Aliza Bloch: Carrying Beit Shemesh on her shoulders

#49: Aliza Bloch

Aliza Bloch (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Aliza Bloch
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
On the evening that religious-Zionist mayoral candidate for Beit Shemesh Aliza Bloch narrowly won the race to city hall, she stood in the town square and beamed. “The people of Israel look today to Beit Shemesh with new hope. Beit Shemesh decided to cancel its walls. Beit Shemesh decided to tear down its dividers,” she said.
Nearly one year later, Bloch told The Jerusalem Post she is as dedicated now as she was then to her mission of bringing the city together, putting differences aside and focusing on what is truly important.
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“Beit Shemesh is comprised of a lot of groups – English-speakers, Ethiopians, Russians – and I think the beauty in our city is that everyone lives together,” she said. “The differences between the groups make our society interesting, and for me that is very exciting.
“If you live with people different from you, you are a rich man.”
It’s a bold statement from the mouth of a Beit Shemesh mayor.
Before Bloch, the city was run for a decade by haredi (ultra-Orthodox) mayor Moshe Abutbul, who was accused by his opponents of mismanaging the city of 115,000.
Bloch won by only 533 votes, once the votes by soldiers and disabled people were counted two days after the popular vote. Few believed Bloch would make it to the top, both because she is both modern Orthodox and a woman. As it stands, there are only 11 female mayors and heads of local councils across the country. But Bloch said she didn’t think twice about her gender when she chose to take on the incumbent mayor.
“I ran for mayor because I can do the job,” she told the Post. “If every woman says, ‘We can do it,’ I think that when our children – boys and girls – see women, they will think they can do it. They will see women in leadership as a normal thing.
“Women: Don’t be afraid. You can do it,” she said. “I don’t say I am a woman. I say I am me.”
Part of Bloch’s secret sauce is that she tries to focus people on the common good. She said that people have around 80% in common and that is from where dialogue needs to begin.
“I think most of the time, the dialogue begins with the 20% different,” she said. “That is not good.”
Would she consider a move toward national politics?
For now, said Bloch, “Beit Shemesh is my world. The process we are going through in Beit Shemesh is a big story. Beit Shemesh can be a model for Jewish society, for how we can live together.
“If I succeed in building unity in Beit Shemesh, then we can build it, too, for the nation of Israel,” she added. “Society is how we build it. No one is going to do it for us. Everyone needs to feel like the whole world is on his shoulders. It is with that belief that I come into the office every morning.”