Nazareth Israel news photo: Flash 90

Nazareth Illit, which has recently come under threat of an Arab demographic takeover, now is headed to be the religious-Zionist capital of the lower Galilee.

A new Hesder yeshiva opened in the city today, on the traditional Rosh Chodesh Elul opening day. The yeshiva is a branch of the Hesder yeshiva in Maalot, in northwestern Israel, headed by Rabbi Yehoshua Veitzman. Thirty students from Maalot are to form the core nucleus of the new yeshiva.

Today’s opening ceremony featured dancing, singing and an emotional “Shehecheyanu” blessing by Mayor Shimon Gepso. “I feel as happy as if a new baby had been born to me,” he said. “This is a festive day for Nazareth Illit, which is changing face and galloping forward to a new future of growth and settlement.”

To this end, Gepso has renovated an old school building to house 15 young families from the former Gush Katif yeshiva of Torat HaChaim, now in Yad Binyamin. Up until just a few weeks ago, between two and four families had signed on – and the number has now climbed to ten, with room for more.

In addition, a new yeshiva high school has opened its doors in Nazareth Illit, to be headed by Rabbi Haggai Shilat. The Chabad community in the city, headed by Rabbi David Teichtal who moved in 38 years ago, numbers nearly 100 families and six synagogues.

Nearby Nazareth has long been an Arab-populated city, while Nazareth Illit (Upper Nazareth) was built just above it in 1956 as a Jewish city. Its population is now more than 42,000, but its Arab population has increased from 9% ten years ago to around 13% now. Of the remaining 87%, many are non-Jewish new immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Working behind the scenes on behalf of the city’s growth spurt has been MK Uri Ariel of the National Union, together with Rabbi Hillel Horowitz, formerly of Hevron.

Mayor Gepso said that the establishment of the new yeshiva is “part of our strategic comprehensive plan for municipal growth, predicated chiefly on maintaining the city’s Jewish character and encouraging educational, Zionist initiatives,” including a new pre-military school for leadership in the framework of the Rabin Mechina Academy.

The city's website features a message from Mayor Gepso, in which he states, "It is time to call a spade a spade. Just as Ben-Gurion and Peres said in the 1950's that the Galilee must be Jewish, we say the same about Nazareth Illit: It must retain its Jewish character. Our goal is to bring 3,000 families within five years... We have been in contact with various ideological groups, and we are definitely considering building a hareidi-religious neighborhood as well. The primary goal is to put the brakes on the demographic deterioration..."