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Transforming Ramat Aviv
By Menachem Ziegelboim

The media recently reported about a Lubavitcher yeshiva student
who was struck by an anti-religious Shinui activist following a demonstration against the growth of the Chabad movement in the Ramat Aviv neighborhood * We went to Ramat Aviv and found the youngest Chabad community in Eretz Yisroel growing and blossoming under the direction of Rabbi Yosef Ginsberg, along with senior shaliach Rabbi Dovid Oshaki

The following notice was printed as a warning by the “Voice of the Silent Majority” of Ramat Aviv in the face of plans for domination by Lubavitcher Chassidim of the exclusive Ramat Aviv neighborhood:

Dear Residents: Lately we have been witness to a growing number of religious families and groups buying and renting apartments in the neighborhood. These apartments are on Borodetzky, Noach, and Brazil streets. More recently, in addition, there is an apartment on Berliner St. and one on Frankel St. Experience has taught that sometimes positive intentions are not mutual. Furthermore, we think that the neighborhood of Ramat Aviv Alef has been “poisoned” lately by the religious element, as a potential springboard for dominating the area. Apparently, attempts by the religious to have the kollel on the roof of the shul on Borodetzky St. approved, which failed due to pressure from neighborhood representatives, and the tefillin stand the Lubavitchers set up each Friday near the mall, are part of this goal.

The Chabad community of Ramat Aviv is the youngest Chabad community in Eretz Yisroel, yet it has been in the papers a great deal. The papers were full of articles about the demonstrations held by the Left against Chabad in the area. In order to properly report to the readers of Beis Moshiach about this flourishing new community, we went to visit this exclusive northern locale to visit an old friend from yeshiva days, Rabbi Yosef Ginsberg.

He is called Rabbi Yossi in the yeshiva. He is soft-spoken and deliberate, and when you speak to him, he gives you his full attention. He came to Ramat Aviv after his marriage in Adar five years ago. He sought a shlichus in the first Israeli city, and then he met his friend, Rabbi Shlomo Kalish, who asked him, “Why don’t you come to us, to Ramat Aviv?” Yossi didn’t hesitate, despite his awareness of the demographics of the area. Two weeks before his wedding, he came looking for an apartment. After getting permission from the Director of the Chabad House of the Eiver HaYarkon neighborhoods, Rabbi Dovid Oshaki, he has been there ever since.

When you come to a neighborhood that is antagonistic to you, where do you begin?

“It’s not as bad as it may seem, although the reception has definitely been unfriendly at times. First I opened a tefillin stand in the center of the business district. For the people here, it was as though we had fallen from the moon. It was really frustrating to stand there for three or four hours and to put tefillin on only one person, two at the most.”

Rabbi Ginsberg didn’t despair. In his quiet way, he began breaking down the wall of apathy and coldness. One day he walked down the street and encountered a group of teenagers sitting around and talking. “Perhaps you would like to come with me to my house to say l’chaim,” he suggested, and they came! He emptied out his cupboard and served his guests. Then he suggested that they join him for the Shabbos meal the next day. “That was the first peula I did,” he reminisces.

Rabbi Ginsberg and his wife weren’t shocked by the guests who began frequenting their home on Friday nights. “For two months we had eaten alone, but from that day on we haven’t had a meal with fewer than twenty to thirty guests,” they say. One of the members of the community added that there were Shabbosos with as many as sixty guests. The Shabbos meals generally last until two or three in the morning.

On the first Purim after their wedding, they gave mishloach manos to the forty-five families in the building. Ten of them slammed the door, but the rest were more polite.

Despite your knowing what the neighborhood was like, were you unpleasantly surprised?

“The fact that the entrance to the building I live in still doesn’t have a mezuza really hurts me. My neighbors are adamantly opposed to having a mezuza. I was also surprised to hear the rumors that we paid people off to come and daven, or that we pay children to come to our events.”

Because of the tremendous opposition we had heard about, we were amazed to hear the good news Rabbi Ginsberg reported. “You see the dozens of bachurim learning here? This is a beautiful yeshiva gedola. And we have a community of 11-12 Lubavitcher families who had previously been completely non-religious. We plan to open a nursery school here next year, too.”

Rabbi Ginsberg says this all quietly and calmly, but it really is quite astounding. I exit Rabbi Ginsberg’s unfurnished office and walk to the yeshiva’s zal. About thirty boys are sitting and learning diligently, one with a Gemara, another with a Rashba, a third studying a Gemara for beginners. Volumes of maamarim are still scattered about on the tables, left there from the morning’s class in Chassidus.

Did you expect the work here to be easier or harder?

“I didn’t come to Ramat Aviv for anybody’s approval. I came here to work and build a Chabad community and to do the Rebbe MH”M’s shlichus.

* * *

It’s thrilling to see the yeshiva in action. Near the yeshiva is the Chabad community, both under the leadership of R’ Yossi. The community is actually an outgrowth of the yeshiva. “The bachurim marry, and many of them settle here. The teachers at the yeshiva also live here,” explains Rabbi Ben-Tzion Schwartz, who joined the staff at the yeshiva. “In fact, the connection between the community and the yeshiva is so close that the community is called by the unique appellation, Kehillas HaYeshiva.”

Rabbi Ginsberg sees things a little differently: “Yes, there is a successful union between the community and the yeshiva, but I still see them as two distinct entities. I see the yeshiva as the soul and the community as the body. The bachurim contribute the soul, that’s for sure, and the community contributes stability and a warm home.”

What made you decide to start with a yeshiva, something hardly any Chabad House has?

“There is a sicha where the Rebbe connects the idea of a Chabad House with the idea of Tomchei Tmimim. It really works out extremely well. When you have a yeshiva near a community, it automatically helps develop the community. A yeshiva is a place where you daven and learn Torah all day. It definitely draws people in.

“Furthermore, when you are mekarev someone to Yiddishkeit, you have a place to send him to learn and progress. When you are mekarev someone to Yiddishkeit and they have to go learn elsewhere, or even daven in a shul with a different nusach, you lose them.

“We recently started an early morning minyan for baalei battim of the neighborhood. Formerly, people we were mekarev davened elsewhere, but now they daven in a Chabad shul and remain connected to us.”

Rabbi Ben-Tzion Schwartz: “Before he married, R’ Yossi was on shlichus in Australia. Long ago, the Rebbe said to conquer Australia through Torah. R’ Yosef decided to do the same thing here, and to conquer Ramat Aviv though Torah, turning the place into a makom Torah.”


The yeshiva opened only three years ago, albeit under very limited circumstances. Rabbi Ginsberg worked at Mercaz Tzach in Kfar Chabad. He began a series of classes for young people in the neighborhood of Tel Baruch. After a while, it became a full-fledged learning program, where whoever desired could come and learn. It finally became an actual yeshiva. This yeshiva receives tremendous support from the Chabad yeshiva in Tzfas, headed by Rabbi Y.Y. Wilschansky. He has done much to help the yeshiva advance spiritually.

For the first three years, the yeshiva was in a tiny apartment in the center of Ramat Aviv. The bachurim learned there for half a day. Conditions were very limited, and everybody realized that they had to expand, but Ramat Aviv was no simple nut to crack.

Rabbi Amir Kahane, menahel of the yeshiva explains: “In all four neighborhoods of Ramat Aviv (Alef to Dalet), there is hardly anything available to rent. It is the most sought after area in the entire country, and everything is taken. I’m talking about simple apartments, not to mention large, spacious apartments for a yeshiva.

“Real estate agents laughed at me and said, ‘You must be kidding. There’s nothing to talk about.’ I looked everywhere, turning Ramat Aviv upside-down, and saw for myself that the real estate agents weren’t kidding.

“We were considering expanding our premises in the yard of the mamlachti-dati school in Alumot. We prepared architectural plans, but the city council did not approve them, thanks to political pressure. So that was that. Our place was too small and there was nowhere to move to. We were stuck, so we wrote to the Rebbe and presented three possibilities. Either the head shaliach of Tel Aviv, Rabbi Yosef Gerlitzky (who helps us year-round), would use his connections at the council so we would get permission to build, or we should wait for things to work themselves out, or we should look elsewhere. We asked this question two days after having put our plans for a building in the Igros Kodesh.

“The answer we received from the Rebbe was truly amazing. The Rebbe acknowledged that he had received the map (i.e., the plans for a building), and the Rebbe added, “the yeshiva should be located as far as possible from the school…”

“This was a clear answer for us to stop our classes at the hall of the school in Alumot. The Rebbe also said that the yeshiva should be in a place where there wouldn’t be any flooding. Third, the Rebbe added his usual advice to take a location with room for expansion. As far as the idea of renting near Ramat Aviv, the Rebbe said, “to work specifically in your area,” in other words, not to leave Ramat Aviv.

“We couldn’t have received a clearer answer. We realized we had to leave the school and look for a large place for the yeshiva within Ramat Aviv. There was just one thing we didn’t understand, and that was what the Rebbe meant by flooding.

“Then something happened. About two weeks later, the area where we learned in the school was suddenly flooded! This was after forty years with no flooding at all! The water rose half a meter high!

“This spurred us on to fulfill what the Rebbe had told us, to get away from the school. We immediately began a frantic search for a place, but as I told you before, there was nothing available! Finally, we found this hall where we are now sitting, which belongs to the Jewish Agency, but here again, things didn’t go too smoothly. The agency refused to rent the space to a yeshiva.”

This is where Mr. Amos Barzilai came into the picture. He is one of the distinguished supporters of the yeshiva, a resident of the area. He, along with R’ Shlomo Kalisch, began a series of meetings with members of the agency.

Negotiations weren’t simple. There were quite a few obstacles, but the Rebbe encouraged us with clear answers in the Igros Kodesh. Before one crucial meeting with the agency, the hanhala of the yeshiva asked the Rebbe for a bracha. The answer was that the Rebbe had received the information that “the Jewish Agency approved the area for the beis midrash, the mikva and private dwellings...”

After all was concluded successfully, and was reported to the Rebbe, the Rebbe answered in Volume 18, p. 192, giving directives and guidance about how to establish the yeshiva in Kiryat Gat. Naturally, we implemented these directives in developing the yeshiva program in Ramat Aviv.

As soon as the contract was signed, Amos Barzilai renovated the place. Just last Motzaei Shabbos the yeshiva moved into its new quarters with great celebration. Rabbi Leibel Groner and other distinguished people were in attendance.


Ramat Aviv is the most exclusive district of Tel Aviv. In the four sections of Ramat Aviv live the economic and political cream of the nation. Because of this, the residents of Ramat Aviv were not exactly pleased by the yeshiva’s development. They see it as the religious element penetrating the stronghold of the secularists. I witnessed this myself parking my car in the lot of Beit Milman, a large and imposing building where students live, when some of the residents told me to get lost.

The Rebbe must have been referring to this in one of his letters before they signed the contract for the new building, saying, “Surely the Leftist parties won’t sit with folded hands, and they will start up as they usually do.”

We saw that when you moved in this week.

Rabbi Ginsberg: “Yes. Knesset member Paritzky (whose office is opposite the yeshiva), along with workers of Am Chofshi and members of Shinui and Meretz, came to demonstrate, accompanied by the media. Paritzky burst into the yeshiva building, and one of the demonstrators struck one of the bachurim. Of course this was widely reported.”

This wasn’t the first time...

“When we arrived in the neighborhood there was some demonstrating. About twenty protesters broke into the yeshiva’s apartment. But after a while things quieted down. Now that we have expanded and grown, they have woken up again.”

Did any of the demonstrators ever take any positive interest in the yeshiva?

“I once went into the local supermarket and a woman belonging to Am Chofshi began screaming at me. Two or three weeks ago, she began taking Shabbos candles from the stand that we set up on Fridays.”

The bachurim who man the tefillin stand are not fazed by the curses hurled their way. When I ask them what happens, they just shrug it off. Though, not everyone can take it unaffected. Yaakov Baruchman had this to say about going on Mivtza Tefillin the previous Friday:

“I stood with the bachurim and went back to the yeshiva crying. What can I tell you – it breaks my heart. A big guy blocked the way and didn’t allow anybody to get near us. Some woman tried throwing the tefillin down. Some people cursed us. Still, it was davka because of people like these that other people came over to put on tefillin.

What do people in the neighborhood really think?

Rabbi Ginsberg: I can only quote the manager of Beit Milman, who rented us the space for the yeshiva, who said that to the best of his knowledge the people here don’t view us as a problem. However, there is a vocal minority who frighten the other residents by telling them that we threaten people with hell and entice children to come to our programs.

(To be continued.)


Rabbi Yosef Ginsberg

The talmidim-shluchim learning with the bachurim


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