New Community Sets Sights on Young Israelis Who Left the Orthodox Fold

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An ad for Neveh Dror, a community targeting young Israelis who left the Orthodox community, June 2016.
An ad for Neveh Dror, a community targeting young Israelis who left the Orthodox community, June 2016. Credit: Neveh Dror

A first community of its kind designated for formerly Orthodox Jews is about to take root.

The development, which will house 90 families in the initial stage, is to be built on the outskirts of Mevo Dotan, a West Bank settlement in the northern Samarian hills. The settlement extension, which will be called Neveh Dror, has already obtained the necessary building and zoning permits, according to Shivi Froman, the project's mastermind.

The new community, he said, is meant to provide a solution to Israelis who grew up in Orthodox homes and want to maintain a connection to religious life but find themselves unwelcome in most religious communities.

“For formerly Orthodox Jews who want to live in the big city, this is not a problem,” he told Haaretz. “But many prefer small communities, and if they do not lead a religious lifestyle anymore, they are not wanted in Orthodox communities.”

Froman is the son of the late Menachem Froman, a settler rabbi who distinguished himself as a peace activist. The 36-year-old father of four said that although he had returned to the fold after living a secular life for 10 years, he would still prefer living in the company of Jews who lead a less stringent lifestyle.

An ad for Neveh Dror, a community targeting young Israelis who left the Orthodox community, June 2016. Credit: Neveh Dror

In tongue-in-cheek-style, an ad marketing the project teases prospective buyers with the following question: “Ex-religious folks: If you’re already doomed for hell, why not live in heaven in the meantime?”

Since the marketing campaign was launched last week, Froman has been inundated with phone calls from prospective buyers, he said. “To date, we’ve received 316 inquiries,” he said. “To me, this says there was clearly a need for a community like this.”

Like most real estate projects in the West Bank, prices in Neveh Dror for three- and four-bedroom homes will be significantly cheaper than inside Israel’s internationally recognized borders.

Orthodox Jews in Israel tend to be more right-wing politically than their secular counterparts and comprise a disproportionately large share of the settlement population. According to Froman, though, many of those who abandon Orthodoxy continue to support the settlement movement and therefore feel no remorse about living in this contested territory.

Froman, who works in real estate and advertising, said the new project, which he describes as a “social startup,” is also generating interest among Orthodox families who have not left the fold.

“One of the phone calls I received the other day was from an Orthodox couple who live in a religious community but find it stifling there and want out,” he said.

In Israel, formerly Orthodox Jews are known as datlashim, an acronym for dati’im l’she’avar previously religious. A first-of-its-kind survey published in March by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center found that these Jews have become a significant demographic. Only 54 percent of respondents who were raised Orthodox said they continued to lead an Orthodox lifestyle, with most of them defining themselves as masorti traditional.

It is precisely this group, which maintains a foothold in the religious world, that Neveh Dror is targeting. According to Frohman, the new development should be completed in a year and a half.

Among the recent posts on the new Neveh Dror Facebook page is a photo of someone holding a cellphone hidden under a tablecloth. “Ex-religious folks, next Shavuot, you won’t need to hide your telephone under the table anymore,” it says, referring to the Orthodox prohibition against using telephones on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays.

“Happy holiday from the first ex-religious community. Neveh Dror. You have a place.”

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