What It's Really Like to Live in an Israeli Settlement

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: A former resident talks about the freedom of growing up in a West Bank settlement ■ a true kibbutznik's view on being a surrogate mother: 'It was a dream come true'

Meital Shapiro
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Beita and Yonadav Ben Lulu.
Beita and Yonadav Ben Lulu.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Meital Shapiro

Beita and Yonadav Ben Lulu, both 24, from Kiryat Shmona, arriving from India

Hello. Where are you coming from?

Beita: India. We were there for three weeks.

And what do you do in life?

Beita: I just finished an education degree at Tel-Hai College.

Yonadav: I’m about to start studying political science. I want to deal with the public sector and work at government ministries.

Why India?

Yonadav: India was my dream. I had heard so much about it. It’s not that there was something specific, some unusual landscape or special body of water, but still, I had heard that it’s special.

Beita: It was my second time. I was there two years ago with two girlfriends.

So where did you go?

Yonadav: We were in Dharamshala, Kasol, Rishikesh and Manali.

All of that in three weeks?

Beita: We managed to do a lot in a short time. We were in Dharamshala on Rosh Hashanah. There were 1,000 Israelis there.

Yonadav: I think it was more like 2,000.

What are the options for celebrating the holidays there? Chabad?

Yonadav: There’s Bina [the pluralistic Jewish Movement for Social Change]. There are two Chabad Houses and there’s Lev Yehudi. Lev Yehudi is more religious Zionist, and Chabad House is open to everyone. I think Bina is just secular people who are trying to get a little closer to religion.

Beita: What was nice at Chabad House was that even though there were 400 people, everyone received personal attention, and there was a family feeling.

How did the two of you first meet?

Yonadav: Through mutual friends. I’m originally from the Golan Heights and Beita is from Ofra.

There were tough pictures of the evacuation in Ofra [in 2017 of residents of nine homes built on privately owned Palestinian land]. How did it make you feel?

Beita: I wasn’t there, because it was after I got married. It was an unfortunate event, and it happened right at the end of my street. Most of the people who were evicted received alternative housing in Ofra, and some left, I don’t know where they went.

We hear about the settlements mostly on the news. How is it to live in one on a daily basis?

It’s everything that a child could ask for. [Ofra] is a very inclusive community, relatively big. Relatively to an [Orthodox] religious community, it’s fairly heterogeneous. You have people with all kinds of styles. Largely religious, and a few non-religious people. For me, there was a feeling of freedom. I went barefoot [there]. Now, living in a city, I miss the mutual assistance from there.

Where do you live?

Beita: We live at a yeshiva in Kiryat Shmona. We’re not connected to the yeshiva, but we live there. It’s important for me to have a sense of belonging to a community.

How would you feel if you didn’t have a community around you?

Beita: Maybe a little isolated.

Yonadav: In a community, there’s support and a feeling of belonging.

Beita: Right. You’re not alone.

Yonadav: You feel anchored in life.

Right. That you have a place to come to at the end of the day. And how is it in Kiryat Shmona [in Israel’s far north on the Lebanese border]?

Yonadav: It’s like being abroad, in terms of the distance.

Beita: At the Rami Levy [supermarket], they help me carry my groceries, people whom I don’t know. It’s makes me sad that we will be leaving after we complete our studies.

Wait. Now you’re living in a yeshiva, and Yonadav, you used to study at a yeshiva?

Yonadav: Yes, at Eli.

Really!

Yonadav: It’s an amazing place that aspires to develop influential and great people in society.

Yes, I’ve heard of it.

Yonadav: It’s true that recently statements have emerged [from there] that, considering the consensus in society, maybe didn’t need to be said. [He’s referring to comments made by the yeshiva’s deputy head earlier this year about the need to “exterminate” homosexuality.] I don’t know. Their views haven’t changed. They always thought that way. Today society is sensitive. The sensors have honed in. But it’s an amazing place, and I’m in touch with the place, which contributes so much to the State of Israel. In every setting, there is someone who will say something that people don’t want to hear.

To my ears, those were more than statements that were unpleasant to hear.

The question is, what you do with it.

The Adato family.
The Adato family.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The Adato family: from left, Hadas, 36; Shahar, 9; Yair, 40; Roni, 6, from Kibbutz Ma’aleh Hahamisha, flying to Vienna

Hello. What’s happening, kids? How was it going back to school?

Shahar: We learned new things, and also we’re [my sister and I] at the same school now.

And how’s that? Fun?

Shahar: Honestly, it’s pretty annoying, because at every recess, she comes over to say hi to me, and she embarrasses me. Let’s say she sees me hiding inside my sweatshirt.

Roni: I even told his worst enemy about it.

At your age, you have enemies?

Shahar: Yes. Every year I have one more enemy, but with some of them, we were enemies, and now we’re good friends.

Okay. That doesn’t sound so bad. And what does Mom do?

Shahar: She’s a baker!

Hadas: At the moment, I’m on maternity leave after delivering a surrogate birth.

Wow. Very interesting. Do you have something to say on that topic?

Look, surrogacy in the Third World is not like in Israel, where [being a surrogate mother] is done as a matter of choice, and not for financial reasons. For me it was the fulfillment of a dream, and [also] for the couple who received a baby girl after waiting 23 years for a child. I am thankful to them for making it possible for me to do it.

Shahar: Unfortunately for everyone, it’s a surrogate pregnancy, so there’s no doing it a second time.

Hadas: The inappropriate comparison with organ trafficking or prostitution cheapens what we – me, my husband and the children – have done.

Right. It’s something that really didn’t happen just to the couple and to you [Hadas] but to the whole family. How did all of you accept it?

Shahar: I was sad when I understood that it wasn’t going to be our brother or sister, but I understood that I should feel happy because we were giving to a couple who couldn’t have a child and that’s a good deed, so I was really very happy.

Roni: For me, it was a little sad and a little happy.

And how was it for you, Yair?

At the beginning, it wasn’t easy for me. The physical aspect scared me, but after I read the couple’s story, if I could have, I would have also given more. Triplets. Who am I to stand in the way of Hadas’ fulfillment?

Why is this fulfillment for you, Hadas?

I’m a kibbutznik. My father was born on a kibbutz. My grandfather was one of its founders. These are the values that I grew up with. When they changed the law so that married women could also be surrogate mothers, I was turned on to the idea. It started to develop until the right time came, and all of us became part of the journey.

And how are you feeling?

Hadas: Since I gave birth, I’m flying 10 centimeters off the ground, out of a sense of the privilege that I had. I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t go and do it.

It’s hard to see distress and not extend a hand, if it’s possible. But didn’t it exact a price?

No, because the pregnancy went okay. I don’t think I’ve paid a price. There are more complicated stories, but for us, knock wood, it was perfect. Look. I’m relaxing and flying to Vienna.

And you weren’t apprehensive about getting attached to the fetus?

Yair: There is no dilemma. It wasn’t hers from the beginning. You know in your heart of hearts that it’s not yours.

Hadas: We knew that we were just caretakers, and that we would give it back. The midwife asked if I wanted to see the baby, but what I really wanted was to see the couple with the baby. That’s what was important to me. I developed a connection to the couple, not the baby. There are women who know they wouldn’t withstand this, and that’s legitimate, just as I knew in my gut that I wouldn’t get attached.

And you kids are relaxing?

Shahar: This year, I didn’t manage to choose an after-school activity, so we may volunteer and visit old people at their homes, which is fun, because we can help that way.

Roni: And then everyone has a friend. Me, the old person and the dog who goes for a walk, and everyone’s better.

I’m beginning to see the kind of education you’re receiving in your home. Or is this something genetic with you?

Hadas: Growing up on kibbutz, everyone is involved in everyone else’s business. It’s natural to give, because we’re together all the time.

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