Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

25 Sivan 5763 - June 25, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Out with the Red and in with the Yiddishkeit: A Profile of Today's Haifa

by Aryeh Zisman

The election of Attorney Yonah Yahav as mayor of Haifa had many people scared because of his ties with Shinui. But Yahav, not originally a Shinui man, quickly allayed the chareidi sector's fears by saying he does not intend to change the status quo and would maintain working relations with the chareidi and national- religious sectors.

But Yahav does not have United Torah Jewry worried. Just days before the election, when gedolei Yisroel announced their support for R' Aryeh Blitental for mayor, the Likud made strenuous efforts to take him out of the race in order to help their own candidate, Shmuel Arad. But UTJ decided not to rescind Blitental's candidacy even though he clearly had no chance. Instead, party leaders met with Yahav and received a declaration of intentions from him in the form of a general letter about his plans for the future. In exchange Yahav asked UTJ not to retract Blitental's candidacy.

"I know it's hard for you to support me because of Shinui, but you know I'm not like the rest of them," he told UTJ figures. The request was passed on to the city's chareidi rabbonim and, following consultation, they decided not to retract his candidacy.

Immediately following his election, Yahav thanked UTJ and its staff, especially when they noticed that the number of UTJ City Council votes closely matched the number of votes for the party's mayoral candidate, a palpable demonstration of how UTJ submits to gedolei Yisroel implicitly.

"I'm sure that after you get to know me you'll actively back me for the next term," said Yahav, thanking UTJ again and again for the party's passive support. Yahav does not intend to make major changes in Haifa. But only time will tell.

Tucking the Tallis out of Sight

The elections drew considerable public attention and media coverage because this was the first time mayoral elections were held in only three cities. The special elections were held after the respective mayors were elected to the Knesset: Amram Mitzna of Haifa, who was leader of the Labor Party during the elections for only a few months afterwards, Ehud Olmert of Yerushalayim who brokered the current non-religious government; and the mayor of Or Akivah who chose to move to the Knesset.

During the electioneering, much talk was devoted to the danger of altering the face of the city, but the results showed Red Haifa (as the city was once nicknamed when it was a left-wing Labor party stronghold) has a lot of Yiddishkeit as well.

Haifa has yeshivas, botei medrash, chareidi educational institutions, admorim, rabbonim, talmidei chachomim and an array of botei knesses and shiurei Torah--just like every other place in Israel with a significant chareidi community. Yet over the years the mainstream media has always cast Haifa as a completely secular city, even more than Tel Aviv.

Haifa's chareidi residents have demonstrated exceptional mesirus nefesh for everything sacred ever since the 50s -- and even earlier, before the State was founded. Their dedication was especially prominent against the backdrop of the city's communist sympathies and its persistent attempts to suppress any manifestations of kedushoh.

In those days to walk down the street on Shabbos morning wearing a tallis and spodik or shtreimel was no simple matter. Talleisim were hidden from sight. Haifa remains the only major city in which the buses run every Shabbos.

Nevertheless, Haifa was the first city to set up a shmittah committee, the first city to found Irgun Bnei Hayeshivos, which organized fixed Torah study during bein hazmanim, and the city that sent the largest number of participants to the Yarchei Kallah at Yeshivas Ponovezh.

The Power of Kedushoh

For many gedolei Torah who landed in Haifa, the city served as an introduction to Eretz Yisroel. Whenever a godol was scheduled to arrive, chareidi residents would go down to the port to greet him. These enthusiastic receptions often left gedolei Torah with a very positive impression of Haifa and its inhabitants. Some even called it the "City of Chesed." Veteran Haifa residents explain that kedushoh has the power to prevail even in a place where the forces of tumah are strong.

Out of the "sea of red" predominating in Haifa emerged a dynamic, autonomous kehilloh headed by the rov of the chareidi community at the time, HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok Klein. Rav Klein came to Haifa from Nuremberg, where he served as the city's rov. His wit and charisma drew people from across the chareidi spectrum and he earned the esteem of Haifa's government chief rabbis at the time, Rav Kaniel and Rav Marcus.

Under Rav Klein the kehilloh set up an independent kashrus organization that made no compromises in matters of terumos and ma'asros and did not even recognize the eruv set up by the city's Moatza Datit, which relied on the natural topography. Instead Rav Klein installed an orderly eruv with a clear map.

Together with the members of the kehilloh he set up Mazhirei Shabbos, which later became Mishmeres HaShabbos. Every Friday afternoon, members of the organization went from store to store to alert owners and demand they close before Shabbos. Not dissuaded by the ridicule they often suffered in Haifa's radical political climate, the group succeeded in persuading most of the stores to close.

During the Shmittah year, Haifa was the first city to form an organized Shmittah committee following guidelines set by Maran HaChazon Ish zt'l. The first Otzar Beis Din, with rules set down in the Chazon Ish's own handwriting, operated in Haifa. At the end of the sixth year all of the members of the kehilloh, along with the city's other chareidi residents, registered with the Shmittah committee, Irgun Shomrei Shevi'is.

Inexpensive Housing

"Before going to any of the housing projects [referring to areas such as Kiryat Sefer, Beit Shemesh, Elad, Beitar, Tel Tzion], it is very worthwhile to look into the idea of living in Haifa," says Rabbi Williger, Degel HaTorah's representative on the City Council who also owns a real- estate office downtown. "I now have 3- and 4-room apartments, with balconies, for $65,000 in the chareidi part of the Hadar neighborhood. These apartments require only very slight renovations."

Rabbi Williger wonders why many people often seek new communities in faraway locations that lack infrastructure when they could purchase an inexpensive apartment that provides them all of the services a chareidi resident needs. "Most of the apartments are 3- room apartments in Hadar in the $65,000-$75,000 price range and are good apartments." Smaller two-room apartments for newlyweds can cost $35,000- $50,000.

Nevertheless, chareidi buyers are not stampeding to Haifa, despite the acute housing problems in the chareidi sector. According to Rabbi Williger, Haifa has been branded with a certain stigma. "Haifa is pictured as a distant city, a transit point for people on the way from the center of the country and Jerusalem to Meron, Tzfat and Tiberius. Other people unfairly see Haifa as the end of the world. But as residents of the city, we know [Haifa] really has everything a chareidi resident needs in terms of infrastructure, education, kollelim, employment for women, and more." The real problem is marketing, he says.

However, recent ads in the chareidi press on the availability of low-priced apartments in Haifa managed to draw numerous prospective buyers in recent months. Some families not interested in living in Haifa purchased apartments for investment. "They buy the apartments, rent them out, and with the money they receive rent apartments in Jerusalem or Bnei Brak, adding just a little money of their own," says Rabbi Williger. Rentals in Haifa run around $350 for a 3-room apartment, he says.

"For Haifa's chareidi residents it is important for chareidim from the outside to purchase the apartments and rent them to anshei shlomeinu to prevent them from being purchased by new immigrants, who are not suited to the neighborhood's character."

Moderately priced apartments are also available in the Neveh Shaanan neighborhood (see sidebar). There, 3-room apartments cost $90,000 and rental prices hover around the $400-$500 range. "Why run to the projects when apartments can be purchased in a nice, settled, urban area with a fabulous view, relaxed people and a warm kehilloh?" says Rabbi Williger.

Tiferes Yisroel

The center of Yiddishkeit in Haifa is Yeshivas Tiferes Yisroel. The leading roshei hayeshivos are familiar with the place, from the shiurim and talks they give there during bein hazmanim. The yeshiva has a splendid history, and it appears, an equally splendid present and future.

At the beginning of the year, Yeshivas Maoz Chaim was set up within Yeshivas Tiferes Yisroel. The yeshiva relocated from Carmiel and has bochurim who studied in secular high schools. Headed by Rav Erez Agasi and Rav Natan Admon, the yeshiva numbers 40 bochurim who are true bnei Torah. The Tiferes Yisroel administration provided them a special location and invested a large amount of money into the construction of the magnificent, new building. The stated goal: "yagdil Torah veyadir."

Tiferes Yisroel also has a kollel with dozens of avreichim. The largest kollel in Hadar, its program is based on learning one daf per day, with weekly and monthly exams, and the avreichim present chiddushim orally once per month. It provides a very respectable stipend. Both the yeshiva and kollel are headed by Rav Simchah Zissel Shapira, the son of Rav Rafael Shapira, who held the post for decades.

Tiferes Yisroel has undergone dramatic physical changes during the last year. R' Shmuel Frye, director of the yeshiva, is responsible for the changes and has received much praise from Haifa residents who take advantage of the array of shiurim, tefillos and vibrant activity at Tiferes Yisroel, day and night.

In order to improve the conditions for the avreichim during their long hours of study, funds were raised to buy new furniture and install an air conditioning system in the central hall of the beis medrash. According to the Tiferes Yisroel administration, the hall had been virtually unchanged since its construction over 100 years ago, and therefore it was in need of renovation. The regular yeshiva budget did not allow for such improvements since its first priority is to support the avreichim. But after concerted efforts, and due to the need to give Haifa's biggest spiritual center a more suitable appearance, the needed funds were raised.

One of the regular mispalelim even donated a spectacular Aron Kodesh in his daughter's memory and since the eastern wall had to be remodeled to accommodate it, the yeshiva decided to take advantage of the opportunity to remodel the entire wall and replace the windows, giving Tiferes Yisroel a whole new look. The yeshiva staff makes special note of the contribution made by its dedicated and loyal secretary, R' Shlomo Walder, who filled the post for over 40 years and continues to promote the yeshiva to this day.

More Botei Knesses

Tiferes Yisroel is not the only place with a new look. Beis Knesses Bnei Torah, headed by the rov of the chareidi kehilloh, HaRav Yechiel Halevy Bamberger, moved from a bomb shelter to a spacious, new location on Arlozorov Street a few years ago, and since then more benches have been added.

The Viennese shul, headed by HaRav Schneur Kluft, also moved from Tiferes Yisroel to Kollel Daas Yoel. And the longstanding Beis Knesses Tzionei Eretz Yisroel on Beitar Street has been remodeled as well.

The scaffolding was recently taken down from Beis HaChassidim, which was built by Gur above the municipal mikveh, revealing a spectacular new building. The old shtiebel on Hermon Street was too cramped to accommodate the hundreds of mispalelim who passed through its doors, and immediately after its move to a new facility the gabboim began to work towards three improvements: no talking during tefillos (to which the Beis Yisroel, who visited Haifa frequently during the course of many years, expressed strong opposition), more shiurei Torah and stronger unity among the mispalelim. The latter improvement has become an emblem of Beis HeChassidim in Haifa, where young avreichim and old men daven side by side.

After 36 years in another location, Belz Chassidim took over the old Gur shtiebel and askonim made major renovations, converting it into an attractive place of Torah. Now there are more minyanim and shiurei Torah, including during bein hazmanim. The mispalelim and askonim intend to continue the renovations, including refurbishing the Aron Kodesh, purchasing new bookcases, renovating the ezras noshim and building a mikveh.

Meanwhile Belz of Haifa also recently built Yeshivas Ohel Yehoshua, which opened at the beginning of the year with 200 bochurim and dozens of avreichim, who study in the yeshiva and in the beis medrash on Hermon Street. Every year, several ramim and married alumni from the yeshiva settle in Haifa.

After many years of red tape the City of Haifa recently approved the Yeshivas Belz' leasing agreement in the Neveh Yosef neighborhood, putting an end to longstanding differences of opinion between City Hall and the yeshiva administration. Because of the dispute, the yeshiva's support funds were stopped to offset various past debts. Following the elections, some called this a "going-away present" from former mayor Mitzna to the chareidi sector as he prepared to leave his post.

More Shuls

Each of these developments is indicative of the changes taking place in the city. Added to the list is the Biala beis knesses recently opened in the Agudas Yisroel building on Michael Street and Yeshivas HaGra.

Headed by HaRav Yaakov Nisan Rosental, Yeshivas HaGra, one of the city's oldest and most notable Torah institutions, is slated to move from Neveh Shaanan to Hadar in order to increase the size of the kollel and accept more avreichim. The move is expected to attract more young couples to the city because the existing kollelim are now completely packed and in most circumstances are unable to accept more avreichim.

The present Yeshivas HaGra facility is located on 12.5 dunams on Maimon-Gedaliya Street in Neveh Shaanan. Most of this large lot remains undeveloped. The kollel's other branches are located in Petach Tikva, Ramat Hasharon, Kiryat Sefer and Bnei Brak. The cost of maintaining these kollelim is high and the sale of the land is expected to help pay for future operations. The administration is now in search of an alternative facility in Hadar.

The large beis medrash in Vishnitz, belonging to Seret- Vishnitz Chassidim, has also undergone significant renovations in recent years and now accommodates hundreds of mispalelim. During the Yomim Noraim the gabo'im set up a large tent alongside the beis medrash to provide space for the numerous visitors from Israel and abroad who come to daven in the Admor's presence.

Meanwhile new apartments are being built in Ramat Vishnitz in order to allow established residents who marry to continue living in the neighborhood where they grew up.

And certainly the Admor of Nadvorna-Haifa, who receives many visitors from across the country, cannot go without mention. He davens at the old Tzanz beis medrash in Hadar.

A Shul in the Histadrut Building!

The end of the red hold on Haifa is not merely a matter of elections. Minyan Chanichei HaYeshivos offers living testimony of the change for the better. The beis knesses was set up seven years ago and has been housed in the Histadrut's Beit Hapoel building for the last five years, one of the very centers of the old red Haifa.

This facility was made available by Haifa's new Histadrut chairman, Baruch Zaltz, who is considered very close to the local national-religious and chareidi sectors. Zaltz previously served as the Labor Party's representative to Haifa's Religious Council. During the difficult period when attempts were made to put Reform representatives onto the Council, Zaltz refused to sit with them in a single session, following requests by rabbonim. The Labor Party was angry with him and tried to replace him, but Zaltz stood his ground.

The minyan now draws dozens of mispalelim every Shabbos. The beis medrash is headed by HaRav Michoel Bleicher, a dayan at the Haifa Rabbinate. The Ovos Uvonim program attracts father-son pairs and regular shiurim are held there on Shabbos.

Beneath the beis knesses is another sign of Haifa's red past--the Workers' Swimming Pool. Over the years, the pool began to serve the chareidi public and as a result closed on Shabbos. At first the anti- religious City Council members (who are few in number) tried to block this policy, saying it should be kept open for the sake of new immigrants. But the pool owner, a Christian Arab, refused, saying he wanted to respect the sensitivities of his regular customers. As a sign of its appreciation the chareidi public makes a point of patronizing the pool during the summer months.

Haifa has many other kollelim beyond the scope of this article, but one especially worthy of mention among the institutions that recently underwent a face- lift is Or HaTorah, headed by HaRav Shimon Zinger. Operating for 18 years, today it has 26 baalei teshuvoh avreichim, both Ashkenazi and Sephardi, studying at a high level. Within a short period, several of the avreichim passed qualification exams for the rabbinate. Their children are already studying in talmudei Torah and Bais Yaakov schools.

Haifa also boasts evening kollelim, such as that of Rav Yosef Zilberfarb, where the city's top avreichim study, and yeshivos ketanos such as Mishkan Yaakov headed by HaRav Dovid Katz.

Haifa's chareidi residents say the city offers everything they need. "Our hope is that by the time the next elections roll around many more chareidim will settle in the city and the articles on Haifa will not be limited to Election Day summaries."

Neveh Shaanan -- The Chareidi Community of the Future

World history has known many changes and revolutions effected by a single man. R' Shlomo Toporovitz z'l a talmid chochom living in Haifa's Neveh Shaanan neighborhood several decades ago, was one such man.

All his life he sought to turn the neighborhood into a place of Torah, but despite his numerous efforts the dream never came true. The neighborhood simply refused to change.

R' Shlomo's two sons live in the U.S. and they decided to set their sights on making their father's lifelong wish into a reality. The two worked inexhaustibly, investing tremendous resources, time and capital to put Neveh Shaanan on the Torah map.

First they set up Yeshivas Nachalas Halevi'im, which was under the guidance of Maran HaRav Shach zt'l from the day it was founded. Over 200 bochurim come from all over the country to study in this reputable yeshiva under rosh hayeshiva HaRav Yisroel Meir Weiss (who is American-born). Gradually a community of avreichim grew around the yeshiva. Kollelim and other Torah institutions opened, and the community began to thrive.

Today 170 families live in the neighborhood. The avreichim study in a kollel headed by HaRav Yechiel Halevi Bamberger, rov of Haifa's chareidi kehilloh, and another kollel headed by Rav Ozer Gliksberg. As the benches in the beis medrash continued to multiply, a third kollel headed by HaRav Yehuda Rafaelovitz was recently opened.

The light of Torah emanating from the neighborhood began to have its effect and many local residents began to draw closer to Yiddishkeit. Rav Peretz Meir, a warm-hearted Jew and a man of vision, decided to go out and do something. He began to roam the streets of Neveh Shaanan in search of young men disenchanted with the world around them. He found them by the dozens and opened a yeshiva called Rinas Aharon, which now has 30 bochurim. They demonstrate hasmodoh that exceeds all expectations, for until recently they had no idea what a gemora even looks like.

Kollel Rinas Aharon Institutes include an evening kollel, where avreichim from the neighborhood study together with working men who devote their evening hours to Torah study. During the last two years Rinas Aharon heads have been setting up a joint nursery school for traditional and somewhat religious families where yaldei Yisroel are taught pure emunoh and good middos.

The chareidi community also has several nursery schools and other institutions for young tykes. On any given afternoon one encounters dozens of babies being pushed around in strollers by their proud parents. There are also many future plans to expand Torah life in the neighborhood.

Neveh Shaanan has an extension of Machon Yerushalayim, which works in close conjunction with Yeshivas Nachalas Halevi'im, where outstanding avreichim edit important seforim for publication. The neighborhood is also home to Beis Tehillah, a midrashah for baalos teshuvoh, a chareidi library and other institutions.

Says a local avreich who arrived in the neighborhood just two years ago, "My friends in Bnei Brak wouldn't understand what I'm talking about. The neighborhood has a pastoral atmosphere, tranquil learning and many sources of parnossoh in the area, and most of all, our tight-knit kehilloh. All of this turns Neveh Shaanan into a top- notch place to live. As far as I'm concerned--it's the best chareidi area there is."


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