Osher Ad in Bet Shemesh – The New Haredi Battlefront

Posters have been slapped up all over town with a rabbinic ruling, signed by five haredi rabbis, forbidding their communities from shopping at the new Osher Ad supermarket.  A little background is in order…  This new supermarket, Osher Ad, opened three weeks ago to much fanfare in Bet Shemesh.  There is a price and turf war raging throughout Israel with supermarket chains gobbling up real estate and new mall space to place their stores in strategic locations.  Osher Ad is one of the newer discount chains that has had great success in Ashdod and recently in Maaleh Adumim.  They are expanding greatly with their aggressive discount pricing in each new location.  The established chains, most notably ShuferSal, has lowered their prices in Bet Shemesh to match and compete with Osher Ad’s rollout.  This price war has even made it to the Knesset and trade ministry as the regulator is checking to ensure that there are no monopolistic practices here.  Smaller chains, are having a hard time matching these deep discount prices.  Likewise, larger discount chains, such as Rami Levy, who is planning to open stores in Bet Shemesh this year, are crying foul.   One thing for sure is that the consumer is benefiting greatly during this price war.

Back to the haredim…  The event that weighed heavily on this rabbinic ruling.

Three weeks ago, when the Osher Ad store was opened (in the Migdal Hamayim neighborhood, a mixed neighborhood mostly inhabited by Russians and Sephardim, a sign was placed at the entrance requesting all women to dress modestly (as is common practiced in the haredi sections of Bet Shemesh).  When non-religious neighbors said that the sign offended them, it was removed.  Enter the haredi rabbis and their boycott edict.  (Note: Osher Ad is owned by two Gur Hasidim, ultra orthodox hasidim,  The rabbis signing this edict represent the Lithuanian ultra-orthodox camp).

Haredi boycott of Bet Shemesh Supermarket

Top Ten Reasons Why Ramat Bet Shemesh Aleph Is A Great Place to Live

1. People are friendly – Our neighbors are the best. People say Hi on the street. Most people know each other by face, if not by name.
2. Relaxed “Chill” Neighborhood – It’s generally very quiet here. Except for weekdays when kids are picked up and dropped off from school, the streets are mostly empty from cars.
3. Great bus service – For those who don’t have cars, it’s extremely easy to get anywhere. Buses to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Inner-city, are constantly running.
4. Enough Shopping, but not too much – We have several makolot (small grocery stores) in walking distance, and shopping centers within a few minutes drive. The haredi shopping center near by offers some really great prices and shopping bargains.
5. Minyanim everywhere – You’re never worried about making your next minyan. We have many shuls (Batei Knesset) for all religious types and customs. People often run into a shul closest to them for mincha, and are treated respectfully by the members.
Continue reading “Top Ten Reasons Why Ramat Bet Shemesh Aleph Is A Great Place to Live”

Bet Shemesh Train Minyan to Tel Aviv

Orthodox Jews will do just about anything to pray on time and with a quorum of at least ten other Jews (minyan).

The now ‘famous’ train minyan runs weekday mornings from Bet Shemesh to Tel Aviv. They even have their own Torah and Ark (Aron Kodesh). How many of the faces do you recognize? Great photos.

The purpose of this minyan is to enable Ramat Bet Shemesh and Bet Shemesh residents who work in Tel Aviv to have Shacharit with a minyan and get to work on time in Tel Aviv. The train ride is about 45 minutes, so they have to get started immediately on days that the Torah is read!

Beautiful Panoramic Photo of Tel Azeka – Free Nature Site

Day trips in Bet Shemesh – Haelah Junction Area

The story of David and Goliath is told in detail in Samuel I.  King Saul and his camp were on the mountain top, and Goliath and the Philistines were in the valley below taunting anyone who would dare come and fight him.  Young David took his slingshot went down the valley and knocked Big Bad Goliath down with one shot.  According to Jewish tradition, the monumental event occured in the Valley of Haaeleh and Tel Azeka.

Tel Azeka

There’s a nice KKL (Jewish National Fund) park at the bottom of the Tel, and an easy footpath up the hill to the breathtaking views of the valley below.  The steps up to the top of the hill are incscribed with quotes from the Scriptures renacting the great story of David vs. Goliath.

Getting there from Bet Shemesh

Take Road 38 south from Bet Shemesh towards Beit Guvrin.  About 2KM after the gas station by Zecharia, make a right turn at the junction leading to Re’em.  (If you’ve reach Haelah Junction, you’ve gone too far).  Shortly after the turn, about 1KM, there will be a left turn into Park Britannia.

Enter the park and drive along a winding narrow paved road.  You will see 2 or 3 parks on the left side of the ride, keep going until you reach a junction.  There will be a sign to turn left towards Tel Azeka.  Make the left turn and drive up about 1KM uphill and pull up to a parking area for the park.  Admission is free.  Follow the footpath up to the top of the hill for a wonderful view.  You can also bring your BBQ from home and have a cookout at the bottom of the hill.  A nice way to enjoy history for free and with relatively easy access.  The hill can easily be climbed by all ages.  The last time our family went, there was a family in front of us with a grandmother in her 80s.  She made it to the top ahead of us!

Panorama Photo of Tel Azeka and Haelah.

The stitching of 5 photos here is a bit sloppy, but you get to see this stunning panoramic of Tel Azeka, which is on the perimeter of the shefela, and near Haelah Junction.  On the far left is the village Zecharia.

Tel Azeka Panorama - Click for Full Size
Tel Azeka Panorama - Click for Full Size

A Pious Man – (Yes, They still exist)

I went to the local electronics store yesterday to pick up a new bread machine.  The owner keeps the store open in the late afternoon and early evening hours.  He learns Torah during the day and then opens the store to sell appliances to locals.

This is Ramat Bet Shemesh in 2009.  The owner of this shop is a young man, late 20’s at most.  He answers all questions and even offers extra information honestly, even when it leads you not to buy his merchandise.

So as I’m paying for the bread machine, (which he tried to talk me out of buying until we’d baked a loaf or two with a neighbor’s machine to make sure we were really going to use it), I asked him if the economy has affected his sales.  He asked me what I was refering to.  I told him about the economy and stock market in the USA and the world downturn, etc…  He had no idea what I was talking about.  No TV, no radio, no newspapers.  He doesn’t listen to or read the news.

However, he’s very knowledgeable about all his products.  He knows the appliances industry.  You want to buy a stove or a refrigerator? He’ll tell you what importer is unloading stock they couldn’t sell in France, and what products have the best repair record.  He doesn’t go by the adage that you must sit and learn Torah and do nothing else.   Part of his service to the community is to sell quality products at a fair price, and then back them with solid service should something go wrong.

He learns Torah by day and night, and sells appliances by afternoon so that he can continue learning Torah.

For a second, I thought he was kidding about not knowing the news. But then it became apparent that not only was he serious, but truly the happier one.  Quite refreshing.

Rockiah – A New Jewish Rock Group in Ramat Bet Shemesh

Those who attended the Shemeshfest Sukkot festival last week at the Bet Shemesh ampitheater were treated to a talented local rock group named “Rockiah” – the English name of the band is a play on their Hebrew name ???? (The Earth’s Firmament), and their American rock music roots.

Rockiah are Yehudah David (vocals, guitars), Zvi Newman (bass), and David Epstein (drums). Eli Krantman joined them on backing vocals.

Yehudah, Zvi, and David all live in Ramat Bet Shemesh and are olim from the USA.

I spoke with Zvi about the origins of Rockiah and what they hope to accomplish. Zvi told me they are all married with kids and come from different backgrounds, but their music speaks one language.

“Rockiah is about fusing the raw power of rock music with the spiritual inspiration of the Jewish mekorot (written sources). Yehudah is influenced by Van Halen and other power-pop artists, so his guitar playing is among the wildest on the scene. Dave’s drumming is influenced by punk, so we have a harder-driving sound in our shows – and his aggressive fills make you take notice. I’m influenced by John Entwistle of The Who, so the bass surprises the crowd with “stolen” solos that bubble up from underneath. And Yehudah’s singing overflows with pure heart and soul.”

“Rockiah’s music is written entirely by Yehudah, while the lyrics are straight out of the Psalms and various prayers. It’s meant to be lively and catchy for the audience, and it’s challenging for the musicians – the chords change every few seconds, so we have to be on our toes. Also, we love to improvise solos off the top of our heads – but all of this is meant to augment the uplifting, danceable essence of the songs. You can drive, work, jog, or clean the house to Rockiah, and come out of it very inspired.”

“At the end of the day, we try to give a fresh and energetic musical foundation to the experience of the holy as espoused by the lyrics. The Jewish content takes rock to a higher plane.”

Rockiah - Bonei Yerushalayim
Rockiah - Bonei Yerushalayim

Rockiah is now promoting its new CD and plan to join the performance circuit.   Their debut album, Bonei Yerushalayim, was released just a couple weeks ago and is available online at shemeshmusic.com and at GalPaz stores. You can hear sample tracks at shemeshmusic.com before purchase. You can also learn more about Rockiah on their Facebook and Myspace homepages.

We wish them much success!

Bet Shemesh Sukkot Jewish Rock Festival

As a citizen of Bet Shemesh for the past 14 years, I can tell you that nothing swells our civic pride more than the awesome Jewish Rock Festival that Jonty Zwebner has brought, along with the Bet Shemesh municipality, to our fine city.

Moshav Band Performing at Bet Shemesh Festival in 2003
Moshav Band Performing at Bet Shemesh Festival in 2003

It began about a decade ago as a one night event with five or so groups playing in front of a couple thousand locals. It has blossomed more recently into a big two night festival with many thousands (perhaps 15,000, maybe more?) jamming into the outdoor amphitheater with most of the top names in Jewish Rock, such as Moshav Band, Soulfarm, Adi Ran, Reva L’sheva, Lenny Solomon, and many, many more. As a result, the national media have taken notice.

Here is the Festival’s homepage for links to all the performers and more information.
ShemeshFest Website

Burka Ladies in Ramat Bet Shemesh

I live about 1 Kilometer from the infamous Burka ladies cult who’s leader was taken into custody last month. Read the Jerusalem Post article for some background.

I have seen these women (well, not really them, but their burkas) walking in the shopping center in Ramat Bet Shemesh Bet near the post office. It never really sunk in what these ladies are trying to accomplish. I actually thought in my subconscious how ironic it was that nuns from the nearby monastery have to come to the ultra-orthodox neighborhoods to do their shopping (or to mail packages).

What’s hard to swallow is that this cult leader was systematically physically and mentally abusing her children, and allowing other unmentionable taboo acts to take place under her own roof. All the while, she’s dressed in a dozen robes for ‘extra’ modesty. Gimme a break!

A friend mentioned to me a couple weeks ago that a women from this cult had joined their synagogue for the Megilat Esther reading on Purim. No one had recognized her (sic). She said that the ladies all moved to the other side of the room from where she was sitting. If I had seen a woman come to my synagogue dressed like that, and i didn’t recognize her voice (!?), I would demand that she immediately remove her extra clothing so as to be sure it was not, G_d forbid, a suicide bomber.

Anyways, here’s a burka lady in her natural environment in Ramat Bet Shemesh. Let’s play Where’s Waldo… Israel style: “Where’s the Burka Lady” in this picture?

burka lady bet shemesh

Israel Sunset Photo – Bet Shemesh

Here’s the thing to do if you are driving on route 38 near Tel Shemesh just before sunset. Pull your car into the small area for tourist buses and run fast up to the top of the hill. Make sure you have a tripod, and that your camera can do bracketing. Bracketing means that you take many frames of the same image with different exposure settings. If you are lucky, you’ll get a shot like this:

Israel Sunset

Technical details: Nikon F100, Fuji Velvia Chrome, 28mm, F16, Tripod

Simchat Torah – Hachnasat Sefer Torah

One of the biggest celebrations on the Jewish calendar is when a new Sefer Torah (Bible written on parchment, to be used in synagogue services) is completed. The new Torah is usually danced in to the shul (synagogue) by the one who donated it, the Rabbis, and all of the members.

In this photo, the new Torah was read from the weekly portion, and then was lifted (Hagbah) for all to see.

Hachnasat Sefer Torah

Nature Photos – Ramat Bet Shemesh

You know the old expression “right under your nose”? Ramat Bet Shemesh was plopped down about 9 years ago atop some of the most beautiful nature trails in the center of Israel. Here are some photos from the hill surrounding Ramat Bet Shemesh. An easy 5 minute walk off the main roads into the fields will open your eyes to some really beautiful nature spots in Israel.

These images were taken in Spring just a few meters past Nahal Hayarden, where I’m told there will be new build it yourself plots (B’nei Beytcha) offered shortly. Go and enjoy yourself before the land is appropriated for new construction. (Be careful, however, not to go at night. There are many animals prowling about, such as jackals and dogs, possums, and even porcupines, that may not be as hospitable as we’d like).

Nature - Ramat Bet Shemesh

Nature - Ramat Bet Shemesh

Nature - Ramat Bet Shemesh

Nature - Ramat Bet Shemesh

Kibbutz Tzora

Kibbutz Tzora is nestled between Bet Shemesh and the beginings of the shefayla “heartland”. The Kibbutz was settled in the 1948 by former Palmach members. Many of the members have immigrated from South America, UK, and South Africa. Today, the Kibbutz boasts a robust industry including everything from an office complex to a wedding hall to a cow milking facility.

Here’s an image of the Kibbutz from Tel Shemesh facing North.

Kibbutz Tzora

This image reminds me of the fields of amber grains in downstate Illinois and Indiana.

Mystery or Art? Ramat Bet Shemesh

Sometimes things present themselves to you in your everyday life, and you have to capture the moment. I was walking in the park in Ramat Bet Shemesh – it’s actually a large green inner-city park in the mostly anglo-franco neighborhood of Bet Shemesh. Pointing my camera at one of the insides of a pergola this interesting (and familiar) shape came to me. By the way, Ramat Bet Shemesh is almost entirely an (ultra) orthodox Jewish community.

Pergola in Ramat Bet Shemesh Sometimes pergolas are just pergolas..

Ramat Bet Shemesh has been in the news as of late. Most of the news is not so great. There are some extremists disguising themselves as ultra-orthodox. These folks seem to have nothing better to do than throw stones at passer-bys on the Sabbath. They are quite busy sometimes during the week as well. Here’s a NY Times article on Ramat Bet Shemesh

RBS view to Valley A nice view from Ramat Bet Shemesh to the valley on the East Side (Facing the foothills to Jerusalem)

Ramat Bet Shemesh Ramat Bet Shemesh Bet. Ramat Bet Shemesh

Ramat Bet Shemesh Aleph Ramat Bet Shemesh Aleph

Beit Jimel (??? ?’????) – Pruned Olive Trees

Beit Jimel is a Franciscan order monastery on the foothills to the Judean Hills – near Bet Shemesh.

Beit Jimel Olive Trees (2002)

The church is said to own the land adjacent to the monastery which includes breathtaking views of the Judean Hills to the East, the city of Bet Shemesh to the North, and prime hiking trails to the South and West. The monastery also has grapevines, a winery, and olive tree orchards.

This photo was shot in the afternoon. I especially like the angle, the lighting, and the grace of the trees. They have a somewhat majestic swagger. The warmth of the Velvia film really works nicely here.

Technical Info: Nikon F100, Fuji Velvia, 24mm, 1/250, E-6 Home Processed, Minolta Dual-Scan.