Vox Tablet

Hearts and Minds

When Chabad arrived in an upscale Tel Aviv neighborhood, its liberal residents didn’t respond with open arms

March 8, 2010
Ramat Aviv(Daniel Estrin)
Ramat Aviv(Daniel Estrin)

The Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement is known for its outreach among non-Orthodox Jews, encouraging them to become more religious. Chabadniks are posted to about 75 countries, where their efforts are generally met with curiosity, indifference, or, at worst, irritation. But in Ramat Aviv, an upscale, liberal, and famously secular neighborhood of Tel Aviv, the sect’s arrival has prompted a much stronger reaction: fury. Chabad’s presence in Ramat Aviv is growing, and secular residents—who in the fall formed a residents association to oppose the Chabad incursion—are convinced that the Hasidim are trying to brainwash their children and take over the neighborhood. Now, every Friday, the two camps face off outside schools and in other public spaces, where Chabad representatives approach passersby, mostly kids, and invite them to wrap tefillin and pray. The battle has caught the attention of the Israeli press, even prompting an angry column, accusing the secular residents of anti-Semitism, from one of the country’s best-known columnists, Gideon Levy. Tablet contributor Daniel Estrin filed a report on the growing conflict in Ramat Aviv.

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