The Jerusalem municipality is initiating for the first time a lecture series in North America in the hopes of convincing potential immigrants to make the capital their home. The campaign is part of a new effort to show native English speakers that the holy city is better than what thou may have heard about it.
"When Americans think about aliyah, their first thought is Jerusalem. But unfortunately, as they start planning they often come across too many things that they think speak against Jerusalem - the city is either too expensive or too religious for them, or they say there are no good jobs there or want to live near the beach," said Akiva Werber, the municipality's project director for immigrants from English-speaking countries.
Next month, the U.S.-born Werber, who also works for the Immigration Absorption Ministry and was an emmisary for many years, will speak in Chicago, Toronto, Baltimore, Rockville, Maryland, Miami Beach, Monsey, New York, Teaneck, New Jersey, and New York City. Dubbed "Jerusalem - for all the reasons in the world," the current initiative, which is co-organized by the Jewish Agency and private immigration assistance organization Nefesh B'Nefesh, seeks to persuade aliyah candidates to settle on moving to Israel before any doubts can come up.
"If they say, for example, that they couldn't afford a home in Jerusalem, I'll ask them: 'Are you talking about Central Park West or Brooklyn?'" implying that not all Jerusalem neighborhoods are as pricey as the German Colony, Baka or Rehavia, where most Anglo immigrants live.
Werber himself lives about 10 minutes outside Jerusalem, in Elazar, a decision he says he made 23 years ago when he could not afford a home in the city. He said he has no problem with selling a city he himself doesn't live in, because he believes in the product.
Jerusalem is not the first city to take its pitch abroad. Both Haifa and Modi'in, for example, have sent representatives to English speaking countries to talk up their towns.
But this is the first time the capital has sent an official on a wide ranging speaking tour to drum up population figures.
The Jerusalem Aliyah Absorption Authority's director, Pini Glinkewitz, is attending an aliyah fair in London today, also part of the initiative to attract Anglos to the city.
"Jerusalem is starting a general initiative to modernize the city," Werber explained. "We want to bring in modern hi-tech people who care about democracy, who are involved in community and volunteerism - all these are keywords exemplified by Anglo [immigrants]. The city is thrilled to have this enthusiastic, involved and idealistic group of people join its population."
To underline this message, the flyers announcing the upcoming lectures in North America feature photos of the city's Chords Bridge and Technological Garden, while images of the Western Wall or other religious symbols are entirely absent. "We wanted to use anti-intuitive images," Werber explained, "so we used pictures that exemplify education, progress and community." The numbers of new immigrants who settle in Jerusalem has been rising steadily over the last 10 years, according to the municipality. While in 2002, some 2,300 newcomers settled in the capital, or 6 percent of all immigrants, last year about 2,820, or 15 percent, chose to do so. In 2010, 819 Americans, 195 British and 90 Canadians moved to Jerusalem.