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Why we winter in Be’er Sheva

Be’er Sheva  by Amos Meron –Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

By JACK KAPLOWITZ
My wife, Ellen, and I own an apartment in the city of Be’er Sheva. No one is more surprised than I am. I’d only heard of Be’er Sheva because it’s mentioned eight times in the Torah.

In 2010 I came to Be’er Sheva for the first time to study Hebrew in the ulpan at Ben-Gurion University. Ellen and I returned to the ulpan in 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Unexpected Events
Then something happened that I never anticipated. We had made friends with a couple in the ulpan. Matt Reves was studying at BGU for his doctorate in Bible studies. His wife, Christiane, a historian, did some teaching. They lived with their daughters, Amalie and Anika, in a new part of Be’er Sheva called Ramot. One evening they invited us to their apartment for ice cream.

Their neighborhood astounded us. There can’t be a building more than 25 years old. It’s beautiful. It’s growing. We told Matt and Christiane that we’d be interested if they heard of an apartment for sale in their building and by the way, wouldn’t it be funny if we bought an apartment and they became our tenants?

That’s exactly what happened.

A week or two later, Matt and Christiane told us about an available apartment, and we bought it in late 2013. Shortly thereafter our friends were told by their landlord that he needed the apartment and wouldn’t be renewing their lease. So in 2014 Matt and Christiane moved into our apartment for a year. They then returned to America.

Living Like Israelis
I was still working, so for the next five years we couldn’t realize our goal to live in Israel. But I retired last year. Ellen and I arrived in Israel this past December, and will be here until late March.

So what are we doing while we’re here? Living— we’re just living like ordinary Israelis. We’ve spent a lot of time in Home Center (Israel’s version of Home Depot) and IKEA, furnishing the apartment. It’s tough when all labels are in Hebrew. Few people in Be’er Sheva speak English. But we make ourselves understood. People are nice, helpful, and appreciate our attempts at Hebrew.

There are no “typical days.” We joined Ramot Sportiv, a large, well-equipped health and fitness center, only a five-minute walk from our apartment. I go to the gym. Ellen loves the zumba. I joined a local tennis club, a five-minute drive away. Israeli coaches are demanding, but the emphasis is always on the positive. If you get two chances during a drill and your second shot is lousy, they’ll feed you a third ball. Or if a bad shot ends a mock game, a coach will shout, “I didn’t see it,” and give you another chance. Never end on a down note with a player feeling bad. That’s the Israeli way.

The supermarket, the pharmacy, all a three-minute walk. Our shul is one minute away.

Ellen is tutoring English two days a week at the elementary school next door. The kids are enthusiastic, they want to learn English, their parents want them to learn English. They know it’s important.

People often ask us “Why Be’er Sheva?” This is a nice way of saying “Why not Jerusalem?” or “Why not Tel Aviv?” Residents of Be’er Sheva as well ask us “Why Be’er Sheva?” Even our teachers at BGU ask “Why Be’er Sheva?”

Be’er Sheva isn’t for everyone, that’s true. But we love it. Be’er Sheva has that same, small town feel that Albany has, and that New York City will never have. Plus not many people speak English here. If we wanted to speak English, we’d winter in Florida. Be’er Sheva forces us to use Hebrew all the time, and Hebrew is the language of the Jews.

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