Neighborhood Watch: Aliya to Beit Shemesh

Givat Sharett is popular with English-speaking families.

Sheinfeld neighborhood in Beit Shemesh 521 (photo credit: Courtes y Beit Shemesh Municipality)
Sheinfeld neighborhood in Beit Shemesh 521
(photo credit: Courtes y Beit Shemesh Municipality)
Givat Sharett, and more specifically the Sheinfeld neighborhood in Beit Shemesh, is very popular with English speakers. Beit Shemesh is located some 30 kilometers from Jerusalem, and since the 1990s it has gradually become an annex of the capital, particularly for the religious Jewish population.
In the 1990s the mandarins in the Construction and Housing Ministry decided that Beit Shemesh should absorb the population overflow from the capital. Many religious families, especially haredim, could not afford the hefty real-estate prices in the capital, so Beit Shemesh became a close and inexpensive alternative. At the time, two other important decisions were made by the government that affect the city and its real-estate sector to this day, but the one creating a home for religious and haredi Jerusalemites was the most important and far-reaching.
More than 50 percent of the population of Beit Shemesh is religiously observant, and since new neighborhoods are increasingly being built in the part of Beit Shemesh earmarked for the religious element, they will soon become the overwhelming majority.
The municipality is headed by Moshe Abutbul (Shas).
Beit Shemesh is a favorite destination of religious olim from France and English-speaking countries.
Beit Shemesh was founded in the early 1950s. Like many such towns founded in the years following the establishment of the State of Israel, it had two main functions: to provide housing for the waves of new immigrants and to create an Israeli presence in what was then the Jerusalem corridor. It started life in 1950 when the Har-Tuv temporary residential camp for new immigrants was built in the area. The residents started moving to permanent quarters in Beit Shemesh proper in 1952.
Today, the city has a population of some 100,000, including the suburb of Ramat Beit Shemesh, which was built on the ruins of the Arab village Beit Natif, which itself was built on the ruins of a Judean town.
The ancient remains of the town are still in evidence, such as a mosaic floor and wine presses.
Up to the 1990s, Beit Shemesh was perceived as the typical development town. With a population of less than 30,000, it had few job opportunities, low educational levels and low-income families originating mainly from North Africa.
All that began to change in the early 1990s, starting with the influx of new immigrants from the USSR.
They numbered about 8,000 and were completely different from the existing population. The population had been religious and Oriental, while the newcomers were aggressively secular and of a higher educational level. As a result, tensions soon arose. All of a sudden, non-kosher butcher shops sprang up selling pork among other things, and an industrial park was built that attracted modern industries such as hi-tech and logistics companies. The industrial park was aimed primarily at creating jobs for the skilled, welleducated Russians.
The established inhabitants of Beit Shemesh feared that their traditional, moderate religious way of life was threatened, as indeed it was. But not by the newcomers from eastern Europe but rather the thousands of haredi families who moved in later, mostly to Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet.
When the new immigrants from the USSR moved into Beit Shemesh, the government had high hopes that they would mix with the existing inhabitants.
But when the new haredi residents started to populate the area, the Construction and Housing Ministry deemed it wise to create a separate neighborhood with its own infrastructure. Built at some distance from the town on a mountaintop overlooking the original city, it was called Ramat Beit Shemesh.
Beit Shemesh has one local government authority but is in essence two towns. The old one has a secular or moderately religious population, and Ramat Beit Shemesh is mostly religious. Consequently, there is a difference in the real-estate scene between the two parts. Givat Sharett is located in one of the highest points in Beit Shemesh, and its population is more secular.
In Sheinfeld, one of the neighborhoods of Givat Sharett, there is a strong concentration of English speakers.
In fact, when Yifat Hashemesh Ltd., a large development company, started building in Givat Sharett, it earmarked English speakers as its main market.
Shelly Levine, CEO of the Tivuch Shelly real estate agency, says, “It all started in the 1990s when the place started taking off. Up till then, Beit Shemesh was a sleepy sort of place in the middle of nowhere – not Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv but close to both.
Nevertheless, things were beginning to change dramatically.
Growing oranges was a fading industry, and the hi-tech and computer society was coming in.
Many young couples had one spouse employed in Tel Aviv or Ramat Gan and the other in Jerusalem. And English-speaking aliya was stirring toward a growth spurt that would ultimately be tapped by Nefesh B’Nefesh. That is the environment of change that prompted me to recommend to Arie Sheinfeld, the owner of Yifat Hashemesh, to target the Englishspeaking market. And it was a success. Today it is a tightly knit community with many English speakers and high-quality homes. The emphasis in Sheinfeld is on larger dwellings, and there are also apartments and semi-detached units.”
At present, the real-estate situation in Givat Sharett, including Sheinfeld, is on the slow side. The industry throughout the country has stagnated. Rivka Klar of the Anglo-Saxon real-estate agency in Beit Shemesh told In Jerusalem that it is a buyer’s market because supply outstrips demand. “There are more sellers than buyers, and this has an effect on both the prices and the volume of transactions,” she says.