Dini Harris, Afula Illit, Afula
It wasn’t my idea to live in Eretz Yisroel. In fact, I probably never would have agreed to meet my husband if I had known how serious he was about living here. When we were first engaged, we came to an agreement: We were going to start off our marriage in Eretz Yisroel. We’d live there for about two years.
Now, twenty-two years and ten Hebrew-speaking kids later, it seems that, b'ezras HaShem, we’re here for the long term.
And no, we don’t live in Ramat Eshkol anymore, where we first started our married life. We didn’t move to Ramat Beit Shemesh or even Kiryat Sefer either.
About fifteen years ago, my husband felt it was time for him to move on from kollel and start using his talents to teach Torah; we started looking into different opportunities that came up.
Should he join a kiruv kollel in Edmonton, Canada or Portland, Oregon? Ideas and opportunities kept popping up, but for one reason or another, they all got dropped along the way.
Then my husband’s aunt came to visit with fabulous news: Her husband was opening a yeshivah in Afula, a city somewhere in the north of Israel.
I had never heard of Afula before, but that didn’t stop me from saying the first thing that came to my mind: Perhaps the yeshivah had an opening for my husband?
I wasn’t worried about actually moving to Afula because I figured that just like all other opportunities hadn't ever panned out, the idea of moving to Afula would eventually die down too.
But this time, everything moved along in a positive direction and, a few months later, we found ourselves in a taxi following behind a moving truck taking our possessions to our new home in Afula.
To say that it was an adjustment doesn’t do justice to the sharp contrast we experienced. Only after moving to Afula did we realize that we hadn’t really lived in Eretz Yisroel before.
True we had lived in Ramat Eshkol, but, surrounded as we were by an Anglo community, we had minimal contact with Israelis and had never thought of integrating.
The adjustment was compounded by the fact that when we moved to Afula, the overwhelming majority of our neighbors were Sephardic and non-religious. And even our religious counterparts were of North African descent. Warm, welcoming and friendly as they were, I still felt, accurately so, that I had landed on another planet.
Living in this type of situation — a situation in which I couldn’t send over food to a family when their mother had a baby, because the neighbors couldn’t stomach my (delicious!) food; in which I couldn’t contribute to a group conversation because I didn’t fully understand what was being said; and in which I was never sure how to react in social situations, because the social code was completely different than anything I grew up with — was both difficult and empowering.
It was either do or die. Grow or wither. Baruch Hashem, I hope the experience has promoted personal growth. I am wiser and better-rounded than I was when I arrived here.
My husband, too, has grown and stretched. In a place where there were very few talmidei chachamim, my husband was quickly pressed into service. He’s taught Torah to different types of people in many different forums. He is able to fulfill his lifelong dream of being a mohel and uses his expertise to make sure that local newborns can get mehudar brissim right here in Afula.
But meanwhile, during the fifteen years that we have been here in Afula, something amazing happened. In a twisty, roundabout way — a long story in its own right, about nine years ago, it was realized that housing in Afula is very cheap and, baruch HaShem, it has the infrastructure necessary for frum life. The local Talmud Torah and Bais Yaakov are top rate.
With the berachah and guidance of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman zt”l, a tiny community opened in the Givat Hamoreh neighborhood of Afula.
When we arrived in Afula fifteen years ago, nobody thought it possible that a thriving frum community could blossom in this secular city. But that little community in Givat Hamoreh starting growing and growing. And every frum family that’s happy in Afula attracts at least another three.
This rush of frum families to Afula has, in the past few years, started to flow into Afula Illit, my neighborhood, too.
From the side, I watch as the benches in our Ashkenazi shul fill up. It was built about sixty years ago by Holocaust survivors who named it “Netzach Yisroel.” Unfortunately, though, by the time we moved here, there was barely a minyan on Shabbos.
But then one new family moved in, then two, and now tens more. Netzach Yisroel now houses a vibrant kollel and minyanim every single day. Today, the shul’s name proudly proclaims: Netzach Yisroel — Am Yisroel and the Torah are eternal. Nothing – not the Holocaust, nor Zionism nor secularism has succeeded in stamping out the flame.
The families moving to Afula Illit today have a completely different experience than I did when we moved here. No longer is the frum person the odd one out; there’s a flourishing community.
Many grocery stores stock up on food with the best hechsherim and there are stores galore for shoes and clothing and other necessities for frum families.
I feel old as I watch the community grow. The families arriving today don’t understand that there once was a different Afula. But I’m happy for them. They’re moving in to a neighborhood with a warm, friendly community; a neighborhood with a Torah infrastructure.
Baruch HaShem; as I witness the success of Afula Illit, I know it underscores the growth of the Torah community as a whole in Eretz Yisroel.
Afula Way Back
Way back when, when we were one of the few frum families in Afula, I boarded the bus with my kids. The bus driver couldn’t hold back and counted my kids out loud as they got on. “One, two, three, four, five… Wow, that’s a big family!” was his final comment.
In Yerushalayim, where so many families are careful to only buy foods with the most mehudar hechsherim, the word “Badatz” is synonymous with “Badatz Eidah HaCharedis,” but when we moved to Afula, we learned to be careful.
Badatz is literally the initials of “Beis Din Tzedek” and storekeepers who didn’t know better were quick to assure us that their wares were “Badatz.” Only “Badatz.” Never mind, that they were sometimes Badatz of Umm al-Fahm or Jenin. We learned to say it clearly: Badatz Eidah HaCharedis.