Monday, January 10, 2011

Chassidut Vishnitz is moving to Afula / Northern Israel

Chassidut Vishnitz in Kiryat Vishnitz / Bnei Brak


Rents have got extremely high in Israel. Ordinary families where both spouses go to work and earn quite some money have difficulties paying the rent. Let alone being able to buy an apartment.

The coastal line around Tel Aviv, Netanya, Bat Yam, Ashdod up to Hadera has almost become unaffordable and people basically work in order to pay their rent. Gush Dan, the coast, has never been cheap and Jerusalem used to be affordable. This has changed in recent years and now, sometimes Jerusalem is even more expensive than Tel Aviv.

Israelis have discovered the north and the south. Living in the countryside with its cheap rent and commuting to their jobs every day. But now, also the smaller towns are raising their rents. Mea Shearim, Sanhedria or Kiryat Mattersdorf in Jerusalem have become far too expensive for newly married haredi couples. Years ago, haredi society started building neighbourhoods in Beit Shemesh, Ashdod or Arad but even there, space is getting harder to find. Entire chassidic groups move from Bnei Brak or Jerusalem to smaller towns where land and rent is still much cheaper. For instance, Chassidut Karlin - Stolin has bought some land in Tiberias Illit and is building its own neighborhood. There has been a rumour going around Tiberias that more chassidic groups are coming. Such as the Toldot Aharon, for instance.

However, none of the inhabitants of smaller town has anything against Haredim moving in. Nevertheless, people are afraid of what is coming afterwards. Are the Haredim going to determine their lives ? Has everything go according to Halacha ? What about demonstrations, Sikarikim and all this ? Who needs such things in Tiberias ?

I see it myself when I go to Zfat (Safed). The place has always been quite haredi with Breslov and Chabad but now, the old city has become slightly more extreme. Vishnitz, Chernobyl, Zanz and further groups are there and when you walk through the old cobblestone alleyways, haredi kids keep on staring at you.

So far, life goes on and the Haredim are not bothering any non - haredi inhabitants. Neither in Zfat and nor in Tiberias. Still, there is a negative side of them moving in: First of all, rents go up as soon as landlords see that there is a demand. Secondly, entire formerly secular or traditional (religious) areas may turn into haredi territory.

Now haredi society, in particular Vishnitz, has dicovered Afula located in the Jezreel Valley. Years ago, no one wanted to move to Afula, as there was just nothing. Lately, the mayor of Afula, Avi Alkabetz, has been working hard on settling some industry in his town. Hightech branches are coming to create jobs. Thousands of new inhabitants have moved in and new neighbourhoods have been built. Afula is changing its face and the mayor of the nearby Nazeret (Nazareth) is following suit. Northern small towns want to attract Israelis from the center because the Arab population in the northern district keeps on growing. However, the mayors are trying to attract regular Israelis who will integrate into their new places of living and not necessarily Haredim who stick to themselves.


Photo: Miriam Woelke

Afula's local weekly papaer "Avodah", however, reported last Friday that the Vishnitzer are moving in. Landlords have figured that out and the result are increasing rents. Vishnitz is upset because someone obviously made it public. Now Vishnitz is in trouble, as real estate prices are exploding for them.


Afula, Central Bus Station

Photo: Miriam Woelke

Even places like Ramat Beit Shemesh or the haredi town of Beitar have become too small and sometimes already too expensive. Haredi society will keep on spreading all over the country but each side has to be careful not to start a takeover. In case the Toldot Aharon are going to move into Tiberias, they have to accept that the tourist places are opening on Shabbat. Various restaurants at the beach area (at the Sea of Galilee / Kinneret) are open on Shabbat and so is the Mac Donald's. This way, Tiberias is earning its money. Otherwise the town would be completely bancrupt and those of you looking around there are very aware of the financial difficulties Tiberias keeps on facing.

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