Having “been there and done that” when we made aliyah to Israel from 1983 – 1989, I know that finding a place to live in Israel is easier said than done. Still, we couldn’t ignore our emotions: Israel feels like home. We were loving every moment of our vacation in Israel. Once again, we are considering the possibility of returning permanently, if we can find a community that will be a good fit for us.
It is kind of like finding a shidduch: thinking about which qualities are absolute requirements and which are deal-breakers. First on my list: a community where people get along.
This is more complicated than it sounds, and I prefer not to go into too much detail here about the social, cultural and religious “politics” of living in various communities in Israel. But a community filled with strife is not a place I want to live.
With that criteria in mind, several different people recommended we check out Ma’aleh Adumim. It was originally founded in the late 70s, but the most expansive growth has been in the last 10 years. It is only 5 minutes from Hebrew University’s Mt. Scopus (Har HaTzofim) Jerusalem campus, and in fact it takes much less time to get to the university from Ma’aleh Adumim than many other parts of Jerusalem. Yet politically, Ma’aleh Adumim is considered “over the green line” (territory that is disputed by international governments that do not recognize Israel’s right to their own land). In truth, its impressive and vibrant growth has turned Ma’aleh Adumim into a bedroom suburb of Jerusalem, and every 15 minutes there are one of four different bus lines that run into Jerusalem. A large percentage of its inhabitants work in Jerusalem. But unlike Jerusalem, it’s considerably quieter, cleaner, and smaller. In Ma’aleh Adumim, people of all ages and backgrounds live together peacefully with ahavat yisrael. There is tremendous community spirit. Homes are pricey (a basic apartment is 800,000 shekels and villas can go for 3 million shekels), but still less than Jerusalem, and there are many types of apartments, duplexes, and villas – – if you can find one for sale. The population of Ma’aleh Adumim is currently 40,000 and still growing.
Shelley Brinn is the aliyah coordinator for Ma’aleh Adumim. And that brings me to another point: Israel has always taken aliyah seriously, but once olim arrived and attended ulpan, they were left to their own devices to battle the bureaucracy and do whatever they had to do to settle in. Only recently, thanks to organizations like Nefesh B’Nefesh, are they actually doing something about the absorption process that will ensure that immigrants stay for good. Several local governments in communities throughout Israel have hired native English-speaking olim (immigrants) who have been in Israel for many years, to serve as liasons and advisors within their immigrant community. Shelley not only takes prospective olim for extensive tours of Ma’aleh Adumim, she helps olim find rental housing, helps them get set up with a medical insurance plan, helps them admit their children to local schools, makes them aware of hidden government benefits, helps them shop, invites them to cultural events, and holds their hands way beyond the call of duty to ensure that their aliyah and subsequent absorption will go as smoothly as possible.
Shelley was gracious enough to drive us around Ma’aleh Adumim for a full two hours, showing off neighborhoods, pointing out the local mall, schools, shopping and cultural centers, and inviting a mix of residents to “meet and greet” us.
At the end of the two hours, with our heads positively bursting with new information, we went to visit some friends of ours from Los Angeles who had made aliyah to Ma’aleh Adumim 3 years ago. The D’s built a lovely, enormous house in an affluent neighborhood of villas with magnificent views. Mrs. D was kind enough to feed us a delicious lunch of wonderful fresh Israeli bread, various salads, and some fantastic goat cheese and fruit. We spent the afternoon talking about their life in Ma’aleh Adumim and how their teenaged children have adjusted (very well!). From there we went to visit a rebbetzin from our home town who made aliyah and now lives in Ma’aleh Adumim (her husband was out of town) and got a somewhat different, but equally enthusiastic perspective.
I don’t know if ultimately Ma’aleh Adumim is the community for us, but I think the most impressive thing about it is not the cleanliness, views, proximity to Jerusalem, magnificent schools, parks, museum, concert hall, shopping, or lovely housing. It’s the fact that no matter who you ask – Sephardi, Ashkenazi, religious, secular, Russian, American, Ethiopian, or sabra – everyone is genuinely happy to be there.
Ironically, the day I went to Ma’aleh Adumim there was a desert sandstorm which obliterated the usually awesome views far into the distance. But at least you will get a feel for the place and its architecture with these photos: