It was a hot sunny day in Ramat Beit Shemesh. I, Yonah Rossman had just gone two the local grocery to buy some simple things amongst them a large amount of seltzer making my bags rather heavy. The grocery store is situated at the top a big hill as like many other communities in Israel it is built on a hilltop. As such my walk down to the bottom of the hill was going to be a rather annoying one particularly painful for my fingers. But what can I do? I have to get my things to the bottom of the hill. I could tremp I thought, but surely no one would want me to come in their car with all my bags of much needed water, and after all it was not so far down. So I started to walk and my fingers started to numb. It was quite painful. I continued walking a whole of thirty seconds though, and behold there it was a car, or should I say minivan. I looked at it, it looked at me, and behold it was driven by a person, a woman who lived in the community. Want a ride? She asked. Do I? I did. I hopped in the front seat buckled up with several bags at my side. A minute later she pulled up by the curb and let me off. It was only my second day or so In the Ramat Beit Shemesh community when I realized where it was to that I really had arrived.
It wasn’t the first act of kindness I had seen or experienced and it certainly was not the last. The fact that people stopped to pick up Yeshiva students or others to take them to where they needed to go I realized was a given in the minds of residents in Ramat Beit Shemesh and it happens all the time. Why not help someone in need? On one such occasion I hitched a ride to “Big” the large supermarket in Beit Shemesh. A friend of mine happened to have bough a pair of headphones but his parents sent him a pair right after. He wanted to return them at the electronic store. Unfortunately to his disappointment once they were opened they were un-returnable. They were expensive to. We were ready to leave the store in disappointment when a man looked at him, asked him about his situation and genuinely felt his frustration. So he bought them off of my friend even though he clearly did not need headphones, this however I do not think my friend realized. The man was a stranger but to us, but to him a Jew walking by who was even slightly not happy was not a stranger at all.
It was not only in cars and in supermarkets of people of the Beit Shemesh area that I got to witness what great people I was amongst it was also in their houses. I was walking one day and a woman came out of her house with her little child and asked me and my friends if we could help her with something. We happily agreed. What was it she wanted? Well, there was a huge spider or so she thought crawling around her kitchen; she wanted us to catch it and kindly remove it from the house. We tried. We really did. We wrestled it with a broom. But it appeared more like a scorpion and got away to under the oven. We had failed our mission. So the woman thanked us for her efforts and decided to wait for her husband to come home and save her. That however was not how I learned what kind of community Iwas in, although she did offer us to come by whenever we wanted. It was through the countless invites to different houses for shabbos meals. On Rosh Hashana I ate at four different peoples houses who were all very welcoming – and made great food. I actually found out that one of the people who I ate at used to be my siblings teacher in the US, and many who live here, in Beit Shemesh not only speak English but also come from the same place that I lived and went to school, Monsey and Teaneck and other familiar places.
On one particularly showing occasion I was walking on one of the streets maybe 45 minutes before Shabbos. I saw in front of me a gathering in the middle of the street. As I got closer and tried to figure out what the buzz was all about. I heard little snippets of people’s conversations until I realized what was going on. A child with some sort of mental issue went missing and random strangers were being given assignments to find him. Once I realized the situation I took down the phone number of the man in charge and went to gathered some guys to find him. People of all different walks of Judaism, knowing the risk of a missing child unified for his safety. Minutes later he was in his parents hands.
Sometimes it takes sorrow, pain, or fear to unite a community. The sorrow after the loss of a leader like at the levaya of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the pain of loss, or the terrible fear of a missing child. Sometimes people are not united when these things lack. Sometimes that is true, but not always. This I learned in this last experience I share with you. Simchat Torah, 5771 – my first of the three regalim in Israel. Not everything was as it ussually is in the states but some things were – slight variations of the tfilla, and other such things. There was however one difference, it was in Israel – one of gods great gifts to the Jewish people. We davened, Shma Shmoneh esraei and then we started hakafot. During the hakafot though, we didn’t just sing and dance as a Yeshiva or as a minyan, that just wasn’t enough. We left the building onto the street (obviously being emty of cars as you rarely see one on Shabbos in Ramat Beit Shemesh) and then we went back inside. Not into our minyan but one near by. We joined another minyan and danced with them, for a while hand in hand with there children on our shoulders. The next day we joined hakafot with a different shul and celebrated the torah with the community around us. It was an experience of achdut you get in few places.
It’s not just the achdut or the reality of Simcha that can be fealt here, in Ramat Beit Shemesh. The Torah here is real. I don’t mean just in the post high school Yeshiva students and Daf Yomi shiurim for those who work. The little children really know Torah. They know Tanach they. They recite Mishnayot beal Peh. Most of all though, they Live Torah.
Now anyone who is reading this surely has read many things in the media about Beit Shemesh, Ramat Beit Shemesh. One may even think after reading the news I am talking about a different Beit Shemesh than the one in the media. Well I have to admit that is partially true as I live in Ramat Beit Shemesh Alephand most of the tension does not happen here, most of the tension does not happen in most of the places at all. Am I lying to you? Can it be that Beit Shemesh is a great place? Yes. It can be and it is. I stand at the bus stop and I see people live there life. People get on people get off. I have yet to see someone spit on another. Does that mean it doesn’t happen? No, certainly not. Does that mean that there arn’t issues? Not at all. But every place has issues. Monsey, Teaneck, Yerushalayim, Kansas, and even Canada. No place is perfect, and issues need to be dealt with. I am not evaluating the issues at hand, its not for me to do. But I am saying that Beit Shemesh and Ramat Beit Shemesh is not a chaotic pandemonium – at least not most of it. So this is why when I was standing on line a the central bus station in Yerushalayim this past week when someone asked me “How’s Beit Shemesh these day? I told him: “It’s great – mostly, it has problems like everywhere even so its doing great.”