English-speakers on the Rise in Ariel

The English-speaking population in Ariel has grown at a quicker pace as of late, albeit still small. Ariel's 20,000 residents are mostly Russian immigrants and native Israelis, mostly secular, who were drawn to the West Bank settlement for its relative cheap housing and central location.

The number of English-speaking families in Ariel has risen from some 15 years ago to around 50 families, largely the result of the Absorption Ministry's Communal Aliyah Program, geared toward immigrants from English-speaking countries but which was cut earlier this year.

Some of the increase is the result of English-speaking immigrants moving to Ariel from other communities, primarily Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem. Many are religious and say they were drawn to Ariel because of its diversity. The lack of availability of housing, however, has caused several interested Anglo families to look elsewhere.

Nefesh B'Nefesh, which recruits immigrants from North America, "initially didn't want to get involved in Ariel because of its location, but once it saw the success of our aliyah and were pleased about it, and understood that there is more opportunity here, they began to work with us," says Avi Zimmerman, executive director of the American Friends of Ariel, executive director of the Ariel Development Fund and an American immigrant.

"The seeds have been laid already so that the new immigrants themselves are drawing in other new families," says Reuven Franks, Ariel's British-born aliyah coordinator.

As the number of Anglo immigrants grew, Zimmerman decided it would be good to hire an English-speaking rabbi. Rabbi Hillel Maizels, an immigrant from South Africa, and his wife Yael joined the comminity and rejuvinated one of the dying congregations in the city by attracting both English-speaking immigrants and other residents.

Natalie Zacks and her husband and kids made a pilot trip to Israel in 2007 to visit several communities here, among them Ariel, while living in Detroit, Michigan. "My husband and I wanted very different things," she says. "I wanted a place where the kids could run free on the grass and he wanted a city-like place where he wouldn't have to go far to get milk or the paper and where he could find a basketball game. Ariel worked for both of us."

They moved to Israel a year later and settled in Ariel. She since began a now twice-weekly women's basketball game, something she had done in Detroit as well, and started a tradition among English-speaking residents of weekly picnics in the park.

Aviva and Yitzhak Nagel arrived from West Orange, New Jersey, in August, after looking for "a centrally located place where it is affordable to buy a house, where there are a few English speakers and where there is religious life," says Aviva Nagel. "There was only a single place that satisfied all these requirements and that was Ariel." A mother of three, she plays on the women's basketball team started by Zacks and helps manage a largely Anglo Rosh Hodesh event for women.

As much as the English-speaking community is interested in integrating into the wider community, they still stick together in many ways.

"The first week we arrived, we were invited out for dinner every night or else people brought meals to our home, and for six weeks straight after our arrival, we were invited out for Shabbat dinners," says Nagel.