Daily Israel Report

Youth Bring Simchat Torah Joy to Struggling Communities

Youth from the Jerusalem area leave home to strengthen struggling northern communities with joy, dancing on the holiday.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 10/21/2011, 2:42 PM

Second hakafot in Natzrat Illit
Second hakafot in Natzrat Illit
Hillel Meir

Youth from Beit Shemesh and Beit El decided to use their Simchat Torah vacation to bring joy to others as well this year.

Instead of spending the holiday at home, hundreds camped out in community centers in order to celebrate with struggling Jewish communities in Israel’s north.

Two main destinations were the city of Natzrat Illit and the Hadar neighborhood of Haifa. Both communities are home to many immigrants to Israel and growing Arab populations, and have seen their religious populations dwindle in recent decades; both are also home to “Garin Torani” groups - young national religious couples who move as a group to towns where they work hard to raise the level of religious and general education and run social welfare programs, such as clubs to keep youth off the streets.

Teenagers from the Ichud Leumi (National Union) youth groups and the Ariel youth group in Beit Shemesh spent the day in Natzrat Illit, where they joined in traditional dancing and song at local synagogues. Residents were thrilled to see them, they reported; many of the teens were stopped at random in the street by locals seeking to shake their hands and thank them for coming.

Many local residents told the youth that their presence encouraged them to remain in Natzrat Illit despite recent difficulties.

On Thursday evening, more than 2,000 people – hareidi, religious-Zionist and secular – turned out for a second round of “hakafot” dancing in the streets of the city.

Similar scenes were seen in Haifa, where teenagers from the Beit El yeshiva and from various youth groups flooded local synagogues that often struggle to find a minyan (prayer quorum of ten) and filled them with joy and song.

Hundreds joined the enthusiastic second hakafot celebration held Thursday at the local Gan Binyamin Park. Among the revelers were Science Minister Daniel Hershkowitz, head of the Jewish Home (Renewed Mafdal) party, and both the mayor and Rabbi She'er Yashuv Cohen, venerable Chief Rabbi of Haifa, who all came to show their support for Hadar - a neighborhood which is being rejuvenated by "Garin Torani" young families.