Ultra Orthodox and secular Israelis clash in Beit Shemesh..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Twenty-six years ago I moved to Beit Shemesh, a city I grew to love. A city at the geographical center of the country. A city in an area of exceptional beauty, where the stories of the Tanach (biblical canon) come to life. A city where my children would come into contact with all segments of Israeli society –religious and irreligious, native-born Israelis and immigrants from many countries, speaking a wide variety of languages. A city of harmony, of neighborliness and of consideration and respect.
In Beit Shemesh, I founded Branco-Weiss, the first ever high school in a development town in Israel offering an academic-track. I served as principal of the school for fourteen years. This was the first time that a public school in Beit Shemesh submitted all of its students for full bagrut (matriculation) exams. I made the decision to raise the academic standard of the school because of my belief that every student can succeed.
In the first year of the school, 100% of the students were eligible to graduate with a full matriculation certificate. This was a great triumph and in the years that followed, Branco-Weiss has become a leading educational institution, attracting those students who are interested in obtaining a full bagrut certificate, and giving them the skills to attain it. In the years I was head of the school, it received recognition, appreciation and won awards for its educational achievements. Building on this success, I moved on to manage the Branco-Weiss national school network, bringing the tremendous educational success that began in Beit Shemesh to many other cities in Israel.
Sadly, in recent years, Beit Shemesh has frequently been seen in the headlines with negative associations, often related to friction between different segments of the population
. For many, Beit Shemesh has become synonymous with internecine fighting and alienation between sectors, but for me the true story of Beit Shemesh is different...
A few months ago I made a decision to leave my comfort zone, uprooting my routine, in order to initiate change in the city. This is my commitment to the future of our children. Over the course of the mayoral campaign, I have visited many neighborhoods and have met with people of differing ideologies and varying ethnicities. All of these people have one thing in common: They all love the city in which they live, but find it difficult to deal with the various problems they are forced to live with. Problems such as lack of infrastructure, infrequent street cleaning and maintenance, employment concerns and the lack of cultural resources in the city. These issues and needs have been raised by the residents and are shared by all of them. Why then is the city considered so divided?
On my journey I have seen people standing in line at the supermarket – people of different colors, dressed in different garb and with fuller or emptier shopping carts – but all standing together in the same queue for the checkout. I have visited neighborhoods where all different types of people serve together on building management committees. And yes, I have also met residents who have been hurt by the extremists who live in our city. While they are a negligible minority, the reputation of Beit Shemesh and of its thriving communities has suffered disproportionately. To set the record straight: Your typical Beit Shemesh resident lives in peace with his or her neighbors and wants to continue living in a mixed city which provides all of its residents with the sense of security necessary to allow for this coexistence.
There are those who attempt to create division within the city, hoping to gain power by setting one group against the other and by fanning flames of discord between those holding differing views. I will not participate in these attempts at polarization. I don’t believe that our differences are our downfall, but rather our greatest asset and I will manage the city in a way that benefits all of its residents. City leadership must forge a dialogue among the various populations of the city, with a goal of addressing the needs of ALL residents in an atmosphere of mutual recognition, consideration and respect.
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Most of the issues that fall under the jurisdiction of City Hall are basic necessities which are common to all residents, and those are the issues which I will focus on as Mayor. I wish to increase the availability of quality employment in the city; the cleanliness of the streets in all neighborhoods; proper infrastructure which will enable efficient, pleasant and safe day-to-day life; culture, in its broadest sense, including extra-curricular education and leisure opportunities, events and more. I want there to be quality education and welfare departments that provide appropriate frameworks for each and every resident, old and young.
Beit Shemesh has the potential to be a model for other cities in Israel – specifically a model of convergence through diversity. A joint effort on the part of the city’s residents, who are ready for change, and fresh leadership, ready to help them get there, will result in the creation of a dialogue that includes all parts of the population and a governmental model that cares for them all.Aliza Bloch is a candidate for mayor of Beit Shemesh in the upcoming municipal election.
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