Figures from the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies released Sunday in advance of next week’s Jerusalem Day show that for the second straight year, the number of students in the city’s state religious and secular schools rose. This came after a decade of continuous decline in the number of students in these schools. The diminishing numbers of secular and non-Haredi religious students over the last two years was explained by the evident halt in the emigration from the capital of young, non-Haredi families.
But what is new this year is the drop in the number of pupils enrolled in grades one through six in the capital’s Haredi schools. The number of Haredi students in Jerusalem elementary schools fell from 36,349 in the previous school year to 35,880 this year. At the same time, the number of students in the state schools, religious and secular, rose from 22,136 last year to 22,725 this year, a two percent rise.
If these figures represent a genuine decline in the city’s ultra-Orthodox population, this is a major reversal of a trend that has been going on since the 19th century.
In the past decade, the stream of young Haredim leaving the city, mostly to other Haredi towns such as Ramat Beit Shemesh, Modi’in Ilit and Beitar Ilit, has increased greatly due to a lack of housing in the capital, said Dr. Maya Hoshen, a researcher at the institute. A large proportion of those leaving are young couples. Apartments in Jerusalem are expensive for all residents, not only for the secular, said Hoshen, so the Haredi exodus was expected. The percentage of Haredim leaving the city is at least the same as its proportion in the entire city population, she added.
But it is also possible, she said, that changes in the way the municipality collects the data have affected the figures for the Haredi population. The statistics do not include those Haredi students, for example, who attend extreme Hasidic sects that refuse to accept any state funding, and who thus do not show up in data regarding the official educational system. Also, the figures show that Haredim remain a clear majority among the younger generation of Jerusalem residents.
Most of the increase in the non-Haredi schools was in the state religious school system − from 11,000 pupils last school year to 11,460 this year in elementary schools. But the number of such students in secular schools also rose, by 140 pupils, to 11,270.
This figure is still some 2,600 fewer than in 2001, and 5,000 students fewer than in 1997 − before the large waves of secular residents left Jerusalem.
These figures will certainly serve Mayor Nir Barkat in advance of the municipal elections this fall. Barkat has claimed that young couples and families are now reconsidering leaving the city in light of the improvements in cultural activities, employment and housing. But Barkat also faces charges that he has been unable to stop the “Haredization” of more and more neighborhoods, especially those close to existing concentrations of the ultra-Orthodox.