Ramat Beit Shemesh, the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of the Jerusalem suburb of
Beit Shemesh, is a different Israel. While in nearby old Beit Shemesh soldiers
are walking the streets and hitching rides to their unit rallying points in the
South – in Ramat Beit Shemesh one would not even know that there is a war
While cities within 40 kilometers of the Gaza Strip are pounded by
short and medium range rockets, Beit Shemesh sits just outside the biggest
danger zone. Children walk the streets, schools are open and nobody appears to
have changed their daily routine.
Yoni, a local resident recently
returned from reserve duty, gave a ride to a “Yerushalmi” Jew from the hassidic
enclave of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet and was shocked to hear that his passenger did
not even not know that his country was at war.
“Vos?” he asked Yoni in
“We are at war?” There are those among the Israeli-born haredim
who do not listen to the radio, read newspapers or own a television.
Internet is strictly forbidden. For these, the extreme fringe of the haredi
community, news is only obtained through the device of the pashkevil, the
broadside posted on walls.
However, even for the American-born, college-
educated haredim of Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef, – who are of course aware of the
situation – a sense of unreality prevails.
While Micky, a young yeshiva
student, told me that his rebbe had been called to the colors, many locals do
not have an immediate family member involved in the war. This provides a
distance that makes the reality hard to understand for many.
this cognitive dissonance is so extreme in some cases that as Friday afternoon
edged into evening, the locals played their weekly siren – heralding the time to
light candles to usher in the Shabbat – without realizing that it sounds similar
to the civil defense siren used to herd civilians into bomb shelters, scant
At least one family ducked into their reinforced room,
grabbing their children and praying for their continued safety.
Shabbat, as I named my newly born daughter (Tovah Rivka) in the synagogue, a
friend burst in and called out that he had just seen missiles streak overhead on
the way to Jerusalem.
Watching the vapor trail in the sky, it finally
dawned on many that the war was not just an abstraction on the news to be
discussed heatedly, but from a distance – but rather something that could affect
Ramat Beit Shemesh as well.