The story of Bet Yatir and its (falsely) reported twinning with the township of Teaneck by an over-enthusiastic editor of Wikipedia is in some ways a comedy, and I played it that way in the paper this week ““ in part, because that was the easiest way to write it, and I was under a deadline crunch and a space limit. Also, why shouldn’t a newspaper make you chuckle on occasion?
This blog post is an expansion and commentary on that story, so please, if you haven’t, read the article first.
The part I most regret having to leave out was the voice of Harold (Zvi) Weissler, the point person between Teaneck Beth Aaron and Beit Yatir for many years. (It was this shul-to-village twinning that the Wikipedia editor conflated into a Teaneck-wide twinning.) We had exchanged emails over the previous week, but weren’t able to actually connect until the story had already been typeset. In essence, he confirmed the comments I had been given by shul president Larry Shafier , so I let the story stand. But since I’m an encyclopedist at heart, here’s some of what he had to say about the twinning:
It began in mid ’90s.
Somebody ““ I don’t remember who the group was ““ tried to organize vary shuls in Teaneck into being supporters with various communities in the Har Hebron region [of the west bank]. My impression is that Rinat Yisrael and Otniel became twinned at the same time by the same group, an American group that was trying to get communities throughout the states to support different areas beyond the Green Line during that period. And we in Teaneck were chosen to focus on the Har Hebron area. In the mid- ’90s, the people there were feeling cut off from everyone else.
The main thing we really do is try to make it possible for people to consider visiting Beit Yatir. It’s sort of out of the way. It’s very remote. It’s like an hour’s trip from Jerusalem, probably half an hour’s drive from Beer Sheva.
We do occasionally have people from our shul spend a Shabbat there. My wife and my kids and I have done that, we have made friends there.
Our big project is supporting their kaytanah, the day camp for kids. It started after the brutal murder in 2001 of
Kobi Mandell and the other boy in the cave near Tekoa.
Beit Yatir said they were concerned about their kids being normal kids. In the past they would have had no problem with kids wandering outside the gates of the community, but now they were concerned. They wanted a much more organized camp program, and they asked if our members could provide some support for that activity, helping the children feel secure and safe during the time when they were concerned about terrorist attacks against children.
In addition, we have received a monthly article from them for our newsletter. We’ve been fortunate that over the years they’ve had some excellent professional English-language journalists living there. So people in our shul know what’s going on there. The articles aren’t necessarily political. Sometimes they’re just daily life, a picture of what life is like in a remote place like that.
Zvi also provided insight into why Beit Yatir was founded where it is, why the security wall separates it from the rest of the west bank, and why, when then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert showed the Palestinians a map of which settlements he wanted to annex to Israel and which lands he would trade to the Palestinians, Beit Yatir was in the territories to go to Israel. (Otniel, according to the map, would evacuated.)
The whole area is basically on a plateau, very high above the northern Negev desert. There is a school there that at one point was a Jordanian army base. The scene looking down at the Negev is reminisecent of the scene you get looking down at the Galilee from the Golan Heights.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this post. Email email@example.com if you want to be notified when it is posted.