Through Settlers’ Eyes

by Michele Chabin
photographs by Kevin Unger

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Two years ago, Gedalia and Yocheved Meyer decided to move. With their seven children, they were living in Telshe Stone, a fervently Orthodox Jewish community a few miles west of Jerusalem. They loved how the neighborhood celebrated the Sabbath and the support its tight-knit residents gave to new mothers and others in need. But the community was a bit too religious for their liking. Everyone dressed and spoke alike, they complained. And the community was too involved in what was taught – and what was not taught – in the local schools.

“We were seeking a place with more open social attitudes,” said Mr. Meyer, an Orthodox rabbi who is writing a series of books on spirituality. “At the same time, we wanted a place where we could be religious.”

The Meyers were drawn to Jerusalem’s aura of holiness and ethereal beauty. But houses were exorbitantly expensive, both in the city itself and the suburbs that extended westward toward Tel Aviv. In the end, the couple decided to make what they called “a leap of faith,” given the political uncertainty that hovers over the region. Rather than stay inside the Green Line, the internationally recognized borders of Israel prior to the 1967 war, they moved to the West Bank, to Ma’ale Adumim, a settlement about five miles east of Jerusalem’s municipal border.

“Affordability was definitely an important factor,” said Rabbi Meyer as he gave a tour of his spacious but modestly furnished 2,750-square-foot home. His front yard boasts a fish pond, while a rear terrace provides a sweeping view of the reddish brown Judean hills that give Ma’ale Adumim (“reddish hues”) its name.

“We were also drawn to the mixed religious and ethnic community where everybody gets along,” added Mrs. Meyer, a technical writer.

“Being in Judea and Samaria is a fringe benefit,” Rabbi Meyer continued, using the biblical terms for the area more commonly known as the West Bank. “Look, I’m not a political extremist, but I believe Jews should be able to live anywhere in the world, including all of the land of Israel.”

“What we were really looking for was quality of life,” Mrs. Meyer said. “We’re very happy here.”

On a clear day in Ma’ale Adumim you can see the mountains beyond the Jordan River. The settlement lies along the ancient route from Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley, and the ground on which it is built is mentioned in the Book of Joshua as belonging to the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, Jacob’s sons.

Ma’ale Adumim was established by 23 Israeli families in 1975 and was recognized by the Israeli government two years later by Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

Though built outside the Green Line, it is not included among the settlements that any subsequent Israeli government has ever publicly considered dismantling. Many Israelis believe the settlement, and others, are vital for the country’s defenses, part of the buffer zone that Israel built up after the 1967 war with Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

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