Aliza Bloch, Beit Shemesh religious-Zionist mayoral-candidate, October 2018.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
One Election Day, 15 hours of voting – democracy. That is what it took to bring to an end 10 years of enormous challenges, frustrations, tensions and religious battles in Beit Shemesh.
“We won’t give up on Beit Shemesh” has been our chant throughout.
Wherever I traveled both in Israel and around the world I heard “Beit Shemesh is a microcosm of all of Israel. The birthrate of the extremist element in the ultra-Orthodox community will lead to their control over all of Israel – just like they have taken control over Beit Shemesh.”
How wrong they were.
It is simply not correct that as the ultra-Orthodox population grows, Israel will become a state filled with more and more religious tensions and less and less tolerance. The ultra-Orthodox population certainly has its extremist elements. But as more ultra-Orthodox young men go to work, university and the army, the tolerant, moderate and “interested in co-existence with the rest of Israel” camp in this religious population only grows.
From the beginning of her election campaign a few months ago, our newly-elected mayor, Dr. Aliza Bloch, set a tone by putting out positive messages, laying out a vision for a better future for all city residents, and breaking down barriers.
One moment during the euphoria of election night captures the uniqueness of this campaign, and the message from Beit Shemesh for all of Israel. What occurred at the end of a long Election Day – at around 3:00 am – was truly historic. Election Day ended with the incumbent, Moshe Abutbul, from the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, holding a slight lead, with the votes of the IDF soldiers yet to be counted. This gave Dr. Bloch, from the religious Zionist community, a real chance to take the lead and win the election. That the election was so close was enough of a cause for celebration.
Dr. Bloch arrived at an electrified campaign headquarters, stood on the stairs looking over the energized crowd, and led them in singing the following words from Psalms 34:13-14:
“Who is the person who desires life, who loves days of seeing good? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it.”
The supporters who joined her in that song included ultra-Orthodox, religious Zionist, traditional and secular residents. The ultra-Orthodox supporters included hassidim with long coats and peyot (side curls), and yeshiva students with black fedoras.
It was a truly beautiful and inspiring moment. And this scene at Aliza’s headquarters and her entire campaign has massive ramifications for all of Israel and its future.
The coming years in Beit Shemesh under Aliza’s leadership will be years of harmony and unity, and the city will soar as a result. After years of frustration and negative stories coming from Beit Shemesh, one woman with a belief and a dream that hope and positive energy could save the day has ignited a city and has led to the sun rising once again in Beit Shemesh.
So if Beit Shemesh with its diverse population is truly a microcosm of the rest of the country, I hope that all of Israel learns from the example of our wonderful city’s resilience, and all Israelis learn to be patient, never give up, and weather all demographic challenges to become a model of tolerance and co-existence for the world.The writer is a resident of Beit Shemesh and served as a member of the 19th Knesset.