Ten days ago Ben Arieli was helping to renovate a new, nonreligious day care center near his home in Kiryat Yovel, a Jerusalem neighborhood that has made headlines in recent years in connection to its growing ultra-Orthodox population.
The day care shares a yard with the adjacent Haredi kindergarten. When Arieli, in the course of the day's work, crossed the imaginary boundary line, a staff member from the kindergarten approached: "You people can remain as long as you don't bother us," he told Arieli.
The incident could be a metaphor for the larger struggle between Kiryat Yovel's main social groupings, into which another component has been added: urban communes, or "communities," of mainly young people who choose to buck the trend of migration from the capital and do so in a collective setting.
Last week the "communities" opened the city's first nonreligious military academy. They are involved in creating a new "student village" in the adjacent Kiryat Menachem neighborhood, they run youth centers and have started talking about buying apartments in Kiryat Yovel. "In the end, [the Haredim] will be the odd man out in the neighborhood," Arieli said.
There are about 30 "communities" in Israel, half of them in Jerusalem and five in Kiryat Yovel. The municipality supports them, as part of Mayor Nir Barkat's efforts to stem the exodus of the city's young people.
The oldest of the "communities," created seven years ago, is Horesh, one of the leaders of the secular battle in Kiryat Yovel. About 70 people belong to Kiryat Yovel's urban communes, of a total neighborhood population of 60,000, but their influence is disproportionate to their numbers. Many residents of the area and beyond see them as the only hope for maintaining a nonreligious presence in the capital.
Kiryat Yovel has become the center of a new concept, that of "southwest Jerusalem," which secular community leaders and senior city officials hope to turn into the capital of the city's "free" population. The city would thus be divided conceptually among east (Palestinian ), northwest (Haredi ) and southwest (nonreligious ). The branch of the Experimental School that opened in the neighborhood this year, along with the day care center, the student village (40 students ), the military academy and several institutions still in the planning stages, are envisioned as making up part of the secular infrastructure of the area and the entire city.
Former members of the urban communes who are establishing their own families are to form the core of this process.
This vision is jeopardized by the growing influx of Haredi families to Kiryat Yovel. "We don't come from a place of struggle, I'm not doing this to be against someone else, I'm simply looking for a good life for my children," Arieli said.
"Just as I shape the appearance of the living room in my home, so, too, do I want to shape the appearance of Jerusalem," added Elisheva Mazia, the director of New Spirit ("Ruah Hadasha" ), a nonprofit student organization that is close to Barkat and which supports the "communities."
"Festivals and street parties may change the atmosphere in the city, but there must be an initial core of people who will live here and attract others, and that's the role of the 'communities,'" Mazia said.
Ariel, 30, was raised on Kibbutz Ein Gedi. Like the other members of his urban commune Arieli moved to Jerusalem to study. Now the community includes teachers, Health and Finance ministries employees and two doctors. Most are married now, and there are two children. Arieli predicts a "baby boom" starting next year.