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May 06, 1988 - Image 38

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-05-06

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FRIDAY, MAY 6, 1988

Ex-Detroiter Brings Judaism
To 'Spiritually Poor' Israeli Town


Staff Writer

ou can call it a spiri-
tual Project Renewal
for Upper Nazareth,"
Daniel Koenigsberg says of
his attempts to bring a little
religion to the prosperous
development town in the
By referring to Project
Renewal, the program to
financially and physically aid
ailing Israeli neighborhoods,
Koenigsberg, 26, suggests
that even well-off Israelis can
be poor. "They don't even
know what they don't know"
about Judaism, he says.
Detroit-born and a graduate
of Akiva Hebrew Day School,
Koenigsberg made aliyah in
1985 after several extended
stays in Israel. He met his
American-born wife, Chavie,
in Israel. She had made
aliyah with her family several
years earlier. They are expec-
ting their second child.
The Koenigsbergs were
comfortable with their life in
Jerusalem. And that was the
"I have a certain debt to pay
to the American Orthodox
community," Koenigsberg ex-
plains. "I want to benefit
other kids."
After consulting with rab-
binic advisers, Koenigsberg
was convinced he could repay
his "debt" in Israel for the
education and upbringing he
recieved in America. So when
24-year-old Rabbi Pinchas
Goldshmidt approached
Koenigsberg with the idea of
founding a kollel (institute of
adult Talmud study) and
outreach program in Upper
Nazareth (Natzeret Illit in
Hebrew), Koenigsberg
jumped at the opportunity.
Upper Nazareth is a unique
town on the map of Israel. It
was founded in the 1950s as
a Jewish sister to the Arab ci-
ty of Nazareth. Its 25,000
citizens are primarily
Ashkenazi Jews.
"It's a beautiful city, a clean
city. It overlooks the Jezre'el
Valley. Socially, economically,
it's a wonderful city to live
Upper Nazareth's residents
are typical irreligious
Israelis. "There are 25 shuls.
But the ignorance of Jewish
values is shocking,"
Koenigsberg says.
If not to make the residents
Orthodox, Kollel Natzeret Il-
lit was founded to at least put
them back in touch with their
Jewish roots. Koenigsberg,
now the institute's director,


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Daniel Koenigsberg is battling religious extremism and religious
indifference in the development town of Upper Nazareth.

says the Kollel's approach is
not to push Orthodoxy down
people's throats. This, he says,
would be counterproductive.
He says he is especially
careful when explaining the
concept of mitzvot to young
students. "I don't tell them
this is what you have to do. I
say, this is what Jews do and,
they can draw their own con-
About 30 children regular-
ly participate in the kollel's
afternoon study program,
Koenigsberg says. While
some have heard of the school
through word of mouth,
Koenigsberg doesn't hesitate
to go where the kids are to
drum up business.
"There are times I literally
pull kids off the street. I have
a constant supply of candies
in my pocket.
In a town whose public
religious schools reach only to
the 7th grade, the kollel aims
to include a religious school
through 12th grade for boys
and girls, plus a post-high
school yeshivah. But growth
will be slow and steady.
An interest-free loan fund is
another way in which the
kollel hopes to bring Jewish
concepts to Upper Nazareth.
"We don't have to sit down
and talk about whether God
exists or not to have a positive
effect on people," Koenigsberg
He says that Upper
Nazareth has another distinc-
tion which made the kollel's
establishment a necessity. Ac-
cording to Koenigsberg, the
town's quality of life has at-
tracted Arabs from Nazareth,
who now make up 20 percent
of Upper Nazareth's popula-
tion. Intermingling of Arab
and Jewish neighbors has led

Koenigsberg says that the
problem can be cured with a
shot of Judaism.
Those with a strong Jewish
identity will be less likely to
marry a non-Jew, he says.
Visiting Detroit as part of a
fund-raising tour of the
United States, Koenigsberg
reflects enthusiastically on
this mundane aspect of his
religious work. "I enjoy sell-
ing. I feel like I'm selling
Judaism in Upper Nazareth."
Koenigsberg sees his mis-
sion in Israel as tempering
ultra-Orthodox extremism as
much as making secular Jews
comfortable with religion.
He is conducting an uphill
struggle in his community to
dissociate himself and his
brand of Orthodoxy from the
virulently anti-state Or-
thodoxy of Israel's newly
observant, the ba'alei
"We're trying to combat
religious extremism. We're for
the State of Israel, we're for
the army," he declares.
"At first, people suspected
me of being a 'missionary.' I
really had to allay their fears
that I was not out to make
everyone ultra-Orthodox."
He says that religious ex-
tremism is only a temporary
phenomenon and that, in
time, the pendulum will
swing back toward religious
moderation. But he warns
that Israel is headed for civil
war if the country's Orthodox
don't bend to the secular
"One day the secular Jews
will say they've just had
enough. So we'd better step in
quickly to do something
about it. Tolerance is the
name of the game."

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