Greater investment in Jewish institutions can help restore a “Jewish character” to areas of south Tel Aviv that have seen a high influx of African migrants in recent years, activists said Tuesday, during the dedication of a national-religious establishment in the Shapira neighborhood.

“The goal is to bring back the Jews who lived here and restore these places that they prayed in. Unfortunately, it’s common for people to talk about taking care of the Eritreans and Sudanese, but we need to worry about the Jews first, and this is the goal of the hesder yeshiva,” Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan (Bayit Yehudi) said at a short ceremony to mark the opening of a hesder yeshiva branch at the corner of Frenkel Street and Tshelnov Street in south Tel Aviv.

The branch, part of a project called “Righteousness in the South” (“Tzedek B’darom”) will be located inside the Beit Marmarosh synagogue, and will be run by Rabbi Ariel Bareli of the Mishpat L’am legal institute of Sderot’s hesder yeshiva.

Bareli said Tuesday that the branch will bring in students from the Sderot yeshiva who will live and volunteer in south Tel Aviv and study at the center. They will also give lectures for students from across Tel Aviv, Bareli said, which will focus on “social justice and Jewish law, with an emphasis on the refugee issue.”

He said the approach to the African migrant issue must be to encourage their continued deportation while also helping provide for those who are already located inside Israel.

In a Mishpat L’am position paper on the issue, which Bareli handed out, the organization writes that Israel must first protect its ambition to be the Jewish homeland and “understand that at the moment there is no place to include a foreign population.”

The paper also includes a passage from the Talmud stating that it is permitted to rent houses to gentiles in the Land of Israel as long as they do not form neighborhoods, which it defines as a grouping of three houses or more.

“In conclusion, as part of our moral responsibility to uphold the vision of the prophets, we must use the legal methods at the disposal of the authorities to encourage emigration of those who penetrated Israel’s borders illegally. This does not diverge from our responsibility to ensure their ability to maintain their basic needs in our country,” the position paper states.

The project’s program, which Bareli handed out, states it will include “tours for groups of students and adults in the synagogues and places of the rich past of south Tel Aviv” as well as lectures, study groups, and volunteering.

The program says the project – largely devoted to renovating the synagogue – will cost some NIS 100,000 annually, and that over NIS 60,000 has already been spent on the project.

Ben-Dahan’s visit came during a tour of south Tel Aviv, in which he and a handful of local Bayit Yehudi activists were taken to see area synagogues that tour organizers said had fallen into disrepair as the south side has in recent years become home to the majority of Israel’s more than 60,000 African migrants.

Included in the tour was a soup kitchen – operated by the Lasova organization at 18 Tshelnov Street – that feeds several hundred needy people per day, according to the site’s manager.

Activists who organized Tuesday’s trip pointed at the building, which housed the Beit Yeshayahu synagogue from the 1940s until it was renovated by Lasova in 2009, as a symbol of the type of misuse of synagogues that they hope to scale back with an increased Jewish presence in the neighborhood.

Lasova, for its part, says that the building had been abandoned and was a warren for drug users for the past two decades, before it was renovated.

The visit also included a former Georgian synagogue on Rosh Pina Street that has become a watering hole for migrants, a fixture of most tours taken by politicians and public leaders in south Tel Aviv in recent years.

A former congregant, Yossi Zavitiya, told the group that a year-and-a-half ago the owner of the building had decided it would be more lucrative to rent it out as a private business, and that around 15 Georgian families living in the area are waiting for a vacant synagogue a couple blocks away to be renovated for their congregation to call home – renovations that Zavitiya said were paid for through a legal settlement with the owner of the property on Rosh Pina Street.

Standing in the center of the dilapidated building as two workers – one of them an African migrant – carried out repair work, one of the Bayit Yehudi activists said the goal of the renovations and the opening of the hesder yeshiva offshoot is to increase the Jewish character of the neighborhood “and help draw back Jewish residents after the Sudanese and Eritreans leave.”

In late August, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud) said that Israel would begin deporting Eritrean and Sudanese migrants after the High Holy Days.

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