Reporter's Notebook: A city without war

In Ramat Beit Shemesh one would not even know that there is a war on.

Beit Shemesh center 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Beit Shemesh center 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Ramat Beit Shemesh, the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of the Jerusalem suburb of Beit Shemesh, is a different Israel. While in nearby old Beit Shemesh soldiers are walking the streets and hitching rides to their unit rallying points in the South – in Ramat Beit Shemesh one would not even know that there is a war on.
While cities within 40 kilometers of the Gaza Strip are pounded by short and medium range rockets, Beit Shemesh sits just outside the biggest danger zone. Children walk the streets, schools are open and nobody appears to have changed their daily routine.
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Yoni, a local resident recently returned from reserve duty, gave a ride to a “Yerushalmi” Jew from the hassidic enclave of Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet and was shocked to hear that his passenger did not even not know that his country was at war.
“Vos?” he asked Yoni in Yiddish.
“We are at war?” There are those among the Israeli-born haredim who do not listen to the radio, read newspapers or own a television.
The Internet is strictly forbidden. For these, the extreme fringe of the haredi community, news is only obtained through the device of the pashkevil, the broadside posted on walls.
However, even for the American-born, college- educated haredim of Ramat Beit Shemesh Alef, – who are of course aware of the situation – a sense of unreality prevails.
While Micky, a young yeshiva student, told me that his rebbe had been called to the colors, many locals do not have an immediate family member involved in the war. This provides a distance that makes the reality hard to understand for many.
In fact, this cognitive dissonance is so extreme in some cases that as Friday afternoon edged into evening, the locals played their weekly siren – heralding the time to light candles to usher in the Shabbat – without realizing that it sounds similar to the civil defense siren used to herd civilians into bomb shelters, scant kilometers away.
At least one family ducked into their reinforced room, grabbing their children and praying for their continued safety.
Over Shabbat, as I named my newly born daughter (Tovah Rivka) in the synagogue, a friend burst in and called out that he had just seen missiles streak overhead on the way to Jerusalem.
Watching the vapor trail in the sky, it finally dawned on many that the war was not just an abstraction on the news to be discussed heatedly, but from a distance – but rather something that could affect Ramat Beit Shemesh as well.