Nine Jewish families are preparing to move to the ancient port city of Jaffa next month to strengthen the dwindling Jewish presence there. They face serious challenges including the flight of Jews from the town, Arab acts of violence, intermarriage between Arabs and Jews, and Jewish-Arab integration in schools.
The young religious-Zionist families will move in to Jaffa as one of many "Torah outreach cells" which have been established in various cities around Israel and abroad over the past few years.
Organized by Rosh Yehudi (Jewish Mindset), an outreach organization based in Tel Aviv, the nine families will move into the mixed Jewish-Arab city in an attempt to shore up the weakened Jewish population. Their efforts will take place on the social, educational and religious planes, as well as in charity and kindness programs.
About a dozen schools are geared for mixed Jewish and Arab populations, and even receive special grants and incentives from the city government and the Peres Peace Center for programs promoting integration. Only one school, the public-religious Chabad school, is Jewish-only.
Just over the past few days, the local Arabs signaled the cold welcome they expect to give the new residents by painting a swastika near a synagogue. The vandals defaced a wall facing the Peres Center for Peace that is being built in Jaffa.
Rosh Yehudi Director Yisrael Zeira told Arutz-7's Uzi Baruch that the Arabs "sense that our presence will threaten their intentions and the violence that they are trying to instill in Jaffa... Many Jews who were able to, left for greener pastures such as Modiin and Bat Yam, while the weaker strata that remain are more vulnerable to Arab threats and violence."
Zeira said that the nine new families will face great challenges: "There is an entire neighborhood in Jaffa of Jewish women who are married to Arab men, who only later find out that such marriages were not quite in their best interest... The new families will try to instill values such as faith in G-d, Torah, Nation and Land, and we hope that within a short time, we will be able to change the assimilation trends, and Jews and Arabs will study separately."
"We hope to restore the former glory of Jaffa, and the city in which Rabbi Avraham Kook wrote most of his Torah of Redemption works will once again become a center in which we will merit to continue his work," Zeira concluded. Rabbi Kook lived in Jaffa when he first arrived in the Holy Land to become Rabbi of Jaffa and the surrounding Moshavot.
Just this past week, in the latest edition of Rosh Yehudi's weekly pamphlet distributed in synagogues throughout the country, the life story of Danny, one of the new future Jaffa residents, was recounted:
"When I was in military high school, my anti-religious feelings grew stronger - and especially since I was away from my slightly-traditional parents... In the army, I became friendly with a religious girl; I came slightly closer to religion, but in the end, we separated... Little by little, after a series of incidents, including a car accident in which I was miraculously saved, I began to have an urge for spirituality."
"At age 24, I started learning a certain holistic discipline, in which we were taught that we must thank the universe; I remember thinking that this was nonsense, and that the One to thank is G-d! ... As time went on, I adopted increasingly more religious observance, and even began to wear a kippah (skullcap). I was close to the yeshiva of the righteous Rabbi Siman Tov David... and then Rabbi Landau of Tel Aviv... I met Rachel, who came close to Judaism via the Rosh Yehudi organization - and then I became close to Rosh Yehudi and especially Rabbi Uzi Binenfeld. We participated together in his classes and then in his 'marriage workshops' - at which time we decided to get married... We lived in Tel Aviv and had some unforgettable Sabbaths in Rosh Yehudi, including prayer services and joint meals... We now have a son and daughter, and our motto is that 'return to Judaism' can come only from love for G-d and for people. In another month, we will be moving, with G-d's help, to the outreach cell in Jaffa of Rosh Yehudi, with the goal of strengthening others and passing onward that which we have received - and, personally, to close a circle."