In recent years, masses of illegal immigrants, primarily from Eritrea, have flooded southern Tel Aviv. In neighborhoods now impoverished and loaded with crime lives Rabbi Ahiad Ettinger, who is working to bring stability to the area.
In recent months, Rabbi Ettinger established a new yeshiva in the Neve Shaanan neighborhood, called "Orot Morasha." Housed in the British-mandate era "Yesod Hamaaleh" synagogue, the yeshiva is the first step, in Rabbi Ettinger's opinion, in reviving a Torah culture in the neighborhood. According to him, the area was one "just like [haredi city] Bnei Brak," though now it usually only hosts prayer services on Shabbat.
"This place was a center of Torah," he pointed to the one-time synagogue which now houses his yeshiva. "The Ashkenazic community which was once here is gone. For a few years, people who worked in the area would strengthen the neigborhood and come and pray every day...to our sorrow, even that stopped just a few months ago...The place was abandoned, covered in a layer of thick dust. We had to work hard to restore it."
Immediately, the new yeshiva had an effect on the neighborhood. "A local policeman, who was on patrol with his assistant, was used to seeing the place closed and locked. When he suddenly saw that the place was open, he ran inside, saw the holy Ark [which holds the Torah scrolls of a synagogue], approached it and kissed its covering with tears."
Rabbi Ettinger continues, "In the first week, a Jew who lives in the neighborhood came here, without a skullcap, but with belief in his heart, like many of the residents of the area. He entered, took out his smartphone, and for half an hour photographed every detail of the study hall. We were certain he was a Judaica merchant who was expressing interest, but he is a simple Jew who lives next door, and was utterly excited to see the place open and alive, until he felt the need to document and share it with everyone he knew."
When asked what brought him to Tel Aviv in the first place, Rabbi Ettinger replied, "spreading Torah."
"Over time, you fele that Tel Aviv is not a regular place, it's the Israeli financial center today, the capital for the broader Israeli public, and this is the place to influence. It's not for nothing that [people call it] 'the state of Tel Aviv,' which radiates into everything. There isn't a lot of Rabbi Kook's Torah here, and I consider it a great honor to be an emissary here."
Rabbi Ettinger describes his yeshiva's schedule: Throughout the day, the building is used for learning Torah, mostly in the morning. "They're mostly full-time scholars, and a few teenagers," who take upon themselves a de facto "vow of silence" while engrossed in their studies. Later, though, "from five in the afternoon we are open for neighborhood activities. "
Rabbi Ettinger hopes that as they expand their programming in the upcoming year, more religious families will move to the neighborhood and be active in the yeshiva. Meanwhile, the Rabbi is working to create more community spirit, opening a Facebook group for the residents and keeping in touch with them.
"The neighborhood is depressed, people are shut up in their homes," explained the Rabbi, emphasizing how children cannot even take out the trash when evening comes. Children want to go to the playground, and cannot. Not even their mothers can supervise them alone - it's just too dangerous. "There is no social grouping here, no community life. No one knows exactly how many people or who lives here."