When Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb made aliyah to Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel from Baltimore, he gave up a strong bully pulpit at Congregation Shomrei Emunah. In Israel, he said, the whole structure of community is different, and since moving, Rabbi Gottlieb has been teaching and fulfilling various other part-time rabbinical roles.
Now, he is hoping to change all that — not so much in terms of his salary (rabbis rarely get paid to hold pulpits in Israel), but in terms of the role he can play in a community.
Earlier this year, Rabbi Gottlieb, in conjunction with one of Israel’s top developers, Shelly Tivuch, announced plans for a new neighborhood in Beit Shemesh, Ganei Ha’Ela. In this neighborhood Rabbi Gottlieb will serve as spiritual leader and fill a need he says he thinks many Americans have when they move to Israel — one that often remains unfulfilled.
“Americans are used to this structure. They come here with a new culture and language, and they don’t have the community structure they are familiar with to serve as a spiritual, emotional hub for them, like their rabbi did in chutz l’aretz [outside of Israel],” Rabbi Gottlieb explained. “I saw this need, and I had a desire.”
The community will have 60 housing units in its first phase and another 30 in a second phase. Already, close to a quarter of the first set of houses are sold. The builder is in process of laying the foundations and erecting the houses. People who buy now can save between 10 and 30 percent. Rabbi Gottlieb said he hopes homes will be ready for move-in within three years.
Rabbi Gottlieb, who lives in the Ramat Shilo neighborhood of Beit Shemesh, was known in Baltimore for his inspiring talks, numerous weekly Torah classes, his energy and his leadership. He said he has built a small following in the Jewish state, but he is also working with a top marketing and advertising firm to recruit. Most of the units sold so far are to Americans already living in Israel, but he hopes to attract others looking to move to Israel, too.
Who is the right candidate? The rabbi is targeting Orthodox Jews, what one might call mainstream or modern Orthodox in the United States (though those concepts and terms don’t really exist in Israel). In other words, he wants to create a religious neighborhood that is nonetheless diverse in its observance.
One family that has already committed is the Geffner family, originally from Staten Island, N.Y. Avi and Michael, both 32, have four children. The couple moved to Israel in 2011.
The Platnicks have also bought a home in the neighborhood. Yossie, 34, and Shira, 33, made aliyah from New Jersey in 2011. He’s a neuroradiologist, and she stays home with their five children.
“We are not building houses,” said Rabbi Gottlieb. “We are building community.”
Beit Shemesh has been in the news lately, mostly in a negative light, due to what appears to be ever-increasing tension between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox residents of the city. But Rabbi Gottlieb explained he does not expect any issues. Geographically, there are three areas of the city: Beit Shemesh, Ramat Beit Shemesh A (where Ganei Ha’Ela is situated) and Ramat Beit Shemesh B. The majority of the issues have occurred between residents of Beit Shemesh and Ramat Beit Shemesh B, which border one another. Beit Shemesh has a mixed community; Ramat Beit Shemesh B is almost predominantly Haredi.
“The actual problem is real,” Rabbi Gottlieb said. “But the facts are always more complicated than the headlines.”
Rabbi Gottlieb said the problem “really is sporadic” and that no one is “living under siege. It is a handful and that’s it. Those incidents get a lot of news.”
Why go to all this trouble? The rabbi was welcome to stay at Shomrei.
Rabbi Gottlieb doesn’t understand the question.
“The Jewish people have one true home and that is the land of Israel, and we are very fortunate to be living in one of the rare times in Jewish history where we have sovereignty over the land and the State of Israel,” Rabbi Gottlieb said. “To be living in that modern miracle is an incredible opportunity — for all the challenges. It is the greatest blessing you can give your children and very rewarding for parents, too.”
To learn more, visit ganeihaela.com. >>
Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief — firstname.lastname@example.org