I have always valued Tel Aviv’s importance as Israel’s largest economic hub and as a leading center for medicine and education. I also appreciate its wonderful museums, parks and performing arts venues.
Azrieli Center (Photo: CC-BY-SA Rastaman3000, Wikipedia)
As Tel Aviv is known for its hip atmosphere and famous 24-hour culture, I never expected the city to become a destination for young religious people. I was wrong.
Ever since its establishment in 1909, Tel Aviv has always been home to religious Jews. In the early years, the city even had prohibitions against some forms of commerce on the Sabbath.
Tel Aviv's Great Synagogue (Photo: Miriam Woelke)
Interestingly, Tel Aviv is the only major city in Israel that has only Jewish places of worship, an important factor which attracted many Chassidic rebbes. By the 1960s, there were close to fifty Chassidic sects that were based in Tel Aviv.
But by the early 1970s, the city began to become more chic and housing prices skyrocketed. Observant Jews began to leave in droves and most of the city’s 500 synagogues experienced dramatic declines in membership.
Tel Aviv at Sunset
Around the time of Israel’s 2005 disengagement from the Gaza Strip, many people felt a visceral need for Jews in all segments of society to reconnect. A number of religious organizations became active in Tel Aviv, aspiring to improve relations between the city’s religious and secular populations and strengthen the city’s synagogues. In addition, groups of young families – called “garinim” (literally “seeds”) – started moving in to Tel Aviv to help revitalize the city’s religious environment.
Another element that has influenced the Tel Aviv religious landscape has been the arrival of numerous European – primarily French – observant Jews. With a flair and passion for fine cuisine, many of these immigrants have opened kosher restaurants, bakeries and gourmet food stores.
Notwithstanding the influx of young idealistic families and European immigrants, probably the main influence on the religious upsurge in Tel Aviv has been the large religious singles scene, which has expanded dramatically in recent years. This late-twenties and thirties crowd covers the full spectrum of religiosity and many of these residents have a strong liberal bent. Tel Aviv is a perfect city for this spiritual resurgence, as it is relatively open-minded and accepting of nonconformists.
The Shell Synagogue: Heichal Yehuda (Photo: David Hochhauser)
Educational and Social Programs
New and innovative congregations have been established throughout the city, which address the needs of professionals and students from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. The city’s renewed religious vitality has also affected the older synagogues, as a number of these establishments now offer innovative programs and lectures.
In addition, numerous outreach centers are thriving in their efforts to help secular Jews explore their heritage. There are many learning centers that offer a full spectrum of classes on practically every level from beginner to highly advanced. Most of these centers augment their learning programs with social and entertainment programs, serving as vibrant hubs for Jewish activities and addressing the need for healthy environments for singles to meet.
Tel Aviv skyline at night (Photo: bloomberg.com)
Although Tel Aviv continues to be predominantly secular, there is no mistaking the increased interest in religious activities among the city’s secular population. In Tel Aviv’s tolerant environment, many people who have spent their lives shunning religion are finally discovering their Jewish roots.
Gedaliah Borvick is the founder of My Israel Home (www.myisraelhome.com), a real estate agency focused on helping people from abroad buy and sell homes in Israel. To sign up for his monthly market updates, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.