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  • Writer's pictureJay Schwartz

Aliyah Update Teves 5774

One of the extraordinary gifts of the beginning of our second year of aliyah has been the excitement surrounding new horizons for us here in Ramat Beit Shemesh and for Ramat Beit Shemesh in general. Beit Shemesh, despite all of its bad publicity, remains one of Anglo olim’s target sites. From a sleepy, backwater, development town, founded by Sephardic immigrant families in the 1950’s, Beit Shemesh has blossomed into an esthetically beautiful and modern city, replete with new highways, extravagant shopping malls, beautiful home developments and an explosion of new construction. When we purchased our current home on paper in the year 2002, our street, Nahar HaYarden, was the southern border of town, overlooking the breathtaking Harei Yehuda, mountains that stretch eastward towards the Gush and Yerushalayim. Lushly planted by the JNF, these magnificent hills greet us each morning with spectacular views. Especially if the days are clear, one can literally see miles and miles towards the Jordan Valley.

As we enter 5774, the town was buzzing about several new neighborhoods, including one being built just below our home entitled Mishkafayim, i.e. glases, because of its double oval shape. This new neighborhood included plans for elaborate parks, shopping, a luxury hotel, and spectacular villas, including several high-rise buildings that threaten to compromise our incredible view. Still searching for my true place in our new neighborhood, my heart and mind became focused on the events taking shape below us. But it wasn’t until after the new year that something really clicked.

At one of Israel’s largest expos, called The Event, I met a representative of one of the premiere sections of Mishkafayim, appropriate titled Emerald Gardens and Emerald Heights. I was drawn to the sketches of this stunning development, and my lips began to move almost involuntarily. I spoke with Avihu Cohen, the Administrator for LaGur B’Rama, a development company, that had won the rights to development this site and was now marketing it to the general public. I said to him, almost unconsciously, “I want to travel to Chutz LaAretz and help encourage people to move here and be part of this project.

Avihu soon introduced me to the president of LaGur B’Rama, Oren Edri, who to me was a very familiar face. I had met Oren during his travels in New York where he had sold me some beautiful Judaic art pieces, which was his business. Two of the pieces of art that he sold me graces my office and Beit Midrash. One is a forest scene with tall trees, inspired by the Sofia Park outside of Uman in the Ukraine, where Rebbe Nachman prayed and meditated and encouraged others to do the same. Through the towering trees of this bucolic scene, sunlight penetrates through the thick foliage upon a man draped in a tallit, arms holding a siddur. This print with its rich, dark colors, inspires calm and inner peace. My counseling clients can gaze at it while we speak. It is a reminder regarding hitbodedut (a secluded time for personal dialogue with HaShem in one’s own language), one of the mainstays of Rebbe Nachman’s order of daily devotions.

Oren welcomed me and invited me to become the rabbinic spokesperson/community rabbi and to travel to England, New York or wherever, all expenses paid, to promote the project. After two round trips, in November and now in December, I have already met with dozens of families and spoken to hundreds of people, about one of my true passions: living in Israel, building communities in Israel and investing in Israel.

In November I had the pleasure of speaking at a number of shuls in London, over Shabbat VaYetzeh Ya’acov (appropriately titled for me), including in Hendon and Golders Green, including Rabbi Yaakov Tugenhaft’s shul, Nishmat Yisrael, Dayan Abraham’s shul, Toras Chaim, and Rabbi Allan Kimchi’s shul, Ner Yisroel of Hendon. In addition, I met with several dynamic rabbis including Rabbi Dovid Roberts of Edgware, Rabbi Yosef Richards, assistant rabbi in Bushey and Rabbi Yehoshua Hartman, known for his published works on the Maharal and now a leading force in the community as the Head of the Beit Midrash at Hasmonean Boys’ School. In addition, I met several leading ba’alei batim in London and drummed up considerable interest with families who are contemplating aliyah.

In New York, over the week of Parshat VaYishlach was able to reconnect with some of my dear friends and talmidim in Lawrence, including an incredible group of ba’alei batim from Sha’arey Tefila who I would generally gather with twice a month on Friday night for an elaborate Oneg Shabbat/Tish to share upscale Shabbat cuisine and Divrei Torah. I was privileged to be hosted on this occasion by our dear friends, Mr. & Mrs. Jacob Cohen.

At one of our meetings, a family purchased one of the 24 luxury villas projected for construction with many others exploring it as well as the various apartments that are available with prices ranging from$275,000 to 1 million dollars. But what is most exciting are the plans that I have developed with Mr. Edri and Mr. Cohen to build a full service synagogue and Jewish Community Center in Emerald Gardens.

Besides a beautiful and multiple minyan/Beit Midrash we are planning a full recreational facility, including a swimming pool, exercise center and gym, as well as a men’s mikvah and a spectacular Simcha Hall overlooking the mountaintops. With construction already underway on the infrastructure, these projects are only two-three years from taking shape. No doubt the path to achieving all of these goals will take several years and enormous resources, but it is really an opportunity for the Schwartz clan to realize our dreams’ of many years in the making.

I am so excited and grateful for the opportunity to travel, teach and spread the word about our developing community. I look forward to sharing with you all this vision as it is starting to unfold step by step and invite you to become a part of it.

Apropos, a chidush that I shared in Teaneck’s Beth Yeshurun synagogue, where I was granted by their very gracious and erudite Rav, Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, to address one of his many Shabbat minyanim on my most recent trip, Parshat VaYechi. At the beginning of the parsha, Yaacov Avinu has two conversations with his son, Yosef. The first regarding the oath that Yaacov asked Yosef to take promising to bury him in Chevron in the Mearat HaMachpela. The second conversation, instigated by Yosef, who heard his father’s health was failing regarded receiving a special blessing for Yosef’s sons, Menashe and Efraim. A difficult question emerges. Why was it that Yaacov mentioned the fact that he had failed to bring Yosef’s mother, Rochel, to burial in Chevron (ואני בבואי מפדן מיתה עלי רחל בארץ כנען בדרך בעוד כברת ארץ לבא אפרתה ואקברה שם בדרך אפרת היא בית לחם, When I came from Padan Rochel died upon me in the Land of Canaan a measure of land on the way to Efrat and I buried her on the way to Efrat that is Beit Lechem Gen. 48:6). Chazal comment that Yaacov was clearly telling Yosef that it was not for any lack of ability or distance that caused him to bury Yosef’s mother just outside the Land of Israel, but that rather it was a conscious decision based on the prophecy that Yaacov had received, that it was imperative that Rochel be there to comfort the Jews on their way to exile and give them hope for their ultimate return, ושבו בנים לגבולם. It is very difficult to understand why this information was discussed during the blessing to Menashe and Efraim and not earlier when Yaacov was asking Yosef to sweat that he bury him in the very place that his mother had never reached, Chevron and the Mearat HaMachpela. Why did Yaacov share this information here and not earlier?

One could suggest that the answer is linked to Yaacov justifying his choice of giving the younger Efraim a first and greater bracha than his older brother, Menashe. Yaacov chose Efraim according to Chazal because out of Efraim would emerge Yehoshua, the leader that would teach Torah and bring the Jews into the Land of Israel. Although Menashe was Yosef’s true heir, having served with Yosef in the palace of Egypt, and like Yosef having remained a faithful and untainted tzadik in the galut of Egypt, this was not the part of Yosef that interested Yaacov the most. Rather, it was Efraim, that would produce Yehoshua, the leader that would bring B’nei Yisrael back to the borders of Eretz Yisrael, out of the galut, that interested Yaacov Avinu more. It was this aspect of Yosef, i.e. the power to help us return to the Land, that Yaacov emphasized by choosing Efraim over Menashe. Despite Menashe’s magnificence in galut and the challenges that Efraim’s descendants would meet in Israel, i.e. wicked kings such as Yeravam and Achav, nevertheless, Yaacov chose to pin his hopes and dreams on the return to Israel, however complex and challenging. This is why he needed to share with Yosef at this time how much Yaacov had personally sacrificed, by leaving his beloved Rochel just outside the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael for it was Rochel and her tears that would pave the way back for the Jewish People. And this agonizing mesirut nefesh that Yaacov chose to do, by burying her there, was the justification he presented to Yosef as to why Efraim superseded Menashe despite it all.

It is my hope that I will be successful in conveying the excitement, passion and simcha that the return to Eretz Yisrael has meant to us, and encourage many others to join us on this wonderful journey.

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