Goats, Baseball and a New Synagogue

There's probably only one place in Israel where an observation about "goats in the baseball field" seems natural. That locale is the once-dormant town of Tel Mond in the heart of the Sharon, where a growing Anglo community is making its mark.

Members of this community say that the goat-baseball juxtaposition encapsulates the essence of what living in Tel Mond means to them. It symbolizes their success in maintaining a tight-knit urban society while enjoying the atmosphere and scenic beauty of one of the last remaining agricultural areas in the country's center.

With all due respect to the goats that graze on the grass around the baseball field, today the town's 70 Anglo families will receive a more tangible sign of success, as their modern-Orthodox members lay the cornerstone for a permanent synagogue for the congregation they formed just ten years ago.

"The Mevaser Zion congregation needs the new synagogue because we've grown, and right now we're squashed in a place that's too small," says Judith Turiel, 38, from Johannesburg, South Africa. She, her husband and three children belong to a nucleus group of some 20 Anglo families in their 30s and 40s who settled in Tel Mond in 1999 (see box).

Currently, the Mevaser Zion congregation, Tel Mond's modern-Orthodox Anglo component, accounts for the majority of Anglos in town, with about 60 families. But the town also has about 10 Anglo secular families, who are less involved in Mevaser Zion's events and activities.

Standing outside the town's public-religious elementary school on Wednesday, Turiel explained that the congregation's "small place" is a humble-sized hall in the center of town, which the city council rents out to the community.

The completion of the new synagogue is planned for later this year. Almost every family in the congregation - which also includes some Israeli-born members - gave about NIS 14,000 for the project.

Once built, the synagogue will be situated near Park Hatziporim in the town's newer southeastern edge. With its sophisticated architecture and calculated landscape scheme, this recently developed part of town, which is home to most of town's Anglos, looks like a roomier version of some areas of Nof Yam, the northern Herzliya neighborhood about 25 minutes southwest of Tel Mond. There is only one traffic light in town, at the entrance to Route 4.

This new neighborhood's taupe, two-story private houses look nothing like the old, smallish and cube-shaped residential structures from the 1940s so typical of the Sharon area.

The town itself began in 1929 as workers' quarters for immigrants from Eastern Europe who worked in the orange groves. It was founded by its namesake, Sir Alfred Moritz Mond, later known as Lord Melchett, a former British minister and president of the British Zionist Federation.

Indeed, Tel Mond residents agree that a lot more than just architecture has changed over the past decade. From a small place with only one supermarket, a tire shop and a pizza place, their town has become a self-sufficient mini-city, servicing smaller nearby towns with its dental clinics, toy, spice and hardware shops, internet cafes, schools, library and cultural center.

Of course, this has come at a price. Sitting on a bench at noon in a small park in an off-center part of town, one can expect to hear buses, trucks and construction noises. When parents pour into town to drop off up the kids at school, there are even minor traffic jams and parking problems.

Real-estate prices and city taxes have also risen, according to Naomi Friedman, a real estate agent and local liaison for the immigration-assistance organization Nefesh B'Nefesh. "It's not as expensive as Ra'anana, but it's no longer cheap," she says. Friedman moved with her husband, Avi, and four children to Tel Mond straight from New York over two years ago.

Mindful of the growing pains, 44-year-old Ivan Taylor, who moved to Tel Mond three years ago from London, says he has mixed feelings about the new synagogue. "It will change the community because we'll have more structure," Taylor said outside the Or Torah school. He was chatting there with a group of five Anglo moms who had also come to pick up their children.

Taylor added: "It might be for the worse. We have a very strong community now, with a lousy place. Like in any equation, you never know what's going to happen if you change any of the elements. But it will be more comfortable."

Michael Goodman, 49, from London, is also ambivalent about Tel Mond's growth. "It's still an intimate place, but as it continues to grow there's a danger it will gradually lose this quality," he observed. In recalling what made his family pick Tel Mond, Goodman said: "Ra'anana was too big and Modi'in looked like a concrete maze, but mostly we connected to the community."

Eydie Altman, 42, from New York, looks at the bright side. "Hopefully the new synagogue will mean more programs for the children," says Altman, who's been living in Tel Mond with her husband and three children for over six years.

In terms of countries of origin, local Anglos say English-speakers are more or less evenly divided into South Africans, North Americans and Britons. Over the past three years the community has grown by some 20 families, with many recent newcomers hailing from the U.K. The town's newest addition is Dorit Goldberg, who came from London with her husband and three children three months ago.

In total, Tel Mond's religious and secular Anglo component amounts to approximately 400 people - less than five percent of the town's population of 10,000 inhabitants. The Anglos are also the town's only group of new immigrants. "The French can have Netanya," Friedman says jokingly. "We'll stick to Tel Mond."

The one thing still missing from town, residents say, is a religious high school and a country club. "Of course, we don't have a mall either," says Goodman. "But that's actually a good thing."