Developing Israel’s ‘Social Periphery’

Mass meeting of Garin Torani ‘seed groups’ aimed at combining community with a social mission.

Maayana Miskin,

Women from Garin Torani group
Women from Garin Torani group
Courtesy of Shaalei Torah

The Shaalei Torah network held its fourth annual conference this week in Jerusalem. The meeting brought together members of Garin Torani (“Torah seed group”) communities from around the country to discuss their work, with a focus on education and social welfare.

Shaalei Torah supports 20 Garin Torani groups across the country. The groups represent a unique approach to social welfare: instead of bringing “outside” volunteers to struggling neighborhoods, Shaalei Torah works to bring in families that can boost troubled neighborhoods as permanent residents.

Garin Torani groups are involved in a variety of social projects, including after-school programs for “at risk” children, food distribution, teaching Judaism both to Jews and to potential converts, restoring synagogues, and more.

The groups are the brainchild of Rabbi Rahamim Nissimi, who grew up in the town of Sderot, a socio-economically struggling community in southern Israel. Sderot is one of the communities that is now home to a Garin Torani group.

“Shaalei Torah has been working for 25 years now to bring a strong population to the periphery, and to bring religious Zionism to the social periphery,” Rabbi Nissimi told Arutz Sheva. He added, “The goal is to bring another 300 families to the ‘social periphery’ by this summer, from Katzrin [in the Golan] to Tzfat to the distant south.”

Shaalei Torah is also planning to add two new Garin Torani communities over the next year, one in the city of Tzfat in northern Israel and the other in Kiryat Gat.

Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Jewish Home), a long-time supporter of the Garin Torani initiative, was at the conference. “Shaalei Torah’s Garin Torani groups are on the front lines of Israel’s social periphery,” he declared. “This is a project with national importance, and the government of Israel must give its support.”

MK Nissan Slomiansky (Jewish Home), head of the Knesset’s Finance Committee, expressed his support as well. “I salute the Garin Torani communities of Shaalei Torah, and I am committed to doing whatever I can to encourage and assist this social undertaking,” he declared.