Sababa City

While everything seems to be going great for Jerusalem's mayor Nir Barkat, the young people who come to the city to study end up leaving immediately.

Nir Barkat is glad he's Jerusalem's mayor because, as he has said over and over like a mantra since his election, especially on Jerusalem Day, he has fulfilled his plan to draw more young people to the city and open more places where they can have fun.

Since he was elected, to the sounds of premature whoops of triumph from the fewer than 200,000 secular people left in town, Barkat has assiduously gone about rebranding Jerusalem as "the City of Sababa" - the Arabic word for "nice" or "outstanding" that has become as ubiquitous in the Hebrew vernacular as the word "cool" in American English. His promises at the heart of his campaign to create more jobs, provide inexpensive housing and dramatically improve the schools have apparently been postponed indefinitely.

Meanwhile, everything is sababa for the mayor and the young people who come to the city to study and then leave immediately. It's that way too for the students of Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, where, so symbolically and appropriately, the Jerusalem Day celebrations were launched (commemorating our dreams for Jerusalem that are dead and buried ). And generally speaking, things are sababa for the city's religious and ultra-Orthodox residents. For the 200,000 Palestinians living in Greater Jerusalem, for the secular Israeli Jews who have packed and are ready to leave, and those who have already left, things are a little less sababa.

The Jerusalem I moved to in the mid-1970s was a different town. True, not reunited, but with free movement from one part to another. A city without a wall running through its heart, but with the Hebrew University, the Bezalel arts academy, the Cinematheque and the Old City. University lecturers lived in Kiryat Moshe, Yekkes - German Jews - lived in Rehavia. The German Colony was still inhabited by the old-timers who had moved in after 1948, as well as a few architects and Bohemians who picked up old Arab and German Templer homes for peanuts. Bayit VeGan was still a mixed, secular-Orthodox neighborhood. The Katamonim housing projects and old Katamon were secular.

We encountered the adukim - the devout - as we used to call the Haredim, mainly on sightseeing tours of Mea She'arim, in the periodicals room of the National Library, or on the diagonal pedestrian crossings outside the Maayan Shtub department store downtown. The Old City was the place to go for shopping or hanging out on Friday evenings and on Shabbat, so no one minded when West Jerusalem closed down at those times. Things weren't so sababa for the Arab residents of the Old City and East Jerusalem, but at least they enjoyed a thriving commercial life.

As I do every week, this week I visited the city that I have abandoned. It was the day before Jerusalem Day, but they could not hide the truth that morning - even the thousands of soldiers and policemen deployed downtown to protect part of the reunited population from the other part, namely the Jews from the Palestinians (unlike on Saturdays, when they protect the secular from the Haredim, or at demonstrations, where they protect leftists from rightists ). Jerusalem's beauty is almost nowhere to be seen, especially downtown. I did not go to the eastern part of the city. More than 20 years have gone by since I popped over there at night.

Jerusalem, which used to be much cleaner than Tel Aviv when its mayor was Teddy Kollek (who was famous for his surprise inspections of the street cleaners' performance ), was already almost as filthy as Bnei Brak during Ehud Olmert's term as mayor. Luckily, the city is hardly lit up at night, so it's still very beautiful then.

Cleaning up a city isn't much fun. On the other hand, talking about plans for the future, drawing secular people back and ceaseless building, in the Palestinian neighborhoods too, must be very pleasant. And what did we want, after all? That for the mayor, too, things would be sababa.