'The Best Place to Raise Your Kids'

Immigrants to Hashmonaim gush over idyllic life in tight-knit community.

When Sarah Beth Solomont decided to move to Hashmonaim with her husband and four children, they chose the small and relatively tight-knit community because it seemed "Anglo enough" but also not "too Anglo."

That was just four years ago, when 30 percent of Hashmonaim's residents were native English speakers. The figure has since climbed to upward of 50 percent, according to most estimates.

"The demographic is definitely changing," Solomont said this week. "For many people, it's made a huge difference in their klita (absorption)."

Indeed, in a place where residents say that English is the most common language heard on the streets - some native Israeli children start speaking fluently as a result of constant exposure - the Anglo nature of the community is a topic of constant discussion. It is also one of the hotter election issues, as residents head to the voting booth later this month to determine members of their governing committee, a nine-person volunteer board that establishes policy on anything from taxes and education to safety and cleanliness.

So far, four separate party lists of candidates - three of which are headed by Anglos - are vying for a place on the committee, the composition of which is determined by each party's percentage of the total vote. The three Anglo candidates - Shmuel Blitz, Ira Hartman and Joe Offenbacher - have all expressed interest in creating a more cohesive community that would bridge the existing gap between the area's veteran Israeli residents and the more recent English-speaking arrivals. His ideas include community-wide trips and events, as well as establishing a "Hebrew Day" once a week, on which English would be banned for program participants.

"There is very little interaction between veteran Israelis and the immigrants," Hartman said. He moved to Hashmonaim when there were only 70 other families.

"In the city, you interact with Israelis much more. When we first came, it was very warm and everyone knew everyone. No one expects that to happen anymore, but the interaction between the different communities has disappeared," he said. "For many of the new immigrants, their klita in Israel is not as good as it should be."

'Open-door policy'

A religious community of private, well-kept homes just five minutes from Modi'in, Hashmonaim is a place residents speak about in gushing, almost idyllic terms. Now home to some 530 families, it has experienced explosive growth in recent years. In the last seven years, nearly 200 families have joined the community, the vast majority of them recent arrivals from the U.S.

"At times, it is too American," said Sara Davis, who immigrated with her husband and three children last summer from Pennsylvania. "All you here is English on the streets and our children do have many American friends, which sometimes gives us pause. But is it worth leaving all the positive and wonderful things here? I don't think so."

Founded in 1993 and located just over Green Line, Hashmonaim isn't considered a very ideological settlement and will be included in the planned route of the separation fence. The community boasts nursery schools, a mini-market, a fitness studio and a number of schools, as well regular religious classes for adults and seven synagogues (see box). Children ride bikes or walk alone to their after-school activities and a number of families described the community as "the best place to raise your kids." Doors are largely kept unlocked during the day, as children race from one house to another in what one parent described as an "open-door policy." And residents here say that neighbors, many of whom left their families behind in the U.S., are always friendly, are almost universally helpful in a way that formed an extended quasi-familial support system.

For many immigrants, the community's tight-knit structure is therefore a particular draw. A volunteer committee provides new arrivals with delivered meals to ease the transition until the family's shipment of furniture and appliances arrives. Residents say that days after moving in, perfect strangers knock on their door and introduce themselves, bringing gifts like brownies and flowers, or just offering their help.

"We were looking for a place that would be embracing," said Tamara Laufer, who immigrated from New Jersey with her husband and five children in 2003. "Modi'in seemed too overwhelming. We wanted a place that had support and Hashmonaim is really a great place for klita."

Paying the price

Land within Hashmonaim is expensive (see box), and though duplexes start at around $375,000, private homes - which are being built bigger every year - can fetch well over half a million dollars, residents said.

"If someone makes aliyah and sold their house in America for $900,000, when they buy something here for $700,000, they come away with a profit," one resident said. The influx of affluence means that break-ins are not uncommon. Security is, therefore, high on the list of election priorities.

"More effort must be exerted to deal with the plague of theft" within the community, said Blitz, who is heading the Achdut, or Unity, Party list.

Indeed, the growth and wealth that has come to Hashmonaim has caused tensions; residents say that some Israelis are trickling out.

"There is definitely resentment," one resident said. "There is a feeling that the Israeli kids don't have all the stuff that the American kids can afford. The Americans came in, jacked up the prices and now the Israelis' kids cannot afford to move back. It must be hard for the original people who settled here. There is a whole new wave of wealthy Americans coming. Every kid has his own iPod and cell phone and there is definitely more materialism than there used to be."

But residents insist the underlying tensions are just inconveniences that will ultimately be solved, given a little effort from both sides. Offenbacher wants to help bridge the language gap through a Hebrew Day: one day every week in which residents would refrain from using English.

"People will laugh about it," he said. "But if they give it a try, they will benefit."