“Beit Shemesh is a wonderful destination for aliyah,” says Dr. Aliza Bloch, Mayor of Beit Shemesh. It is not uncommon for a city’s leader to boast the virtues of one’s hometown, but in this case, the mayor’s words are more than just hyperbole.
The facts speak for themselves. Beit Shemesh, with a population of 115,000, is one of Israel’s fastest-growing cities, centrally located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, near Ben Gurion Airport, and has been the go-to destination for English-speaking olim for more than twenty-five years. In advance of her visit this week to Washington, DC, New York and New Jersey, Mayor Bloch spoke with this writer about why Beit Shemesh is ideal for North Americans considering aliyah.
She immediately allays the fears of English speakers interested in Aliyah who are concerned about the difficulties of learning a new language. “Beit Shemesh is a city with many English-speaking communities. You can make Aliyah to Beit Shemesh without feeling like a stranger,” enthuses Mayor Bloch. “There are entire communities, synagogues and educational institutions in Beit Shemesh where a child who comes from the New York area will feel at home, because there are so many English speakers.”
Virtually all of the city’s schools, she explains, which range across the spectrum from secular to National Religious, from Haredi to Hasidic, have programs tailored for English-speaking, new immigrants. Mayor Bloch points out that Beit Shemesh offers an excellent public education system for all of the different streams, and says, smiling, “You don’t have to sell your home to pay for a quality education here in Israel.”
The mayor refers to the growing number of retirees from the United States who have decided to join their children and grandchildren in Beit Shemesh and mentions the clubs and activities for English-speaking seniors available in the city. “It provides a special community feeling,” she says.
Bloch, herself the daughter of Moroccan immigrants, grew up in Kiryat Gat and moved to Beit Shemesh with her husband Aharon, a nephrologist, in 1992, when it was a small and sleepy community. Today, the sounds of jackhammers and cement mixers are heard throughout the city, as new neighborhoods are being built at a rapid pace. She rattles off the names of developments under construction that will be ideal for new immigrants from the United States, such as Nofei Eucalyptus, Ramatayim, Neve Shamir, Ramat Beit Shemesh Dalet and Hei – “large, beautiful projects” – as well as high-rise projects such as Ramat Lehi and Savyon. Bloch points out that these projects do not simply exist on paper– they are all under construction and will soon house entire communities.
With the major construction projects underway, the municipality is readying a variety of facilities to increase the quality of life of the city’s residents, including the Beit Shemesh Sportek, which will house a swimming pool, basketball courts, skate park, and Omega rides; baseball, soccer and tennis facilities at Park HaGefen near the city entrance, a country club in Ramat Bet Shemesh Hei, complete with pool and tennis courts, and a swimming pool in the Mishkafayim neighborhood adjacent to Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef.
No longer must immigrants from the US settle on a lower standard of life in Israel, says the mayor. “Even in Israel, it is easier than it once was, and people can have large homes and spacious gardens.”
Culture is no less important in Beit Shemesh. One of the city’s cultural gems is the Beit Shemesh Cultural Center, completed in 2021, which includes an advanced and spacious theater, one of the most advanced sound and lighting systems in the world, innovative and cutting-edge design and more. The Center has hosted some of Israel’s leading performers since its opening, and the Beit Shemesh Art House displays the work of local artists.
Mayor Bloch adds that Beit Shemesh, being uniquely situated in a beautiful nature area, offers residents urban living in a green community that retains the aspects of a small town. “You are far from the big cities of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but they are close by.”
For many years, Beit Shemesh was considered a bedroom community, and much of the city’s Anglo population worked outside the city. Today, says Mayor Bloch, the situation has changed. “Today, Beit Shemesh has a great deal of momentum with industry,” she says. Amazon will soon be opening its server farm facility in Beit Shemesh – the largest in the Middle East – and Mayor Bloch ticks off the names of several other companies that will be opening headquarters here, such as Fox and Deloit Israel, in addition to companies that have long had a presence in the city, including the Tuttnauer medical supplies company and Beit Shemesh Engines.
The advantage that Mayor Bloch touts more than any other in favor of Beit Shemesh is the city’s varied population, and the tolerance and understanding between different groups. “If you want to make aliyah to a Haredi city, I don’t recommend coming to Beit Shemesh,” says the mayor. “If you are looking for a city with an exclusively national religious population (dati leumi), we are not for you. But if you value living among different kinds of people, then Beit Shemesh is the best place in the world. We have Ethiopians and Israelis and Russians and Israelis and Americans, and that is part of our story. The beautiful part is seeing everything.
“In Beit Shemesh, we celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut and the yahrzeit of a Chasidic rebbe, and the 19th of Kislev, the Chabad holiday, and Sigd, the Ethiopian Jewish holiday marking the renewal of the covenant between the Jewish people, God and His Torah. Everything is here, which is what makes it so good.”
Mayor Bloch sees Beit Shemesh as a model for the State of Israel, where different groups can live in harmony with respect for each other in a city that can provide a wide range of services, including “mikvaot and a culture center and soccer fields.”
This is Beit Shemesh in 2023 – a bustling, energetic city that retains its small town and friendly ambiance, with ample housing, quality education, a significant English-speaking population, and tolerance for everyone. It is a place, concludes the mayor, with all the advantages for any Orthodox Jewish family considering Aliyah. “This is our country, and ultimately, it is our home.”