I get asked this question on average, twice a week at least, if not more often. We made Aliya on the 7th July 2015, so coming up to three years now, and chose the suburb of Jerusalem known as Mevasseret Tzion, which overlooks Jerusalem from its heights. Due to its strategic location, settlement in the area of Mevasseret Zion goes back to antiquity. The Romans built a fortress there, known as Castellum. On the ruins of this fortress, the Crusaders built a castle, Castellum Belveer, of which no trace remains. There is also Castel National Site, a child’s sandcastle type structure up on the highest point; it even has a flag on it, as if a child had completed building it and this was the finishing touch. I love looking up at this structure as I drive past.
So, why did we choose Mevasseret, instead of the more “typical” Jerusalem neighborhoods? I think the more pertinent question would be: why can’t people understand why we chose it. Why do I have to explain twice weekly at least, and feel like people are looking at me and thinking: “Okaaaaay, she’s a bit weird, ..but if that’s what she wants…”?
Firstly, I hold my hands up in surrender and say, if we’d still had young kids who needed Chareidi schooling, we certainly wouldn’t have chosen to live here. I have Chareidi friends here who have to bus or drive their kids into Jerusalem and back every day to school. They find it very hard, and indeed, a much loved friend of mine just told me she’s thrown in the towel, and put her house on the market. She found it wonderful living here, but it’s too hard for the kids not to be in close proximity to their schools.
I get that, I do. But, thank God, we’re in our twilight years. We made Aliya when I was 67, and my husband Joseph was 71. I am basically the same age as the state of Israel, having been born in the same week back in 1948, so there’s no point in trying to hide my age; I might as well celebrate it! As older people, who maybe should be retired, but aren’t, schools aren’t an issue. There are others of our generation here with whom I have struck up extremely close and loving friendships in the short time since our Aliya. It’s extremely beautiful here. You can get far more bang (ie house!) for your buck here than in Jerusalem; we have a beautiful home and a lot of outside space. Most people in Jerusalem live in small cramped apartments. However beautiful Jerusalem is, and it is, I always feel slightly if not more than slightly, claustrophobic there. The intensity of the living spaces; the number of people living on one footprint; apartments reaching for the skies, with nowhere to go to outside except a small mirpeset (porch) or the streets.
Of course there are the yishuvim (settlements) which are supposedly excellent for families. I have a couple of friends who lives in Kochav Yakov and they rave about it. But I never wanted to live in a settlement. For us, at the moment at least, Mevasseret is perfect.
As long as we can drive.
We are grandparents even great grandparents, and we have three sets of married children living in Israel; as well as four back in London where we originated. Back in London, we had three out of four of our married daughters living within a couple of minutes’ walk, and the fourth one only a fifteen minute walk. One of my daughters lived right next door. Here, we live a short drive away from our two sons and a daughter and their families, but it is still a drive. I can’t take a Shabbos walk and pop into one of my kids. We either move in to them, they to us, or we don’t see each other over Shabbos. That’s hard; much harder than I had expected…no, I lie. I knew how hard it would be, leaving the comfort of having our four daughters so close. I have written about this before, in one of the weekly Jewish magazines. I won’t bore you by repeating it.
Suffice it to say that we love it here, as long as we are mobile and can drive to see our kids when we want to. Once that is no longer possible, we are going to have to think again about living in Mevasseret. Then we will have to look at neighborhoods close to our kids, Ramat Eshkol being top of the list. Out of all the areas our kids live in, that is my favorite. But even that is far from perfect for an older couple. Firstly it’s a very young neighborhood. Secondly it’s a transient area; young married couples come there for a few years and go back to the States, or England, or wherever they came from. But it’s pleasant, and leafy, has the Jerusalem forest as a backdrop, has excellent shopping; I should know; I shop there at least once a week. My sheitelmacher (wig stylist) lives there;, as does my seamstress. I think we can be happy there, with our kids close by, even though I have no idea who I’ll have to be friendly with. I guess by then, I’ll be too old to care!
We overlook Jerusalem; I can look out of my back window over “kvish achad” (route 1) and see if the traffic is worth tackling. I can see Kiryat Belz with its imposing shul; I can see the string bridge that marks the entrance to the city. Our house backs onto a nature reserve used for hiking; it will never be built upon so our view will never be interrupted. We have two malls; for a small town like ours that’s quite something. And the community is a small town community; people know each other, people care about each other. Not like the anonymity of the big city. My shul is one of the most achdusdik (united) I have ever been a member of. Every Shabbos Mevorchim, there is a sit down Kiddush hosted by a roster of couples, and everyone pitches in to help set it up and clear it away. Someone speaks about their experiences or their job in Hebrew. We have done it twice; the speaking in public in Hebrew at this Kiddush. Once only a few months after we arrived here, one last summer. Another reason we chose Mevasseret over one of the more so-called “Anglo bubbles” here, is that we wanted to live in the real Israel, not in Golders Green or America with better weather. We wanted to speak the local language, and learn it, and boy we have to here! And speaking in public in Hebrew is a great way to have to learn it!
So, why Mevasseret? Come visit us and see it for yourselves; you’ll see why.