A large sign is posted on the main facade of El’ad’s city hall: “El’ad – the town of Torah that is close to you”. It has been 13 years since the second orthodox city in Dan metropolitan area was established, and it is already up and running, full of forces and intrigues. Struggles between groups, classes and different religious sections appear on the surface, visible even to the random visitor. A few days before the Israeli Independence Day, only two flags were hanging from a lightning post on the main street. It seems that the public space was not decorated for the holiday, and neither were most of the residential buildings. Just here and there one could spot an occasional flag waving from a window.
El’ad, established in 1998, is an example of a new town, settled mainly by ultra-orthodox Jews and a relatively small group of religious Zionists. Similar to other residential environments inhabited by Jewish religious population, El’ad is characterized by numerous kindergartens and schools, and they are well in use, as more than half the population is under the age of 14.
Trying to visit the apartments in some areas of the town proved to be quite difficult. When we knocked on doors in the Vizhnitz Hasidic community, they were opened immediately, without hesitation. However, our requests to come inside and talk to the residents were declined politely time after time, due to the preparations for the approaching Sabbath. Outside the Vizhnitz Hasidic community, however, the doors were opened and we were invited inside (despite the Sabbath preparations). The interviews with the residents revealed tensions between the ultra-orthodox communities and the religious Zionists community – the later feels as outsiders in the city. In many buildings, for instance, committees ran by the ultra-orthodox yeshivas make sure that the residents belong to the ‘right’ kind of religious sector. Needless to say, that a religious Zionist family could never be accepted to such a building.
In many ways, similarly to many new residential environments, El’ad is lacking an urban vitality. It’s an island, disconnected from other towns or cities. The commercial centers are autonomous buildings, rendering the street unnecessary. It seems that El’ad has not succeeded to become a proper alternative to the hassling and bustling city of Bnei-Brak, and maybe it doesn’t wish to be. El’ad: just another suburban town.
‘The Israeli Habitat: City Center, El’ad’, Laboratory for Contemporary Urban Design,
Tel Aviv University, Israel, May 2011