Efrat and Gush Etzion–“the Southern Gates of Jerusalem”
“Rachel died and was buried on the way to Efrata, which is Beit Lechem.” (Bereishit 35:19)
Efrat, or Efrata, is on the road from Yerushalayim to Hevron. Named for the kever of Rachel Imeinu, as written in the Torah, Efrat is the largest yishuv in Gush Etzion. It sits in the mountains of Judea, surrounded by vineyards, natural springs and the gorgeous land of our Forefathers.
Efrat is the largest community of English-speaking olim who enjoy the closeness to Yerushalayim (only 12 km to the south), an outstanding educational system, 22 synagogues, yeshivot and kollelim, and its open and friendly atmosphere. Unlike the other yishuvim in the Gush, Efrat is an autonomous municipality, with its own local council and chief Rabbi—HaRav Shlomo Riskin.
Seven neighborhoods covering more than 6,000 dunam make up Efrat, each named for one of the seven native species of Eretz Israel: Gefen, Dagan, Zagit, Te’ena, Tamar, Rimon and Dekel. Currently, approximately 1400 families (around 9,230 individuals) make their home in Efrat. The first families arrived in 1983, after Yizhak Rabin z”l gave permission in the mid-1970s to build Efrat on seven hill tops in Gush Etzion.
Efrat is very easy to reach by car, bus, or tramping. One can be in Yerushalayim in 20 minutes, and for this reason most of the residents of Efrat work there. Tel Aviv is about 1.5 hours away by car.
Though a family-centered community, Efrat has reasons to visit. My favorite is the health food store, which is the largest I have seen so far in Israel. Coming from Colorado, where large health food stores are the norm, I was as delighted as a child in a candy store to see all the organic produce and products. Efrat has one of the most active matnasim (community centers) in Israel, with sports, arts, music, computer classes and other offerings. Take the kids to Moshe’s farm for pony rides. Or, explore the Biyar Aqueduct, which is between Efrat and Elazar. At Gush Etzion Junction, on the way to Efrat, is Gush Etzion Winery. Established in 2005, it produces 40,000 bottles of wine every year! All the grapes are from Gush Etzion vineyards and you can taste and purchase every variety of wine that you love—they have everything. You can arrange a guided tour of the winery, and enjoy a gourmet meal at the winery restaurant.
Be sure to explore the Judean hills and find the many natural springs that surround Efrat and other yishuvim in Gush Etzion. Maybe you will want to live there—no problem, there is room for more.