Jersey City has signed a “sister city” agreement with Beit Shemesh, in Israel.

Such an arrangement, which the city says “has been in development for many months,”often leads to some type of trade agreement or arrangement that benefits both cities.

“A lasting bridge is being built by this new partnership that will enhance key relationships between Jersey City and Beit Shemesh, including through economic development,” said New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way. 

Among the dignitaries attending the announcement of the relationship were Beit Shemesh Mayor Aliza Bloch; Karin Ellos, co-chair of the New Jersey-Israel Commission; Andrew Gross, executive director of the New Jersey-Israel Commission; Jay Boone, chief of staff for the N.J. Department of State; Yuval Donio, public affairs consul for the Consulate General of Israel in New York; and Jose Arango, director of the Jersey City Division of Economic Development.   

Donio likened sister city agreements to diplomacy, which he said “is all about building bridges between states, communities and people and working together … paving the way for strengthening economic and cultural cooperation between municipalities and thereby uniting multiple diverse populations.”

Located midway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh bills itself as the “youngest and fastest growing city in Israel” with its population — many immigrant — projected to nearly double to almost 300,000 by 2027. As of now, it has an average of seven persons per household. With a little more than half the city’s population under the age of 17, Beit Shemesh projects it will have to build about 100 new schools in the next five years. 

According to the 2020 U.S.  census, Jersey City has over 290,000 residents nearly 27 percent of whom are under age 18. The state recently approved Chilltown’s adding another pre-school to accommodate its growing population, and for only the second time in five years, a new charter school(for grades 6–12). 

More than 40 percent of Jersey City’s population is “foreign-born.” More than 40 different primary languages are spoken by our public school students.

But the similarities between Jersey City and Beit Shemesh don’t end there.

According to Keren Shemesh, a Beit Shemesh foundation, the city’s schools “are oversubscribed and feature substantive gaps in STEM curriculum; housing is in demand, and 23 percent of residents are unemployed.” 

In Jersey City, Fulop — with nudging from civic activists, fairness advocates and City Council members — has begun to tackle the issue of affordable housing by endorsing new laws that now compel developers to set aside 10 to 15 percent of the total number of units at rents “affordable” to low- and moderate-income families. Nearly 16 percent of city residents are listed by the census as “persons in poverty.”

To help cope with its ever-increasing demand for more housing and municipal and educational services, the Beit Shemesh foundation says Mayor Bloch “has established a master plan that includes multiple new housing units and geographical expansion…, innovation STEM labs and funding for youth movements, a state-of-the-art sports center, a leadership program for Haredi (Orthodox) women, and a complete employment eco-system to ensure the future economic stability of Beit Shemesh.”

Beit Shemesh has been awarded a three-year, $141 million State of Israel grant to beef up vocational training and welfare services, improve personal security and public health, and expand cultural and leisure activities.

“This year,” the city’s foundation notes, “we aim to raise the first tranche of $40 million in a municipal-private partnership to kickstart the fund. We need philanthropic supporters, individual donors, corporate investment, and global leadership initiatives to activate the future of Beit Shemesh.

“This is an opportunity to build with us from the starting line as we move quickly through a succession of transformative initiatives for the city and its residents.”

In a prepared statement, Fulop said: “This is a particularly special moment for our Sister City relationship but also domestically as we see an unfortunate resurgence of antisemitism across the country and certainly in (the Middle East) region. Today is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment in Jersey City and New Jersey to making sure that there is a strong bond with Israel, not only our words but also our actions.

“We look forward to building a meaningful, long-term relationship with Beit Shemesh that will establish more trade partnerships, work with corporations that can invest in both sides of the ocean, and make sure we have an opportunity to grow together,” Fulop added.

Mayor Bloch pointed out that both cities have played a significant role in absorbing immigrant populations, noting that it was in Jersey City “where thousands of Jews found a refuge during the Holocaust.”

“I am sure that the business community of Jersey City will see Beit Shemesh as a valuable base for economic cooperation,” Bloch said.

Jersey City has previously established sister city relationships with 20 cities spread among 18 countries including Argentina, Antigua, Brazil, China, Dominican Republic, Greece, Ghana, Hungary, Italy, Ireland, India, Nepal, Peru, the Philippines, Spain, Republic of Korea and the United States. It twinned with Jerusalem in 1997 and with Palatka, Fla., in 2016.

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Ron Leir

Ron Leir has been a journalist since 1972. That includes a 37-year stint as a reporter, copy reader and assistant editor with The Jersey Journal, followed by a decade as a reporter with The Observer in...