A Population in Danger of Extinction

Jerusalem's secular residents must be regarded as a population in danger of extinction and must be awarded suitable protection.

It is difficult to think of a better way to irritate the secular residents of Jerusalem's Kiryat Yovel neighborhood than the decision of Deputy Mayor Yehoshua Pollack, who also holds the municipal planning and construction portfolio, to place two caravans housing an ultra-Orthodox kindergarten in a vacant lot in the neighborhood's center. A Haredi kindergarten was the only thing the residents were lacking in that lot, which is located in such a central spot. It will serve as a constant reminder they will pass by every day on their way to the local school of the new threat faced by the neighborhood - that it will turn into an ultra-Orthodox stronghold.

Pollack says there are ultra-Orthodox children in Kiryat Yovel who need a kindergarten and that he preferred to place the caravan there rather than take away an empty building belonging to the secular educational system. If the secular residents of Kiryat Yovel (to whom I belong) do not want ultra-Orthodox educational facilities in their neighborhood, Pollack says, then they should not sell their apartments Haredi buyers.

Formally speaking, he is right. The ultra-Orthodox have the right to buy apartments in the neighborhood at high prices, and the secular residents don't have to sell them. That fact is true, even if the secular residents do not have a practical parallel possibility of moving to an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. For decades the Haredi population of the upscale Bayit Vegan quarter remained within the boundaries of that neighborhood and did not move to nearby Kiryat Yovel. However, a few years ago, the ultra-Orthodox rabbis gave their followers permission to start moving into Kiryat Yovel. As a result, Haredim began renting and buying apartments, especially in the neighborhood's cheaper areas. Quite a few secular neighborhoods in north Jerusalem have become ultra-Orthodox in the past few years, or are in the process of becoming so - a development that has not aroused a great deal of controversy. Kiryat Yovel is different. It is in fact the center of western Jerusalem's secular quarter. If it becomes ultra-Orthodox, the neighborhood will start to disintegrate.

Pollack also agrees that "Jerusalem will not have the same value without secular residents, since what makes Jerusalem unique is that all kinds of people live here." But the secular residents are vital to Jerusalem for many other reasons, too. One of them is that the city is poor and cannot afford to lose more residents who pay municipal property taxes. Another reason is that the more secular residents leave the city, the more secular people in other parts of the country feel alienated from Jerusalem. A not insignificant number of secular Israelis feel reprehensive about the growing trend toward ultra-Orthodoxy in the country's capital.

Those who want to strengthen the capital's status - not in the eyes of the world but in the eyes of Israelis - should make sure that the few secular people still prepared to live in Jerusalem remain there. Adopting such a point of view means that the rabbis who approved the ultra-Orthodox penetration into Kiryat Yovel evince a lack of responsibility and short-sightedness.

If there is one mistake the Jerusalem Municipality is accountable for in the past few years, it is the fact that since the establishment of Ramat Shlomo in the early 1990s, not one ultra-Orthodox neighborhood has been built in the city. While the Interior Ministry and the Housing and Construction Ministry share the blame for this failure, at the end of the day, the problem is that of the city's municipality. The equation is clear and its outcome predictable. Hundreds of young Haredi families want to live in Jerusalem. If there are no new quarters for ultra-Orthodox residents, they will move into the secular neighborhoods and begin unnecessary struggles.

If the current trends in Jerusalem continue, so will the purchasing of apartments in Kiryat Hovel by ultra-Orthodox Jews. Even if a secular mayor is elected (which is difficult to imagine), he will have no way of preventing this development. It would be fitting for the Torah's sages to show national rather than merely sectoral responsibility and to instruct their followers to stop buying apartments in Kiryat Yovel. But consideration for the national interest, as interpreted by secular Israelis, never was characteristic of the Torah sages.

The only way to stop the trend toward ultra-Orthodoxy in Kiryat Yovel is to provide a supply of apartments for the Haredi population in other parts of the city. That is to say, to build the Alona neighborhood in northern Jerusalem next to Ramot, or one of the planned neighborhoods in the city's western part in the framework of the Safdie plan.

The establishment of these neighborhoods was torpedoed, mainly because of the opposition of the greens. The interest in preserving Jerusalem's green hills is an important one; the interest in preserving Kiryat Yovel as a secular neighborhood and in guaranteeing the capital's secular presence is far more important. To phrase it in "green" terms: Jerusalem's secular residents must be regarded as a population in danger of extinction and must be awarded suitable protection. It would be appropriate for both the ultra-Orthodox and the greens to bear this in mind.