Efrat: A Town that Represents All That’s Israel
Efrat, or “Efrata” is a blossoming municipality in Judea, Israel. The earliest mention of Efrat is in Genesis, when Jacob buries his beloved wife, Rachel after she’s given birth to her second son, Binyamin: “And Rachel died and was buried on the road to Efrat.” (Gen 13:19) Efrat is mentioned as “Efrata” or “towards Efrat” in Ruth 4:11, Chronicles 2:50, Chronicles 4:4, Psalms 132:6, and Micah 5:1. It is located 7.5 miles south of Jerusalem between Hevron and Bethlehem (Wikipedia).
While the international community considers it an “illegal settlement,” the State of Israel has always considered Efrat, and the entire Gush Etzion bloc which Efrat is geographically a part of, an integral part of the Jewish State.
Efrat was founded on Passover eve, October 5th, 1983, by Moshe Moskovitz (Moshiko). Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, an extremely vocal and well-known religious Zionist leader, soon joined Mr. Moskovitz in his mission, establishing the Ohr Torah movement with the blessing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Rabbi Riskin brought the congregants from his N.Y.-based congregation with him. He has become a mainstay of Israel’s political and religious establishments, and has written a number of books (commentary on the Torah and personal stories) as well as numerous articles which have appeared in newspapers such as the Jerusalem Post, Ha’aretz, and the New York Post.
He’s best known for his interfaith dialogue with Zionist Christians and his unique ability to deal with people of all backgrounds. . The Rabbi tells about his travels, goals, and dreams in a newly-published autobiography titled “Road Signs.” Along with his other works, it can be found in Judaica stores in Israel and the U.S.
Rabbi Riskin settled in Efrat at a time when Jewish settlement in Judea was almost non-existent. He started off by living in a sparsely-furnished caravan with his young wife and kids on a hillside located in close proximity to Arab villages. This was a time when the local Arabs were mostly friendly towards Jews. The IDF had succeeded in resoundingly defeating two Arab armies (the Egyptians and Syrians) just ten years before in 1973.
The Rabbi recounts how he was extremely depressed the first winter in Efrat. He cried out to G-d, asking for counsel. Electricity outages were taking place on a daily basis, and the settlers were forced to travel to Jerusalem in order throw out their garbage and buy supplies. Despite the fact that local Arabs had been friendly up till now, people had to carry around machine guns and learn how to shoot in case of emergency. They simply weren’t used to this type of lifestyle.
Rabbi Riskin’s pleas were answered. More Americans began arriving, rich donors started funding the building in Efrat, and concrete houses began springing up along its narrow hills
Today, Efrat is comprised of seven neighborhoods located on adjacent hills: Rimon, Te’ena, Gefen, Dekel, Zayit, Tamar, and Dagan. These are named after the seven species of fruits native to the Land of Israel. There are two commercial centers in Efrat: one in Rimon and the other one in Dekel.
The one in the Rimon neighborhood is home to an American-style pizzeria, a burger bar, a variety of kiosks, a barber shop, a supermarket, the offices of the local council, an immigration office, a bookstore, a pharmacy, a clothing store, and a jewelry shop.
There are more than 1,850 families—or approximately 10,000 people: Israelis as well as immigrants from: North America, South Africa, France, and Russia residing in Efrat at the moment. It’s is home to a large variety of educational programs including a number of daycare centers, kindergartens, three elementary schools, a middle school, and a high school for boys that stress a healthy mixture of both religious and secular studies. Plans are—and have been in place to expand Efrat. It’s projected to include 5,000 houses and a population of over 25,000 people sometime in the near future.
There are also four religious high schools, three seminaries for girls, three “higher” yeshivas, and a religious center for girls. Giv’at Ha’mivtar, situated on a hillside opposite the southern entrance to the settlement, is home to about 30 young families where the husbands study part time in the yeshiva and spend the rest of the day working, while the wives work and take care of the kids. Giv’at Ha’mivtar also features a pre-army yeshiva that allows local youths to combine army service with religious study.
There are approximately 30 synagogues in Efrat, ensuring the needs of the local ethnic communities. There’s an elderly home, a hospital, an emergency room, and a variety of medical centers in Efrat. There’s also a mental health clinic. Some of Efrat’s best-known residents include Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Riskin, Women in Green Spokesperson, Nadia Matar, Likud MK, Yuly Edelstein, and former Prisoner of Zion, Arye Volvovsky.
It takes 10 minutes of driving time (half an hour via bus) to get from Efrat to Jerusalem where most of the locals work. The drive is an extremely picturesque one, taking you along the vineyard-covered Judean hills. The majority of houses in Efrat are 1-2 story buildings built using white Jerusalem stone. From the outside, Efrat looks cramped, as the houses are built almost right on top of one another, but when one walks along the city streets, it becomes apparent that there’s plenty of space for everyone.
Efrat is a paradigm of modern Israeli life. It features a kaleidoscope of cultural diversity and is an amazing example of Israeli pluralism, encompassing families from across Israel’s cultural divide. Efrat is at the forefront of perhaps the most important conflicts of good against evil the world has ever witnessed, but with our help, it will continue growing along with the rest of Israel. Efrat and the people who live there truly represent the best qualities of mankind.