Yishai: S. Tel Aviv shuls in danger due to migrants

Interior Minister pens letter to TA mayor calling on him to safeguard synagogues from wave of neglect, disrepair.

311_Simhat Torah (photo credit: Illustrative photo: Ariel Jerozolimski)
311_Simhat Torah
(photo credit: Illustrative photo: Ariel Jerozolimski)
“We do have trouble getting a minyan for evening prayers, after nightfall, 99 percent of the people out here are not Jewish,” Yitzhak Altaras – the 86-year-old gabbai of the Etz Hayim synagogue on the southwest corner of Levinsky Park in south Tel Aviv – said on Tuesday.
The synagogue was founded in 1923, and originally met in one of the wooden shacks that housed immigrants from the Caucasus and is now the site of Levinsky Park, the epicenter of Israel’s African migrant community.
Earlier in the day Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) wrote a letter to Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai calling on him to safeguard south Tel Aviv synagogues from what he said is a wave of neglect and disrepair brought on by the ever-growing African migrant and illegal residents population.
“I have received more and more complaints from south Tel Aviv residents about the stench, the neglect, and how synagogues are being turned into bars and pubs and sometimes even public bathrooms at the hands of the infiltrators and illegal residents population, all the while Jewish worshipers are being pushed out from the area, and finding a minyan is becoming a rare thing,” Yishai wrote in his letter.
Yishai added “I am sure that if you were to hear of such a thing in a city elsewhere in the world, people around the globe and certainly in Israel would be shocked and would take steps to fix the situation. As the mayor of Tel Aviv, the safeguarding of synagogues including those in the south of the city is under your jurisdiction. I ask that you work as needed to protect them and give them the respect they deserve.”
Altaras hadn’t heard of Yishai’s letter, but said that the decline in attendance was something that had been going on for years, even before the African migrants began arriving in waves about five years ago.
“People moved out of the neighborhood, the young people don’t care or want to come, all that’s left are the older people,” Altaras said, in a refrain common throughout the Jewish Diaspora.
He added that he hadn’t heard about synagogues being turned into bars and nightclubs in the neighborhood, but that earlier in the day he had issued a police complaint against an Africanrun bar across from his apartment on Levinsky that he said kept him up all night “and I don’t even sleep with my hearing aid in, and it’s not normal music either.”
A native of Romania, married to a wife from the Caucasus, Altaras said the synagogue, whose new building was opened in 1990, can usually field one minyan a day, and pulls a crowd on holidays.
Shlomi Shalom, a middleaged worshiper who works near the central bus station and comes to pray at the end of his work day, said the focus shouldn’t be on synagogues, rather the fact that “this whole area is neglected, all of South Tel Aviv has been made into the hatzer ha’ahori [backyard] of Israel and once you have an image like that it’s very hard to change it.”
Nearly an hour after the synagogue opened its doors Tuesday for evening services there were only four elderly men gathered on the porch, as occasionally one would walk out to the sidewalk and try to find an adult Jewish male to come in and help complete the minyan.
The Tel Aviv municipality said Tuesday they had received the letter from Yishai and would pass it on to the local religious council of Tel Aviv. They added that the issue of maintenance and preservation of synagogues is not the responsibility of the municipality, but is handled and funded by the Religious Affairs Ministry.
A spokesman for the ministry countered Tuesday that it is not responsible, and that 95 percent of synagogues are privately run. The Tel Aviv local religious council did not respond to a press inquiry.