What’s happening in Efrat?

One of those prominent communities going to the polls, located just south of the capital, is the 10,000-resident-strong Gush Etzion city of Efrat.

Incumbent Mayor of Efrat Oded Revivi 521 (photo credit: Eli Stein)
Incumbent Mayor of Efrat Oded Revivi 521
(photo credit: Eli Stein)
One of those prominent communities going to the polls, located just south of the capital, is the 10,000-resident-strong Gush Etzion city of Efrat. The three competing candidates along with their parties include the incumbent mayor, Oded Ravivi and his Efrat Mitchadeshet (Renewal) party; the Yachad (Together) party led by Dovi Shefler, who serves as the current director of Efrat’s Siach Yitzchak Hesder Yeshiva and is a longtime city council member; and Michael Dahan, a career educator with roots in Efrat since its founding in 1981, who heads the Atid (Future) party.
“Efrat is a very unique city,” Ravivi, who is 44 and married with six children, says in perfect English with a hint of a British accent, which he picked up both from a stint his parents did as emissaries in London when he was a child. “On one hand, it’s over the Green Line, which is considered by some as a settlement. However, the majority of the people who live here maintain a lifestyle which is far from the stereotype of what a settler is.” Ravivi says that Efrat is also unique “because we have been given permits to build an additional 1,000 units, which would increase our growth over the upcoming five years by 60 percent.” He believes that one of the main reasons he should remain in the mayoral post is that he is the most qualified candidate to oversee this vast building project through from start to finish. “In order to grow by 60%, the new residents who come here are going to need new schools built, and many other facilities completed upon their arrival,” he says. “To make that happen, they need someone in office who knows how the system works, who has a proven track record in the completion of projects... and the residents of Efrat can only benefit from what will be done [under my leadership].”
Ravivi cites several other major accomplishments: successfully increasing the city budget from NIS 40 million to NIS 65 million; the establishment of a youth division, with alliances formed between all of the various youth groups towards collaboration on activities, while creating parallel programming and opportunities for children unaffiliated with any of the youth groups; and obtaining permits for a significant presence on Efrat’s northernmost hill, known as Eitam, in order to secure “a real hold on the land, for the purpose of future building and development on the site.”
Along with what he considers to be his many accomplishments, Ravivi does acknowledge that is Efrat isn’t perfect and faces several major challenges, which he hopes to address. “Efrat was designed as a sleepy town, lacking office space, commercial areas, and without industry. This creates a challenge in terms of running the city financially. The lack of financial opportunities and planning needs to be dealt with in order to secure the financial contiguity of the city.”
Another challenge facing the community is the fact that Efrat’s population is aging. He says there has been a trend of emigration, whereas retirees are selling their homes and moving to other communities, including Jerusalem. He believes a solution needs to found to provide the services required by the elderly population to allow them to remain in Efrat.
With plans to improve the quality of life for residents in other areas, including culture, sports and in “green living,” the bottom line as to why voters should reelect him, says Ravivi, is that “people should vote for me based on what we [my administration], did – in action, not in words... The advantages of an acting mayor being reelected are tremendous for the city, and that’s something that shouldn’t be ignored.” Eighteen-year old Efrat resident Jay Bailey, who lives in the Dekel Bet neighborhood, is convinced that Ravivi should remain the town’s mayor. “I am voting for Ravivi because we need someone who is an expert negotiator, understands the dynamics of both the government and finances, has a real grasp of what makes people tick, and essentially can optimize the multifaceted dynamics of a town like ours very much like a business – with an eye towards efficiency, customer satisfaction and an excellent ‘product.’” FIFTY-YEAR-OLD Dovi Shefler, also married with six kids and a 20-year Efrat resident, believes that his 15 years in management, serving in various roles such as head of the municipal council’s finance committee, head of its welcoming committee and a member of its housing/building tender committee, which he says has given him the experience to understand “all of the details of the bureaucracy that go into running a yishuv [community].” He says that the main problem under the Ravivi administration is “its lack of vision. Over the past few years here, the focus of the community has been on the here and now. Efrat needs to have a vision. Where do we want to be in 10 years from now? In 20 years?” Specifically, he feels that the most pressing issue in the community is the scarcity of affordable housing for young couples and families, who tend to seek residency elsewhere. “The prices here are too high, and there is nowhere to come to,” Shefler says. “We need to work on bringing hundreds of young families in to raise their children here.”
Shefler believes that the first step to take in order to solve the housing problem is to establish permanency on the vast Eitam hill and eventually introduce 2,500 caravan homes for young families to the area. From a nationalistic perspective, he feels that if Eitam isn’t settled, it will be lost, separated from the city by Israel’s security barrier – whose current route if completed would leave parts of Eitam under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority.
Shefler says that he has been successful in getting approval for a permanent campus for his 60 hesder students, pointing out where a cornerstone dedication in the Dagen was held several months ago, and is confident that his experience getting the ball rolling on this project will help him launch the new Eitam homes. In addition to issues with housing, Shefler feels that certain neighborhoods in Efrat are lacking other services. “For the 500 families who live in the Zayit, Efrat’s biggest neighborhood, there is no medical center or supermarket. These residents have to get in their cars and drive for these basics.”
He also cites a lack of sidewalks, parking spaces, children’s parks and sports facilities, especially in the newer areas, claiming once again that the current mayor points his finger at the Construction and Housing Ministry instead of making up for the lack of facilities. He does agree with the mayor that a solution must be found to entice the older population from leaving Efrat, and says it will involve an aggressive renovation program in some of the older neighborhoods, including adding bus lines.
Finally, he also thinks he can contribute to the economic situation, by adding more retail spaces for stores and establishing a much-needed industrial park.
I.F., a Dekel Bet resident for over 20 years, says he is endorsing Shefler because he believes his long-term vision is best for the community. He says that while he has nothing personal against the other candidates, “I think that the existing mayor has a strategy of ‘I just want quiet, and will do anything in the short term to keep things quiet.’ But I don’t see any long-term thinking...if we don’t make sure that young couples have the desire and the ability to live here affordably, the community will become an old-age home.”
DAHAN, 53, who is married with five children and one grandchild and lives in Efrat’s Gefen neighborhood, feels that his 30 years in the field of education as a people person, mostly void of politics, doesn’t leave him at a disadvantage in getting the votes needed to become mayor. Rather, it enables him to offer a different perspective on building a “residents first” bottom-to-top model of how to create meaningful change. “I want to change the system to ensure the residents get the services they deserve,” says Dahan. “Instead of the municipality planning and making the decisions and then bringing them to the residents, I believe that the residents are the ones who need to communicate with the municipality from the ground up in order to create changes.” Dahan’s idea is to create va’adei shechuna, neighborhood committees throughout the city, with full access to the mayor and his staff, to communicate the most pressing needs of each neighborhood respectively. “The residents will voice their top priorities to those in charge from the ground up... I hope to be the first mayor in Israel to implement the ideas of these young people,” he says.