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August 06, 2009

Turf Wars: In Tel Aviv, Seculars Try To Oust Chabad

Ramat Aviv Tefillin Table Yechi Chabad lures teenagers with wine and booze, outraged secular parents claim.


Ramat Aviv Tefillin Table Yechi 

A Chabad tefillin table set up outside a store in Ramat Aviv. The lettering on the yarmulke proclaims the late Rebbe is the messiah.

A turf war heats up in Tel Aviv
Some residents of the mostly secular Ramat Aviv district, alarmed by the increasing presence and proselytizing of ultra-Orthodox Haredim, are trying to drive them out.

By Edmund Sanders • Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Tel Aviv -- It's a hot, sticky Friday night in one of Tel Aviv's swankiest neighborhoods and a battle over the community's soul is about to erupt.

On one side is a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews, in black coats and hats, celebrating the Sabbath by singing, praying and drinking wine in a public courtyard. Attracted by the revelry, and the wine, about two dozen teenagers and young men join in.

At the other end of the plaza is a squad of concerned parents, alarmed by what they see as an extremist religious group trying to get a foothold in their secular neighborhood. They try to persuade the teenagers to stay away from the partying ultra-Orthodox.

The situation escalates. Shouting turns into shoving. By midnight police arrive to restore the peace.

Another Sabbath, a time intended for rest and religious reflection, almost triggers a brawl in Ramat Aviv.

Clashes between secular and religious Israelis are nothing new. In Jerusalem, shifting demographics have led to an uneasy coexistence between the fast-growing ultra-Orthodox community, known as Haredim, and Jerusalem's secular population. As Haredi protesters rioted in June over plans to open a city parking lot on the Sabbath, gay marchers held their eighth annual pride parade through central Jerusalem.

Now, however, these tensions are shifting to other parts of the country as Haredi families move into urban, secular areas such as Ramat Aviv.

On Saturday, tensions between the religious and secular communities of Tel Aviv reached new highs when a gunman killed two people at a community center serving gay youth (the shooting did not take place in Ramat Aviv).

Though no arrests have been announced or evidence released suggesting a link, some civic leaders and gay activists are blaming ultra-Orthodox political parties, contending their history of anti-gay rhetoric might have been a motivating factor in the attack.

The friction is partly a matter of demographics. With birthrates nearly two or three times the national average, Israel's ultra-Orthodox community is expected to grow from 16% of the population to 23% by 2025, according to figures from the American-Israel Demographic Research Group.

But in Ramat Aviv, one of the more expensive parts of Tel Aviv, some residents say the arrival of the Haredim isn't about expanding populations in search of affordable housing, but is rooted in a political and religious agenda not unlike that of Jewish settlers moving to the West Bank.

"They're not coming here just to live," said David Shulman, who is helping to lead a neighborhood group opposed to the Haredi expansion. "They are here to take over the neighborhood."

He said Ramat Aviv was targeted because it is known as a bastion of secularism. "If they can conquer Ramat Aviv, it would be like a jewel in the crown," he said.

Ultra-Orthodox leaders in Ramat Aviv dismiss such fears as unfounded and paranoid. Yehuda Sheleg, who serves as a rabbi in a new synagogue in the area, says the controversy has been exaggerated by a handful of residents "who are bothered by anything Jewish."

Haredi residents defend their right to live anywhere in Israel and say they are the ones who have been subjected to harassment and discrimination by the secular majority.

When Sheleg moved to Ramat Aviv nine years ago, his was the only Haredi family in his apartment complex. The reception from other tenants was frosty, he said. "At first there was distance and alienation," he said. But gradually most residents came to embrace the ultra-Orthodox presence, Sheleg said.

In the last two years, however, tensions have heightened as Haredi organizations expanded their public presence and their leaders began pushing for stricter religious observations on the Sabbath. First the indoor shopping mall was pressured to close its doors on Saturdays. A movie theater was converted into a Haredi religious center. A kindergarten began offering "Redemption" day camp.

Shulman, a father of two, said parents objected to what they considered "recruitment" of their children.

"Kids are easy targets," he said. "Imagine if Muslims camped outside a school here and tried to talk to students. They'd be arrested in a minute."

Butcher Rafi Aharonowiz, who has been selling pork, seafood and other non-kosher foods from his Ramat Aviv shop for a decade, said friction was growing as Haredim became more aggressive.

Haredi leaders opened a religious school a few yards from his shop and its students sometimes spit on his front stoop as they pass. He started receiving anonymous phone calls asking why he sells non-kosher goods.

Haredim set up booths and tables in front of his and other stores to spread their message. At one such table, Haredi student Rotem Hadad, 25, invited shoppers to stop and pray, persistently pursuing some of those who brushed him off to a sleek mall, where some stopped for a quick prayer or free Sabbath candles.

To Hadad, there is no harm in reaching out to other Jews. Like many of the Haredim in Ramat Aviv, he is part of an ultra-Orthodox sect known as Chabad.

Unlike most other branches of Judaism, Chabad followers are known for their missionary-like practices directed at other Jews.

"We are trying to spread Judaism outside the synagogue," Hadad said. "Jews need to be awakened. It's like awakening someone from a sleep. Sometimes that person wakes up a bit grumpy at first."

Secular leaders in Ramat Aviv say they are more than a little grumpy. They've organized a campaign to drive the Haredim out. In addition to sending teams of parents to confront the Friday night gatherings, they've filed zoning complaints about the Haredi kindergarten and other establishments. And they've taken to filming the Friday night activities and sharing the footage with TV stations and the police.

"There's a lot of heat now coming from our side," Shulman said. "The more extreme they've become, the more extreme the population is becoming.

"We have been the majority here for 45 years," he said. "I'm sorry, but we're not going to allow this to continue."

Here is a video made by the Chabad yeshiva of Ramat Aviv. Note the men are wearing yarmulkes that proclaim the late Lubavitcher Rebbe the messiah. You can also see the yeshiva also chants a declaration affirming the late Rebbe is the messiah during prayers:


Here is the Jerusalem Post's version of the story:

Neighborhood rights and wrongs
Stephanie Rubenstein • THE JERUSALEM POST
July 1, 2009

In the country's capital, the decision to open the Carta parking lot on Shabbat has sparked a series of riots by haredim. Last Saturday, MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) declared that relations between the secular and haredi populations had reached a "severe crisis." But clashes between the two sectors are not unique to Jerusalem. In Ramat Aviv, the continuing influx of haredim to the traditionally secular area is causing a rise in tension between them and their non-religious neighbors.

Over the past few years, Chabad members have begun renovating public buildings and institutions in Ramat Aviv. A movie theater was converted into a kollel. Billionaire Lev Leviev, who is observant and owns the Ramat Aviv Mall, ensured it would be closed on Shabbat. And a center belonging to the Histadrut Labor Federation now functions as a Chabad kindergarten.

These changes have raised concern with the city's secular residents, with a single issue at the center of the debate: the character of the neighborhood.

The ultra-Orthodox "come with [a] purpose, they are well organized, and they have a target - the secular Israeli public," MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) tells The Jerusalem Post.

While the non-observant protest the proselytization and and increasing restrictions they face from the orthodox, the haredi community argues that it has the same right as any other group to live there.

"I'm not against someone who is religious, as long as they don't force their practices on me," says Dani Borten, a superintendent at the Alliance High School in Ramat Aviv, speaking on his own behalf, not the school's. "Now, in the neighborhood, I can see tensions starting. If we don't do something, there will be problems."

Alliance High School sits next door to the converted Chabad kindergarten, Bereshit, which opened nearly eight years ago. Alliance pupils are among those who have been approached by Chabad members, who try to convince them to become more religious, according to Principal Varda Kagan. She has never witnessed this first-hand, she says, but a group of parents brought the issue to her attention.

Chabad members take up positions in front of the school as pupils leave, encouraging the secular high-schoolers to lay tefillin and handing out flyers promoting religious observance, Kagan says.

"We choose to cope with the criticism through the path of peace and open dialogue," Yossi Ginzburg, head of the Chabad Yeshiva in Ramat Aviv, tells Metro. "Representatives of Chabad make Judaism accessible to the people, through opportunity, direction and knowledge. But the rest is their own free choice."

Fewer than 25 percent of Ramat Aviv oppose Chabad's move into the area, Ginzburg says. He adds that all Chabad's programs are created in response to the community's needs, and the organization has received requests to develop and expand its activities.

The Chabad House in Ramat Aviv first opened some 20 years ago.

Horowitz compares the situation in Ramat Aviv to a secular organization moving into Mea She'arim. If such an organization were to begin approaching religious members of the community, distributing leaflets advocating secularism, "there is no way they would be able to operate," he contends.

Horowitz says he supports the rights of secular residents. But this struggle shouldn't be viewed as a fight against the haredi community, he notes, rather as against "illegitimate and illegal actions taken by some specific haredi organizations."

One such action was the founding of the Bereshit kindergarten, Horowitz says, arguing that the haredi group had taken over a public building and transformed it into a religious institution, in violation of the building's zoning.

The kindergarten administrators have been renting the space while in search of a permanent site, either in the current location or somewhere else. Since a kindergarten must have at least 30 enrollees to be recognized by the government, Bereshit has submitted a list to City Hall of 50 children who attended the kindergarten over the past four years, says Hagit Carasso, head teacher at Bereshit.

Carasso denies claims that children were being bused in from Bnei Barak to attend the kindergarten in Ramat Aviv, saying that Bereshit has an enrollment of at least 30 local families.

"Just because I wear long sleeves and a long skirt doesn't mean that I have less of a right to live in the area," Carasso says. "And if we live here, we need to have at least a [religious] kindergarten, if not a school, as well."

Meanwhile, Shauli Zohar, 28, says it's not difficult for him, as an Orthodox Jew, to live in Ramat Aviv. He sends his three-year-old son to Bereshit, and says he has never experienced problems. He adds that many secular children also attend.

"There isn't a lot of bonding between the religious and secular," Zohar admits. "But I don't think there's tension."

Tel Aviv-Jaffa council member Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) says there is no demand in the neighborhood for the facilities that the haredi community has opened. "What they are doing is definitely part of a bigger purpose," she says.

Zandberg offers her support to the secular community by attending their action-committee meetings, the most recent of which was held two months ago.

"[The ultra-Orthodox] are trying to take over neighborhoods or at least to have a presence in a place that is known and famous for its secularity," Zandberg says. "They're saying that it's their civil right, their free right, to settle and live wherever they want. There is no law that prevents this, but it is also the right of the secular population to stand up against it and to try and keep the nature of their neighborhood as they would like to see it."

Yifat Ilan, 38, who is religious, says it wasn't until the last few years that she felt a strained relationship between secular and haredi residents. She has lived in Ramat Aviv since she was two.

When walking down the street - Ilan dresses modestly - she has been occasionally approached by secular residents, who have shouted at her, "Why are you moving here?" They see her as a representative of the entire Chabad organization.

"Sometimes I think this issue will never be solved," she says. "But maybe the public will realize, with time, that what we need is to come together as a community and let the tensions subside."

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, where the religious-secular tension at the time this article went to print was still running high, finding a way for both sectors to live together is proving elusive.

A main issue is the amount of available housing. "This problem creates an impossible reality, which forces haredim to live in secular neighborhoods," says Merav Cohen, a spokesperson from Hitorerut B'Yerushalayim (Awakening in Jerusalem) Party. The movement was founded a year ago to cater to Jerusalem's secular youth.

While Jerusalem's haredim continue to move into the city's more secular areas, the housing shortage is pushing the secular community out into surrounding suburbs, Cohen said, adding that the only way to resolve secular-haredi tension is to open up dialogue between the two sides and increase the amount of housing available.

Indeed, Ramat Aviv residents might be wise to look at the rocks flying and trash bins burning in the capital as a warning of what could happen in their own neighborhood, if the current dispute between secular and haredim is allowed to persist.

Comments

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I think the issue is overstated. I do not agree with everything that Chabad does but their members clearly have a right to live anywhere they want and participate in their activites. In these articles, I do not see how they are infringing on the rights of seculars. This is Israel after all and they have a right to express their Jewishness, of course as long as they do not infringe on others rights.

As far as giving out wine and beer, come on lets get real. Chabad is clearly not aiming to get these teeenagers and young men drunk.

And people have the right to not what them in their neighborhoods, too. Anywhere they live they violate the laws. Zoning violations, harassing businesses, spitting, etc.

I think the secular need to be proactive and dop this and see hoe they take to it

Horowitz compares the situation in Ramat Aviv to a secular organization moving into Mea She'arim. If such an organization were to begin approaching religious members of the community, distributing leaflets advocating secularism, "there is no way they would be able to operate," he contends

"As far as giving out wine and beer, come on lets get real. Chabad is clearly not aiming to get these teeenagers and young men drunk. "

Well then, why don't the chabadniks just use their messianic theology to attract the young people? The booze is an incredibly effective lure for young people and they know it.

Effie, no where does this article state that Chabad is harassing other members of the neighborhood. As far as what Seymour is saying, two wrongs do not make it right. However driving a further wedge between seculars and and Haredim will only lead to further violence. In the interests of not creating more strife in Israel, both seculars and Haredi need to avoid confrontations and respect each other.

I am all for Chabad to move into secular neighbourhoods and tell about their ideology, but only to adults, not to children. If Chabad insists on ability to spread their message among children, they must allow for secularists and gays and christians and feminists and hippies and whoever else to come to their places like Mea Shearim, Kfar Chabad, Beit Shemesh to spread their message among haredi children.

The problem is that they insist on playing uneven game. They insist on their right to protect their own children against any information inconsistent with haredi ideology, but simulteneously they insist that secular children can not be protected against messages that secular parents find inapropriate (such as haredi ones for example).

Harassment:

Spitting on the store’s stoop.
Anonymous annoying phone calls.
Giving alcohol to teenagers.
Following people who have indicated they are not interested in Chabad.
Setting up tables and booths in front of stores.
Violation of zoning laws.

Oh, and I love your not so subtle threat of violence. The only people I see who are routinely confrontational and violent are the haredi.

Ben makes a very good point about the double-standard that the haredi employ in regards to the control of information. The societal parameters are all ready in place: Children are minors. A childs interaction with other people, especially other adults, is completely at the discretion of their parents. This statute ought to be respected.

You don't see secular parents pushing their "agenda" on haredi children by handing out Jonas Brothers cds.

Underaged drinking!!

Boy, do I feel ripped off!!!

When I was a teenager all they offered me was Rabeinu Tam Tefillin!

++both seculars and Haredi need to avoid confrontations and respect each other.++

Posted by: Alex | August 06, 2009 at 09:02 AM


the second half of that equation will never happen. there are NO haredi neighborhoods where a secular woman would be able to move in and wear a tank-top in the streets. we both know she would be attacked, beaten, stomped on, spit on, and possibly have acid thrown in her face if the haredim are lucky enough to have some lying around.
haredim request and coerce residents and shopkeepers in NON-HAREDI areas to respect their desires, but in haredi neighborhoods they DEMAND that you follow their rules and enforce these demands by any means necessary. and this applies to situation where a secular would simply be dressing the way they always do without trying to influence the haredim in any way. if a group of seculars held a beer party in any haredi area and invited local teens to discuss bible criticism they would not leave alive.
yet the hypocrites continue claiming that THEIR rights are not being respected.
it is well known that haredim require a minyan within walking distance. so why would any religious jew ever consider moving to ramat-aviv, an expensive place with few other haredim. there is only one answer. to spread their haredism, or messianism. in a truly free society i would be all for their rights to do so and to compete in the marketplace of ideas. however, no country would permit imports from another country which has banned all of their exports. so i support the seculars right to use all means necessary to ensure the battlefield remains fair and even. its sad that it must be like this but the haredim made the rules of war. now they should live by them.

The conclusion: people have the right to live anywhere they want but without FORCING their values on others. Chabadniks don't merely exercise their right of residence, they actively change the neighborhood to conform to their lifestyle because to them this lifestyle is obviously superior and eventually others will agree with them, and if they won't, well, that's tough.
It's no accident that they try to involve the children first. They hope to make the whole family observant through the children, or if not, to at least get the children. The alcohol is not innocuous, aside from the obvious psychological effects, a few people become heavy drinkers over time after getting involved with Chabad. I am not saying "alcoholics" but where is the fine line between the two?

Do they serve Jesus Juice?

I won't lie, it was whiskey that first dragged me out of bed to go to morning minyan. Tefillin, booze, and leftover herring... the breakfast of champions. Of course I'm a woman and it was an egalitarian shul, but still.

A lot of comments here sound like ones I heard as a kid growing up about a certain ethnic group in America.

1. They bring down Real Estate values.
2. Their animals.
3. Why do they have to move here.
4. Why cant they stay amongst their own kind.
5. Cant leave the house, they are likley to murder or rob ya.
6. I have nothing against them as long as I dont have to live next to em.
7. Great, now watch the drug sales start.

Pish Posh -

Yeah, I too was concerned when the Satmars moved into my neighborhood.

Forcing their way in with threats against the current occupants. Taking over entire neighbourhoods by comandeering properties. Making historic and settled families displace.

Do they think they're in the "occupied territories"???

I have a simple challenge to see if the ultra orthodox and especially Chabad, really mean what they say.

I am willing, with someone else and a person with a hidden video to go in front of 770 and give out pamphlets about atheism and how the Torah is man made or written edited by woman (the book of J) or mabe a pamphlet called aphekores the real true behind the Torah.

Let see if they are so tolerant of that as they want others to be of them

anybody up for some adventure

seymour- you will love this video...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2G4DjmRhMXM

Seymour, that sounds like a whole lot of fun. I will have consider if doing such a test jives with my principles however, so you'll have to ask me in private. But I must say: that book of J, and being edited by a woman was the absolutely silliest theory I have ever heard because he has no documentary evidence for this, pure speculation in the name of pandering and political outreach. Seems to me that if one wants to hand out provocative literature it should be something worthwhile. Ah.. I think I have a better idea! how can i contact you.

seymour- you will love this video...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2G4DjmRhMXM

Posted by: ah-pee-chorus | August 06, 2009 at 02:08 PM


pretty funny at least they did not act out.

they werent in crown heights.

"I think the issue is overstated. I do not agree with everything that Chabad does ..." sez Alex.
it is not overstated alex, they actually serve booze to kids. not only in israel. also in north america and certainly in south america. they do that knowing certainly that they brake the law, they do it against the will of the parents. they do it, because it is easier to brainwash vulnerable minors that they are in fact corrupting. in some places in north america, they offer "courses" for hi-school credits coolect donations for their "educational activities" and serve "brew" -not tea- to the kids. maybe parents don't complain so they will not be considered moysers, may be they don't know.
Well, may be u don't agree with everything habad..... hmmm try to disagree also to partake of their "free fuud and free buuz".
Oy to judaism that needs them to stay alive!

Chabad knows exactly what they are doing. i listened to a youong chabad rabbi speak, and he said, so with a smile of how smart he was on his face, saying, "We had challah and wine at the table. Now is there a better way of getting jews to come, by feeding them and giving them wine."
I was offended by the whole thing. First of all, I don't want to be a part of "them", and secondly, what are we jews, a bunch of fish biting at the bait. They, the chabadniks, have a lowly opinion of their fellow jews. Like giving whisky to the indians, they give challah and wine to the jews. Who the hell do they think they are. Manipulative cunning insincere sneaks,that's who I think they are.

Tanya it probably was a joke, although a joke done in a bad taste.

Tanya, you're right. However, what it makes it worse is the Yechi ideology and the Elokistim ideology which is totally unacceptable not only to any rabbinic Jew, but also unacceptable to any Karaite, to any Samaritan Israelite or any group remotely connected to the faith of Israel.
If the Sadducees were around today, they would also say it is unacceptable.

Dave, I've heard you mention "elokist" stuff here and there and still am unsure what it means to you. Please explain?

Yonah, correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that "Elokist" ideology means that Chabad believes that not only M.M. Schneerson "is" the Mashiach, but he is, as Chabad puts it "Hashem in a goof" ie. G-d incarnate in human form, G-d forgive me for such blasphemy, but I am just explaining what I understand them to believe.
I certainly hope I am wrong in my understanding of their beliefs.
Naturally I cannot accept such blasphemy.

Seymour, I'm up for adventure, and have in mind some really good ideas. Think of some way for me to contact you.

PishPosh: You lose. Nothing I posted even compares to what you claimed. Everything I said is what the article says happened and all are against the law.

Omg, religious Jews attempting to convince other Jews to become religious. Is hanging a strong enough punishment?

Seymour is right.

If secular Jews were to go into a haredi neighborhood and do the same stuff they are doing in secular hoods then the sparks would fly.

Forget diversity. That is not in their head. They are not interested in any way except their own farkakte meshugas.

Haredim and datiim are the worst enemies of klal yisroel.

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