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Kiryat Shemona

Walking through the streets of Kiryat Shmonah on a summer's day, you might find that it seems peaceful enough. The city center is an attractive blend of greenery, shops and residential blocks. There is no hint of the drama that has been played out in this little Galil town since its inception in the first years of the state.

But for much of the recent past, a good deal of tension characterized Kiryat Shmonah. For many years, the residents of this town lived under the constant threat of artillery and mortar attacks from P.L.O. (Palestinian Liberation Organization) forces and other forces as Hisballa terrorists north of the Israeli border. Bombs have fallen on the town. There have been casualties. Children often slept in shelters; today, if you knock on the door of any apartment in the city, you will probably find that it contains a security room with reinforced walls for times of danger. And if you ask to see the shelters, you will see the rooms where many children slept, night after night, during tense periods.

Since the first years of statehood, however, a very different struggle has been taking place here: the struggle to create a society.

Kiryat Shmonah was planned as a commercial center which would service much of the Upper Galil. However, it never really played that role. As in the case of most of the so-called development towns set up in the early 1950's to absorb new immigrants from Arab countries, Kiryat Shmonah has been the scene of social struggle. For most of the sephardi olim, the transition to a modern, westernized Israel was very difficult. The development towns were the major arenas in which this drama unfolded.

The new immigrants who settled in the development towns found that many aspects of life in Israel were different from life in the Arab countries. For example, in 'modern' societies, families are usually relatively small; in contrast, Jews from Arab countries tended to have large families. It was particularly hard for the new olim to adjust to some aspects of Israeli life which seemed to undermine their traditional values. For example, while a father's authority was paramount in sephardi families, this value was not stressed in the socialist climate of the Yishuv. Foreign culture, however, started creeping into the traditional culture of the olim. Children came home humming tunes of American and British rock stars - tunes which they certainly hadn't learnt in Morocco!

In addition to experiencing near total culture shock, these new olim also experienced 'class shock'. In the past, they had been independent businessmen. But upon coming to Israel, they were hired to do menial labor such as working in the fields and factories of kibbutzim. The new immigrants felt alienated from the (ruling elite' of the Eastern European pioneer aristocracy. Over the years, they fought for integration.

Kiryat Shmonah illustrates the attempt to weld a Jewish society from people who had totally different histories and backgrounds. This remains one of the most difficult tasks of the State of Israel, with hardships and dangers which are perhaps as difficult and dramatic as any war. And in towns like Kiryat Shmonah, the struggle to build the society still continues.


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