Sunday, May 3, 2009

Keepin' It Real. Symbiosis in Yad Binyamin

Yad Binyamin is a wonderful mixing bowl: Israelis (mostly) and Anglos; but even more significantly, Yad Binyamin brought in many residents of Gush Katif after the Disengagement (i.e. expulsion). This "mix" has, in my view, been mutually beneficial.
After the disengagement, the residents of the Gush (Katif - we just call it "The Gush", which many Americans confuse for Gush Etzion) were reeling, with no home (destroyed by bulldozers), no permanent place to live, and no designated realistic temporary housing. Israel rushed to put together "tent cities" for the residents of Gush Katif, but it took time. A new friend this past Shabbat told me that they spent months living in the dormitories of Yeshivat Kerem B'yavneh, and on Shabbat often all seven members of the family slept together in a single room. Tough.
Meanwhile, the government built them housing. Many of the evacuees moved to Nitzan, but others were placed in Yad Binyamin. The difference between the two is stark. While the evacuees live in identical housing, (what we call here caravillot - small trailers made to look like houses), the areas are truly very different. While the residents of Nitzan are in the process of building the infrastructure for their permanent homes (streets, sewers, utilities) - yes, three years later - the Yad Binyamin evacuees' homes were almost immediately surrounded by construction of homes for other Israelis - namely us. In addition, Yad Binyamin was already an established community with services like health, a small shopping center, shuls, a yeshiva and a pool. It's difficult to overemphasize how much these small things influence us; a regular place to daven, a local store to buy groceries, a community to live in. Yad Binyamin just finished the first of two brand new shuls, with the second one ready for occupation any day now. Even so, many of the members of our new shul were evacuated from the Gush and struggle to rebuild their lives. But I'm quite sure that the presence of a growing and thriving community around them is helping. They're not the only ones starting over. They see Olim with almost identical challenges each and every day. And they're not the only ones building houses here. So the presence of "regular" Israelis and other Olim clearly has a positive effect on the lives of the "evacuees."
But they influence in a critical way as well. One of the potential problems with a place like Yad Binyamin is its affluence. Simply put, many Israelis can't afford to buy a house in a place like this - other than the ones that bought on paper at the very beginning. (Most don't fit that description.) What ends up happening is that the community values tend to reflect the values of the people that could afford to live there, and that's not something that's necessarily desirable.
That's where the former residents of Gush Katif play a cricital role. They're simple people, who were willing, for whatever reason, to live in a complicated place and work hard to build their lives. Their very presences "grounds" the rest of us - to keep us "real," and ensures that the values of the community remain strong, focused on our children, on living lives committed to Torah and the Jewish people.