If I asked you to draw a picture of your typical male “settler” (the term used for one who lives in Yehuda and Shomron), you would probably draw a picture of a young man wearing sandals with a big knitted kippa and long, wild payos. You may even throw in an M-16 slung over his shoulder. If that is your picture – congratulations! You have officially been brainwashed by the media and have no clue as to what is really happening in those areas. But don’t worry… you are in good company since 95% of people would draw the exact same picture!
Did you know that over 60% of the Jews living in Yehuda and Shomron are not currently Shomer Shabbat? I wouldn’t call them secular because less than 10% of Jews in Israel define themselves as “secular” but – at the same time – I wouldn’t call them “religious” because they are not there (yet) either. They are good people, working hard to support their family while simultaneously building the land and defending it. The biggest cities in Yehuda and Shomron are overwhelmingly populated by these Yidden. Places like Ariel, Alfe Menashe, Bet Aryeh, Maale Adumim and Kiryat Arba all have pockets of frum Jews but they are in the minority. Of this list, only Maale Adumim and Kiryat Arba have a sizeable observant population. The medium size towns; Efrat, Kedumim, Karnei Shomron, Bet El, Alon Shevut, Hashmonaim and Elkana are mostly observant but the people who live there look like your typical “Young Israel” crowd and definitely not like the picture described above. Finally, the smaller towns like Yitzhar, Elon Moreh, Bat Ayin, Shilo, Tekoa and Tapuach are closer to matching your picture but that is basically true with the younger generation only. The founders of those towns and the people who have lived there for 15+ years look nothing like your picture, although their kids probably do! It is important to understand what is REALLY happening there and never – and I mean NEVER – generalize and pre-judge.
Here’s yet another bit of information you probably never knew: Which city in the Shomron – located between Karnei Shomron and Kedumim is on its way to become the biggest new Israeli city within the next 10 years? The name is Emanuel and it is 100% Haredi. This city, which began in the 80’s, fell on very hard times but thanks to two energetic Slonimer Chassidim, the dust has been wiped off and new life has been breathed into this once vibrant town. I am very familiar with this project and, in my small way, have helped them as best as I could. As you know, the Haredi world in Israel is growing in huge numbers and this city could easily jump from the existing 3,000 people to 30,000 in a very short time. New Haredi cities such as Kiryat Sefer, Betar and Elad came out of nowhere and became overnight sensations and we are all hoping that the same will happen with Emanuel which is being called; The Bnei Brak of the West Bank!
Let me tell you about these two “settlers” who, once again, do not fit the standard description. As an introduction, I must state that they are Slonimer Chassidim. This Chassidus is very special because they are all followers of the amazing Rebbe who wrote the popular Nesivos Shalom. His name is HaRav Shalom Noach Barzovski and even though he passed away 14 years ago, his sefer is the #1 Chassidic sefer being studied today… and rightfully so! I do not let a Shabbat go by without reading his incredible insights and wisdom. He has opened many doors for me and has clarified difficult concepts with beauty and simplicity. After learning it, I now realize where these two Yidden get their incredible strength, drive and motivation from. Trust me that it is not easy to revive a city from the dead in Israel, but they are on the way to doing it! Emanuel was a city with a promising future but crooked contractors stole money from innocent Jews and then the town was hit with two serious terrorist attacks. The result was broken promises and empty houses. Emanuel was as close to a “ghost town” as you could get until these amazing Chassidim stepped in to right the wrong. People were brought back to fill the empty houses, Yeshivas were restarted and Kollels began singing words of Torah. Parks were built, the mikva was renovated and, all of a sudden, Emanuel was a center of Torah once again. The problem, however, was that no new buildings had been built for 30 years – and many buildings were half built and in terrible disarray. Major changes needed to be made.
Enter our two heroes; Moshe Zinger and Shmuel Schwartzman, two dedicated Jews with no experience in construction, fundraising or organizational management. Sounds like a guaranteed way to fail… right? Wrong!!! These Chassidim didn’t need any of those things because they had the teachings of the Nesivos Shalom to guide them, which was all they needed! Read this as an example of what their Rebbe wrote on the anniversary of his 50th Aliyah to Israel (Nesivos Shalom, Sefer Shmot, daf Shin Yud): “For a Jew, the mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel has to be like new each and every day… and even though it may be difficult, one must feel as though it is the most cherished thing. I thank Hashem for all the chessed He has shown me in granting me the merit to live in this Land… and may our eyes witness the return of all Jews to Zion.” (Note: The Rebbe escaped Europe before the Holocaust and never left Israel from the day he arrived!)
With this love of Israel in their hand, Zinger and Schwartzman, began a campaign and have started rebuilding Emanuel. Thanks to them hundreds – and soon THOUSANDS – of new apartments, costing less than $200,000 will be built for Haredi families! New Yeshivas have begun and the city is buzzing! These “settlers” are truly building the land and the Torah of Israel and I wish them lots of hatzlacha.