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An Oasis of Calm
On the West Bank


THE most heroic gesture of those American Jews who came to show moral support for Israel in this time of crisis was when a group of New Yorkers went up to visit Bet El, a religious settlement on the West Bank. Eugen and Jean Gluck of Forest Hills, Queens, led four busloads of friends into the chalky hills of Shomron, north of Jerusalem.

We drove toward Ramallah, that notorious city where a wild-eyed mob had stabbed and mutilated two Israeli soldiers just days before. At an army checkpoint, the buses veered onto a dusty bypass road, which took us into the middle of a military base, and into the adjacent town of Bet El, just a stone’s throw from murderous Ramallah.

Bet El was settled in 1977 when 20 families established a foothold on the edge of the army base. Today it is a flourishing town, home to 900 families, in addition to 1,300 students in the yeshiva.

With the mayor and two Knesset members on hand, Gluck dedicated another project for the town, an area named Gluck Village, which will contain a girls dormitory.

The philanthropist has already funded a seminar building, a girls high school, a medical clinic, an Olympic size swimming pool, a recreation hall and a student dining room.

“You New Yorkers are brave to come to Bet El when many Israelis are afraid to come,” said Silvan Shalom, a Likud powerhouse in the Knesset. His beautiful wife Judy hosts a talk show on Channel 2, and is known as the Oprah of Israel.

During lunch in the succah, I met a rich-colored woman, Sarah, one of 500 Jews from Manipur, India.

“When we came nine years ago,” she said, “we had trouble finding husbands. The Israelis thought we looked strange. Only Americans would marry us. They were the ice-breakers.”

Sarah is married to Chaim (Adam) Olonoff , a native of Miami. They have three children. Her cousin, Yehudit, married Yehoshua Wertheimer who came from Boston.

Yaakov Katz, 45, director of Bet El Institutions, explained why he walks with a cane. In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, he was in Sinai when an Egyptian shell hit his jeep. Four men were killed. Katzele, as he’s called, lay on the ground, wounded.

Rescuers started bagging the corpses, but Gen. Arik Sharon insisted that they inspect each body first. That’s how they found that Katzele was still breathing.

Yoel Tzur, technical director of radio station and website Arutz Sheva (Channel 7), which is located here, introduced us to his new wife.

He lost his first wife four years ago during Chanukah. They were driving back to Bet El when Arabs ambushed them, killing his wife Ita, and son Ephraim, 10, and wounding daughter Avital, 6. The killers escaped to Ramallah.

In New York Gluck is preparing to preside over American Friends of Bet El’s annual dinner on Dec. 3 at the Marriott Marquis, which will sustain the continued growth of this Jewish town neighboring lynch city Ramallah.


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