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In The Wake Of President Bush’s Visit To Israel…

By: Marcy Oster Wednesday, February 20, 2008

When Karnei Shomron resident Audrey Gerber’s son, Noam, got married last spring, she looked forward to having the young couple living nearby – popping in to say hello, joining them for Shabbat meals and becoming part of the very same community in which Noam had grown up.

The young couple looked forward to joining the other young couples and families already living in Karnei Shomron. They anticipated taking over leadership positions in the shul, the schools and the community’s charitable organizations.

But finding a small affordable starter rental proved impossible for the young couple. With about 100 young people from Karnei Shomron getting married each year, all the available places had already been snapped up, leaving not just the young Gerbers, but dozens of other home-grown couples seeking any available housing in the area.

After living in the senior Gerber’s basement for several months, the young couple found a mobile home in a near-by community – also in the Shomron. But they have not given up the hope of returning to the community where they feel truly at home.

But right now, the chances of achieving this are slim. New housing construction has been frozen by the government, even within the municipal boundaries of the 30-year-old community in the heart of the Shomron.

The actions of the Israeli negotiators and government officials at the recent Annapolis “peace” conference has made it clear to the Gerbers and their neighbors that if they want there to be a Karnei Shomron for their children to live in, then they are going to have to do it themselves.

One of the quickest and most effective ways to find housing for these young families is to erect a mobile home site. Since such housing is temporary, it is less affected by the building freeze. In addition, the young couples, often in the middle of army service or university studies, do not have lots of money to devote to housing and may welcome the opportunity to save while renting a mobile home.

The community has contracted with the Amana Settlement Organization, which helps communities in the Shomron erect housing quickly and easily, to bring up to 50 mobile homes to a lovely wooded area in the center of the community. Plans include erecting a playground for the young children that will be part of this new neighborhood.

Audrey and her husband Phil moved to Karnei Shomron in 1985 from the United States, when the streets were still just muddy pathways, new houses were going up all around them, and the wait for a private telephone line was a year or more.

Most of their neighbors were in the same stage of life. They helped each other make brissim for their newborn sons; they walked their children to kindergarten together and then waited at bus stops through elementary school. They took turns babysitting so each couple could have some private time, or attend a meeting without having to pay a sitter.

Most of these families live in the same houses that they built more than 20 years ago, and they now celebrate weddings and throw neighborhood sheva brachot for the same children whose diapers they used to change.

Meanwhile, as the young couples reluctantly look for other communities in which to settle, the kindergartens of Karnei Shomron have fewer and fewer children, as do the elementary schools. Without an infusion of younger families, these decades-old institutions may have to close their doors.
“I don’t understand how the United States Government can ask, and how our government can agree, to stop allowing us to build new homes within our own community, within our own municipal boundaries,” Audrey Gerber states. “We are not just a bunch of tents perched on a hillside. We are a living, breathing community.

“And communities such as ours need our young people to come here. Not just because it is a mother’s right to want to live close to her kids and future grandchildren, but because they are the future of Karnei Shomron.”

Karnei Shomron is home to about 7,500 residents: grandmothers and newborns; religious, traditional and secular; native Israelis and immigrants from around the world.

The Neve Aliza neighborhood, founded in 1982 as an aliyah project for immigrants from North America, is home to some 200 English-speaking families, and continues to be a desirable destination for recent immigrants.

Karnei Shomron Mayor Herzl Ben Ari has been trying to work within the system, meeting with government officials and the army, seeking compromises that will help the community and not put it at odds with the elected government.

But he has very little to show for his efforts, he says, and Annapolis has made him lose hope.

“All we heard from Annapolis were promises of retreat and withdrawal,” said Ben Ari, whose family immigrated to Israel from Iran in the 1970s. “Jerusalem was put on the table for the first time in history.

“Our response to Annapolis must be one of growth, of confidence in the viability of communities in Judea and Samaria, communities like Karnei Shomron.,” he adds.

Steve and Mindy Schwartz have headed efforts to bring new, young families to Karnei Shomron, planning Shabbatonim to introduce families to the community. Because of their efforts, dozens of young families, many originally from the United States, have made their home in Karnei Shomron.

Some started out in rental properties and are now building their own homes, others continue to rent, hoping that new lots will eventually be unfrozen. But for as many families that came to live in the community, an equal number were disappointed because they could not find adequate housing.

“It is frustrating to me that I have worked very hard to bring new families here, and now that we have generated so much interest there is no place to put them,” says Schwartz. Yet he is hopeful that supporters of the Shomron living in North America will be able to help Karnei Shomron to quickly erect the mobile home neighborhood.

Mayor Ben Ari is also certain that Jews around the world will step up to help the community. “I know we are one of many Israeli causes out there and that there is someone visiting an American Jewish community every day looking for help,” he concedes. “But today, we are THE project. Putting up this new neighborhood in Karnei Shomron is the response to Annapolis, a way for Jews around the world to make their voices heard, clearly, saying that we have a right to build a Jewish state on our land.”

A mobile home costs $30,000, and Amana has agreed to finance most of that cost, leaving a shortfall of $7,000 for each mobile home constructed. To participate in this project please mail a check, with Karnei Shomron Mobile Homes in the memo, to Friends of Israeli Communities, Box 50833, Colorado Springs, CO 80949. Your donation is tax-deductible under U.S. law.

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