Mordechai Fast, Meitzad
My first exposure to Eretz Yisroel was at the age of fourteen when my family came for a visit, and though I did return to the States excited about Eretz Yisroel, my next opportunity to come here was only a few years later as a post high school yeshivah bochur.
I had been learning in Ner Yisroel in Baltimore when a few of my friends from there had gone to a new yeshivah in Yerushalayim for American bochurim, so I took the opportunity to join them, especially since I also liked the learning mehalech [learning style] of that yeshivah. After about two years in the yeshivah, I went back to Baltimore and started shidduchim, and although I was excited about the idea of living in Eretz Yisroel, I knew it would depend on what my future wife would want.
My wife had been to Eretz Yisroel on a frum Birthright trip which was arranged within the framework of her seminary, so she had only been in Eretz Yisroel for a few weeks. Though she was also excited about living here, we decided we would try it out first before committing to establish ourselves. We arrived after Pesach. For our first Yom Tov here we kept two days, but by that following Sukkos, we were keeping only one day.
We first lived in the Yerushalayim neighborhood where the yeshivah was located, but four months later, the yeshivah moved to Beitar Illit. Most of the yeshivah’s fifty kollel families, as well as about thirty bochurim, moved with the yeshivah, and we moved along with them.
Eretz Yisroel has many communities built around yeshivos. When one comes to Eretz Yisroel to be part of a yeshivah, he is usually going to be part of the yeshivah's community as well. As many young kollel couples are here alone without family, being part of a community—at least for the first few years—is an absolute necessity. Without such support, it would be difficult to survive. I can easily see how one can feel "lost" here without family or community support.
We lived in Beitar for about twelve years. Although there were still people my age drifting around the yeshivah and its kehillah, for some of us it was down to only davening with the yeshivah for the Yamim Nora'im. The yeshivah consisted of mostly bochurim and young avreichim, and although there still was a community feel, we were outgrowing the community and were ready to move on to the next stage. We were at a point in our lives when we were more involved with raising our own family and less connected to that community.
Having been here for several years, we were already used to living here in Eretz Yisroel. For a while, we had been davening in a shul which included both Americans and Israelis. We also had Israeli acquaintances and coworkers. All of this made us familiar and comfortable with the Israeli mentality and culture. This was a result of living in Beitar where the population is primarily Israeli Chareidi. This might not have happened had we chosen to live in some of the more Americanized neighborhoods of Yerushalayim. Another advantage of living in Beitar is that although it is a fully functioning city, it does not have the same nostalgic feeling as Yerushalayim, which prevents some of its residents—who cannot afford to buy there—from moving out to more affordable places. Our expanded horizons meant that we had more housing options.
Bechasdei HaShem, we were paying less than the market rental price all through our stay in Beitar. After ten years though, we decided that we really did want to own our own home. Ideally, we would have wanted to stay in Beitar, but for the price of the smallest three-bedroom apartment there, we bought a large, new, and private five-bedroom house, surrounded by half a dunam [over 5300 square feet] of our own private yard, in the nearby Chareidi town of Meitzad.
At the time, there were seventy families in Meitzad. Besides for the spacious living quarters, we were attracted by the prospect of helping to build a community which is still in development. Every opinion counts here, and so, you can do more to shape and drive the direction of the community while interacting with the people "on the bottom." Being from Seattle, I was a witness to this kind of dynamic, where my father was on the shul board and the president of the kollel for many years.
Another added value of living in Meitzad is the fact that we're making an impact on the Jewish hold of Eretz Yisroel. Meitzad is a half-hour drive further into the "West Bank" [Yehuda and Shomron] than Beitar Illit. Interesting to note though, while Yerushalayim has quite a few Arabs in its eastern section, and Beitar has an Arab village right across the road, I feel much safer in the yishuv of Meitzad, with no Arabs in sight. Although we once did have rocks thrown at our car on the road coming to Meitzad (no damage), overall, I think it's actually safer here.
We're not the only ones who have found Meitzad to be attractive. We're in Meitzad for a year and a half already and another thirty families have joined. Most of the residents are Israeli, but there is a substantial percentage of English speakers here as well.
When we first came to Beitar, we rented an apartment. Although we were considering buying one like many others in our yeshivah's kehillah did, in the end, we invested our money in real estate in the US. This was just before the subprime crisis and it took ten years to break even on our initial investment. The sale prices for housing in Beitar skyrocketed. By that time, a suitable apartment in Beitar would have cost a lot more than we would want to pay. In hindsight, we really should originally have bought in Beitar.
I think it's worthwhile to buy as soon as you've decided where in Eretz Yisroel you want to establish yourself. This way, you won't have to move around and can really settle yourself here.