'You really left Jerusalem to live in Netanya?!" I was asked frequently and at times accusingly - with the emphasis on the "really" - after my late husband and I moved there after 23 years in Jerusalem. My answer, always, was an emphatic "Yes!"
We had decided to move to Netanya, where our daughter, son-in-law and family lived, and where we had enjoyable stays with them. We settled in easily, and the benefits of the move became apparent very quickly.
Walking in Jerusalem had become difficult for me during the last few years there, and distances seemed greater as time went by. In Netanya, walking became pleasant again, on mostly level ground. Drivers are more courteous to pedestrians, taxis have a fixed rate in the town. There is no shortage of intellectual or artistic stimulus for the public, and there is a great variety and need for volunteer work. The humid summer heat is eased by sea breezes, and winter is shorter and much less severe than in Jerusalem.
If I had any doubts about the move, they disappeared from the start. Being so close physically to some of my children and grandchildren made the transition considerably easier and, in fact, becomes stronger all the time.
The biggest bonus, however, became apparent gradually, as time passed, and it was a revelation. In fact, it still is after nearly 13 years: Netanya is a place of tolerance. It is in the very air and in every breath you take. How to describe it further? I don't know - but it is there.
The contrast to Jerusalem, with its hostile, competing factions with their lack of even minimal tolerance for each other poisoned the atmosphere for me, and I was amazed at how glad I was to leave. I have heard it said that Netanya is "the crime capital of Israel"; protection money, arson, gang warfare. Maybe so. Lack of Shabbat observance and nonkosher shops are also not uncommon. All I know is that the rule here is "Live and let live." There are mixed neighborhoods, and nobody throws stones or worse at non-observant Jews.
How did such a blessed state of affairs come about? I am convinced that it is thanks to the Klausenberg Rebbe's decision to live in Netanya. It is said that when he came to settle in Israel, it was assumed that he would make Bnei Brak his headquarters - but he said that in Bnei Brak he was not needed. Netanya, he said, did need him. Also the need for a hospital there was great. He and his followers would, with God's help, establish it.
And that is exactly what happened. The Rebbe and his followers built their own district (Kiryat Sanz) - then outside the town. And the Laniado Hospital has grown beyond all recognition and is a blessing to the whole area. The Rebbe's followers live an example of true tolerance toward those who fall short of the strict rules they themselves observe. To them, every Jewish soul is precious and to be valued. They show by their conduct that they value every Jew. Not for them contempt and harsh criticism but the outstretched hand of welcome.
It is this attitude, I think, that has over the decades created the unique atmosphere that exists in Netanya. May it continue always.