31
Sara Yael Hirschhorn Excerpt From Dissertation Chapter Three: Efrat Copyright 2011 Do Not Circulate Raishit Geula: Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s Jewish-American Garin and the Makings of Efrat, 1973-1987 Efrat, named for the biblical locale mentioned in the Book of Chronicles, is located in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank between Bethlehem and Hebron. With a population of over seven thousand residents, of which approximately half are American-Israelis, the city is the most highly recognizable Jewish-American colony in the occupied territories and has emerged as the cornerstone of the Etzion bloc. 1 Yet, how did Efrat rise from the rubble of the post-1973 war to become the incipient American-style ―capital of the Gush‖ 2 in less than a decade? The story of Efrat is one of a strategic partnership between Israeli settlers and Jewish- American immigrants after the Yom Kippur War. It is framed by the personal friendship and professional partnership between Moshe Moshkowitz, a son of the pre-1948 Gush Etzion settlements and the New York based modern Orthodox rabbi Steven (Shlomo) Riskin, which combined the insider knowledge and connections of a native activist with the capital and manpower galvanized by a dynamic spiritual leader. Efrat also produced a new model for American-Israeli settlement in the West Bank that combined the efforts an Israeli non- governmental organization, the Judean Hills Development Co., alongside Garin Raishit Geula [lit. The Origins of Redemption] in the United States. This cooperative venture and division of labor allowed Efrat to deftly navigate the politics and pitfalls of local coordination with the Israeli government while still retaining the distinctly American character of its new township. 1 The latest official survey from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics on 31 December 2009 lists a population of 7,200 individuals. See Statistical Abstract of Israel 2010, Table 2.15 ―Population and Density Per Square Kilometer in Localities Numbering 5,000 Residents or More,‖ http://www1.cbs.gov.il/reader/shnaton/templ_shnaton_e.html?num_tab=st02_15&CYear=2010 In contrast, the Efrat municipality, the local governing body of the city, provides an estimate of 8,500 individuals, likely inflated to serve a political agenda. See http://www.efrata.muni.il/?CategoryID=94 . 2 See http://www.efrata.muni.il/?CategoryID=94

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Sara Yael Hirschhorn – Excerpt From Dissertation Chapter Three: Efrat – Copyright 2011 – Do Not Circulate

Raishit Geula: Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s Jewish-American Garin and the Makings of Efrat,

1973-1987

Efrat, named for the biblical locale mentioned in the Book of Chronicles, is located in the

Gush Etzion region of the West Bank between Bethlehem and Hebron. With a population of

over seven thousand residents, of which approximately half are American-Israelis, the city is the

most highly recognizable Jewish-American colony in the occupied territories and has emerged as

the cornerstone of the Etzion bloc.1 Yet, how did Efrat rise from the rubble of the post-1973 war

to become the incipient American-style ―capital of the Gush‖2 in less than a decade?

The story of Efrat is one of a strategic partnership between Israeli settlers and Jewish-

American immigrants after the Yom Kippur War. It is framed by the personal friendship and

professional partnership between Moshe Moshkowitz, a son of the pre-1948 Gush Etzion

settlements and the New York –based modern Orthodox rabbi Steven (Shlomo) Riskin, which

combined the insider knowledge and connections of a native activist with the capital and

manpower galvanized by a dynamic spiritual leader. Efrat also produced a new model for

American-Israeli settlement in the West Bank that combined the efforts an Israeli non-

governmental organization, the Judean Hills Development Co., alongside Garin Raishit Geula

[lit. The Origins of Redemption] in the United States. This cooperative venture and division of

labor allowed Efrat to deftly navigate the politics and pitfalls of local coordination with the

Israeli government while still retaining the distinctly American character of its new township.

1 The latest official survey from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics on 31 December 2009 lists a

population of 7,200 individuals. See Statistical Abstract of Israel 2010,

Table 2.15 ―Population and Density Per Square Kilometer in Localities Numbering 5,000

Residents or More,‖

http://www1.cbs.gov.il/reader/shnaton/templ_shnaton_e.html?num_tab=st02_15&CYear=2010

In contrast, the Efrat municipality, the local governing body of the city, provides an estimate of

8,500 individuals, likely inflated to serve a political agenda.

See http://www.efrata.muni.il/?CategoryID=94. 2 See http://www.efrata.muni.il/?CategoryID=94

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Sara Yael Hirschhorn – Excerpt From Dissertation Chapter Three: Efrat – Copyright 2011 – Do Not Circulate

Yet, the unique nature of the quadrilateral relationship between Jewish-American

immigrants, native settler activists, the Israeli government, and local Palestinian communities in

the making of Efrat introduced both old and new complexities. While Efrat did not suffer for

lack of attention like other Jewish-American colonies, the settlement faced similar struggles for

recognition and technical setbacks in working with the Israeli government over the course of a

decade-long negotiation to bring the city into existence. Further, despite its founders deep ties to

the Israeli settler movement, Efrat‘s leaders came into conflict with leaders of the Kibbutz Ha-

Dati and Gush Emunim over both political and practical issues regarding its founding. Last but

not least, Efrat continues to be embroiled in a decades-long conflict with its Palestinian

neighbors today, remaining at the forefront of policy debates regarding territorial withdrawals.

This paper also analyzes settler discourses at Efrat. Reflecting its mixed Israeli-

American parentage, messianic tropes of redemption are balanced alongside secular notions of

pioneering and building utopian communities. The synthesis of these concepts within the

persona of Rabbi Riskin, as well as the community at Efrat as a whole, make this settlement truly

unique both within the history of Jewish-American settlement in the occupied territories and the

larger Israeli settler project since 1967.

Drawing on archival materials, the periodical press, and interviews never before brought

to light, this paper reconstructs the role of Jewish-American immigrants in the making of Efrat,

1973-1987. This narrative represents the first attempt in the scholarly literature to recount the

history of Efrat, as well as the nature of the quadrilateral relationship between Jewish-American

immigrants, native settler groups, the Israeli government, and local Palestinian communities.

Lastly, this case study will explore the unique historical dynamics which allowed Efrat to emerge

as the most well-recognized ―city on a hilltop‖ in the occupied territories.

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Historical Background: Contemporary Jewish Settlement and Government Policy in

Gush Etzion Before the Founding of Efrat, 1900-1973

The Gush Etzion region has a played an important role in both Zionist history and

mythology since the pre-state period. This section presents a brief survey of settlement and

government policy toward the Etzion bloc in the twentieth century, which will contextualize the

origins of Efrat after the 1967 war:

Many settler activists make biblical claims to the Gush Etzion region and trace

continuous Jewish settlement in the area from the patriarch Abraham to the present. Apart from

religio-historical justifications, there were several waves of Zionist settlement into the region

during the 20th

century. The idea of Jewish settlement in Gush Etzion was first romanticized in

travel writing in the early twentieth century when Palestine was ruled by the Ottoman Empire.3

A group of Yeminite immigrant members of the Zichron David organization established a

community in the area in 1927, where they worked as dairy and fruit farmers until the isolated

community was destroyed during the Hebron riots of 1929.4 Despite legal prohibitions against

land sales under the British mandate, both independent Jewish financiers as well as the pre-state

institution of Keren Kayemet L-Yisrael [The Jewish National Fund] succeeded in acquiring

acquisitions in Gush Etzion,5 including the notable purchase of 5,000 dunams of land in the area

by Jerusalem entrepreneurer Shmuel Tzvi Holtzmann in 1933. In addition to lending his name to

the region itself (a translation from the Yiddish ‗Holtz,‘ meaning tree) two settlements —

agricultural kibbutz called Kfar Etzion [Etzion Village] and a tourist compound at Yaar Etzion

[Etzion Forest] — were founded in his honor. While residents were again forced to abandon the

3 See David Amit, ―Tmorot B-Nofei Gush Etzion,‖ in Gush Etzion M-Raishito Ad TS”H,

ed. Mordechai Naor (Jerusalem: Yad Yizhak Ben-Tzvi, 1986), 3-18. 4 See Yohanan Ben-Yaakov, ―Migdal Eder – Sipuro Shel Ha-Yishuv Ha-Yehudi Ha-Rishon Bein

Hevron V‘ Yerushalyim,‖ in Gush Etzion M-Raishito Ad TS”H, 23-40. 5 Kenneth W. Stein, The Land Question in Palestine, 1917-1939

(Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1984), 3-4.

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communities during local disturbances associated with the Arab Revolt (1936-1939), a group of

religious youth from the Ha-Poel Ha-Mizrachi party joined together as ―Kvuzat Abraham‖

[Abraham‘s Group] to repopulate Kfar Etzion in 1943, which was followed by adjoining

settlements at Messuot Yitzhak (1945) and Ein Tzurim (1946), as well as the Ha-Shomer Ha-

Tzair sponsored kibbutz at Revadim (1947).6 According to some estimates, there were upwards

of 450 settlers (409 adults and 69 children) living in the Gush Etzion region in 1948, although

less than half of its 20,000 dunam land mass was owned by the KKL.7

Again, the re-established kibbutzim of Gush Etzion were to have a short lifespan. An

ambush of Jewish settlers in 1947 inaugurated a six-month siege of the kibbutzim of Gush

Etzion. Despite military attacks by Jewish settlers, combined Arab forces ultimately defeated

the Jewish residents, massacring the remaining 155 men and women on 13 May 1948, two days

before the declaration of the State of Israel. These events were extensively memorialized and

have become an important part of the historical memory of Gush Etzion and the 1948 war.8 The

Gush Etzion region remained under Jordanian control for 19 years until the June 1967 war.

In the intervening period, the children of Gush Etzion pined for their lost home,

immersing themselves in nostalgia for their truncated youth, including scheduling regular

pilgrimages to a look-out point in West Jerusalem from which religious Zionist activists claimed

to be able to see the famous tree of Etzion. The Israeli public too embraced their cause — as

Gorenberg suggests, there was ―no line between the personal and the political; their tragedy

6 See Gush Etzion and the Hebron Hills (Jerusalem: Jewish Agency, 1974), 10-11.

7 See Jewish Defense in the Hebron Hills,

(Gush Etzion: Gush Etzion Field School and World Zionist Organization, 1970), 3.

There is reason to suspect that these population estimates might be inflated for political purposes. 8 See for example, Anda Finkerfeld, Lamed-Heh (Jerusalem: Rubin Mass, 1998). See also Haim Gouri,

―Hineh Mutlot Gufotainu,‖ [Here Lie Our Bodies], the text of the poem, with analysis is

reproduced at http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/spages/1227313.html

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Sara Yael Hirschhorn – Excerpt From Dissertation Chapter Three: Efrat – Copyright 2011 – Do Not Circulate

belonged to the nation.‖9 Yet, the collective consciousness inevitably moved on. Under the

policy of Mamlahtiut [Statism], Prime Minister Ben-Gurion and subsequent Israeli governments

did not attempt to expand Israel‘s territorial borders during the interregnum period. Most of the

displaced residents resettled in other areas of the country, including at the newly re-established

Kibbutz Ein Tzurim in the south. While the dream of a return to Gush Etzion lingered, no active

steps were taken to realize these aspirations before the Six Day War.

The significant conquests of 1967 War and the post-war euphoria dramatically

transformed both the world-view of the religious Zionist camp, especially that of the children of

Gush Etzion. Quickly, a momentum toward settlement in the West Bank seemed to overtake the

indecisive Eshkol government. Later that summer, pre-1948 residents of Kibbutz Kfar Etzion

made frequent pilgrimages to the site and petitioned the government to allow them to return to

the settlement. By fall 1967, a sizable group — including both pre-1948 veterans and newly-

arrived Jewish-American immigrants — immediately settled at the site. Before the 1973 war,

two additional settlements in Gush Etzion were approved by the government at Rosh Tzurim [lit.

head of the rocks] in the summer of 1969 and at the old site of Kibbutz Ein Tzurim and Alon

Shvut [lit. The Tree of Return] in the summer of 1970. Despite expansion at pre-existing

settlements, the government did not undertake any further development in the Etzion bloc before

the Yom Kippur war.

For many, Efrat represented the continuation of the pre-1948 Gush Etzion legacy in a

new initiative of the post-1973 war era. It is this narrative, as well as the Jewish-American vision

of Efrat, that will now be explored in the remainder of this paper.

*******

9 Ibid., 21.

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Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the Jewish-American spiritual leader and co-founder of Efrat likes

to tell his version of how the American-Israeli colony in the West Bank first came into being in

the mid-1970s:

[That summer, Moshe] Moshkowitz took me in his car to an empty hill which was

Efrat – 1976. He looked at me, and said to me, ‗Listen. They once asked

Dizengoff, the first mayor of Tel Aviv, how do you become the mayor of a city in

Israel? Dizengoff says, you want to be the mayor of a city in Israel? Build the

city.‘ He said to me, ‗Be my partner. I‘ll take care of Israel. You bring the two

groups, from America and South Africa. We‘ll create the city of Efrat.‘ And he

said, he would be the mayor, and I would be the Rabbi. We shook hands.10

Evoking the Zionist pantheon and hearkening back to early tropes of ―building a land for people

for a people without a land,‖ as well as ideas of pioneering and building new utopian

communities from the United States, Riskin positions himself within a historical discourse that

is both uniquely Israel and American. However, the making of Efrat began several years earlier

with Moshe Moshkowitz, long before Rabbi Riskin appeared on the scene.

The first item of correspondence about Efrat appears in the archival file of the Prime

Minister‘s office in October 1974, exactly a year to the day of the Yom Kippur War. In a letter

to his friend and colleague Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Moshe Moshkowitz laid out a

proposal for a new urban settlement in Gush Etzion. (At this time, a specific location and name

for the settlement had not yet been designated.) The settler activist opened his letter by playing

up his Zionist credentials, identifying himself as a member of the pre-1948 Kibbutz Messuot

Yitzhak, a son of Gush Etzion, and a member of the Zionist elite who was working to re-develop

the region as ―a living memorial for our friends that fell in the War of Independence.‖ Rather

than asserting biblical claims to the whole of the land of Israel, Moshkowitz cannily pitched his

10

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Interview with the author, 27 July 2009. Riskin has also repeatedly provided this

version of events in other published statements. See ―Rav Shel Ir O Ir Shel Rav?‖ Gushpanka (1)

21 November 1986, 4 and ―Retorika Shel Manhig V‘Ha-Kamat Ha-Yishuv Efrat,‖

http://clickit3.ort.org.il/Apps/WW/page.aspx?ws=b81b2747-764d-421d-b994-

7e1bc1ff4c82&page=7bbe8ecd-b325-4cd3-a177-22f0ea69584b&fol=1da52f9a-f1a7-4d83-b4d0-

ccac1ee572fa&box=ec806471-f9fa-4204-8c0a-9002a06b17bd&_pstate=item&_item=fa666239-

a5aa-4c34-b917-f4979ad5e3ff

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new project in practical terms, casting further development of the Etzion bloc as a strategic

buffer to prevent another defeat, pointing especially to the need to ensure the ―security of the

contiguity and connection with Jerusalem.‖ He also stressed the importance of defending Gush

Etzion settlements, responding to societal pressures to settle, and encouraging the settler ―spirit.‖

Switching tacts, he then alluded to other pressing policy concerns in the depressed post-war

socio-economic climate, including creating new opportunities for young native families to find

affordable housing in the Jerusalem area and the absorption of Western immigrants. He argued

that his proposal to establish an urban settlement in Gush Etzion would meet these challenges.

Most importantly, his plan offered a low-cost solution to the government‘s problems, as both

housing and public services would be covered by independent financing. All he asked for was

government approval, closing his letter with a request for a quick reply to his petition.11

Moshkowitz‘s opening salvo proposing further settlement in Gush Etzion demonstrated a

shrewd insider understanding of Israeli politics that had eluded other Jewish-American groups

seeking to settle in the occupied territories. By demonstrating his personal connections and

understanding of the military, economic, social, and financial challenges the government was

facing, his proposal embodied the kind of appeal lacking in other American-Israeli projects. As

Moshkowitz himself suggested elsewhere, ―this was a whole new concept. Who builds a city?

The government. The government built Kiryat Arba, Maale Adumim, Neve Yaacov. I asked

them to let me try. I told them: I don‘t request anything more than you would invest in any city

you establish; I promise you we will do better.‖12

Moshkowitz soon received responses to his

proposal at the highest levels of the Israeli government.1314

11

Moshkowitz to Rabin, 9 October 1974, ISA 7457/ 4-ג 12

David Morrison, The Gush, 47. 13

Admoni to Galili, 18 October 1974, ISA 7457/ 4-ג 14

Zorea to Galili, 5 November 1974, ISA 7457/ 4-ג

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In December 1974, Moshkowitz produced a slick brochure containing a site plan for a

new urban center in Gush Etzion, which for the first time was given the name Efrat. 15

It is

worthwhile to closely examine this first articulation of a city programme, as it helps reveal the

important goals of the Efrat project in its early stage.16

The précis echoed the themes of his first

letter to Prime Minister Rabin (alludes to in the text) in fostering ―his conviction that now the

hour has arrived to substantiate these plans immediately and with full momentum.‖17

He argued

natural conditions lent themselves to the creation of a new urban center that would serve a

population working in Jerusalem. He closed his introduction with the grandiose and flowery

statement that ―we are sure that the social, settlement, and development ideas embodied in this

plan and that appear in the hearts of the initiators, will attract a fitting public and therefore, with

the assistance of the government and the public, will arise in their hands [the opportunity] to

establish a new settlement that will thrive on the old road that rises up and connects the city of

our fathers with the eternal city.‖18

The remainder of the pamphlet was devoted to more technical details about the

development of the city. He envisioned a large community which in less than 10 years time

would boast a population of 3,000 families/12,500 individuals in 1982 and would double to

6,000 families/25,000 individuals by 1990.19

Some sketches of the housing, educational,

commercial, and light industry plans for the centrally-designed city were also included in the

pamphlet. Interestingly, this section also noted the presence of the Palestinian town of Bayt-

Fadjar, a community of 2,500 mostly occupied in the quarrying business, although resident‘s

views were apparently not solicited and the village of al-Khader, the main opponents to the city‘s

15

Moshkowitz to Galili, 17 December 1974, ISA 7457/ 4-ג 16

―Yishuv Ironi – Efrat,‖ 13 December 1974, ISA 7457/ 4-ג 17

Ibid., 1. 18

Ibid., 2. 19

Ibid., 7.

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expansion in future years was not mentioned at all.20

It is also essential to point out that the

original prospectus suggested that the 1200 dunam plot was owned by the state and that an

additional 1000 dunams were ―relinquished from the hands of their owners‖ and thus were

―checked and found permissible.‖ No verification process was detailed in the archival file

however, which has led some critics to charge that this supposed avoidance of Palestinian land

expropriation was a ―fiction‖ of ―official Israeli dogma.‖21

Despite the fact that Moshkowitz summarized his project as ―a settlement where a social

framework would be development whose contribution to the absorption of immigrations and

initiative of the veteran population will be very unique, ‖22

a comparison between the Hebrew

language site plan from 1974 and its English language version produced one year later is a telling

indicator of the way Moshkowitz differentiated his sales pitch for Efrat between Israeli and

American audiences who had recently become involved with the project.23

While large parts of

the booklet reproduce an exact translation of material into English, there are several important

changes in organization and emphasis that reveal efforts to underscore — even exaggerate — the

features of Efrat that would appeal to Jewish-American immigrants. ―The new development

neighborhood at Ephrat is an overall community project which was planned to answer the special

needs of new immigrants from the developed countries,‖ it argued, which would be achieved ―by

providing suitable housing conditions, community services, and employment.‖ The idea of

20

―Yishuv Ironi – Efrat,‖ 13 December 1974, ISA 7457/6 ,ג. 21

Jeremiah Haber, ―Shlomo Riskin: Bad Moral Luck?‖ 10 April 2008,

http://www.jeremiahhaber.com/2008/04/shlomo-riskin-bad-moral-luck.html 22

Ibid., 11. 23

―Efrat – Proposal by the Judean Mountain Development Co., Ltd.‖ 13 December 1975,

Jewish Agency Internal File Code #222568. It should be noted that two versions appear in the

archival file, one dated 13 December 1974 and another 13 December 1975, with the year changed

or corrected in black ink. The earlier pamphlet seems to be either a draft or excerpt from the 1975

document. I will be discussing the more comprehensive 1975 version here.

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modern day pioneering for Jewish-American immigrants is further stressed by setting a goal of

settling 150 families by 1977, which would grow to 350 families by 1980.24

Claiming that ―this project is part of a new attitude towards the absorption of new

immigrants and is based on the concept of group settlement with a new approach to the

coordination of the needs of new-comers in the spheres of habitation, employment, and civic

services,‖ the following paragraphs discuss everything that would be ―new‖: initiatives in

education, industry, and recruitment of new immigrants that were either absent in the Hebrew

language edition, or were significantly condensed and buried several pages into the Hebrew

document.25

Quality of life and community were given a premium in terms of both space and

content. First and foremost, the booklet outlined luxury housing options, including the ability to

design and construct a single family home (with mortgages on ―special conditions given to new

immigrants and settlers of newly developed areas‖) or rent a deluxe apartment unit. Apart from

opulent dwellings, the writers appealed to the importance of location, an educational system that

would cater to a new immigrant‘s language and educational needs (for both children and adults),

employment coordination, and recreational programs, including an American-style community

center with ―playing fields and a swimming pool.‖26

An appendix to the pamphlet allowed

future residents to visualize their new life by providing architectural renderings of housing units,

as well as commercial, educational, and recreational areas in the new city. In all, programs

should be geared toward the model that ―experience has shown that the absorption of new

immigrants, particularly those from the United States is made easier when they settle with

24

Ibid., 2. 25

Ibid., 2. 26

Ibid., 3-4.

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immigrants from the same background. This fact gives the new family the security and ability to

face the every-day problems of life in Israel.‖27

Cabinet level response to the 1974 Hebrew language Efrat plan was positive. D. Vinshal

wrote Galili on behalf of the Ministry of Housing to express the sentiment that ―we bless this

initiative.‖ However, he did raise two important critiques that would plague the project in

coming months: 1)the government‘s concern that a new urban center close to Jerusalem could

jeopardize plans for further development of the greater Jerusalem area, and 2)the kibbutz

movement‘s opposition to further expansion in Gush Etzion itself. 28

While by summer,

Moskowitz had secured the Minister of Housing‘s verbal agreement to the construction of a new

urban settlement in the Eastern Gush - a key bureaucratic victory that had taken other Jewish-

American garinim years to achieve - pushback from both within and outside the government

came equally swiftly, exactly along the lines which the Ministry of Housing had warned of a few

months earlier. (Due to space limitations, these issues can not be discussed further here.)

In spite of these challenges, Moshkowitz expressed confidence about the project in a

summer 1975 interview to the Hebrew daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot, who had also gotten

wind of the project that June.29

―Will a new city arise between Gush Etzion and Jerusalem?‖

queried the reporter, suggesting that ―if everything progresses in line, and if no unforeseen

obstacles pile up, Moshe Moshkowitz will succeed in realizing his dream — and in a short time,

a new city, without a name, will be established half-way on the road between Bethlehem and the

settlements of Gush Etzion.‖ While the article as a whole lacked any specifics, it is interesting to

27

Ibid., 2-3. 28

Vinshal to Galili, 24 December 1974, ISA 7457/ 4-ג 29

Menachem Roei, ―Ha-Im Takum Ir Hadash Bein Gush Etzion L-Yerushalayim?,‖

Yediot Ahronot, 3 June 1975, 20.

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note that the plan reached the press at such an early stage in its development and was presented

in a positive light to the Israeli public.

In the new year, Moshkowitz wrote to the Council of Minister of budding relations with a

group of Jewish-Americans interest in settling and investing at Efrat — the first time that this

group was mentioned in the archival file.30

Who were these Jewish-American immigrants so

keen on settling thousands of miles away in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank in the

occupied territories?

In 1976, Efrat was but the dream of a young, dynamic modern Orthodox spiritual leader

named Rabbi Dr. Shlomo (Steven) Riskin and a small group of fellow congregants. Born in

Brooklyn in 1940, Riskin was raised in a non-religious family, although turned to Orthodox

Judaism in his teens. After attending Brooklyn Talmudic Academy High School, he enrolled at

the Orthodox-affiliated Yeshiva University. He later earned both a master‘s degree and

doctorate in Jewish History from New York University.

Riskin had his first exposure to Israel in 1960-1961 as a student at the Hebrew University

of Jerusalem. During his trip, he met his future wife Victoria and the couple made ―a pact‖ to

move to Israel upon marriage.31

Unable to find a pulpit in Israel during his year-long stint, he

returned to the United States. His continuing employment difficulties in New York City led

former mentors to encourage the young rabbi to take a most unorthodox rabbinical position for

an Orthodox rabbi: to assume leadership of Lincoln Square Synagogue, a Conservative

congregation on the upper West Side of Manhattan. Through his skills as a spiritual leader and

educator, Riskin convinced the community to move toward greater religious observance,

nurturing a small congregation of 15 families into the largest modern Orthodox community in

30

See Moshkowitz to Galili, 30 December 1975 and 11 January 1976, ISA 7457/ 4-ג 31

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Interview with the author, 27 July 2009

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New York City. In the process, he earned a national reputation for himself within the American

Jewish community — he was even dubbed ―Stevie Wonder‖ by the New York press for his

dynamic religious leadership.

Despite noteworthy professional success in the United States, Riskin still desired to move

to Israel. He subsequently spent eight summers as a scholar-in-residence at Kibbutz Ein Tzurim

in the south between 1975 and 1983 in the hopes of securing a permanent rabbinical position in

Israel. While in residence at Ein Tzurim, the rabbi and Moshkowitz struck up a friendship —

according to legend, the two were introduced when Riskin, a frequent hitch-hiker, was given a

ride by the settler activist from Ein Tzurim to Jerusalem. Over the course of the next five years,

the partners worked hand-in-hand to bring Efrat into existence. Undoubtedly, this potent

partnership was the secret to Efrat‘s success, which has been unmatched by other Jewish-

American settlers in the occupied territories until today.

In 1977, Riskin and his Lincoln Square synagogue congregant Dr. Ralph (Menachem)

Marcus co-founded a new cooperative immigration association called Garin Raishit Geula to

organize prospective immigrants interested in settling at Efrat. Unlike other Jewish-American

garinim for settlement in the occupied territories however, the raison d‘être of this group was

larger than the Efrat project and billed itself as ―a new religious aliya movement,‖ for Jewish-

American interested in settling anywhere in Israel. A closer look at the Raishit Geula‘s mission

statement of 1977 reveals many of the uniquely American aims of the group:32

Like other Jewish-American projects discussed in this dissertation, the discourses

surrounding the Efrat project espoused not only religio-political ideology, but also uniquely

American ideas about pioneering and building new utopian communities in the occupied

32

―Raishit Geula: A Rew Religious Aliya Movement,‖ Undated 1977,

Jewish Agency Internal File Code #222568

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territories. What set Garin Raishit Geula apart however was its messianic tone both in name and

in practice. Believing that if the Jewish-American community failed to seize new opportunities

brought about by the 1967 war ―we [will] have allowed fervent age old prayers for Redemption

to go unanswered,‖ Raishit Geula would offer a long over-due response to these concerns:

Confronting these challenges, representatives of a new generation of Jews — born in the shadow

of the Holocaust and reared in the light of the miraculous struggle of Israel to survive — have set

the foundations for a new Religious Aliya Movement, RAISHIT GUELA. Reaffirming that the

Jewish people is united by a single history, a single Torah, and One G-d, our organization will

work to transform the religious and social goals of Torah Judaism into a living reality in Eretz

Yisrael.

Raishit Geula‘s flagship settlement at Efrat, the pioneering venture of the garin in Israel, would

be the first initiative to implement this mission.

The prospectus then went on to outline the ways in which the new settlement would

combine religio-ideological values with suburban living. Utopian concepts would characterize

the centrally planned city built vision of its inhabitants, including new innovations such as new

residential neighborhoods that integrated luxury housing with aesthetically pleasing yet

functional commercial and municipal areas, the creation of a groundbreaking network of

educational and religious institutions (including ―an entire independent yeshiva system,‖), and

state-of-the-art tourism facilities. Further, the settlement would constitute itself as a mutually-

responsible ―kehilla‖ [lit. community] — in some ways, along the lines of a commune — where

the economic, social, religious, and medical needs of its residents would be shared by all. At the

same time however, the town would run on a capitalist system, encouraging ―full individual

initiative‖ for all its residents. Above all, these measures would help mitigate ―the sundry day-

to-day problems that frequently beset new olim in their dealings with Israeli bureaucracy,‖ and

―social adjustment to our new environment will also be predictably much easier.‖

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In closing, Raishit Geula appealed to the challenge of the times, noting that ―we stand at a

critical crossroads in the history of the Jewish people, for ourselves, for our children, and for the

future of Israel, we dare not let his singular opportunity elude us.‖ Promising to build a new

future for the next generation, ―Efrat offered a new opportunity to ―help build a model Torah-

committed society with a sound economic and social foundation. By confronting the spiritual

challenges of Redemption, we will be contributing to the success of the religious community‘s

most meaningful undertaking in our lifetime.‖

While Moshkowitz and Riskin sold Efrat as a self-sufficient venture, it became

increasingly clear that some degree of bureaucratic and financial support from the Israeli

government would be necessary. Despite word of official approval in October 1977, 33

Raishit

Geula continued to be hamstrung due to governmental restrictions on publicity and their general

attempt to hush-up the Efrat project during the on-going Camp David negotiations. The timing

of the (secret) approval of Efrat, in the midst of the Egyptian-Israeli peace process, suggests that

the settlement was seen as a hedge and a pawn in a larger political-strategic game of Israeli

government policy . While today, Efrat and the Etzion Bloc are commonly raised as obstacles to

peace with the Palestinians, it is interesting to note that this dynamic was in place even before the

settlement was built. Efrat‘s approval finally leaked to the media in February 1979. 34

The anti-

settlement organization Peace Now immediately registered their protest but plans continued.35

33

Moshkowitz to Narkiss, 18 October 1977, Jewish Agency Internal File Code #222568 34

―Colony for U.S. Jews Is Approved By Israel,‖ New York Times, 8 February 1979, A14. 35

David Landau, ―New Town Planned for Gush Etzion,‖ Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 8 February 1979,

http://archive.jta.org/article/1979/02/08/2983502/new-town-planned-for-gush-etzion

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Even under the publicity ban, Riskin and Moshkowitz quietly made great strides in

organizing the Efrat project for planned residency in 1981. Within a year, Raishit Geula‘s

membership had doubled to more than 181 families.36

Having reached a critical mass, they held

their first national convention in January 1979 in New York City, which attracted 150 new

participants. A press release from the conference suggested the event was a great success37

and a

pilot trip and seminar program were in the works. In an urgent memo to all immigration

representatives a month later, one Israeli official suggested that ―if this group will succeed, it will

be a turning point in the development of group aliya to Israel that could be used as a model to

other Rabbis and congregations.‖38

Meanwhile, Moshkowitz worked in Israel to oversee construction of housing and the

physical plant. In February 1979, the Ministry of Immigration and Absorption pledged to assist

in building and providing mortgages for 300 dwelling units, 2/3 of which would be set aside as

part of the Baneh Beitech (lit. Build Your House) self-financed projects of single family homes

and villas, and the remainder as government-built apartments.39

Preparations also proceeded with

construction firms for a physical groundbreaking the following winter. A cornerstone laying

ceremony was scheduled for 10 February 1980 at 3pm — invitations sent out to various

dignitaries and supporters asked participants meet to meet at the Tekoa junction on the

Jerusalem-Hebron road a quarter of an hour before the service.40

36

Riskin to Kotlowitz, 21 June 1979, Jewish Agency Internal File Code #222568 37

See ―First National Convention of Religious Aliya Movement,‖ Undated 1979,

Jewish Agency Internal File Code #222568 38

Friedman to All Representatives , 1 February 1979, Jewish Agency Internal File Code #222568 39

Dominitz to Viner, 28 February 1979, Jewish Agency Internal File Code #222568 40

Invitation to Cornerstone Laying Ceremony, Undated (1980), Jewish Agency Internal File Code #222568

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The groundbreaking almost did not take place. On 30 January 1980, a week and a half

before the cornerstone laying ceremony, Swedish immigrant Yehoshua Saloma, a student at the

Hesder Yeshiva of Kiryat Arba, wandered into the casbah in downtown Hebron (which had been

reoccupied in spring 1977 by a group of female settlers led Jewish-American Miriam Levinger)

and was stabbed by a Palestinian terrorist. His death marked the first fatal attack against a

Jewish settler in the West Bank since 1967 and prompted a massive outcry by the Israeli

government and general public. According to Riskin, the Ministry of Defense immediately

called an emergency meeting and decided to cancel the cornerstone laying ceremony, as well as

suspend construction of all new settlements. Facing a grave threat to their dream, after a week of

dire negotiations, Moshkowitz and Riskin succeeded in gaining an emergency intervention by

Prime Minister Begin. The cornerstone laying ceremony then took place ―quietly,‖ before a

small gathering of 30 people the following Sunday.41

Apparently, the low-key festivities were not quiet enough. A month later, news broke to

the New York Times that the Israeli government had formally seized land near Bethlehem to

build Efrat. Palestinian land claims to the area, which had been papered over in discussions with

government officials and the Israel media were immediately raised by nearby Palestinian

residents. According to unnamed sources quoted the article, unequivocally ―the land belonged

to the Arab village of al-Khader,‖ and that recent land confiscations came in addition to 625

acres already expropriated from their holdings for the project. Palestinian villagers told the

reporter that they planned to take their case to the Israeli Supreme Court in protest.42

41

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, ―Retorika Shel Manhig V‘Ha-Kamat Ha-Yishuv Efrat,‖

http://clickit3.ort.org.il/Apps/WW/page.aspx?ws=b81b2747-764d-421d-b994-

7e1bc1ff4c82&page=7bbe8ecd-b325-4cd3-a177-22f0ea69584b&fol=1da52f9a-f1a7-4d83-b4d0-

ccac1ee572fa&box=ec806471-f9fa-4204-8c0a-9002a06b17bd&_pstate=item&_item=fa666239 a5aa-4c34-

b917-f4979ad5e3ff 42

―Land Close to Bethlehem is Seized,‖ New York Times, 17 March 1980: A3.

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The conflict over territorial claims to Efrat spotlights the triangular relationship between

Rabbi Riskin and Efrat‘s community, the Israeli settler movement, and Palestinians. In fact, the

issue of land claims set the parties against one another and put them on a collision course toward

further conflict. However, unlikely alliances also formed — while the clash as viewed from the

outside pitted Riskin and the Israeli settler movement against Palestinians, internally there was

also a struggle between Efrat and native Israeli activists. In fact, the issue dramatically

highlighted how the norms at Efrat were at odds with the modus vivendi of Gush Emunim.

Riskin‘s personal views lay at the center of the controversy. While he deeply believes

that the whole of the land of Israel belongs to Jews, he has also demanded that the municipal

boundaries of Efrat be established upon land without pending local Palestinian ownership claims.

In an interview, he insisted ―it‘s very important to me, very very important‖ that the land be

open as ―I believe we have historic right, but they also have [it], we have biblical promise, but

not everything that is promised in the Bible takes place immediately and we have to make sure

we‘re very proper, legally, ethically, morally. I don‘t want to take any land that wasn‘t, couldn‘t

be mine.‖43

Later in the interview, he described Efrat as ―completely empty‖ numerous times and

argued, ―I didn‘t come like a thief at night, we first checked every inch, we made sure this was

Jewish land, and I think we acted with full integrity.‖44

He also prided himself in forging

personal, commercial, and charitable ties to the leaders of surrounding Palestinian communities.

According to Riskin, ―we have wonderful relations with them, we enjoy wonderful relations with

them.‖45

At least one liberal Orthodox blogger, however, has openly suggested that ―Riskin

43

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Interview with the author, 27 July 2009. 44

Ibid. 45

Ibid.

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subscribed to the fiction,‖ of not expropriating Palestinian land, a claim that has dogged Riskin

— as well as the entire Israeli establishment — in regards to Efrat.46

Regardless of the veracity of his claims, Riskin soon found himself at odds with Gush

Emunim, who worked to establish settlements across what they perceived as the biblical land of

Israel, regardless of physical location or ownership rights. In an interview, Riskin recalled a

personal encounter in 1978 with Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook which illustrated their fundamental

conflict in approach to settlement building and Palestinian territorial rights. According to

Riskin, the spiritual leader of the Israeli settler movement summoned him to a meeting where

―Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook wanted to know why Efrat was not part of Gush Emunim. Why was it

an independent project?‖ In his telling,

I explained, we have every right to be in Yehuda and Shomron [Judea and Samaria], but there

are two million Arabs. I don‘t want a state with Jews and Arabs together, I would have to give

Arabs the vote, I would have to give them equality. It would be more Arab than Jewish. You

couldn‘t give the Arabs less than we asked for ourselves when we were a minority people. And

therefore, I‘m very much in favor of the settlement blocs, and therefore Efrat, but I‘m not

necessarily in favor of the Greater Israel movement, which was Gush Emunim, and building

settlements all over.47

Following this pronouncement, Riskin remembered that ―Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook took my hand

and looked deeply into my eyes and said, ‗You are worried about the Arabs here. Don‘t worry

Rabbi Riskin, haim yityhadu [they will covert to Judaism],‖ referencing a passage from the

Scroll of Esther describing the conversion of the Persians to Judaism.48

Riskin retorted,

―Honorable head of the yeshiva, when they become Jewish, I‘m ready to become part of Gush

Emunim. Until that point, we have to remain a separate group.‖49

Despite ongoing

disagreements with Gush Emunim, Riskin had to preserve an uneasy alliance to defend what he

46

Jeremiah Haber, ―Shlomo Riskin — Bad Moral Luck?‖ 10 April 2008

http://www.jeremiahhaber.com/2008/04/shlomo-riskin-bad-moral-luck.html 47

Ibid. 48

Ibid. 49

Ibid.

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perceived as Jewish rights in the occupied territories. While he rejected their methods, they

made common cause in a shared ideology of living in the whole of the land of Israel.

In truth however, Riskin was more concerned with continued negotiations with Israeli

bureaucrats regarding construction delays at Efrat than with resolving conflicts with local

Palestinian communities or his settler allies. As Riskin recalled in the early 1980s, the task of

building the new community was all consuming, where ―the most important thing in my life for

the last six years has been Efrat.‖50

He also struggled both personally and professionally with his

new endeavor, later admitting ―I think, to be very frank with you, if I have not announced so

many times I was coming to Israel, I would have backed down.‖ Even his own family members

doubted that the project would succeed, as Riskin‘s mother-in-law is said to have assured his

own worried mother, ―it‘s just a hill with a bunch of rocks. Not in your lifetime or in my lifetime

will it be built.‖51

Outreach to the families was perhaps the highest priority, as while many members of

Raishit Geula had enrolled, most had never opened immigration files.52

Closing the gap between

enthusiasm and commitment was a major challenge for Garin Raishit Geula‘s organizers and a

problem that continued to plague recruitment efforts in the early 1980s. Yet, by 1982, Riskin

judged that ―the future of Raishit Geula looks especially bright,‖ and urged that funding be

maintained as ―I do not known of any other Aliayat [sic] which has accomplished what we have

in so short a time. You have believed in us until now; I am confident in your continued help to

ensure the success of Aliyah…‖53

50

Rachel Shadar, ―Bridge From Manhattan,‖ Israel Scene (December 1982): 26. 51

As quoted in Morrison, The Gush, 65. 52

See ―Din V‘Heshbon Mifgashim Im Havri R‖G V-Shlihai Mahleket Ha-Aliya,‖

Rokach to Friedman, 25 February 1981, Jewish Agency Internal File Code #225404 53

Riskin to Kotlowitz, 6 July 1982, Jewish Agency Internal File Code #225404

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Despite these successes, behind the scenes Raishit Geula was confronting several critical

challenges. First was the loss of their dedicated representative in New York, whom the Jewish

Agency refused to replace with another full time employee as a cost-cutting measure.54

More devastatingly, Raishit Geula was broke. By 1981, Raishit Geula had accumulated a debt

of $30,000 above the annual $20,000 budget allocated by the government. In a letter to the

Jewish Agency, Riskin described the garin as in ―serious financial trouble,‖ and the Rabbi

begged for an emergency grant (or if that was not possible, a standing loan) to cover the

shortfall. In a handwritten note on the letter in Hebrew, Riskin added ―it would be a pity if the

only organization which has succeeded in bringing hundreds of families to register aliya

portfolios will have to close its office! Please help!‖55

While the government ultimately helped

cover the debt, Garin Raishit Geula continued to run at a loss.56

Despite these difficulties, the first group of 23 couples, 1 single, and 51 children57

including Rabbi Riskin, his wife Victoria, and their children — immigrated to Efrat in the

summer of 1983, where they were joined by another 40 Jewish-American families already living

in Israel and a large South African contingent in residence at the site. Upwards of 180 families

were registered with the garin for immigration over the next two years.58

Although only 60

families from this original Jewish-American group ultimately settled at Efrat, for many, their

decade-long dream of living at Efrat and settling in the occupied territories had become a reality.

54

See ―Sikum Pegisha Sh-Hukam B-Misrado Shel Rosh Ha-Mahlaka,‖ 20 July 1982,

Jewish Agency Internal File Code #225404 55

Riskin to Dulczin, 11 June 1981, Jewish Agency Internal File Code #225404 56

See ―Raishit Geula, Ltd. – Statement of Operations, Year Ended August 31, 1983‖ Undated, 1983,

Jewish Agency Internal File Code #225404 57

See untitled list in Raishit Geula file, Undated 1983, Jewish Agency Internal File Code #225404 58

See Moshe Einhorn and Elaine Jacobs to Dominitz, 2 March 1984,

Jewish Agency Internal File Code #225404

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Initially, however, there was great skepticism about Riskin‘s ability to build a spiritual

community at Efrat. ―Can An American Rabbi Make It in Israel?‖ queried Counterpoint, the

English-language settler periodical for Anglos in the occupied territories in January 1985,

presenting an interview with two other Jewish-American immigrant rabbis in the West Bank who

cautioned their peer about critical differences in spiritual leadership between Israel and the

United States.59

Israeli settlers were also dubious about Riskin‘s endeavor, entitling a 1986

interview with the Rabbi in Gushpanka, the Hebrew-language newsletter of Gush Etzion, ―The

Rabbi of a City or the City of a Rabbi?‖60

Riskin openly acknowledged the need to reorient his

spiritual leadership for conditions in Israel. He suggested that differences between the Jewish

community in America and that in Israel were so great ―there almost isn‘t anything to compare.

In the Diaspora, I was a rabbi that was engaged in education, in Israel – I am an educator that

engages in rabbinics!‖61

Yet, in his new surroundings, Riskin also saw the potential to realize his

tripartite goal, declaring, ―at Efrat, I saw the possibility to link the dream of building a city,

immigrating to the land, and developing the subject of education which was close to my heart.‖62

Riskin and other city residents elaborated on their views on life in the new settlement in a

fascinating promotional film produced by the World Zionist Organization, which was shot on

location in Efrat in 1985. The movie, entitled ―For a Jew, It‘s Home,‖ stressed the importance of

immigration as a religious and national imperative for Jews in the Diaspora, echoing the themes

of the mission statement of Garin Raishit Geula.63

While the production is clearly intended as an

59

Rachel Katsman, ―Can An American Rabbi Make It in Israel?‖ Counterpoint (January 1985): 2. 60

―Rav Shel Ir, O Ir Shel Rav?‖ Gushpanka 1.1, 21 November 1986, 4. 61

Ibid. 62

―Rav Shel Ir, O Ir Shel Rav?‖ Gushpanka 1.1, 21 November 1986, 4. 63

Freddi Gruber, director, ―For A Jew, It‘s Home,‖ World Zionist Organization –

Dept. of Immigration and Absorption, 1985.

This film is available through the Steven Spielberg Film Archive, Hebrew University, Mt.Scopus,

Jerusalem.

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advertisement for life at Efrat, it also a source of important archival footage that helps document

the community in its early years:

The film opens with the unusual scene of clean-shaven, suit-clad Rabbi Shlomo Riskin

bicycling (with great exertion) up the hills of the streets of Efrat, observing the construction of

new houses and commenting on the historicity of the locale. A voice-over from the narrator

intones, ―we have chosen to tell the story of this religious town and its people because they

illustrate the problems, possibilities, and promise of aliya…a story not only of continued Jewish

survival, but of possible redemption.‖64

In this way, the movie immediately evokes the

confluence of messianism, pioneering, and building a new utopian community at Efrat. Riskin

expounded upon these theme when he is filmed in his office at Yeshivat Ohr Torah Stone, the

cornerstone of the educational network he founded, justifying his efforts at Efrat with the

messianic-tinged message of ―the destiny of the Jewish people is being written here. If you want

to participate in that destiny, if you want to participate not only in Jewish survival, but in the

possibility of Jewish redemption, that can only be done here in Israel.‖ To him, Efrat had

emerged at the perfect location and time to bring about these changes. Looking out the window,

he suggested, ―I see here Judaism converging…from this window — in one direction, Hebron,

the other direction is Jerusalem. Hebron symbolizes Jewish past, and Jerusalem symbolizes

Jewish future. Hopefully Efrat is the bridge between our origins and our dreams.‖65

64

Ibid. 65

Ibid.

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Certainly, the community at Efrat was portrayed as living the dream in the film. ―I wake

up every morning with a thrill…I‘m so happy living in Medinat Yisroel [The State of Israel],‖

remarked one former resident of New York.66

Deborah Tobin, an Orthodox resident from

Boston, highlighted themes of pioneering and building utopian communities, reflecting,

If I had stayed in America, everything would have been predictable, absolutely predictable. I

know the course our professional lives would have taken, we would have been upwardly mobile,

bought a bigger house, it‘s all very predictable. Here it‘s very exciting — who knows what will

be? The possibilities are before us. It‘s a little scary on the one hand, but it‘s also very exciting,

there‘s such a feeling of empowerment that comes with that. We can make it be what we want it

to be, the possibilities are incredible.67

Indeed, Efrat had grown into a community with a high standard of living. Rabbi Riskin

humorously recalled that in the early days when the city lacked paved streets, a grocery store,

and other basic needs, his grandmother had exclaimed to him, ―you went back to Lublin!‖ Yet

now, he proudly boasted that the American-style city now had ―all the amenities you might want,

even a beauty parlor!‖ To him, ―the quality of life here, for me personally, is greater than it was

in mid-Manhattan.‖68

The narrator also noted that Efrat ―was a success story even by Israeli

standards,‖ highlighting the ―apartment, townhouse, and house‖ options for lodging, planned

neighborhoods, quiet streets, sidewalks and playgrounds, and landscape design, alongside

educational, commercial, and recreational facilities. (The cinematographer also frequently

panned the camera to offer lingering shots of Efrat‘s scenery and neighborhoods.) One

immigrant explained, Efrat was ―a mother‘s paradise,‖69

and another, touting the tight-knit fabric

of community, suggested ―it‘s a family.‖ Summing up his sentiments about the quality of life in

Efrat, Rabbi Riskin explained, ―it‘s a pleasure living here day to day, and for a Jew, it‘s home.‖70

66

Ibid. 67

Ibid. 68

Ibid. 69

Ibid. 70

Ibid.

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If the WZO film portrayed Efrat as ―pioneering with a bit of luxury,‖71

others suggested

that the residents of the new community weren‘t really willing to get their hands dirty in the

interest of Jewish settlement. As one Jewish-American journalist snickered at the opulence of

―Occupied Scarsdale,‖72

even Riskin bought into the stereotype, coining the phrase ―Central

Park West Bank.‖73

Fellow Israelis settlers too joked of replacing its motto of ―quality of life,‖

with their own moniker of ―it‘s not cheap.‖74

Yet, largely, their evaluation was more sober and

antagonistic, roundly condemning the ―luxury‖ of the Jewish-American community. ―The first

days of Efrat aren‘t a story of hard birth pangs and difficulties of creation…Efrat is different

from everything we had known previously in YESHA,‖ journalist Barbi Erlich of the leading

Hebrew-language settler periodical Nekuda surmised, ―we were accustomed to settlers that lived

for years in caravans or eshkubiot [prefabricated dwellings], the housing quarters were built

slowly. With halting progress and not a few delays. Here the residents go straight to their

private homes and the majority of the city services are already working.‖ In contrast, the other

―settlements of the Gush didn‘t succeed against the enemy because we suffering from a lack of

willpower.‖ Beyond the surface critique of their physical comfort, the root of Israeli settler

criticism was geo-strategic, as Efrat consciously billed itself as being ‗within the consensus‖ of

settlement blocs in the occupied territories that would become part of territorial Israel in a final

status agreement. (One liberal blogger quoted Riskin as boasting in 1979, ―don‘t worry, Gush

Etzion is in the national consensus. It will never be given back.‖75

) There was a bitter sense

amongst Israeli settlement activists that Efrat had not had to fight for its political legitimacy.

71

Ibid. 72

David Makovsky, ―Breaking Ranks in ‗Occupied Scarsdale,‘ U.S. News and World Report 119.7

14 August 1995: 31. 73

John and Janet Wallach, Still Small Voices,

(New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1989), 192. 74

Barbie Erlich, ―Yamim Rishonim B-Efrat,‖ Nekuda 62, 13 August 1983, 26-27. 75

Jeremiah Haber, ―Shlomo Riskin – Bad Moral Luck?,‖ 10 April 2008

http://www.jeremiahhaber.com/2008/04/shlomo-riskin-bad-moral-luck.html

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As one Gush Etzion settler put it, ―I don‘t agree that someone who would try to separate us [ie.

Gush Etzion] from Yehuda and Shomron and say that we‘re within the consensus. It‘s forbidden

to differentiate between the settlements of Gush Etzion and the other settlements. I don‘t think

this declaration adds anything to Efrat. The opposite is true.‖ In sum, the mainstream settler

movement wished Efrat the best of luck, but didn‘t truly think they had earned their success.76

Further divisions between the native Israeli settler movement and Efrat became

increasingly apparent with the outbreak of the first intifada in 1987. Compared to other

settlements in the West Bank, Efrat had a relatively quiescent relationship with its Palestinian

neighbors during that period and did not experience the targeted violence against Jewish settlers

that became the norm in other parts of the occupied territories. Nevertheless, both the Jewish

settlers at Efrat, as well as their Palestinian neighbors were deeply affected by the cycles of

violence and fear that swept across the occupied territories.

Riskin himself strived to become a role model for active dialogue with local leaders.

Alluding to the biblical parable of Moses hitting the water-giving rock (where he violated God‘s

commandment to speak to the rock and was precluded from entering the Promised Land in

punishment) in an interview, Riskin even suggested that dialogue was a divine commandment:

All relationships begin and end with proper communication. I believe the message is very clear.

God said to the Jewish people when they were up against a rock, ‗You‘ve got to speak to the

rock. And if you speak to it and you learn to speak properly, then water can even come out of a

rock….You have to be willing to speak to those people who sometimes seem as hard-hearted to

us as rocks We‘ve got to be willing to speak to anyone. Even to the rock. Even to people like

Yasser Arafat or the Hizbollah. I would speak to anyone.77

Moreover, no solution to the conflict should be off the table, including plans for local autonomy

or a Palestinian state. Seemingly speaking about both Palestinians and Israelis, Riskin suggested

―I think that every nation requires independence – a sense of running its own affairs. It‘s the right

76

Barbie Erlich, ―Yamim Rishonim B-Efrat,‖ Nekuda 62, 13 August 1983, 26-27. 77

Ibid., 208.

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of every nation state to have its flag flying, to have a sense that it elects its own government

heads. That‘s part of one‘s self image.‖78

Riskin too was carefully cultivating a self-image as a religious liberal and political

moderate, who was able to assimilate various contradictions within his own persona. While his

dialogue project and progressive stance on certain doctrinal issues allowed him to emerge as a

kind of spiritual leadership celebrity within liberal modern Orthodox circles, others critiqued

what they perceived as the increasingly right-wing creep of his politics. Since the first intifada,

Riskin‘s liberal reputation has increasingly come under attack.

At the height of the Oslo era, Riskin became a lightning rod for controversy over the

issue of the evacuation of the Etzion bloc as a part of final status negotiations between Israel and

the Palestinians. To illustrate the point, in 1995, Riskin was arrested protesting the evacuation of

Efrat‘s own illegal outpost on Givat Ha-Dagan while cloaked in a talit [ritual prayer shawl] and

holding a Torah scroll, vowing to go to prison ―a thousand times,‖79

to protect settlements in the

West Bank from dismantlement.80

(Reports cited Jewish-American settler activists singing ―We

Shall Overcome‖ as they locked arms in a sit-in.81

) Later, Givat Ha-Dagan was eventually

incorporated within the municipal boundaries of Efrat. While Riskin cautioned followers to

employ tactics of civil disobedience and eschew violence against the IDF, he warned of

emerging civil strife, where ―the government has made the split.‖82

78

Ibid., 207. 79

Greer Fay Cashman, ―Efrat Protestors Vow to Struggle On,‖ Jerusalem Post, 4 August 1995, 2. 80

See Uriel Masad, ―Settlers and Soldiers Face Off as Efrat Becomes Flashpoint,‖ JWeekly,

4 August 1995, http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/1373/settlers-and-soldiers-face-off-as-efrat-

becomes-flashpoint 81

Ibid. 82

Greer Fay Cashman, ―Efrat Protestors Vow to Struggle On,‖ Jerusalem Post, 4 August 1995, 2.

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Seemingly, Riskin‘s positions toward the creation of Palestinian state also changed

during the Oslo process. ―We‘ve worked hard to develop a reputation for fairness toward our

Arab neighbors,‖ Riskin boasted in an interview, but later suggested, ―but this land is too small

for a separate Palestinian state. It‘s a prescription for war, and I don‘t want to commit suicide –

that‘s also an ethical value.‖ He also added, ―‗turn the other cheek' is not a Jewish ideal.‘‖ He

concluded that the settlers had right on their side, as ―to the victor belongs the spoils if the victor

is moral, for the immoral loser, there can be no spoils.‖83

In the eyes of at least one liberal Orthodox blogger, Riskin‘s shift in tone was a profound

moment that showed his true colors as a spiritual leader. After Oslo, ―Riskin could no longer

masquerade as the liberal orthodox rabbi,‖ and that he was truly ―a rightwing extremist in

moderate‘s garb.‖ For him, at best the rabbi‘s ―yetzer ha-tov [good inclination] had bowed to the

realities of the yetzer ha-ra‘ [evil inclination], eased by…moral rationalizations,‖ and at worst,

―through this life project, Riskin has caused more tragedy and pain to more Palestinians than any

other rabbi of modern times, certainly more than Meir Kahane and his ilk.‖84

While the latter

accusation may be considered extreme, many have suggested these inconsistencies in political

philosophy are an intrinsic part of Riskin‘s character and the experiment at Efrat. As one

journalist pointed out, Riskin‘s critics have often accused him of obscuring his views by

indulging in Talmudist argumentation of ―on the one hand…on the other…‖ or even ―working

both sides of the street.‖85

In this sense, Riskin‘s persona is a kind of weathervane for Israeli

politics and he changes his political positions based on current temperament. As Riskin himself

83

Ira Rifkin, ―Liberals Turn Right: U.S.-Born Settlers Fight for Turf as Peace Looms,

JWeekly, 28 July 1995, http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/1335/liberals-turn-right-u-s-born-

settlers-fight-for-turf-as-peace-looms/ 84

Jeremiah Haber, ―Shlomo Riskin – Bad Moral Luck?,‖ 10 April 2008

http://www.jeremiahhaber.com/2008/04/shlomo-riskin-bad-moral-luck.html 85

Eric Silver, ―The Radicalization of Rabbi Riskin,‖ Jerusalem Report, 23 March 1995, 16.

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admitted in a 1995 interview, ―I am being radicalized, but it is the conditions that are radicalizing

me,‖ and quibbles over definitions of liberalism itself.86

Yet, in my recent interview with him, Riskin denied his critics‘ accusations, explaining

―nobody has ever accused me of sitting on the fence. I‘ve never sat on the fence, sitting on the

fence means you don‘t take a stand. I take a very, very strong stand.‖87

He then characterized

his position as that of a ‗passionate moderate,‘ suggesting,

I take a stand pro-settlement blocs. I take a strong stance against creating settlements in the

middle of Arab territories, and illegal settlements. That‘s my position in Efrat as well...I am a

passionate moderate. I do believe in peace. I do believe in democracy. I believe that democracy

and Judaism are not antithetical, that without the foundations of democracy in this day, there will

not be a Jewish state. I believe that they may not lift a hand against the IDF, but at the same

time, we have the right to civil disobedience.88

Yet, in the end, he argued, ―we have the right to be here, and I believe in Zionism with all my

heart and soul.‖89

Conclusion:

When Rabbi Riskin was asked to sum up his rationale for immigrating to Israel and

settling in the occupied territories, he explained that with the Efrat project, ―here [in Israel, as

opposed to the Diaspora] the chapter headings are being written. If one has a chance at life as a

Jew, I would want to be part of a chapter heading, rather than part of a footnote.‖90

Clearly, he

saw his participation within the Israeli settler movement in historical terms, with the ambition of

being a great man of history at the head of a historically significant movement. Yet, what

conclusions can be drawn from his and the larger Jewish-American participation in the making

of Efrat?

86

Eric Silver, ―The Radicalization of Rabbi Riskin,‖ Jerusalem Report, 23 March 1995, 16. 87

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Interview with the author, 27 July 2009. 88

Ibid. 89

Ibid. 90

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Interview with the author, 29 July 2009.

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As I have argued in this chapter, Efrat was the product of a potent partnership between

Israeli and Jewish-American activists, as embodied in the personal friendship and professional

relationship between Moshkowitz and Riskin. It saw not only the creation of a new model for

Jewish-American settlement in the occupied territories by the coordination of the Israel-based

Judean Hills Development Corporation with the Jewish-American immigrant association Garin

Raishit Geula, but the merging of two narratives of settlement. The discourse at Efrat contained

both the traditional elements of Zionist historiography, as represented by Moshkowitz‘s offer to

Riskin, alongside a distinctly American vision that combined tropes of messianic redemption

with ideas of pioneering (with a bit of luxury) and building new utopian semi-suburban

communities It is the hybridized conception of settlement that makes Efrat unique both in the

history of the participation of Jewish-American immigrants within the Israeli settler movement,

as well as the post-67 settlement enterprise as a whole.

Yet, as this chapter has also argued, these approaches have brought Efrat into conflict

with both the native Israeli settler movement and local Palestinian communities. What deeply

characterizes both Riskin and the Jewish-American vision of Efrat is the sublimation and

synthesis of these various contradictions into the makings of the American-Israeli colony in the

West Bank. Efrat, therefore, represents a multiplicity of discourses and a unique historical

experience that sets it apart from both other Jewish-American immigrant settlements and the

Israeli settler movement as a whole. Today, as Efrat again confronts the prospect of resumed

Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, another chapter heading of its unique story remains to be

written.

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