Feeling They Are 'Losing' Jerusalem, Orthodox and Secular Jewish Residents Join Forces

It’s no secret that Jerusalem is becoming increasingly ultra-Orthodox. But recently members of the city’s secular minority have joined forces with religious residents who also feel they’re ‘losing’ their city.

Neri Livneh
Neri Livneh
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Neri Livneh
Neri Livneh

After18 years, Osnat Kollek, daughter of Jerusalem’s legendary mayor Teddy Kollek, returned to her father’s city.

“I left Jerusalem in the early 1990s to raise my three children in a more rural place, and also because of the increasing ultra-Orthodox nature of the city,” says Kollek. “My father, who came from Vienna, like Herzl, thought Jerusalem should be like Vienna a pluralistic and cosmopolitan city. But the change in Jerusalem was unavoidable. During my lifetime I’ve seen the city growing significantly, changing from a small and intimate city into a metropolis, and from a pluralistic city to one where the secular community feels threatened. It has always felt threatened, but the feeling now is stronger than ever.

Jerusalemites at a light rail stop near the city’s entrance. Credit: Emil Salman

“On the other hand, I see much more cultural activity here now than 18 years ago, or even when I was young. There are far more events being held: concerts, restaurants, pubs, places that are open on Shabbat. There are lots of students, many young people who work for the city on a voluntary basis and you can see the results.

“But as someone from abroad wrote me, Israel is ‘rejecting’ Jerusalem. There’s something very powerful about Israelis’ ‘betrayal’ of Jerusalem. What is there in Tel Aviv, aside from the sea, that Jerusalem doesn’t have?”

A feeling of freedom?

Kollek: “Well, that’s exactly what we’re working on now. That’s the challenge for Jerusalemites, for Israelis in general. I think that we secular people have to fight for our place. The struggle is beginning in Jerusalem.”

The rumors about the so-called Haredization of Jerusalem are not exaggerated. The good news, on the other hand, is that there is a growing counterreaction. Because to be secular or a religious moderate in Jerusalem means constantly being aware of one’s self-definition. That’s something you don’t have to deal with when you live in any other city Rishon Letzion, for example where you don’t have to fight all the time for your right to self-definition as a secular person.

A coffee shop in Jerusalem. Most neighborhoods in the city lack any cafes.Credit: Emil Salman

Anyone who visits Jerusalem regularly, like me, can discern two parallel but contradictory phenomena: While one can actually see how the street, even in neighborhoods that are not defined as ultra-Orthodox, is gradually filling up with Haredim (on Hanevi’im Street, dubbed the “most beautiful street outside the Old City” and where cars always drove undisturbed on Shabbat, masses of Haredim have started in recent months to shout “Shabbas!” at the shared taxis from Tel Aviv that pass by there), there is also an increasing number of places of entertainment.

The cafes in the city center, the German Colony, Baka and Rehavia are full; dozens of pubs have been added in recent years, and big crowds attend the street festivals organized by the municipality. From spring to fall there are a large number of happenings in the city, the Jerusalem Cinematheque maintains its unique function as a secular-pluralistic cultural center (many of the visitors wear knitted skullcaps), and many streets in the city center are becoming pedestrian malls that serve as venues for outdoor entertainment.

In terms of the large number of entertainment offerings, mainly on weekdays, there is no comparison between the Jerusalem that I left seven years ago and Jerusalem today. The municipality, which seeks to offer this abundance to residents of other cities, organizes projects in the winter called Hamshushalayim (Thursday night through Shabbat in Jerusalem): a tourism package including a discounted weekend in a local hotel, plus guided tours. There are no activities on Shabbat, because although thank God Jerusalem has a secular mayor, the city council has an ultra-Orthodox majority.

There’s no denying that Jerusalem is a hothouse for combative young people. There may not be a lot to do on Shabbat in the city the siren that heralds the beginning of Shabbat can still strike fear into your heart, and on Friday nights the dark and empty streets remind one of some alien or fortified city but you can always take comfort at some demonstration. Haredi extremism, which threatens the national-religious community, has spawned unusual cooperation between some of its members with pluralistic views and the secular community.

Residents putting on phylacteries in downtown Jerusalem.Credit: Emil Salman

For example, Rachel Azaria, a member of the city council from the Yerushalmim (Jerusalemites) party and a moving force in the battle against the exclusion of women i.e., buses with separate seating and general gender separation in the Mea She’arim neighborhood is herself religious. In the Hitorerut (Wake Up Jerusalem) faction, established to stop the migration of the secular community and young people from the city, religious and secular people work together.

A pluralistic majority

According to the figures of the Central Bureau of Statistics for 2010, of Jerusalemites over the age of 20, 19 percent were secular, 18 percent traditional and not very observant, 13 percent traditional-observant, 21 percent religious and 29 percent Haredi. In other words, the Haredi group is the largest. However, the combination of secular and traditional residents enables the success of any activity designed to create a pluralistic public space.

The distinction between secular neighborhoods on the one hand, and religious and Haredi ones on the other, has become very blurred in Jerusalem. Nor is it possible to describe a neighborhood as secular or religious based on the number of eateries open on Shabbat, because in most residential areas there are no cafes at all and if there are any, they are not open on Shabbat. Even in Beit Hakerem, whose secular elementary school is the only one of its kind with a growing enrollment, there are no places open on Shabbat. Picturesque Ein Karem, which is somewhat separate from the rest of the city, is a crowded entertainment hub on Shabbat. The bars downtown are virtually all open on Friday night, as are several cafes, but most of the restaurants are closed.

Yosef “Pepe” Alalu, who represents Meretz on the city council and is deputy mayor in charge of culture, initiated the publication of a brochure called “Jerusalem on Shabbat,” which lists all the places that are open that day including in East Jerusalem because, as the brochure says: “In recent years Jerusalem has increasingly been seen as a city undergoing a process of Haredization. The changes taking place there stem first and foremost from political activity that makes it possible to impose the Haredi lifestyle on the general public in Jerusalem ... We decided to publish this guide so that anyone who so desires will have accessible and up-to-date information about places that are open on Shabbat in Jerusalem.”

The Haredization process had began even earlier, but during the tenure of mayor Uri Lupolianski (United Torah Judaism) from 2003-2008, the secular and liberal religious populations suddenly woke up. At present, the movements that are fighting Haredization and accelerated migration to Tel Aviv including Wake Up Jerusalemites and Ruach Hadasha (New Spirit-Students for Jerusalem) are trying to play down their political affiliations. The current mayor, Nir Barkat, also did that during the past election campaign, after which he turned out to be a political hawk who supports construction in Palestinian neighborhoods.

For his part, Alalu says that “the growing Haredi extremism stems mainly from more economic-political motives. We, the secular population, are sick and tired of this; of being the side that reacts all the time. We’ve begun to be the side that initiates. We have seen ultra-Orthodox takeover attempts in Kiryat Hayovel, as well as a strong upturn in the purchase of apartments by wealthy Haredim in [the upscale areas] of Talbieh, Baka, Rehavia, Emek Refaim. The apartments are empty. The secular community has understood that we can no longer stand on the sidelines.

“The protest began with the Carta parking lot [whose opening by the Jaffa Gate on Shabbat was opposed in 2009 by Haredim], and we really did organize all the political and nonpolitical groups in order to demonstrate. I received instructions from the mayor not to protest, and of course ignored them. The secular population is finally becoming more militant in this struggle. Now there’s even a contest as to who is more militant.

“I’m not anti-Haredi, but I don’t want the city to become Haredi. I want to open every cultural institution in the city on Shabbat, and the mayor isn’t letting me do that. Culture is not a matter of five days a week. You need continuity. The fact that Barkat is secular does not guarantee that the city won’t become Haredi.”

What’s the next objective?

“First of all, Israel has to define what is Haredi and what is secular, on a regional basis. I’m in favor of living in the same city, but not intermingled. That’s impossible. The idea that Haredi and secular Jews can live in mixed neighborhoods has proved impossible. The Jerusalem municipality has to define in advance what’s secular and what’s religious. There can’t be Haredi schools and yeshivas in secular neighborhoods because that’s how a process of Haredi takeover begins. I don’t want to quarrel with the Haredim, but I want to live separately, to get them to let me live as I wish. I’m against religious coercion, not against religious and Haredi Jews.”

‘The Wall is ours’

A few weeks ago, on a Saturday night, the so-called secular yeshiva in Jerusalem organized a feminist happening called Tzena Ure’ena, opposing the exclusion of women in the city. Hundreds of people women and quite a few men, some of them religious attended the event at the Gerard Bachar Center. (Recently this cultural center made headlines when it allowed female students in its dance studio to rehearse without having to draw the curtains for fear of offending Haredim.)

It is doubtful whether such an event, had it been held in Tel Aviv, for example, would have brought out so many people, especially on a freezing cold winter night. But feminism in Jerusalem is enjoying an unprecedented boom, particularly thanks to anti-exclusion activities organized by the Jerusalemites and Wake Up factions.

One of the spokeswomen at Gerard Bachar was city council member Rachel Azaria, who is 34, religious, married, and one of the founders of the Jerusalemites faction. Azaria voted against opening movie theaters in the Cinema City complex being built near the Binyenei Ha’uma convention center on Shabbat. On the other hand, Azaria is spearheading the move to open local community centers on Shabbat, because “I’m not only a representative of my community, but of the secular population as well. One of the things that bothers them most is that there’s nothing to do with the children on Shabbat. That’s why we decided to begin opening the community centers and received the tacit approval of the mayor.

“There has been a feeling of ‘Live and let live’ in Jerusalem, but in effect we’ve always had to consider the needs of the Haredim,” Azaria says. “Now we’re saying to them, ‘Let us live too.’ There’s an elevator that descends from the Jewish Quarter to the Western Wall; I was on the planning and construction committee. A Haredi council member opposed the elevator, claiming he didn’t want non-Haredim to come to the Wall. ‘The Wall is ours,’ he said. That was another formative moment. Suddenly you understand that they don’t accept the idea that everything here is ‘together.’ We have to change the discourse.

“I think the battle here is not a secular one. I think it’s a battle of the moderates against all kinds of extremists. The moderates are the religious Zionists and the secular and traditional communities and there are also a few righteous people among the Haredim. We boarded an ultra-Orthodox bus recently and suddenly a young Haredi man approached us and said to me, ‘I’m on my way back from the army induction base, and I want to tell you that I’m part of you.’ Among the Haredim there are also those who oppose growing Haredization. In other cities, [secular people] say: ‘The religious people are coming.’ In Jerusalem they say: ‘The Haredim are coming.’ Because they’re not afraid of religious people here.”

Azaria favors opening cultural institutions on Shabbat, but keeping businesses closed, in accordance with the Gavison-Medan agreement (drafted by law professor Ruth Gavison and Rabbi Yaakov Medan, head of Yeshivat Har Etzion), because, she says, “I’m in favor of the secular population being able to live their Shabbat as they see fit.” Nor is she opposed to public transportation in the form of shared taxis on Shabbat.

Mark Stern, who belongs to the Jerusalemites and was until recently the municipality’s deputy director general, notes that the public domain is changing: “Secular people are beginning to behave like a persecuted minority, and that works in their favor. And the people who have stayed here are very committed and active. Some of the things we do in the Jerusalemites movement are designed to strengthen pluralism, with the understanding that it’s also in the interest of the religious population that secular people are here.”

Stern, son of the late MK Yuri Stern, was raised in the Conservative Movement and defines himself as secular. He is now a media and strategic adviser to social welfare and other communal organizations, and one of the initiators of the Bereleh project, whose objective is to open local community centers on Shabbat. For now, every month, a different center remains open, offering activities that attract between 500 and 700 people each time.

“To the mayor’s credit it should be said that he cooperates with opening the places on Shabbat,” Stern says. “Secular people don’t have a community infrastructure on weekends; having one contributes to their sense of belonging, to the sense that there’s a future in the city. That’s very important. People say, ‘Wow, five years from now this will be a totally Haredi city, why should we stay?’ And we want to change that feeling by creating a sense of belonging.

“After so many years of distorted priorities we have to have affirmative action here for the secular population. The Haredim are winning the demographic battle, but in the public arena, every time the secular community has gone to battle it has won. The problem is that its members don’t always get up and leave the house.

“We also have an initiative called Kosher Open on Shabbat, in which restaurants can be open on Shabbat without losing their kashrut certification, because we’ll give them alternative certificates,” Stern adds. I think the religious public will agree to this because they have begun to realize what’s happening with the Chief Rabbinate and its economic extortion ... I think the religious population is actually the most threatened by Haredization and growing extremism among the Haredim, because it’s the backyard closest to them and it’s liable to harm them.”

So is there a future for secular people in Jerusalem?

“I’m staying, but it’s hard to know. Anyone who wants to live an urban life has to choose between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. There’s a joke that the group responsible for the largest number of secular people in Jerusalem is the religious sector, because according to statistics, 30 percent of secular people here are datlashim formerly religious.”

There’s another joke that I’ve just invented, that the group responsible for the largest number of Tel Avivians is the Jerusalemites.

“That’s true. But there has to be a future, because it’s inconceivable for there to be only one urban center Tel Aviv.”

Idealistic hothouse

The last mayoral elections changed the balance of power in the city, says Uri Ayalon, a Conservative rabbi and director general of the Yerushalayim movement. “It led to a situation where a secular-religious-pluralistic bloc was created, composed of an entire array of people ranging from Orthodox to atheist, who have truly created a coalition bloc. This is unusual, characteristic only of Jerusalem.

“The issue of pluralism has always been linked to the Reform and Conservative communities,” says Ayalon, “but in Jerusalem it includes Orthodox people who live in Baka, the German Colony, Katamon, Talpiot, Rehavia neighborhoods not defined as religious or Haredi. That’s on the one hand. On the other, the Jerusalemites movement has brought a perspective that differs from being anti-Haredi and blaming the other. We said: ‘Let’s see where we let our guard down.’ And you know, every time the general public has put up a fight, it has won. We lost only when we got tired.

“In effect we are repossessing the public domain with a positive approach. That’s why the exclusion of women is our story rather than theirs ... For years our ‘sin’ was that we decided how the Haredim see us and censored ourselves in accordance with the view of us that we attributed to them. The pluralistic awakening came from a very ethical viewpoint. I’m very optimistic, because now there’s awareness, and that’s something strongly connected to the [social] protest last summer. It’s one of the achievements that led people to understand that they can bring about change. There’s not much left of last summer’s protest, but in Jerusalem there’s a group of people who are working like crazy [to promote] civil rights and women’s rights.”

Meirav Cohen, a member of the city council from Wake Up, differs with Ayalon about the connection between the summer protests and the anti-Haredi rebellion in Jerusalem. “Already during the protest I felt we were missing a tremendous opportunity,” she explains, “because although it’s really nice that everyone loves everyone, and everyone is in the consensus there’s a dramatic problem here that wasn’t touched upon: of one community that bears an entire burden while another one has more rights than obligations.

“Fifty percent of Jerusalem’s residents are exempt from the arnona property tax. Economic logic says that if you have more children, you’ll pay a higher arnona because you use more services. We’re aiming for a situation where, before you receive a benefit, they’ll ask you if you work. Because we can demonstrate forever, but the fundamental solution will only come when they mingle with and recognize us.”

Cohen is 28, married and secular. She has an impressive background in communications and yet prefers to work free of charge as a council member in the municipality. “My family thinks I’m crazy. I have a master’s degree, I have work experience and I’m not earning a living. Municipal politics is full either of retirees or people who have a strong interest, like me.”

Indeed, Jerusalem today is a hothouse of idealistic young people. Among them is Ofer Berkowitz, 28, a student and captain in the army reserves, who represented Wake Up on the city council before being replaced by Cohen, according to a rotation arrangement. Wake Up emerged from parlor discussions, mainly among people whose friends didn’t return to the city after the army or their studies; that was during Lupolianski’s reign.

Berkowitz: “We decided we wanted to guarantee a pluralistic, Zionist and creative future in Jerusalem. That we have to work to counter Haredization and the secular flight from Jerusalem. We began constructing a platform, trying to decide whether we wanted to be only a protest movement or to work from the inside in the Jerusalem municipality. Some people left at that point because they weren’t interested in politics. The emphasis was on the public sphere and on visibility. We made a lot of noise. We split off from Jerusalemites, but there are many things on which we agree.
On issues of religion and city we always combine forces with Meretz, too.”
Cohen explains that the orientation of the Jerusalemites and Wake Up is indeed somewhat different, although they ran on a united slate: “Jerusalemites have a more religious orientation and more couples with children. We have more secular people and younger people, but the goals are similar; we cooperated with them in the past and I assume that we’ll continue to do so.”

Says Berkowitz: ‘We decided to focus on young people and on employment, transportation, housing, culture. In May 2008 we initiated our first activity: convoys of cars with suitcases on the roofs and posters: ‘Residents of Jerusalem, the time has come to wake up, young people are leaving the city.’ That was followed by a different activity every week. Our movement is based on Jerusalemites who know what Katamon is and what the ‘eastern bleachers’ [i.e., at Beitar Jerusalem games] are. We played a big role in increasing the percentage of secular people who voted for a secular mayor. On the one hand we support Barkat because he has a lot of positive qualities; on the other, often he isn’t determined enough to make a change. We’re the ones who feel what’s happening in the field the ones who feel that business owners are angry and the secular community is angry and the leftists are angry.

“We’re waging an uncompromising battle against religious coercion, but also conducting a dialogue with the Haredim,” adds Berkowitz, “because it’s clear that either the solution for the entire country will emerge from Jerusalem or the State of Israel is lost.”

Different kind of yeshiva

At noon the 15 students (nine of them women) and the three administrators of the secular yeshiva established in Ein Karem two years ago in cooperation with the Bina Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture in Tel Aviv, and the Yuvalim community administration, are sitting around a table eating a lunch that is not all kosher. Instead of fighting Haredim, Ariel Levinson, Nir Amit and Avishay Wohl the three administrators and founders of the yeshiva are trying to bring secular people to Jerusalem.

“One of the tough problems for secular people is their need to define their identity and to give content to secular life,” says Jerusalem-born Levinson, a doctoral student in literature, who is married with two daughters, and was formerly religious and graduated from a yeshiva. “We’re trying to bring post-army young people to Jerusalem, just during the period when they’re deciding what to study. Most of them feel that there’s a vacuum in their knowledge of Judaism, so they come here first for a one-day visit to become familiar with the city and the yeshiva.

“Before starting the yeshiva, we began with cultural events in ‘bastions’ of secularism such as Haoman 17, Hama’bada, Beit Agnon. That helped to spread the news that we were starting a secular yeshiva in the city. Now the first class has started; they’ll be active citizens, aware of the city in which they live. The spirit of the place inspires them in the sense that they will want to organize cultural events ... [and] continue to live in Jerusalem as a creative community. They also learn about the roots of secularism. There are also religious people who attend our events and even Haredim, and most of our donors are religious Jerusalemites.”
“We have some of everything,” says one female student, “including a gay man and a priest.” The priest is Gioele Salvaterra, who was sent to Israel by his church from northern Italy, and who is the head of a Hebrew-speaking Catholic congregation.

What is your interest in the yeshiva?

Salvaterra: “I’ve always been interested in becoming familiar with Judaism, and it wasn’t enough for me to study on my own. It was important to me to study with secular people, to meet secular people. It’s a different atmosphere that offers a more critical way of seeing things, and that helps me too. We also study other things here, about Christianity and Buddhism and about the first secular Jews, and one day every week we tour Jerusalem.”

The yeshiva also organizes community activity once a week, mainly in nearby Kiryat Hayovel, as well as other events in the city. Every Thursday there’s a festival in the yeshiva, an event that is open to the public, which combines study of the weekly Torah portion, music, wine and guest speakers.

Avishay Wohl explains that the idea of the secular yeshiva began at study evenings in his home, which featured lecturers and music. He and Levinson were both teachers in Jerusalem high schools at the time, and Amit a Haifa native who met the two at the Hebrew University was in India. “We thought about taking the study evenings and starting something suitable for young people where they could study things related to Judaism, identity and Jerusalem, where the studies would also be fun. We came to the conclusion that it would be preferable in a post-army context. As soon as Nir returned I told him about the idea and he loved it, and that’s how we started the yeshiva.”

‘Out of the bubble’

What keeps Elisheva Mazya in Jerusalem? Her activity in New Spirit, which she has headed for the past four and a half years. The nonprofit organization was founded eight years ago, she says, “by several young non-Jerusalemites, who studied at the university and were very disturbed by what’s happening here. We thought we could do our part by striving to connect the students to the city, to break out of the bubble of Mount Scopus [Hebrew University campus], and finding a way for the graduates of local academic institutions to stay in the city.”

What is your role in the battle?

Mazya: “New Spirit was not meant to be anti-Haredi but to make the city more attractive to young people.There are no demonstrations, there’s activity on the ground. There was a building in Kiryat Hayovel that Haredim wanted to take over, and we started a secular kindergarten there. We started a pre-army mechina [preparatory program] in Kiryat Hayovel, which is the first secular mechina in Jerusalem. I’ve understood that the alternative is not to create another Tel Aviv here, but to create a community of young people for whom Judaism is a nationality rather than a religion, who know enough Judaism to confront the Haredim ...

“ Last summer we started organizing cultural events on Shabbat afternoon, at the Khan Theater and the Cinematheque. It wasn’t ‘anti,’ but was a way of saying that young people have nothing to do on Shabbat, so we have to create an alternative. Another area in which we’re involved is housing ... A year and a half ago we won a tender for a purchasing group in Ir Ganim. We’re also active in this field in the southwest part of the city, where there is a threat of Haredization.”

Daniel Mandler, a professor of chemistry at the Hebrew University, headed the battle against Haredization in Kiryat Hayovel, and also belongs to New Spirit, which started a few years ago when there were plans to open a Haredi kindergarten in the middle of the neighborhood.

Mandler: “We prevented that, and worked for Nir Barkat’s election, and then started with anti-Haredi activities: against the eruv [the wire surrounding a religious community that allows its members to carry items on Shabbat], against Haredi institutions in the neighborhood. We also held positive activities that led to the creation of a secular community with team spirit in Kiryat Hayovel. We held a lot of activities on Friday evenings to welcome Shabbat and performances in the summer some on the same empty lot where we prevented the construction of a Haredi kindergarten ... We try to preserve the pluralist secular nature of Kiryat Hayovel. We’re sane and normal people who are concerned about how Jerusalem will look, because the problem isn’t only Jerusalem but the entire country.

“Most of the public think that if they leave Jerusalem and go west, the problem will be solved, but the problem is countrywide. I’m very optimistic, which is why I’m still living here. In order for people to stay in Jerusalem they have to feel a team spirit and be connected to their neighborhood. It’s something very typical of Jerusalem, the sense of belonging to a neighborhood.

“I’m not against building for the Haredim,’ Mandler adds ‘but I’m in favor of separation. Jerusalem’s problem is that there’s no city planning. We suggested to Barkat that there be separation between pluralistic and Haredi neighborhoods. A person who wants to live in Kiryat Hayovel will understand that he won’t receive certain religious services there. Because [the Haredi] method is very simple: entering a neighborhood, followed by the establishment of illegal schools and kindergartens and synagogues, and after that they make the secular neighborhood ‘kosher.’ Everyone knows that a mosaic is beautiful as long as the colors are preserved, but it fades when the colors mingle. I have no problem with Haredi neighborhoods, they also need a place to live, but I’m opposed to mixing and to them dominating our lifestyle.”

Creating pluralistic communities is one of the important initiatives of New Spirit, Mazya agrees.

“The Haredim keep telling us that our sector lacks solidarity, as opposed to theirs. But what’s happened is that in Jerusalem the younger generation has invented something new and the Haredim find that very threatening. To date 20 such communities have been established, six of them in Kiryat Hayovel.”

New Spirit also believes in the necessity of dividing the city into separate neighborhoods. “The southwest of the city should be secular,” says Mazya. “I don’t believe in coexistence, we need separation. Nor would I use the expression ‘secular neighborhood,’ because the question isn’t whether there are religious people there, but rather whether secular people can feel comfortable. Communities of young people who meet once a week for supper and to study, spend Shabbat together and usually run some social welfare project, create a sense of belonging. The idea is to take responsibility for the city and the neighborhood. As though to say this is ours, this is our ‘shift,’ nobody will do it instead of us.”

Local pride

The Mahane Yehuda market has become one of the most important entertainment hubs in the city after it was renovated and revived in recent years. Its many new restaurants, pubs and cafes attract many non-Jerusalemites as well, but none of these establishments is open on Shabbat. On summer evenings it’s hard to push your way through here. There are also many cultural events held there, year round, usually funded by the municipality.

Some months ago, Shaanan Street, the soloist of the Hadag Nahash band, opened a pub called Casino de Paris, which immediately became a trendy hot spot where secular and religious Jews, as well as Arabs, sit together. Street lives in nearby Nahlaot, an area that has been a favorite with students but is fast becoming Haredi.
“To be more precise,” says Street, “its Haredi nature depends on the clock. At 4 A.M. when you return home drunk, everyone there is secular. On Friday night everyone is Haredi.”

Is there a future for secular life in Jerusalem?

Street: “I think so. In Jerusalem you can see more of everything – more secular life and more Haredi life, and I think that everyone everywhere ignores the less pleasant elements in his immediate surroundings.”

All the members of your band left yet you remain here.

“I’m an urban type, I don’t see myself living outside the city, and certainly not in Tel Aviv, which is the only urban alternative. It’s true that in Jerusalem you sometimes live with the feeling that all is lost, and sometimes with the feeling that everything can be solved. In Tel Aviv you live with the feeling that everything has already been solved, and I can’t live with that lie. A solution that’s feasible in Jerusalem is also valid in Tel Aviv, but not vice versa. Chances are that a solution that’s valid in Tel Aviv will have no meaning anywhere else, except London.”

In any event, one cannot ignore the fact that places of entertainment have multiplied in recent years. The municipality apparently believes Jerusalem’s main problem is not its steadily increasing ultra-Orthodox and religious populations but its image. That is why tours of local entertainment hot spots are occasionally conducted for journalists. I participated in two such tours; in both cases Mayor Nir Barkat joined us at the end.

Opposite the old railroad station is a complex that is due to be renovated and become a major entertainment center; according to the plans, it will be open on Shabbat. For several years the Colony complex nearby, named after the restaurant there, has been operating alongside several other restaurants and pubs. This entire compound, near the Khan Theater and the Jerusalem Cinematheque, not far from the German Colony and Baka neighborhoods, is open on Shabbat.

The last journalists’ tour in which I participated began at the Colony. Although it is not kosher and is open on Shabbat, the managers of the restaurant were asked to prepare a kosher meal for the guests, becausenon-kosher food is inappropriate on a tour sponsored by the municipality. None of the participatants was religious.

Hopping hot spots

The bars and pubs in the city center are located in several clusters. These include the area of Heleni Hamalka Street, not far from the Russian Compound where similar establishments closed due to pressure from the religious community. In addition, others are located in the alleys that lead to Ben Yehuda and King George streets, such as the veteran bar-cafe Bolinat; more recently, the Birman Musical Bistro, owned by veteran television director Dan Biron, opened there. Birman features live musical performances and home-style food, and even relatively older people who are among Biron’s friends frequent the place.

Much of the younger population also gathers in bars in the area of Ben Sira, Ben Shetah, Shlomzion Hamalka, Koresh, Yannai and Shushan streets, some of which are open on Shabbat. Nearby is the Feingold Courtyard, featuring more popular bars and eateries. On weekday nights, some of the places in this part of town are frequented by loud, skullcap-wearing young men, many of them American.

“In Jerusalem there’s a new species called an ars-dos [a religious punk],” says Uri David, a 30-year-old doctoral student and native of Jerusalem. Sometimes it makes the experience of going down to the city center unpleasant for him, he says. On weekdays they often fill the kosher cafes and restaurants in the nearby Nahalat Shiva area, but there is no sign of them on Friday nights.

“During the week they come and stare at the people who sit here,” says Daniela Lerer of Barood, a restaurant on Jaffa Road. “Not only them; ordinary Haredim also come to look at the girls. Afterward on Friday evening they shout ‘Shabbas, Shabbas’ at me.”

Says Danny Cohen, 32, a Jerusalemite who works in computers: “It’s clear there are far more places in Jerusalem today than there were 10 or 15 years ago, when there were maybe three places. But still, when you walk down the street ... everyone knows everyone else. There’s no chance I’ll go into some bar and won’t know anyone. The bar and entertainment scene is relatively limited; many people have moved to Tel Aviv. But there’s a small-town atmosphere and a relatively small area where you can go to have a good time.”

Recently Ido Levit opened a bar, billed online as being a very friendly “gay-straight” place, called Mikveh Bar on Shushan Street, in the small, dim premises of his previous place, Hakatzeh. Levit says that “although people told us it’s a provocative name, we were looking for one with a unique Jerusalem flavor.” He says that secular and religious people, as well as Arabs, frequent his bar.

No food is served there, he says, “so for religious people there’s no problem of kashrut. Although Jerusalem is a very closed city, like everywhere in the world, 10 percent of the population is gay ... [Some may have] moved to Tel Aviv or other places, but we still have enough customers. Straights, too.”

Don’t religious people have a problem being seen in a gay bar?

Levit: “Apparently not. There’s also a very active organization of religious gays in Jerusalem called Hevruta.”

Nearby, in Hasira bar which is familiar to me from the time it was called the Mad Hatter, and which later became Diwan I meet Yoni Paradis, a 26-year-old drama student and native Jerusalemite. The Mad Hatter was the first pub to open on Ben Sira Street, which begins at Shlomzion and descends in the direction of the Muslim cemetery that has been surrounded for many months with metal sheeting, on the site of the controversial Museum of Tolerance that may open there.

“There are about four places where I go regularly,” says Paradis. “Uganda, Sira, Cassata and Casino de Paris. Uganda has performances by fringe ensembles, carries records and comic books, and is supposed to look like a Berlin pub. A lot of hipster types from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design go there, thinking that they’re abroad; almost everyone I know goes to Uganda. It’s always open of course, on Friday and Shabbat too. Next to it is El Bir, a leftist bar frequented both by Arabs and by activists at demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah.

“Shaanan Street’s Casino de Paris is new but very successful, but the downer is that like all of the Mahane Yehuda market, it’s closed on Friday and Shabbat. The age group in all these places is 20 to 40 ... A typical evening out for me is wandering back and forth among those four bars and constantly meeting the same faces just like a shtetl.”

As for cafes, Paradis says he goes to Nocturno, which is nice but closed on Shabbat, and Smadar, “which is only reasonably good but open on Shabbat. Aside from Smadar, there isn’t a single cafe open in the German Colony since the Aroma cafe there became strictly kosher.”

Due to a lack of alternatives, he continues, “I spend Shabbat at home or in the Cinematheque, which for many people is the last secular bastion in the city. But the truth is that most of its audience is retirees. The ‘living space’ of a student who lives in the city center is limited to about two square kilometers: from the Cinematheque to the Russian Compound. Outside of that area, there is in effect nowhere to go out and have fun. Another option is to travel to Tel Aviv .”

Says Tanya Aronov, a Jerusalem resident whom I met at a bar-restaurant called Link, which is open on Shabbat, “the atmosphere on the street is not that of a secular place. Aside from a few places. everything is closed [on Shabbat]. You don’t see people sitting in the streets as in Tel Aviv. The streets are almost empty. Most of the people walking around are religious. There was a time when I actually liked that, when I first arrived in Jerusalem 20 years ago. Now it’s starting to be burdensome. And that’s even before we’ve talked about the fact that in my neighborhood, Gilo, which is still considered secular, there’s nothing open. If I get stuck without cigarettes on Shabbat, I have to travel to the city center to look for a store that’s open.”

Just down the street, on Ben Maimon, is Restobar. Owned by Shahar Levy, this bar-restaurant is also open seven days a week, and has a luxurious smoking area. Restobar is located on the so-called seam line between the city center and Rehavia a neighborhood with an increasing number of religious people on the site where the Moment cafe (the site of a terror attack) was once located.

“There are dozens of pubs open on Shabbat in the city,” says Levy, “but very few restaurants, I think fewer than 20. What annoys me is that even in places where there’s no problem with opening restaurants on Shabbat, the owners want to be considered kosher in order to attract more clientele, so they decide to stay closed. Incidentally, even if they were to promise me that I’ll earn four times as much if my restaurant is kosher and closed on Shabbat I won’t do it. That’s my contribution to the war over my place and my principles.”



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