HaifaIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city, has a strongly secular image and has been dubbed the “red city” for its decades of uncontested Labor rule. However, according to mayor Yona Yahav, the reality is very different.

Haifa welcomes religious Jews to the city, he said. In fact Yahav, who once ran with the staunchly secular Shinui party, has actively encouraged religious migration to Haifa.

“I’m the first mayor who grew up here, and I remember that in my youth, religious Zionists were a significant force in the city,” Yahav told Arutz Sheva.

“Over the years they disappeared. So when I was elected, I decided to bring them back."

Yahav contacted Rabbi Rahamim Nissim, who heads the Shaalei Torah movement. Together, the two led the formation of a Garin Torah “Torah seed group,” a group of religious-Zionist families that settled in the Hadar neighborhood. Hadar, formerly among Haifa’s most prestigious neighborhoods, had become an area known for its poverty and high crime rate.

Since then both the neighborhood and the religious Zionist community have flourished. Yahav met recently with families in the area. “The people in the Garin are very active in the city on a social and cultural level, and we see their work as a blessing,” he said. The group has succeeded in revitalizing several synagogues that had been closed for lack of use, he noted.

Religious families live peacefully alongside the wide variety of other communities in the city, Yahav said.

“The image of the ‘red city’ stuck to us over the years, but there has always been ‘Yiddishkeit’ in the city and that continues today. This is a pleasant city where religious and non-religious lifestyles coexist peacefully, in unity and friendship,” he concluded.