Observant olim may have a harder time cracking a city better known for its bars than synagogues. Avi Griss, who works in sales and marketing at a hi-tech firm, chose Tel Aviv for its heterogeneity, but admits to experiencing difficulty in developing some sort of community, particularly as an observant Jew.
"I found myself jumping from Beit Knesset to Beit Knesset, which isn't great for building a community. You're kind-of like a nomad." Eventually, he discovered a religious-Zionist yeshiva near Ichilov Hospital, Yeshivat Ma'ale Eliyahu , where he often prays and studies.
After experiencing similar difficulties in adapting an observant lifestyle to Israel's secular mecca, South African native Rafi Zauer and several of his observant friends decided to form their own synagogue-based community, the kind with which they had grown-up with in their former Diaspora communities. "We never found something that we felt we belonged to and accepted," Zauer explains of his early shul-hunting.
In 2000, he and his friends started Minyan Ichud Olam as an informal minyan for religious Tel Avivians seeking modern-Orthodox style Shabbat prayers in a synagogue atmosphere, followed by Shabbat home hospitality. They were given use of a hall in Ihud Shivat Zion synagogue on Rehov Ben Yehuda, and the congregation has grown from its initial 40 participants to 150 members today. About half the members are native-born Israelis. The minyan's December 17 Hanukka party, held at Layla on Rehov Ben Yehuda, drew close to 200 people.
The synagogue caters to a definite niche within Tel Aviv, i.e. modern Orthodox olim, which may be one source for its relative growth. "After a while, people started moving to Tel Aviv specifically because we existed," says Zauer.
For some observant olim, like Kevin Lev, 27, who made aliyah from Los Angeles a few months ago, Tel Aviv still doesn't answer a desire for a rich religious life. While he had considered Jerusalem, he didn't want to suffer the commute to his job outside Netanya. He chose to settle in Givat Shmuel, a neighborhood located near Bar Ilan University in a Tel Aviv suburb.
"Tel Aviv doesn't have a whole lot from a religious standpoint, but Givat Shmuel does. It's a very vibrant, happening community," he says.
With its concentration of religious singles and young couples, many of them drawn from the Bar Ilan student body, Lev doesn't feel lacking for a synagogue-based community and Shabbat hospitality. "If the Givat Shmuel community had not existed, I probably would have ended up in Jerusalem," he concludes.
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