On November 9, Jersey City’s Mayor Steven Fulop and Beit Shemesh’s Mayor Aliza Bloch signed a sister city agreement between the two municipalities — which are 5,686 miles from each other as the crow flies.
Initiated by the New Jersey-Israel Commission, an agency that’s part of the New Jersey Department of State, the agreement aims to maximize the resources of both cities by optimizing their shared industries and finding solutions to their shared needs.
Those needs include streamlining immigration and integration, developing the local workforce, and responding to increased demand for housing in the face of rapid population growth.
Jersey City, the county seat of Hudson County, is the second-largest municipality in New Jersey, with a population of 292,449 as of 2020. Considered one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, Jersey City is home to immigrants from many countries including India, the Philippines, China, and Egypt. It has a growing Jewish population and a Jewish mayor in Mr. Fulop.
Jersey City has 15 other sister cities that reflect its population. Those cities include New Delhi, Karpathos, Greece, Nantong, China — and Jerusalem.
Beit Shemesh (literally House of the Sun) is between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, near the site where the Bible tells us that David and Goliath fought their nation-defining battle. It has approximately 144,000 residents –- many of them immigrants from countries including the United States, Russia, and Ethiopia — and is expanding rapidly. The local economy features light manufacturing, services, and a fledgling tech sector.
Beit Shemesh has six other sister cities. Three are in the United States — Ramapo, New York, Cocoa, Florida, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. One is in Asia — Hangzhou, China — and the other two are European — Nordhausen in Germany and Split in Croatia.
Yuval Donio-Gidon, the New York-based Israeli consul for public diplomacy, explained that sister city agreements are meant to “pave the way for strengthening economic and cultural cooperation between municipalities and thereby uniting multiple diverse populations.”
In Beit Shemesh, violent conflicts have occurred at times between extreme ultra-Orthodox and secular or religious nationalist residents over the past decade or two. Though tensions are markedly lower since Dr. Bloch took office in 2018, occasional incidents continue. Among those incidents, extremists sprayed some local polling stations with a noxious liquid to prevent residents from voting in the recent national elections.
Jersey City, too, has seen its share of violent conflict among ethnic groups. Three civilians and a police officer were killed in a shooting that targeted a kosher grocery store on December 10, 2019, and the George Floyd murder in 2020 triggered what Mr. Fulop called “large and emotional protests.”
As Beit Shemesh projects a population growing to 360,000 within the next few years, Dr. Bloch said one of her core goals is “increasing social cohesion and understanding” among the city’s diverse ethnic and religious groups. She found a like-minded partner in Mr. Fulop.
“It is no coincidence that this special partnership was founded between the cities of Beit Shemesh and Jersey City,” Dr. Bloch said. “Beit Shemesh has become a major player in the field of absorption and immigration, similar to Jersey City, where thousands of Jews found a refuge during the Holocaust. The connection between these two cities known for their diversity is built on a combination of willpower and responsibility.”
Mr. Fulop said he hopes to reach “a meaningful, long-term relationship with Beit Shemesh that will establish more trade partnerships, work with corporations that can invest in both sides of the ocean, and make sure we have an opportunity to grow together.”
He added that the new agreement “is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment in Jersey City and New Jersey to making sure that there is a strong bond with Israel as we see an unfortunate resurgence of antisemitism across the country and certainly in this region.”
“As our world faces unprecedented uncertainty, I am reassured that by working together, exchanging ideas, and crossing borders in this way, our society will be strengthened and we will meet the challenges of our time,” Karin Elkis, co-chair of the New Jersey-Israel Commission, said.
Andrew H. Gross, the commission’s executive director, emphasized that New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy “has been a strong supporter of the New Jersey-Israel relationship since he was first elected, and has made it a priority. He’s been to Israel several times as governor and is incredibly supportive of our mission to connect New Jersey and Israel economically to help create jobs and investments in both regions.”
The municipality of Lakewood has a sister city agreement with the municipality of Bnai Brak –- both of which have large ultra-Orthodox populations — and Mr. Gross said another sister city agreement is in the works.
“It’s important for the commission to ensure the benefits of these partnerships reach the local level so that New Jersey communities can benefit directly from the relationship,” Mr. Gross said, emphasizing that Jersey City and Beit Shemesh likely will cooperate on economic initiatives between relevant industries, urban planning, diversity and inclusion, and workforce development.
“A lasting bridge is being built by this new partnership that will enhance key relationships between Jersey City and Beit Shemesh, including through economic development,” New Jersey’s secretary of state, Tahesha Way, said. “I remain committed to bringing people together across every corner of New Jersey and am confident that this alliance will further that mission.”