which has taken customers away from family-owned businesses.

A large plot of land next to Kvish 10 was allocated for redevelopment for employment purposes. When questioned, Abutbul refused to develop it.

Additionally, Gimmel was built without adequate zoning for business usage, resulting in illegal pop-up businesses operating out of front rooms and machsanim.

Abutbul has repeatedly ignored requests to legalize the unlicensed businesses operating in the parking lot beneath Yesh Chesed and Yeinot Habitan Shuk Mehadrin. This means that the city misses out on the business tax that the stores should be paying, tax that could be used for the many pressing needs of the city.

Aliza Bloch plans to increase industry and offer incentives to businesses, factories and entrepreneurs who relocate to Beit Shemesh.

Her program includes plans to bring hi-tech companies to the area, considerably boosting available job opportunities and enabling those residents who currently commute over an hour each way to Tel Aviv to earn the same salary on their doorstep. Aliza Bloch has already connected with hi-tech companies, which have indicated that they will relocate to Beit Shemesh if Bloch were to be elected.

Bloch will legalize the currently unlicensed businesses that are operating in machsanim beneath Yesh Chesed and Yeinot Habitan Shuk Mehadrin in the Mercaz RBS A. This will allow business owners to expand their stores while also bringing more income for the city to spend on further improvement for the residents.  

The municipality will assist in providing frameworks which contribute to the growing Ultra-Orthodox sector’s labor market. These frameworks will be appropriate for the charedi lifestyle, and there will be special focus on the employment needs of charedi women.

 

Problem Moshe Abutbul Aliza Bloch
Lack of sport and culture.

There are two overcrowded swimming pools for the whole city and no public gym with separate hours for men and women.

One of those pools is outdoors, so it only functions for a few months a year
Abutbul closed the only tennis courts in the city. He allowed the municipal swimming pool in old Beit shemesh to fall into disrepair, after the kablan who won the tender demanded to be allowed to replace it with an apartment building. Instead of reissuing the tender, he ignored the problem.

5 years ago, Abutbul promised sports facilities for RBS A, claiming that work had begun on a swimming pool. Nothing has been done. The land proposed for a sports center has been left vacant.  

Over the past 10 years, the Beit Shemesh Conservatory, a center of excellence for music education, has been denied money to subsidize basic running costs.

The city does not provide any support for the Benjamin children’s library, although the library provides homework assistance to hundreds of underprivileged children.

Beit Shemesh’s only municipal library has been deprived of funds for years; this year, it closed due to disrepair. General municipal funding for local libraries is almost non-existent.

Sport and culture is high on Aliza Bloch’s list of priorities. She recognizes that sufficient sport and recreation facilities are key to a healthy population.

The City’s Cultural Department, in cooperation with regional councils, will plan appropriate cultural activities for each sector. Community Centers will be built. Existing sports facilities will be fixed and expanded, and special programs developed to promote and nurture outstanding athletes in the city. Aliza Bloch intends to restore the municipal library in Old Beit Shemesh, and open an additional one in Ramat A, which will be adapted to the needs of the charedi community.

 

Problem Moshe Abutbul Aliza Bloch
Dirty streets, garbage that sits for days to be collected in some areas, broken glass littering the paths in many parks. Foul and obscene graffiti on many walls.

The filth and lack of road and sidewalk maintenance has discouraged businesses from remaining in Beit Shemesh. Public spaces are used as a garbage dump, and are never cleared out, or developed to discourage this practice.

Under Abutbul, the cleaning services which are contracted to clean the streets are not held accountable. Because recycling bins are not emptied regularly, residents end up leaving glass on top of the bins, which quickly fall and break on the sidewalks.

Repeated requests to run a ‘clean city’ education program have been ignored.

Garbage cans in public places are few and far between, and far too small, to serve their purpose.

There has been no enforcement of fines for dog owners who allow their dogs to soil public areas (sidewalks, grass, play areas). There have also been no fines for graffiti ‘artists’, who would be caught if security cameras had been installed.

Aliza Bloch has years of managerial experience. She will appoint effective, qualified individuals to oversee the cleaning services and maintain our public areas.

Cleaning and garbage removal schedules will be revised. Waste recycling centers set up. A community-based educational program will be enacted to encourage communal responsibility for the city’s cleanliness. Bloch will enforce fines for graffiti ‘artists’ and dog owners who allow their dogs to soil the sidewalks. The problem of wild dogs will also be addressed.

 

Problem Moshe Abutbul Aliza Bloch
Lack of cultural opportunities, events and infrastructure to attract tourists to Bet Shemesh.

Beit Shemesh is in the heart of miles of hiking paths and natural beauty, but there is no central tourism office.

Plans for a local cultural center were set back ten years by Abutbul. He insisted that the center be relocated, and caused millions of shekel to be lost in drawing up new plans. In the meantime, major shows and events take place in Tzora or Yerushalayim, taking revenue away from our city. At the same time, the existing auditorium at the Zinman matnas has been closed for years, since safety work was halted. Aliza Bloch will set up the Beit Shemesh Tourist Office to introduce visitors to local sites and attractions in around the city.

Aliza Bloch intends to set up a visitors’ center, so locals and tourists alike can appreciate the the biblical sites and archaeological treasures that surround our city.

 

Problem Moshe Abutbul Aliza Bloch
Intermittent violence across Beit Shemesh, particularly in RBS B.

High youth vandalism rate across the city as a whole.

Provisions for recreation facilities for youth is almost non-existent across the city, resulting in bored youth hanging out in parks leaving broken glass in children’s play areas.

 

Moshe Abutbul repeatedly ignored the issue. After signing a protocol allocating millions of shekels to installing security cameras, he then deliberately failed to follow through. The budget was allocated in 2017. It is now October 2018, and Abutbul has stated publicly that he has no reason for not installing them. There is currently no plan to install security cameras.

Moshe Abutbol didn’t appoint a youth coordinator for Beit Shemesh, while yishuvim a fraction of the size of our city have youth coordinators.

Many Israeli cities and yishuvim coordinate events to help youth find meaningful work and volunteer opportunities for the long summer vacation.

Aliza Bloch has proven track record in assessing the needs of young people and responding to them, through her role at Branco Weiss high schools.

Alza Bloch intends to install the security cameras in public spaces to enhance residents’ security and uphold law and order.

She will activate a program to provide appropriate activities and facilities for the youth of each sector in Beit shemesh, as well as a program to care for ‘dropout’ youth.

A mechanism of dialogue will be established, agreements reached in these circles will be enacted by the municipality

 

Problem Moshe Abutbul Aliza Bloch
Inappropriate handling of city funds, opaque government practices and long delays in responding to public inquiries, if any response is given at all. Residents’ phone calls and emails go unanswered for weeks. Public records of city council and committee meetings, and the budgets of matnasim, are not made available on the city website, in accordance with the law.

In 2017, the State Comptroller discovered that more than half of the city’s employees are relatives of other employees, which contravenes the ethics of municipal employment.

Aliza Bloch will lead a transparent city council which keeps residents informed about changes, plans, and provision of services. She will publish clear budgets on a regular basis, and make sure to respond in a timely manner to all public inquiries.

Aliza Bloch will divide the city into regional councils headed by representatives of the various neighborhoods. This ensures that no sector is overlooked.

Dr. Aliza Bloch Biography

Dr. Aliza Bloch was born in the late sixties to Moroccan immigrants. In 1991, she established an immigration absorption department within her youth movement to cater for Russian immigrants. 100 branches were created in absorption centers around the country. In 1992, she established Shachar, which works to empower young Ethiopian leaders. She is married to Dr. Aharon Bloch, who heads the Nephrology unit at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem, and they have four children.

In 1998, Aliza Bloch was asked to set up the Branco Weiss School in Beit Shemesh, with the goal of having an academic high school in the area and raising the proportion of students earning a full Bagrut. Aliza ran the school for 16 years. Under her leadership, it grew from a modest Junior High to a successful school, with 1500 students and a 90% pass rate in Bagruyot. Aliza Bloch has won prizes and been recognized for her work in the field of education.

In 2011 during increasing social tensions in Beit Shemesh, she and other interested parties established a round table forum with representatives from different sectors. They met regularly to discuss contentious issues and reach peaceful solutions.

Aliza Bloch left Branco Weiss Beit Shemesh to manage the entire Branco Weiss school network. During this time, she established schools within the Branco Weiss network that cater to the Charedi and Arab sectors as well as those originally served.

About the Author
Amanda is an olah, a wife, mother, and Jewish individual living in Beit Shemesh. Experienced Jewish educator, amateur mother, professional writer, practised thinker, with a fascination with convergence, long words, & Torah, and a tendency to wield sarcasm & irony when vexed.
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