When one thinks of Ashdod, what usually comes to mind is the shore: the beaches, the port, the stunning sea views. However, there is so much more to learn about Israel’s fifth-largest city.
Mentioned over a dozen times in the Bible, Ancient Ashdod has a fascinating history hearkening back to the 17th century BCE, making it one of the oldest cities in the world.
First Planned City
Established in 1956 on the Mediterranean coast near the site of the ancient town and situated 20 miles south of Tel Aviv, Modern Ashdod was the country’s first urban planned city. Accordingly, it is one of the most attractive cities in Israel, with over 850 acres of beautiful public parks and gardens. Its wide multi-lane streets and boulevards traversing the city are adorned with lovely green promenades and bicycle trails.
With a population of almost 250,000 residents, Ashdod comprises 17 residential districts. Each district was meticulously created, with housing encircling the center, which comprises stores, restaurants, parks, community centers and sports facilities.
Ashdod is home to Israel’s largest port, with 60 percent of all imported goods entering the country via the Port of Ashdod. The port and industrial district were built to the north of the city to avoid air pollution drifting into the residential sections via the area’s ubiquitous southern winds.
The city is in growth mode. A plan to build an industrial zone adjacent to the train station, which includes a high-tech industrial park, is in the works; the shore is undergoing significant development; and the Port of Ashdod is undergoing a massive expansion program. Because of its superior transportation infrastructure, Ashdod was chosen to become a “living laboratory” for a venture among MIT, Microsoft and other tech firms to develop and test advanced transportation systems. In addition, Ashdod has a “smart city” program in which it has set up digital bus stops, put sensors and smart cameras on new buses.
Ashdod has an extremely diverse population. Its first settlers were Moroccan, followed by an influx of Egyptian immigrants. In 1991, immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia ushered in a decade of large-scale growth, when the population more than doubled. In addition, Israelis of many different colors and stripes have moved to Ashdod. Numerous professionals and high-techies live in Ashdod, as it is a mere 20-minute train ride to Tel Aviv. Drawn by the Mediterranean Sea, many French people have also made Ashdod home.
In 1964 the Ponevezher Rav, Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, established the first charedi neighborhood in Ashdod’s District Three. A dozen years later, Belz and Ger Hassidim established another charedi community in nearby District Seven. These communities mushroomed, as other chasidic sects have since moved in. The chasidic community is now spilling over into neighboring District Six. Today, 30 percent of Ashdod’s residents are religious, making it the third-largest religious city in Israel.
Ashdod has a proactive municipality, led by a visionary mayor. For example, Dr. Yehiel Lasri was one of Israel’s first mayors to promote the TAMA 38 program of making older buildings earthquake-resistant. Apartment owners receive construction rights and transfer them to a developer who reinforces and upgrades the building in exchange for constructing additional residential floors. Though passed into law in 2005, very few cities initially embraced the TAMA 38 program. However, Dr. Yehiel Lasri understood that the only way for the city to expand was vertically—due to the dearth of available land—and made implementation of this and other urban renewal programs a priority. Today, most of Ashdod’s older buildings have been rebuilt or are in the process of being redeveloped.
By Gedaliah Borvick
Offering many cultural and athletic venues, a hospital, an excellent educational system, first-rate government services and relatively inexpensive housing, it is easy to understand how Ashdod has attracted a broad cross-section of Israeli society.