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O Jerusalem

Does Israel’s capital—with its large, activist, and growing ultra-Orthodox population—fairly represent Israel?

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Ultra-Orthodox Jews protesting a planned 2006 gay-pride parade in Jerusalem, which was ultimately canceled. (Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)
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This week, as we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, the 43rd anniversary of the city’s reunification after the 1967 war, I have a confession to make: I can’t stand Jerusalem.

It’s a confession that would have saddened my great-great-grandfather, who left Slovakia for the Old City in the 19th century, as well as most of my family, who live there still. Out of respect for them, I have spent most of my life keeping my predilections to myself. My dislike for Jerusalem, I was sure, was predicated on all the wrong reasons: because its restaurants were not as chic as Tel Aviv’s, its stores not as trendy, or any number of superficial considerations. Jerusalem, I felt, just didn’t represent me.

Looking at newly released statistics this week, I was dismayed to find that the problem is deeper than that. Jerusalem, it is becoming more evident, doesn’t represent the majority of Israelis.

According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, only 21 percent of Jerusalem’s 774,000 residents are secular, less than half the national average, and 32 percent are haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, nearly four times the national average. At a time when most Israelis look with great pride at the country’s booming high-tech industry and rising college graduation rates, 49 percent of Jerusalem’s students, enrolled in ultra-Orthodox institutions, will fail to receive high-school diplomas this year. This number is likely to continue to grow. And while Israelis in general are entering the workforce in greater numbers, Jerusalem is becoming increasingly impoverished: 60 percent of all Israelis currently participate in the workforce, but only 45 percent of Jerusalemites do. This number is likely to continue to drop.

The capital’s problems don’t end there. As has been widely reported for some years, vast swaths of its choicest real estate are being gobbled up by wealthy American Jews who, for the most part, either keep the property empty as a second or third home or, in the case of more religiously observant buyers, provide housing for ultra-Orthodox families. Lamenting this change, some of the city’s disgruntled residents told me in private conversations that Jerusalem was now Israel’s most international and yet least cosmopolitan city.

Ramot Eshkol is a case in point. In the 1970s and 1980s, the northern neighborhood was a bastion of secularism, home to authors like Amos Oz and Meir Shalev and numerous others in Israel’s cultural and intellectual elite. In 2004, an average three-bedroom apartment in the neighborhood cost $100,000. Today, in part because of the influence of American buyers, similar three-bedroom apartments sell for half a million dollars or more, and over 70 percent of the neighborhood’s 9,000 residents are ultra-Orthodox, many of them either American or supported by American charity organizations. As the ultra-Orthodox moved in, the neighborhood’s previous residents fled, grumbling that their old neighborhood was no longer an exclusive, secular community. And with prices in Ramot Eshkol skyrocketing, ultra-Orthodox families have started looking for homes in nearby neighborhoods, moving there and setting off similar population shifts in Ramot Alon, Bayit Va’Gan, Kerem Avraham, and neighborhoods all over the city.

In and of itself, this process is not unique. Cities, after all, change all the time, neighborhoods reinvent themselves, populations drift out and others settle in. But real estate in Jerusalem is more than just a series of transactions; it has become a contact sport.

In Sheikh Jarrah, an Arab neighborhood north of the Old City, American-backed settlers have successfully sued to retrieve property that, historically, belonged to Jewish families forced out by Arab violence in the 1930s and 1940s. Most Israelis found their efforts appalling: If Jews, after all, pushed prior ownership as an admissible reason to retrieve previously pilfered land, similar legal concessions would have to be made for Arabs who left Jerusalem and Jaffa and Haifa and Lod, a potential calamity for the Jewish state. Those concerned primarily with Jerusalem’s boundaries, however, paid no heed to the throngs of demonstrators—including authors, academics, and other members of Israel’s mainstream—now congregating in the neighborhood each Friday afternoon. They continued to build. With Florida millionaire Irving Moskowitz’s money, they erected another Jewish residential compound in Sheikh Jarrah and cheered on as Eli Yishai, Israel’s ultra-Orthodox minister of housing, announced a plan to build 1,600 units for Jews in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot Shlomo. Yishai’s announcement, timed to coincide with Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Jerusalem, sparked the most severe diplomatic crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations in at least two decades.

Such developments are not just a matter of politics. As the reality in Jerusalem drifts further and further away from that of the rest of Israel, the very idea on which the modern Jewish state was founded, Zionism, is called into question.

No one, perhaps, represents classical Zionism better than Teddy Kollek, Jerusalem’s legendary mayor from 1965 to 1993. Like Theodor Herzl, after whom he was named, and David Ben Gurion, to whom he was a close friend and aide, Kollek believed that the Jewish people could only survive if they freed themselves of messianic mythologies and reintroduced themselves into history by building a viable, modern state, a normal nation that thrived alongside others, independent and proud. To that end, Kollek established a host of public institutions that reinvented Israel’s capital as a thriving, cosmopolitan, and modern city.

But Jerusalem, Kollek realized, would never be accepted as Israel’s legitimate capital unless it could demonstrate civility and grace toward all its citizens, Jews and Arabs alike. Less than a week after the end of the 1967 war, Kollek visited east Jerusalem’s defeated Arab mayor to pledge Jewish-Arab cooperation, a promise he largely kept throughout his tenure. Jerusalem, Kollek believed, was too important to serve as a battleground where politicians and activists could make grand ideological gestures. For the most part, Kollek kept the extremists at bay, preserving the delicate fabric of Jerusalem as a city sacred to all three monotheistic religions.

But the Jerusalem of today is one Kollek would hardly recognize. Its ultra-Orthodox residents, for the most part, negate Zionism altogether, believing that only prayer and mitzvot will bring about redemption. And its active settlers, those bent on Judaizing eastern Jerusalem, are similarly steeped in messianic zeal, committed to recapturing the alleyways and hilltops of biblical Israel even at the risk of alienating their fellow Israelis and the world at large. The old-school Zionists, those who voted for Kollek five times, have, for the most part, either died off or left town: In 2009, for example, 19,900 people left Jerusalem, the highest departure rate of any major Israeli city, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. While some of these former Jerusalemites are ultra-Orthodox headed for nearby West Bank settlements, many are young secular Israelis who are exasperated by the changing nature of the city.

One, of course, may disagree that a capital must, or can, represent its nation. We may argue whether or not Washington, D.C., say, embodies the United States, or what is quintessentially Dutch about The Hague. But Jerusalem has always been special: While it is an earthly city, it is, unlike most of the world’s capitals, also a theological concept, the sum of all the Jewish people’s yearnings and beliefs. When Israeli paratroopers reunified the city 43 years ago, many, like Kollek, believed that now, finally, heaven and earth would move a little bit nearer together and that the actual city would come as close as any actual city can to resembling the idyll Jews have been praying for. Now, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that the opposite is true: Jerusalem represents a narrow portion of the Jewish population, highlighting the conflicts and the differences that plague Israel, never further from heaven.

So, it’s Teddy Kollek’s Jerusalem—a Jerusalem I never knew—I commemorated on Yom Yerushalayim this year. By the time I was old enough to learn to appreciate the city, Ehud Olmert and his ultra-Orthodox associates were already in power, and the secular exodus from Jerusalem had begun in full force. But like the many Jews who pine not for the earthly city of Jerusalem but for Jerusalem that’s in our prayers and in our minds and in our hearts, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, I, too, yearn. One day, I pray, Jews will once again return to Jerusalem and rebuild it, Jews who have faith in the ancient traditions but also in the promise of a better future, Jews who feel as comfortable with Twitter as they do with their tefillin, Jews who are confident enough in their birthright to treat others with dignity and respect. If they ever come back to Jerusalem, these Jews will make it the city Teddy Kollek fought for, both particularly Jewish and truly international, a city, in other words, I would very much love.

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Melech says:

Your holy great-grandfather is turning over in his grave from your hateful words. May you one day merit to see the truth.

Honest Broker says:

Finality some real truth instead of Yershalaim shel Zahav nostalgia

apikoros18 says:

Great article, from the heart. It was as if the author saw into my heart, as well

Shmuel says:

Liel – please. You are entitled to your opinions like anyone. But please keep this sort of stuff to yourself. You live in NY anyway.

Norma N says:

Hey Liel,
Life is bigger than your childish, self-absorbed nonsense.
Get over yourself.
And, P.S. Jerusalem can’t stand you either.

Louis Trachtman says:

What a whining, complaining writer (but good!) you are! Your comparison of Jews being forced out of Jerusalem years ago to Arabs fleeing Jaffa, Haifa, and Lod on their own volition in 1948 is not only inaccurate historically, it sounds astonishingly just like typical present day anti-Israel and anti-Semitic diatribe! I am from New Orleans – have you noticed the sky rocketing price of French Quarter real estate lately, even as other areas experience a decline in real estate prices? This is not due to other Americans moving orthodox haredim into the townhouses there! It’s what’s called supply and demand in a most desirable location. Why don’t you lighten up and enjoy Jerusalem for what it is, a wonderful spiritual place!

JTabes says:

If you don’t like what you see, read a different blog. Thanks for saying what needs to be said.

David says:

As a grandfather who grew up in a divided pre-1967 Jerusalem, and fought in the war that led to its reunification, I unhappily concur with the writer. Today Jerusalem is a sprawling, untidy, and none too clean metropolis where half a million Israeli Jews, mostly of the impoverished Orthodox variety, live next to a quarter of a million mostly impoverished Moslem Palestinians. The small fraction of secular Jews in the city-to whom I belong- constitute the tax base that pays for it all. The (Un)Holy Land housing scandal is Jerusalem’s corrupt emblem. The city is cursed by too much religious fanaticism:Jewish, Moslem and Christian. Its history is a tale of awful bloodshed through the millennia. I do not like it any more, and feel very sad.
The municipality is bloated and inefficient. The mayor is a dilettant. I am sorry I voted for him. But is there an alternative?

asherZ says:

Liel Leibovitz’ disdain for those who are not like him, the ultra-Orthodox, is a tribute to intolerance. If he really wants Jerusalem to have a strong secular element with its inhabitants “tweeting” away, why doesn’t he and his compatriots move there and redefine the demography.
His states that, “In Sheikh Jarrah, an Arab neighborhood north of the Old City, American-backed settlers have successfully sued to retrieve property that, historically, belonged to Jewish families forced out by Arab violence in the 1930s and 1940s. Most Israelis found their efforts appalling: If Jews, after all, pushed prior ownership as an admissible reason to retrieve previously pilfered land, similar legal concessions would have to be made for Arabs who left Jerusalem and Jaffa and Haifa and Lod, a potential calamity for the Jewish state.”, is misleading and tendentious. The properties were not expropriated but paid for or were awarded by the courts to a Jewish group after hearing the evidence. That is not exactly the same as losing a war that you started (1948) and paying the consequences, a loss of your land.
Jerusalem is the spiritual heart of Israel, and our right to live in this city or for that matter in the Land of Israel is based on the Torah. People are free to live as secular a life as they choose, but to have contempt for those who live a Torah lifestyle, who wear clothes and whose comportment is not to Mr. Leibovitz’ liking or taste, reflects more on the author than on his subjects. The truth is that many of the coastal inhabitants are more interested in the restaurants, discos, galleries and beach clubs they frequent, than the places that appeal to the spirit and soul of many of Jerusalem’s denizens. Chacun à son gout.

Lee Klein says:

I will continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and you too!!! Baruch Hashem

Leah says:

“Jews who are confident enough in their birthright to treat others with dignity and respect.” Is this the “dignity and respect” you extend to observant Jews? Replace the word “ultra-orthodox” or “chareidi” with “African-American.” Do you still feel comfortable with your “there goes the neighborhood” sentiments?
I am disturbed.

A.S. says:

Three generations from now, who will have more offspring: Leil, or an average individual in the photo at the top of the page? Moreover, whose children are more likely to be Jewish: Leil’s offspring, or the offspring of those in the photograph? Compare the following statistics for haredim and secular Jews, and decide for yourself: children per family, rate of intermarriage, percentage with membership in a synagogue.

A.S. says:

And as for the misleading statement that “Its ultra-Orthodox residents, for the most part, negate Zionism altogether, believing that only prayer and mitzvot will bring about redemption,” there is a wide spectrum of attitudes towards the state within the haredi community, with the majority (Shas, Aguda) participating in elections and in public sphere, and only a small minority (Netorei Karta, Satmar) “negating Zionism altogether”. And, here is a link I found elsewhere on your web site: “Hareidi Jews’ IDF Enlistment Rises Tenfold in Two Years.”

I live in Jerusalem. I’m traditional but certainly not haredi. I use twitter like a pro and wefollow has me ranked as #2 in both the Jewish and Israel category. No one says you have to love or even like Jerusalem. Those of us who are passionate about her however live here where our opinions and votes make a difference. Your namby pamby post written from, err… not Jerusalem does nothing other than to get you props from your remaining whiny buddies in Tel Aviv and around the world – wherever Jews who view their Judaism with embarrassment and cynicism congregate. Nir Barkat may be a dilettante but he may also very well be the last secular Mayor of Jerusalem. If Jerusalem does eventually go to sh*t, it’ll be because people like you abandoned her for because she didn’t have enough chic restaurants and trendy stores and because many of her residents remind you too much of that smelly, crowded, backwards and Jewy shtetl that you and your people came from. But Liel, whatever cosmopolitan pretensions you have, you’ll never get rid of that kinky haired, hook nosed, grubby little Jew who is an intrinsic part of who you are. This post demonstrates that SO clearly.

I live in Jerusalem. It’s not a perfect city but I love it and I want for nothing.

Ranen says:

For those who are interested in serious examination of this issue (and who share Leibowitz’s perspective,I would highly recommend Vered Vinitzky-Seroussi’s compelling book titled *Yitzhak Rabin’s Assassination & the Dilmmas of Commemoration* which contrasts Tel Aviv’s liberal, secular, universalist and cosmopolitan identity with that of Jerusalem’s insularity and fundamentalism.

Liel Leibovitz says:

Dear CK,

That kinky-haired, hook-nosed, grubby little Jew you mention in your comment is not only an intrinsic part of who I am, it may be my favorite part of who I am. On that front, you’re absolutely right. And you’re also right that if Jerusalem eventually does go south, it will be because of people like me, secular and somewhat spoiled young folks who looked at the balance sheet and decided that a life spent fighting a constant, uphill battle wasn’t the kind of life they’d like to lead. I single them (us?) out in the piece quite clearly, and continue to make my own heshbon nefesh with myself even when it’s not Yom Yerushalayim. In the meantime, I can only pray for an abundance of CKs, in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel, and hope that my piece provokes thought and sparks a much-needed honest conversation.

Thank you again for your comment,


As a secular Jew living here for 30 years i am shocked at this article
The city has only grown more beautiful over the years yes there are problems but not the hysterical situation presented in this hate filled article and by the way “Saint Teddy Kolleck ” was far from perfect far/ Those who lived through his administration know that
but legends live on and are kept alive by those to who it is convenient
to forget that Teddy Kolleck was all for dividing Jerusalem purposely neglected the eastern side of the city for its eventual turn over to the Palestinians. I personally will never forget an interview he did
with Austrian television in which he said “what do they ( the Jews of Jerusalem} know of democracy?” half are from Middle Eastern countries and the other half from Eastern Europe )this to the looks of a gleeful Austrian government official.Another” “Kolleck accomplishment” was the relaxing of Sabbath eve opening sites which creating
almost overnight the alchohol and drug scene in downtown Jerusalem
that we suffer from to this day .
Be careful when digging up the bones of St Teddy you never know what you will find there. Perhaps even some more smuggled paintings from France.Anyone want to remember that one ??? I didnt think so .
To give this hate filled article such a prominant front page headline makes me consider to usubscribe from Tablet inecscusable you are fast becoming a mouthpiece of Tikun Haaretz and their ilk.

Well written and honestly and courageously told.

“49 percent of Jerusalem’s students, enrolled in ultra-Orthodox institutions … fail to receive high-school diplomas this year.”

High school matriculation is basic measurement of success or failure. Somethings not working out quite right in Jerusalem, it seems. After all, Jews have won 22 percent of Nobel prizes awarded since 1901, despite making up just 0.25 percent of the world’s population. Jews have a proud record of achievement when it comes to academic achievement.

The challenge, as you point out, is that Jerusalem is both a physical place and a theological concept.

Can a physical place be a false idol? I think so.

john says:

I have never stepped foot in Israel nor have I ever seen the city of Jerusalem with my own eyes other than seeing it in a picture…yet, I feel envious and lacking to those who live there now and/or have witnessed the glorious beauty of that city first hand. To me it is that city shining on the hill, a beacon crying out to the world that this is the city that G-d has called His own. As for me,I will continue to keep my eyes toward the east and towards that wonderful beautiful city.

Buffy says:

I am a resident of Jerusalem by choice. I am sorry that you do not like Jerusalem, but any problems of the city are problems of the nation as a whole. Besides the best weather in the country, I stay because of the unsurpassed cultural activities here. The Cinamateque and the Intl film festival are world class. The Jerusalem theatre is in our backyard and our local community center.We have an Intl Book Fair every two years as well as an Intl Writers conference. My calendar is full–now if I could only afford everything.

how much does Washington D>C. represent America. Among other things, it has the the highest rate of HIV in the country.

I don’t understand why everything turns into a polemic of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. I like Tel Aviv for what it is and like Jerusalem for what it is.

I sense a bit of lack of respect for diversification here. If you want to live with people who look, dress and think just like you, sounds boring to me. And though you knock Haredim, you didn’t mention that one third of this city is Arab. Is that a problem for you, as well?

Benjamin says:

This is really a no brainer, and its contained in the simple statistic of 45%. In other words, the majority of Jerusalem residents do not work. A working minority is, in effect, being robbed blind by a non-working majority. Why is anyone surprised that they’re leaving? The corruption surrounding the Holy Land project is small potatoes compared to the corruption that typifies the entire city and secular residents are, quite understandably, tired of being its victims. Jerusalem is heading for a point, not long in the future, at which the city’s economy will simply collapse.

Sarah V. says:

I won’t claim the cred that others have here, in terms of the length of stays in Jerusalem or number of visits in my life. I will offer the only thing that allowed me to come to peace with the feeling in Jerusalem when I visited last year. I was surprised to find how much the city irritated me also. I was offended by the starkness of the divisions among its inhabitants – and I was barely touching ground, it was simply from small interactions in a taxi-cab or restaurant. With much more experience, my sabra, secular dance-artist relative opened our conversation with, “I can’t stand Jerusalem any more.” So, there is something to this argument. The one way I finally came to peace with it – and I would still like to see Jerusalem reflect more colors than this – was when I realized: Jerusalem has always been about power. Spiritual and political power. Is now and ever was. The more that is exaggerated as its character, the more the city will be exciting to be in for those attuned to that – and the more irritating it will be for those who do not enjoy that tempo and goal.

This article is a disgrace for all of us who live in Jerusalem and work in online media.

I totally agree with ck. The majority of top Jewish Twitterers in the world live in Jerusalem. We choose to live here because it is a holy city. If we wanted high-tech materialism we would have stayed in our home towns like New York, LA and London.

AreaMan says:

What a silly premise. Does Washington DC “Represent” the US?

To that silly premise you tie on a list of social problems and conflicts. All cities have social problems and conflicts. Jerusalem has the Temple Mount, so the most religious will tend to gather their. Guess what, the dock workers tend to gather in Haifa.

Ilan says:

“Most Israelis found their efforts appalling”, writes the author in regard to the Sheikh Jarrah evictions. If only this were true! The average Israeli does not know what is going on in Sheikh Jarrah, and certainly does not care. Even though the Friday protests have (and the Saturday night “mega-protest”) gave the issue more prominence, outside the ultra-liberal camp here, nobody cares. If only they did!

Residents of Jerusalem who don’t welcome the opinions of non-Israelis should realize that time and time again, some of the most astute social and cultural observations have been made by outsiders. Alexis de Toqueville. Dickens writing about America, Twain writing about Europe.

In his book “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell cites a study showing that test subjects who were permitted to spend 10 minutes in someone’s dorm room tended to form a more accurate impression of that person than someone who had known the person for years.

American residents have not only a right, but an obligation to voice an opinion, since billions of American dollars go Israel every year, more than any country, and almost all of this money is spent on weapons of war. The State of Israel therefore becomes the concern – and in some regard, the responsibility – of all US taxpayers.

Thank you for this thoughtful essay, Mr. Leibovitz.

While I can’t claim knowledge of the specifics and so will not nit-pick with this or that detail, I can report that your perspective is an echo of what I hear from my Israeli friends. Still, they are representative of the Tel Aviv populous, not Jerusalem’s.

For my humble part, as a prospective proselyte (Jew By Choice, to use the politically correct term!) in the United States, I would like to see more egalitarian Jewish religious practice in Israeli society at large, and in Jerusalem especially. Instead, I regularly receive emails from Israeli organizations with distressing reports such as this one, about a woman attacked by a Haredi man because she had apparent tefillin imprints on her forearm.

I do not generally hold Diaspora Orthodoxy or Haredi Judaism in low regard, even though I readily admit to having major ideological disagreements with some common Orthodox perspectives that are born of zealous literalism. But I do not believe that a religious minority, one that takes its law from scripture, should be allowed any role in statecraft. As in the United States, citizens in Israel should remain vigilant about the risk of ceding contemporary legislation to the religious right wing. After all, prior to Orthodoxy’s birth in reaction to liberalizing trends in Europe, accepted halachic perspectives were rather liberal. By denouncing egalitarianism and making power plays in a secular state, the religious right in Israel disrespects the Talmud, Rambam, Joseph Caro, and countless halachic authorities that came before them. Individually, that is their prerogative, but they should not be allowed to impose their reactionary interpretations of halacha on all Jews.

Apparently, I can’t imbed .html. The link to article about the Haredi attack on a woman is here:

Shmuel says:

Liel – I have thought about your article. Your comments about Ramat Eshkol bother me. You know….all these Americans buying apts. made it pretty much impossible for me to buy a place in Jerusalem – where I lived for over 21 years! But you complain too much. Who cares if they are orthodox? they paid good money for those apartments. and if secular people sold them the apartments….then they helped make some secular people a bit wealthier.

If Jerusalem isn’t as you remember it as a kid – hey, it is different for me as well. Things change. The city is still amazing, whether you are religious, secular or somewhere in between – there is a lot for everyone.

Stop complaining. It is boring and tiresome.

Aaron says:

Hey Liel,

I just read your piece. It is very well written, and I genuinely agree with your thoughts on the situation.

Keep it up! I look forward to reading more of your work in the future.


SoulPilgrim says:

Liel — how about making it the eternal city of the Abrahamic family, not just one branch of it? Your nostalgia for a Jewish capital that never was until recently reveals a great deal about the problem. Israeli Jews need to understand that Israel needs to be integrated into the Middle East, not seek to dominate it. They can begin by sharing their small country, and the Holy City of Jerusalem, with others.

Next year in Jerusalem. When will people realize that this was a metaphor, not an invitation to come to the Holy Land and screw it up even more than it was already?? THIS year in Jerusalem, late Zionism gives the world an example of bigotry, corruption and pure systemic evil. The Zionists have internalized the Nazi terror and will visit it upon anybody who gets in their way, and it won’t make them any less miserable than they are already.

Shalom Freedman says:

As someone who came to Jerusalem thirty- five years ago and has lived here ever since I am sorry you do not see the many beautiful aspects of the City I experience everyday.
On the other hand there is much that you are right about. The City has suffered from the flight of young secular residents. Non- affordable housing, diminished job opportunities are major culprits.
I am surprised you do not mention the young dynamic Mayor Nir Barkat. He has the right ideas about strengthening the City. He truly cares and works hard, but there are many many obstacles. Let’s pray he has a good measure of success.
The decline in the percentage of people in Jerusalem who are dedicated to the survival and well- being of the Jewish state is troublesome.
I hope there will emerge a leader among ultra- Orthodox Jews who is capable of looking beyond narrow interests of his own particular group and be concerned with contributing to the well- being of Israel as a whole. Or to put this in a slightly different way I hope the ultra-Orthodox will understand that not contributing to the physical defense of the society they are a part of, and contributing in a less than full way to its economic life are bound to work against them at some point. Courageous religious leadership is required instead of the standard ‘formulas’ and apologetics. Here I believe a real ‘miracle’ is required.
I believe national leadership is also required. And more has to be done to bring dynamic young working people to the City.
Again with all the problems Jerusalem remains a uniquely beautiful inspiring city which it can be a great joy and a great gift to live in.
More Jews need to understand this and come and contribute to its building.


You must have written something good to piss off so many folks.

ck’s comment that, “But Liel, whatever cosmopolitan pretensions you have, you’ll never get rid of that kinky haired, hook nosed, grubby little Jew who is an intrinsic part of who you are” is not completely true. While our physical characteristics are mostly genetic and can’t be changed without plastic surgery, the “grubby little Jew” is an attitude that can be dismissed after your first cup of coffee in the morning.

Honest Broker says:

Two state solution for Israel. Haredistan and Republic of Greater Tel Aviv- Haifa

Karen Tucker says:

Beautifully written, heartfelt and thought-provoking piece. What is with people who can’t tolerate reading something they disagree with? Or threatening to unsubscribe from the the Tablet because an article doesn’t precisely support their beliefs? Do they expect to go through life only hearing views that echo theirs? I value the Tablet for publishing a wide spectrum of perspectives. If you’re not into free expression, then limit yourself to Fox News or whatever media outlet supports your narrow range of thinking. And please – enough already with the expression “get over yourself.”

Arlene Kushner says:

I write this as a resident of Jerusalem: religiously observant, but not remotely haredi. Someone who considers herself greatly blessed to have the honor to be here, who delights in the holiness, the beauty and the ancient heritage of this city.

That there are problems in the city in no way diminishes what is right with it, and I have deep sadness for any Jew who cannot appreciate what IS right. What Mr. Leibovitz has written exposes a pathetic loss of pride of heritage. I find it appalling because this loss undermines all that we are here. This city is not about the price of housing, which is a real but a peripheral problem. He has lost the “ikar,” the essence.

We have just completed Shavuot, and I was astounded, as I always am, with the wealth of opportunities for study — Orthodox and less traditional — with which residents are provided. When I walked home at 3 AM, feeling absolutely safe as a woman going alone, I greeted others on the street who had been studying as well. This is but one example of what is special here, in this quintessentially Jewish city.

There is the Old City, the Jewish Quarter, and the Kotel/Mount, with all that it represents to us as a people. To “hate Jerusalem” is to throw it all away.

There is also a wealth of marvelous museums, a very special zoo, and a theater complex at which I enjoy ballet, musicals and drama. Not to mention an enormous variety of restaurants featuring everything from hambergers and felafel and the world’s best ice cream, to the most sophisticated international cuisine, and almost all kosher.

What absolutely must be addressed is the even-handedness that the writer attempts to assume when he says that if Jews can acquire housing that had been theirs in Sheikh Jarrah then the same right must be accorded Arabs who had houses in Jerusalem and elsewhere.

But this is outright wrong. The Jews were driven out of Jerusalem by a Jordan that rendered the eastern part of the city Judenrein. This was genuine apartheid, of which Israel is today falsely accused.

The Arabs, on the other hand, either left at the urging of their leaders during the war in 1948-49 (and I have solid documentation on this), or, in some small number of instances, were driven out during that war because they represented a fifth column behind Israeli lines. The entire Arab League had declared war on the fledgling state which was fighting for its existence. Where Arab population posed a threat, they had to be moved out. No other nation thus fighting would have behaved differently. Nor does a population that was hostile merit return.

The writer’s use of the expression “Judaizing Jerusalem” — a laughable and despicable expression — is the final give-away. This is the language of Arabs who would take our city from us. Jerusalem, including the eastern part, IS Jewish to its core, and at the heart of our heritage. Jews have been the majority in Jerusalem since the 1800s. It was only because, as I mentioned above, Jordan rendered part of the city Judenrein that there is the impression today that it is “Arab.” It is not.

I don’t like Jerusalem either, but nor do I like Tel Aviv!

esthermiriam says:

Listen to someone who really knows and loves the city
and fears for the way it may be the cause of something
other than peace —

Or read and think about myths and facts:

This is not a discussion about restaurants and shops
(which aren’t bad at all in J’lem), but about perverted
and manipulative uses of its potential for holiness.

Aside to Arlene: It’s lovely the streets were safe
after the tikkun, but there are many ways to be observant,
and attempting to practice in any other than the haredi way
is what’s now often literally dangerous.

Rachel says:

O..Jerusalem, Jerusalem! I saw a house once, in an architectural digest, that was built in such a way that each of its sides were divided against the other. The only problem is that it had to sell as a divided housing unit because a true house cannot be divided against itself and be a house! Now the unit houses over five different families, each with their own way of thinking and living, and every single one of them is always petitioning for the other to be evicted! What’s wrong with this picture? The problem is not the families, but the way the “house” was built…. Now the builder of the house is growing tired of the bickering, and wants to tear the “house” down! O..Jerusalem, who is the Builder that divided you against yourself? We Hebrews know…

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