Young, growing Chareidi Yishuv just south of Yerushalayim
A Look at the Chareidi Yishuv, Meitzad
Meitzad is a chareidi yishuv located 30 minutes south of Yerushalayim and about 25 minutes south of Beitar Ilit. It is one of three chareidi cities located within Gush Etzion regional council, the others being Beitar and Maale Amos.
Located on a high elevation, Meitzad has a pleasantly cool year-round climate. It also has a strikingly youthful character, with the average age of residents being about 30 years old.
Part of this has to do with the fact that apartments in Meitzad cost 30-40% less than similar apartments in Beit Shemesh, Beitar or Kiryat Sefer. It also has to do with the larger-sized apartments and tranquil, quiet atmosphere, ideal for raising a young family.
Meitzad was originally started in the early 1980's by students and graduates of the Diaspora Yeshiva. The original residents went through years of real mesirus nefesh to keep the yishuv afloat. For decades the yishuv endured, but never experienced the growth that they had hoped for. In 2012, a group of serious avreichim from the Zilberman family of the Old City decided to move in and build up the yishuv. At that point, Meitzad had forty families..
Today, Meitzad has 150 mostly young Litvish and Sefardi families, with another 50 moving into a new project within several months, iy”H. A second project for 200 families should be starting construction soon as well, with residency planned for three years from today. This newest project has spacious 3, 4 and 5 bedroom apartments ranging in price from 1.3 - 2.2 million shekel.
This, however, is just the beginning of Meitzad's story, says Shmuel Zilberman, resident and community leader in Meitzad.
"Meitzad will eventually become another Beitar. Meitzad's land allocation is actually around the same size as that of Beitar Illit - 4,000 dunam, and it will eventually achieve the same level of growth in building, infrastructure, Torah institutions, and economics,” said Zilberman.
Facts on the ground indicate that Zilberman isn't the only resident with a sense of optimism about Meitzad's growth. In addition to the local grocery store ("makolet"), there is a pizza shop, a falafel shop and a shop that offers catered food for Shabbos. Of course, the 150 families currently living here are not enough to support all of these businesses, but
the business owners aren't looking at the present, they're looking towards the future.
Ten years ago, when the yishuv only had 9 chinuch-aged boys, R Shteinman zt"l was asked if a cheder should be built in Meitzad, knowing that they had no chance at attaining
any government funding at that point. In the past, the children had traveled daily to Har Tzion (just outside of the Old City of Jerusalem) to learn in the Mosdos of the Diaspora Yeshiva kehilla.
Rav Shteinman told them to open up, and so they did. Today there is a burgeoning cheder and a Bais Yaakov through the 7th grade. The small class sizes and warm, tight-knit atmosphere makes chinuch perhaps Meitzad's greatest asset. Many of the recent families that moved to Meitzad were encouraged to do so by Rav Chaim Kanievsky zt"l who also saw the potential that Meitzad had to offer for many young families.
About ten years ago, a Litvish yeshiva, "Nachalas Yair" arrived in Meitzad. Its rosh yeshiva is Harav Yitzchak Lupoliansky, son of Uri Lupoliansky, who served as mayor of Jerusalem from 2003 to 2008. Some 60 bachurim learn there, and some have remained in Meitzad after getting married.
From a perspective of parnassah, there is a mix of people who are learning and working on the yishuv. There are three kollelim. There are a variety of professionals including rebbes, teachers, accountants, lawyers, hi tech, etc.
"Small towns offer the chance to run cottage industries, and aside from that, covid showed us how many jobs can be done remotely," commented a resident of nearby Beitar.
People living in Meitzad seem to be doing as well or better than in other cities. A few reasons can be given for this: First, the cost of housing is currently much cheaper than in other more established chareidi areas. Second, since there are fewer shopping outlets and malls in the area, people are less likely to spend. People generally do their shopping through phone delivery service, the local makolet, or supermarkets in Gush Etzion which are a 12-minute drive away. There is also a more modest atmosphere in the yishuv and less social pressure to spend beyond one's means. While public bus transportation makes it possible to live on the yishuv without a car, about 70% of the residents own a car because of the convenience.
Danger on the road
One stereotype about living in Yehuda and Shomron is that is less safe. As was noted, there are stretches of road where Arab drivers outnumber Jewish ones. When asked if he was concerned about getting a flat tire while driving to Yerushalayim, Shmuel Zilberman replied:
"Most likely the first Arab that drives by and sees you stuck will try to help you get back on the road. Their hospitality and helping someone in need is strangely not connected to their hatred of Jews. And any Israeli driver that sees you will stop right away. Plus, the army has a special hotline - 1208, that any resident can call for any reason, which will summon the army within minutes. People that live here get used to the roads very quickly; they are not afraid to drive," concluded Zilberman.
"We were living in a chareidi city in the central region," a Meitzad resident told Hamodia. "We had to leave and were considering various options. I discussed various options with Rav Chaim [Kanievsky], and one of them was Meitzad. This was about six years ago. He encouraged us to move to Meitzad. When I noted the fear of living in a far-off place with roads used mostly by Arabs, he didn’t seem to weigh this as much of a factor, and gave us a bracha that we should be matzliach here. Today, years later, we feel that his bracha has accompanied us all the time, and has come to fruition."
"The media tends to consolidate incidents that happen and give the false impression that life is unbearable, but this is a distortion," commented another resident. "If media coverage of Jerusalem were to consolidate all the traffic accidents, protests, and violent activities there on a given day, one could easily come to the conclusion that life there is unbearable, but real life is very different from the headlines. Within Meitzad itself, many people do not feel a need to lock their doors. There is a protective fence, but over the last 37 years there were three break-ins, none of them violent. While most residents carry guns, very few have experience using them."
When the general security situation heats up in the country, residents of Meitzad can find themselves absorbing refugees from other parts of the country who are seeking to escape rocket attacks. Whereas the recent onset of Arab Israeli violence has caught much of the Israeli police off guard, the army in Gush Etzion is well-prepared and trained with dealing with upticks in Arab violence in the areas of Yehuda and Shomron.
Zilberman shared his opinion on why chareidim have not turned beyond the Green Line despite what might seem like an obvious solution for the housing shortage, which is particularly acute in this sector.
"Forty years ago, the government encouraged the founding of new settlements, but for the past couple of decades, the government has not allowed new settlement growth - only natural growth within pre-existing settlements. During the time when the government did allow new settlements, Harav Elazar Menachem Man Shach zt”l discouraged founding settlements outside of the green line as an ideological goal - although he was not against Jews living in settlements on a pragmatic, practical level.
"While Harav Aaron Yehuda Leib Shteinman and Harav Chaim Kanievsky, zt”l, however, had no ideological reservations of Jews living beyond the green line, and in fact encouraged many to build and develop Meitzad and Maale Amos, still, the earlier trend of refraining from going beyond the Green Line remains."
Of note is that mainstream chareidi communities such as Beitar Ilit and Modiin Ilit; nearby Jerusalem satellites Ramot, Neve Yaakov, Ramat Shlomo and Givat Zeev; and even Jerusalem neighborhoods Ramat Eshkol and French Hill are technically beyond or straddling the Green Line.
Yosef Rabin, an American born lawyer and resident of Meitzad sees a real shift happening in Israeli chareidi society in the attitude and interest towards living in Yehuda and Shomron.
"As the years go by, the chareidi tzibbur has been moving more to the right. More chareidim are connecting to Eretz Yisrael, organizations like Kedushas Tzion promoting Eretz Yisrael are becoming more popular. Bachurim are going all over and seeing the beauty of Eretz Yisrael. In terms of practicalities, the chareidi tzibbur is growing, prices are through the roof, people are starting to realize that we need to move out of Yerushalayim, Bnei Brak and Beit Shemesh and are starting to consider options that were previously not on the table. Every day, people are calling, asking questions, inquiring about housing. There is clearly a revolution going on here."