Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Cheshvan 5764 - October 29, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Making the Galilee Bloom: The Long Campaign to Build Torah Life in Carmiel

by Aryeh Zissman

Had someone told the founders of Carmiel that forty years later it would be a ray of light for the entire area they would not have believed their ears. Yet Carmiel, which was started with the (almost) explicit goal of being a city "without religious residents and without social cases," has been transformed over time into a city with an active Torah life. And there are social cases to be found as well.

The great irony is that today Keren Ora institutions are solving a significant portion of social problems through chesed operations, including soup kitchens and medical equipment available to lend.

The person responsible for a large portion of the Torah activity in the city is the moro d'asro, HaRav Avrohom Tzvi Margalit, who built Keren Ora's wide range of activities.

But why start at the end? A bit of historical background will allow readers to understand what a tremendous revolution has taken place.

"From Carmiel's perspective this is like the fall of the Berlin Wall or the fall of the Communist regime in Russia," explains one observer. "Once you've finished the article, you and your readers will sense it!" he says confidently. We accepted the challenge and set out.

Superb Planning

Carmiel was set up 40 years ago. The founders won't admit it, but what impelled the State to invest in building another town in the North was the Arab neighbors. The goal was to prevent the spread of the Arab population by Judaizing the Galil.

Israel's extreme left caught onto the plan and decided to try to thwart construction. Leftist activists lay down in front of the first bulldozers that came to even the ground. But the founders and promoters overpowered them, forcing the protesters to concede and head back to Tel Aviv.

The builders laid the town out beautifully. The streets are wide and well paved and the Galilee Mountains are visible in all their shadowy green splendor on every side. The town's proximity to Tzfas and Meron, just 20 minutes to the northeast, helped it become one of the North's central locations.

Carmiel is built on terraced ground. The town's cleanliness is impossible to miss and the large swathes of green spaces are also highly visible. The efforts made by community leaders are apparent in the well-groomed facade, which give residents a sense that they live in a tranquil, pastoral and clean place replete with aromatic flowerbeds.

Unlike many poorly planned towns in Eretz Yisroel that appear as a hodgepodge from an aerial view, Carmiel is extraordinarily well laid out. Many residential buildings are no more than three stories high and some parts feature prestigious single-family homes.

The town was originally built primarily for financially established immigrants from Romania and later South America, as well as former kibbutz dwellers and Haifa residents trying to escape the noise of the big city in favor of a more secluded locale. Eventually these were joined by immigrants from the major waves of immigration of the past two decades, the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia. The town's total population is now 60,000.


Carmiel's tranquility makes the town a popular choice, particularly among European immigrants. Even honking is a rarity here. And when a driver does use his horn he receives startled looks of concern, as when an ambulance passes by in Bnei Brak. Nobody here honks his horn just to speed up the driver in front of him; horns are reserved for urgent situations. This is the tone of life in Carmiel.

To catch a glimpse of Carmiel's special atmosphere, try visiting on a sunny afternoon when the parks, with their manicured lawns, are filled with mothers and children, with plenty of swings and slides for all.

Courtesy and warm smiles are not hard to come by. When you ask for directions, don't be surprised if someone insists on guiding you part or all the way to your destination.

The leaders of the town managed to provide residents with a sense of belonging that has succeeded in retaining second and third generations who choose to build their future in the town. The town's early immigrants have also remained, receiving the more recent waves of immigrants about fifteen years ago with open arms.

As can be expected the majority of immigrants from the former Soviet Union do not keep Torah and mitzvos, for the Communist regime robbed them of every glint of Yiddishkeit and faith. This fact should be kept in mind to fully appreciate the importance of the Torah activities organized in the town, which all are in favor of.

In Carmiel the concept of kiruv rechokim assumes a clear and tangible meaning. The kiruv activities are not aimed exclusively at new immigrants but reach out to established Israelis as well. The town also has a significant core of traditional Jews from the East and from North Africa who also take advantage of the range of Torah activities organized by Keren Ora institutes. This is where the founder of Carmiel's Torah life, HaRav Avrohom Tzvi Margalit, steps into the picture.

Eradicating Midas Sedom

HaRav Margalit came to Carmiel by `chance.' Three decades ago HaRav Margalit applied for acceptance at one of the kollelim in the North. At the time, the kollelim in the area were located in Natzeret and Carmiel. "Natzeret did not seem right to me," says HaRav Margalit. "Carmiel had a nicer ring to it because of its Jewish name." A few years later HaRav Margalit would call the beis knesses he set up Kerem-Kel based on the name that originally inspired him.

HaRav Margalit was a pioneering force. In the kollel's peak years it had five avreichim. All of them left, leaving HaRav Margalit on his own. The town's religious services were run by the late R' Eidelberg, who would commute from Haifa every day. When he passed away, the Religious Affairs Ministry looked for a local rov to replace him.

HaRav Margalit, who had been living in Carmiel for two or three years by then, was offered the job right away. At first, individuals from outside the town tried to compete for the position but local leaders preferred not to look elsewhere when there was a young, energetic rov in their midst.

During his first ten years as rov, he was groping in the dark. HaRav Margalit directed his energy toward setting up a Torah infrastructure with a variety of local activities, but his efforts failed to penetrate. Because Carmiel was marked as a secular town, it failed to attract avreichim, and those who did come to the local kollel commuted from Rechasim or Haifa and its environs. Thus Carmiel remained empty of bnei Torah residents.

Yet HaRav Margalit did not lose hope. "The gedolei Yisroel I visited reminded me that the goal of Carmiel's founders was to build a city without religious residents and without social problems. Some of them said that on one level they could understand why [the founders would want] a city without religious people: to spare having to close streets, etc. But they could not understand why the founders chose to set up a city without social cases. `This is worse than Sedom,' said some of the gedolei Yisroel I spoke with. `Perhaps this is why it is hard to build a local Torah infrastructure in the town.'"

HaRav Margalit would not relent. He knew that bringing in a base group of avreichim was the only way to alter the situation. His first move was to set up soup kitchens for anyone in need. Later these chesed projects proved effective in changing the midas Sedom the gedolei Yisroel had referred to, contributing to the present growth of Torah activities in Carmiel.

Founding Keren Ora

During that first decade of trying times, parents in Carmiel who wanted a religious education for their children had to send them to places outside of Carmiel. Only after ten years did a change take place. HaRav Margalit set up a kollel, and although the avreichim lived outside of the town, mostly in Rechasim, they stayed in Carmiel in the evening to engage in kiruv. Gradually baalei teshuvoh families joined them in forming a core group that eventually turned into today's kehilloh.

The first Torah-based nursery school opened twenty years ago. Today there are three nursery schools and kindergartens and more are needed to meet the demand. The first kollel continued for another five years until a revolution took place in the form of the Keren Ora Yeshiva.

The idea was hatched by one of Carmiel's baal teshuvoh families when the time came for their son to leave home to study in yeshiva. At first HaRav Margalit wanted to set up a yeshiva for baalei teshuvoh, but the plan failed to materialize. Later one of the avreichim in the kollel, HaRav Tzvi Blatt of Rechasim, came up with the idea of opening a regular yeshiva ketanoh with special conditions suited to Carmiel's tranquil atmosphere.

HaRav Margalit was thrilled at the idea and rushed to the home of Maran HaRav Shach, zt'l. The year was 5748 (1988). Their conversation changed the face of the city. "The Negev is flourishing and the Galilee is desolate," HaRav Shach told him. "Something has to be done to make it bloom."

Those words of chizuk to Carmiel's young rov were enough. The yeshiva opened with nine bochurim. Today there are 60 bochurim, who are among the North's most outstanding bnei yeshivos.

"It was extraordinary," recalls HaRav Margalit. "We would go to meetings held in people's homes in Haifa to present the yeshiva to them and ask them to send us talmidim. Just this feeling that suddenly there is an alternative and that parents would have a haveh amina to send their sons to Carmiel just as they send them to yeshivas in Rechasim, Jerusalem or Bnei Brak, gave us tremendous satisfaction."

HaRav Shach's brochoh helped and the yeshiva earned a good reputation over the years. Today it is considered in the top ranks of yeshivos ketanos in Israel. HaRav Dov Yaffeh, mashgiach of Yeshivas Knesses Chizkiyohu in Rechasim, arrives every Thursday to deliver a talk to the yeshiva and his personage radiates upon the young yeshiva boys, elated by his unique and profound talks.


After setting up Yeshivas Keren Ora, HaRav Margalit was not content to sit on his laurels at home. The yeshiva was just the first link in a long chain of Torah enterprises. "It involved many uncertainties," recollects HaRav Margalit.

"I went to Maran HaRav Shach, zt'l, and told him of my uncertainties about whether part of a rov's job is to set up yeshivas and other Torah projects, or to stick to handling kashrus, Shabbos and taharas hamishpochoh. The Rosh Yeshiva told me unambiguously that the rov's task includes kiruv rechokim and to achieve this, Torah institutions have to be started and bnei yeshivos have to be brought in to show everybody what real bnei Torah look like. This is the only way to engage in kiruv rechokim properly."

HaRav Margalit went one step further, asking the Rosh Yeshiva for his blessings in bringing young bochurim to Carmiel. "This is a yeshiva with a dormitory, and the Rosh Yeshiva is opposed to live-in yeshivos ketanos," he noted. "Maran replied that he is not opposed to yeshivas with dormitories per se, but when there are two yeshivas of the same caliber, he recommends the one without a dormitory. But obviously a yeshiva in Carmiel has to have a dormitory, therefore he told me to set it up without hesitation."

Yeshivas Keren Ora was soon followed by other links in the chain. When the large wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union began 12 years ago, HaRav Margalit set up the Amichai School under the auspices of Chinuch Atzmai. Beginning with just a handful of students, the school continued to grow and today 450 students are enrolled there, with separate wings for boys and girls. Students also come in from nearby towns such as Marom Hagalil and Misgav, and even 25 students from Kfar Veradim (which is home to Stef Wertheimer, the notoriously anti-religious businessman).

Amichai is housed in a magnificent, modern building built by the Education Ministry and the City of Carmiel, and includes nursery schools and kindergartens for all ages. An extensive busing system transports most of the students to the school complex. Most of the teachers are the wives of avreichim.

Solid Infrastructure

The crown jewel of Carmiel is the central kollel, with some 40 avreichim headed by HaRav Meir Yehuda Fisher. All of them agree that only a local kollel whose members live in the city could make Torah flourish.

The first nine avreichim were the pioneers. Some of them rented apartments in Carmiel, planning to come "just for a year" and then "one more year" and are still there today, ten years after the kollel's founding. In the meantime some of them purchased apartments in Carmiel and settled permanently.

The city now boasts the institutional infrastructure needed to accommodate a newly arrived ben Torah. Six years ago a cheder called Kerem Yechiel was founded. The talmidim there are the sons of avreichim, and the melamdim, too, come from the ranks of avreichim. The first-grade class has 15 talmidim and the sixth- grade graduating class has nine. Daughters of the avreichim are enrolled at the Amichai Bais Yaakov school.

Every evening the avreichim travel to the outlying towns and settlements and to various neighborhoods in Carmiel to engage in kiruv activities. These efforts have been quite successful, as area residents can attest. The avreichim also maintain ties with the graduates of the seminary for baalei teshuvoh and send many girls beginning to show an interest to the seminary as well.

The avreichim devote much of their time and energy to giving shiurei Torah to local residents in the evening; to those beginning to draw closer to Yiddishkeit they provide individual shiurim, family counselling on various issues and organized social and Torah activities to members of the community thirsting for spiritual activities. These activities also contribute to community-building within the group of avreichim, who are alumni from the country's leading yeshivas.

The Center for Jewish Studies (known as Beit Mali) helps support these endeavors by providing lectures and shiurei Torah to immigrants and to the general public. At the women's midrashah the wives of the avreichim deliver lectures to large audiences and ladies also interested in drawing closer to the world of Torah and mitzvos. "We are seeing great success here in kiruv rechokim along with the learning in the kollel, and this is an [important] goal in Carmiel," says HaRav Pinchos Siroka, one of the city's veteran avreichim. The midrashah has books and cassettes, including Kol HaDaf, which are in high demand.

Five years ago a Beis Yaakov high school called Neveh Carmiel was started to allow girls to study close to home. The staff here is also made up largely of the wives of the avreichim, of course. The school costs Keren Ora a great deal, but these expenses have not prevented HaRav Margalit from keeping it running through mesirus nefesh. Every Friday, HaRav Margalit himself comes to give a shiur on parshas hashovua and hashkofoh, in addition to the daily gemora shiur he delivers at the Amichai boys' school one hour before the studies begin at 7:00.

Yeshivas Avi Ezri

Six years ago Keren Ora institutions opened a second yeshiva ketanoh called Ateres HaTalmud, in memory of HaRav Shalom Lopez, who served as rov of Acco for decades. For years many Galil residents eagerly awaited the opening of a yeshiva in the area al taharas hakodesh and since it was begun, Ateres HaTalmud has enjoyed great success. HaRav Margalit himself serves as rosh yeshiva.

The yeshiva currently numbers 50 Sephardic talmidim. Following various moves during its first few years, the yeshiva is now housed in the building of the school built for the Amit network and given to the yeshiva by Mayor Adi Aldar, who Keren Ora has greatly praised for the assistance he has extended to Keren Ora. The yeshiva is scheduled to leave its present site, and construction on the permanent yeshiva complex is now underway.

Another yeshiva, Heichal Avi Ezri, opened one year ago, is attracting wide attention. In addition to the yeshiva's unique learning technique, which has won the approval of gedolei Yisroel, the new yeshiva places special emphasis on building the talmid's character in the areas of derech eretz, kibbud horim and midos tovos. The yeshiva's formula is based on directives HaRav Margalit received from Maran HaRav Shach, zt'l, to stress working on midos and accept bochurim based on yiras Shomayim and midos tovos.

Also, a ten-man kollel called Zichron Dovid studies on the premises and is active in the Kiryat Rabin neighborhood. In total nearly 1,000 talmidim study in the framework of Keren Ora institutions, from nursery schools and kindergartens to schools, yeshivas and kollelim.

The institutions serve as an example of proper management. Every organization, yeshiva, school, cheder and kindergarten has its own principal or director under Keren Ora, the umbrella organization that provides the salaries and maintains the facilities.

The Maseches Project

The chesed activities in Carmiel have also had a widespread effect on all levels of the city's populace. Two soup kitchens provide meals to whoever is in need, who arrives with written confirmation from the Municipal Department of Welfare. The soup kitchens also send out bimonthly food baskets to families in need. At first the soup kitchens were intended solely for new immigrants but over the years, particularly during the recent economic decline, the Welfare Department has begun referring more established residents as well.

Keren Ora's chesed projects have won wide acclaim in the city. Ezra Lemarpeh, which provides medical equipment on loan, is located on the yeshiva premises. This compels many people far from Yiddishkeit to at least take a cursory glance at Torah life, and some of them might eventually come back for more.

Keren Ora is also praised for its special-education school, Machon Orot, for chareidi children with learning disabilities who arrive from throughout the area--from Haifa, Rechasim and the Krayot to the southwest, all the way up to Tzfas in the northeast. Machon Orot is the only chareidi school for children with learning disabilities in multiple areas. The students who have only slight disabilities are later integrated into regular study programs following the devoted care they receive in Carmiel.

Joining Keren Ora's wide range of institutions is Mifal Hamasechtot, whose aim is to impart thorough knowledge in entire masechtos. The project is based on the words of Maran HaRav Chaim of Volozhin: "Vetov lihiyos boki bemaseches achas meiharbos belo kavonoh"--i.e. better to be thoroughly conversant with one maseches than to have superficial knowledge in many. Program participants, who learn in institutions all over Israel, spend five years learning the maseches of their choice five times over with Rashi and Tosafos, as well as the Rosh, some of the relevant simonim in the Shulchan Oruch and selected chapters from the Mishneh Torah.

Participants take a written exam given in several stages. Upon conclusion each participant is eligible to publish his chiddushim in an individual booklet fully funded by Mifal Hamasechtot. Currently, hundreds of talmidim are registered in the program. The many calls coming into Carmiel demonstrate that the little local office has transformed into a central location for Torah life in Eretz Yisroel, giving project heads great satisfaction. Mifal Hamasechtot has been blessed by gedolei hador in the approbations for the book, Margalit Tovoh, published by HaRav Margalit and devoted to explaining the great importance of constant chazoroh on material studied.

Coming Soon: Yeshiva Gedoloh

HaRav Margalit tells proudly of the first avreich to arrive in the city, HaRav Yeshayohu Kaniel, originally of Haifa and a former student at Yeshivas Chevron. Today HaRav Kaniel serves as rov of the central beis knesses, Matan Nachliel. Some 80 worshipers come to the beis knesses regularly, including academics and professionals. HaRav Kaniel gives a shiur Torah and is well liked by all. He also serves as a ram at one of the local yeshivos ketanos.

HaRav Margalit's beis knesses has become the beis knesses of choice for the avreichim and a point of departure for all of the Torah activities in Carmiel and the surrounding area.

"We are very grateful to Mayor Adi Aldar," says HaRav Margalit. "Cooperation with him is exceptional and he assists us in every matter to the best of his ability." Aldar was among the first people to recognize the potential in the Keren Ora institutes. When many of his top officials tried to put a wrench in the works during Keren Ora's incipient stages, Aldar stood by HaRav Margalit and solved the complicated bureaucratic problems in order to accelerate the startup process.

A Jew from Bnei Brak once arrived in Carmiel and asked for directions to one of HaRav Margalit's yeshivas. As he neared the building he phoned HaRav Margalit to ask exactly where he should go. HaRav Margalit described the building and the man stood in astonishment. Later he recounted, "I had walked around that spectacular building several times, but I didn't think it could be the yeshiva building. I thought the building [they] would receive from the municipality would be derelict, off to the side, perhaps out by the cemetery. I didn't imagine that could be the yeshiva."

The key to the mayor's positive attitude lies in HaRav Margalit's oft-repeated motto: "Our approach is to wage battle in favor of everything and not against."

Nothing can progress without plans for the future and HaRav Margalit's plans include opening a yeshiva gedoloh. The infrastructure already exists in the three yeshivos ketanos operating in the city. "This may not be a good time from an economic standpoint, but one cannot fall back after all we've managed to create in Carmiel," explains the Moro D'asro. "Everybody who comes here, whether talmid or avreich, will sense he has come to a place of Torah. Carmiel has ceased being the desolate wilderness we once found here."


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