ENGLEWOOD Despite its rich history as one of the world’s oldest cities, Akko (sometimes spelled Acre) is perhaps best known as the site of the daring 1947 prison break at the infamous Turkish fortress where British Mandate officials detained hundreds of Jewish Underground fighters and hanged nine of them.
Today, Jews make up only a slim majority of the population of this Israeli port city in the Western Galilee, and Jewish residents have been leaving in droves over the past few years. That’s why former Teaneck resident Chanoch Shudofsky is willing to commute the 95 miles from his Jerusalem home to work as the director of development for a post-high-school yeshiva established there four years ago.
An artist’s rendering of the planned hesder yeshiva campus in Akko.
"We have an obligation to see to it that the city of Akko maintains a Jewish character and Jewish majority, and that this yeshiva can make that happen," said Shudofsky, who was administrator of Yavneh Academy in Paramus from 1984 to 1999.
Shudofsky will be here this weekend seeking support for the fledgling school, Yeshivat Bnei Akiva Hesder Akko, which is part of the system of Yeshivot Hesder. Young men spend five years in hesder, including 18 months on active military duty and ongoing community service at neighborhood schools, old age homes, civil guard, and Torah study groups.
Many married "hesderniks" put down roots in their school communities during and after the program. Such young couples "are the hope of the flourishing future of Akko," according to the school’s Website, yakko.co.il/english.htm. About 15 percent of the current student body of 1’0 men has chosen to live in Akko.
Shudofsky’s job is to generate interest and dollars for the venture. "I undertook this because I have a serious character flaw: I’m very pro-Jewish," he joked. "The special aim of the yeshiva is to attract more young Jewish families by strengthening and maintaining the Zionist Jewish character of this ancient Jewish city."
Housed in a synagogue building in an older neighborhood, the school is ready to build a new campus on a ‘ 1/’-acre tract of land given to it by the municipality. The $3 million project is expected to encompass a bet midrash (study hall), library, mikvah, computer center, dormitory, and dining and kitchen facilities. Gift opportunities range from the naming of the campus to individual rooms, furnishings, and mezuzot, Shudofksy said.
"I will be speaking at Cong. Ahavath Torah on Shabbat afternoon, at 6 p.m. before mincha," he said, "about the importance of settling in the Galilee in general and the role of this hesder yeshiva in making Akko once again a cornerstone of Jewish life."
On Sunday at 7 p.m., he’ll address a parlor meeting at the home of Pauline and Avy Kraft, 300 E. Palisade Ave.