Trading the Perks of Jerusalem for the Possibilities of Tel Aviv

Three decades ago, Jerusalem and its environs felt more accessible, more tolerant; today it feels oppressive. Jerusalem of Gold is losing its luster, especially for young people, secular and religious, yuppies and others.

I sigh as I turn right off Dizengoff onto my street, and begin to prowl. It’s Wednesday, 10:45 P.M. I slow down to a crawl, knowing the hunt for an elusive parking place near our pied-a-terre in Tel Aviv will again be seriously aggravating. For this I left a reserved spot outside my building in Jerusalem?

Wait! Someone’s walking in the street, with something glinting in her hand. Car keys? She darts onto the sidewalk and disappears into the night.

I scope out the usual last-gasp possibilities where I am permitted to park as long as I move the car before 8:45 the next morning, thanks to the municipal parking sticker my husband got by officially changing his place of residence to Tel Aviv. ‏(For the life of her, the Interior Ministry clerk couldn’t understand why he would do that since his children and his wife, to whom he was/is still happily married, are still listed as Jerusalem residents.‏)

Nada. I hunker down and console myself with the fact that after work tomorrow in my Tel Aviv office, a whole, sunny weekend stretches out. I am cheered by that prospect, as always: Even after an annoying drive from Jerusalem or a long day of work, whenever I enter our second home in the first Hebrew city, I always feel I’m on vacation.

Last week, in a special section of Haaretz English Edition about the “exodus” of new immigrants to Tel Aviv, some of my colleagues wrote of how the coastal city is now the destination of choice for “internationals” who have decided to make their homes in Israel. Those of us who made aliyah in the decades when it was obvious that Jerusalem was the only place to be, are not immune to the attractions of what some jokingly call “Sin City,” but we are not necessarily ready to give up on the capital.

Seven years ago, anticipating an emptying nest, we renovated a small, partially subterranean ruin of an apartment in Tel Aviv with good friends, fellow Jerusalemites ‏(against all odds, we’re all still talking to each other‏). The then-recent passing of parents had left our families with the means for realizing what would become a perfect arrangement for literally enjoying the best of both worlds.

Although we’ve been mesmerized by life in Tel Aviv, and changes in the demographic makeup and general ambience in Jerusalem have, in the last 30 years or so, made that city lose some of its appeal − in my opinion, and that of many among our native-born and new-immigrant Jerusalemite circles of friends ‏(if they haven’t already moved away‏) − we are still deeply rooted in the ancient city. With all its problems, I am still a local patriot, still proud to tell people when abroad that I am from Jerusalem.

I have many Anglo-olim friends and acquaintances who, like me, came to study in Jerusalem in the ‘80s, found jobs and spouses, and stayed on. There is still a significant presence today of such immigrants, in places like Baka, Talbieh or my neighborhood, Beit Hakerem; among these are veteran members of Kol Haneshama or other Reform congregations, or people who belong to Reconstructionist, modern Orthodox or Conservative congregations.

Our lovely, green and, until recently, overwhelmingly secular Beit Hakerem is not something we can relinquish so easily, even today, with winds of change palpable in the city. This is where our kids enjoyed a wonderful childhood, good schools, an active Scouts troop, innumerable extracurricular activities. Everything in walking distance. It is still a neighborhood with an intimate, warm, communal feel. And Shabbat: Nothing can compare to the serenity and warm familial atmosphere we feel when strolling or riding around there on the day of rest.

However, when we chose to make our home there, Jerusalem was not overwhelmed by a burgeoning ultra-Orthodox population, or suffering from the phenomenon of increasing “negative migration” of secular residents, and particularly of large numbers of college and university students who finish their studies in the city, and then move on and out, ostensibly to greener economic pastures in the center of the country.

Three decades ago, Jerusalem and its environs felt more accessible, more tolerant; today it feels oppressive. Now there are innumerable police barricades that seal off neighborhoods and thoroughfares on Shabbat, in response to the demands of ultra-Orthodox residents. Their neighborhoods are bursting at the seams and spilling into other areas, where loud and even fairly violent confrontations erupt between them and fellow residents who drive on Shabbat or are deemed to be violating the holy day in some other fashion.

The feeling is that Jerusalem of Gold is losing its luster, especially for young people, secular and religious, yuppies and others − among them would-be immigrants from English-speaking countries. Even the sleek new light-rail train can’t lull a discriminating person into thinking this still-charming but Levantine city is an ultra-modern place, with the kind of tempting opportunities for vocational and professional growth offered by its newer sister on the shores of the Mediterranean.

Just 50 minutes or so away, Tel Aviv sparkles and seduces. Full of life 24/7. Inviting, refreshing, invigorating. For our part, we have become entranced by the beach, the promenade, the park, the port, the theater, the proximity to so many friends who moved away from Jerusalem years ago. And along with all their 20-something childhood friends, who have moved more or less en masse to an area between Florentin and Ramat Aviv, my children, too, are now here.

Indeed, my husband and I are coming to terms with the rather depressing fact that we are, on average, about 30 years older than most of the people walking around the streets here.

In fact, jolted out of my reverie in the idling car, I now notice that a smart-looking 20-something has passed me and is heading for his VW − in a legitimate blue-and-white spot! A miracle. As I pull in, though, I think: I am still not ready to give up my Jerusalem fir trees forever for the ficus under which I’m parking.

Emil Salman