This article is the first in a series called “Living Together,” exploring how different kinds of Israelis share their neighborhoods and their lives.
Except for its blooming garden, the building at 9 Rafael Elnekave Street exactly resembles all of the other buildings of its type in Beit Shemesh, a large city near Jerusalem: large apartment blocks originally established as housing projects for new olim, known as “train buildings.”
These buildings tend to be old and in need of renovation, but 9 Elnekave Street has recently seen a change for the better. The tenants’ association, which was recently founded in collaboration with the nonprofit “Lev Ohev” or “Loving Heart,” has helped the building turn a corner.
Moshe Falata (34) is the father of a pair of 13-year old twins, as well as two daughters ages seven and two, and serves as the chairman of the tenants’ association. After making aliyah from Ethiopia, he lived in a housing facility for new olim in a suburb of Jerusalem, later moving to Lod with his family. In 2008 he got married and rented an apartment in Beit Shemesh, and in 2011 his family moved into an apartment of their own in the same building.
“I’ve been living in this building for a decade, and in Beit Shemesh for 13 years, since we got married,” he explains.
Falata works for the municipal government, previously having worked in the restaurant industry. As he tells it, the building was dirty and neglected, and always surrounded by a stench of garbage and dog feces.
“I tried a few times to form a committee, my neighbor Sarah always told me we should, but it was hard to earn people’s trust,” he explained. “I really considered selling the house and leaving. But then I met Ra’am Shmuelevich from Lev Ohev, which had established a neighborhood forum for tenants’ associations.”
The nonprofit offered a grant of 3,000 shekels (nearly $950) to every building that successfully established a tenants’ association. But Falata believes it was the sense of support and partnership, not the financial incentive, that encouraged tenants to join. He signed up the residents of his building as members, but didn’t set the amount of the monthly membership dues.
“I didn’t want to be the only one deciding how much money everyone has to put in,” Falata says. “In March I convened the first tenants’ meeting, and they decided on 50 shekels. At another meeting, they decided to raise it to 75 shekels.”
The money is managed transparently. Since the founding of the association, a cleaner comes every week to clean the stairwell, and there has also been gardening work done in the courtyard. Falata also spoke with the building’s dog owners and asked them to tell their kids not to walk their dogs in front of the building. The unpleasant odors have dissipated.
The residents themselves planted a small garden at the entrance to the building.
“I told my neighbors that the garden, the entrance to the building and the stairwell, that’s our communal living room, the public face of the building,” says Falata. “It’s important to me that everyone comes in and goes out with a smile on their face, and that way we can get to know each other.”
All of a sudden the neighbors’ kids were playing with each other, people got to know each other more, we built a sense of trust,” he continues. “I’m already thinking about organizing a barbecue for the whole building.”
Next, Falata aims to install synthetic grass in the courtyard, paint the facade of the building, and fix the fences, but he thinks the real challenge will be fixing the building’s electricity.
“In the past, the building’s electricity was grounded through a pipeline, but over the years they replaced the metal pipe with a plastic one, and now the building, like most of the buildings in the neighborhood, has no grounding for the electricity,” he explains. “Since 2017, there’s been no power in the stairwell. This is one of the most pressing issues, but it’s not changing.”
Repairing the electrical system costs approximately 1,000 shekels (over $300) per apartment.
“It’s not a ton of money, but it’s hard to come to an agreement on it. People are trying to get through their monthly bills and expenses,” Falata says. So far his attempts to find outside support or funding have been fruitless.
As Falata is speaking, there is a knock on door Yosef Biglita, 49, a neighbor who made aliyah from Venezuela and had come to pay his membership dues for the tenants’ association.
“I told my wife: ‘What’s going on? It’s already the 16th of the month and he hasn’t come to collect the money,’ so I came down myself to pay,” Biglita says.
“The tenants’ association is important to me, because before it was established the building was dirty, and I like to live in a place that’s clean,” he goes on.
The two neighbors debate, trying to determine where each family will build their sukkah for the harvest holiday of Sukkot.
Sarah Eliyahu made aliyah in the early 1960s from the Kuchin region of northwestern India, and has lived in the building for more than 40 years. At first, she says, the building was mostly inhabited by Sephardi Jews, but the population has changed over the years and with each new wave of aliyah. There were waves of olim from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia, and from South America, introducing language barriers between the residents.
“A lot of the old-timers left and new families came in,” says Eliyahu, “but it’s important to me to get to know people. Since we created the committee, suddenly there’s a bit more togetherness.”
“We’ve made some progress, but there’s more work to be done,” she continues. “My dream is that they’ll paint the buildings in the neighborhood, that there’ll be a little color in the city.”
This article was prepared with assistance from Ra’am Shmuelevich from “Lev Ohev,”and Director of Education, Youth, and Community of the Beit Shemesh Municipal Government