Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Civil War continues: non-Chereidi fight back.

Unfortunately, without any meaningful way to get control of the courts or the marriage, divorce and conversion processes, acts by secular/reform/conservative or modern orthodox Israelis at the neighborhood level are fairly useless.

Jerusalem Post Online
Jun 18, 2009 11:21 | Updated Jun 23, 2009 10:14
A secular awakening
By PEGGY CIDOR

Something is happening to the capital's young, secular population, it seems. With a tailwind from the election of a secular mayor, they are fighting back against years of haredi hegemony...

..."Well, the reaction came. The fact is that people who were not so enthusiastic about Barkat's candidacy finally voted for him because he was our last hope, and the strong reaction we saw recently around the parking lot issue comes directly from there: People just said 'Enough is enough.'"

..."I can't imagine living anywhere else," says Pinhassi. "I am delighted that Jerusalem is not Tel Aviv, that it has deep Jewish roots, although I am not at all religious. But what has happened recently is really too much. My feeling is that the haredim have crossed all the boundaries. I can't tell where and when exactly - some say the ceremony on the bridge when they forced the girls to cover up, some say with the kindergartens and synagogues they forced on us here in Kiryat Hayovel; others say because of the mikve in Beit Hakerem. I guess it's all of it, and perhaps something more. But the fact that they have gone too far is obvious - and it all started from there."

Pinhassi continues, "Barkat was elected because the haredim went too far - and the ground here was ripe for a change. After all, he also ran six years ago and was not elected. The haredim became too greedy; they lost the sense of limits, and it all came together: the students, residents like me, who do not hate haredim but just want to live here freely, and the election of Barkat - and we see it now taking shape in front of our eyes," he says.

"As far as I am concerned, I would appreciate if all my neighbors were religious Zionist. I love those people. They are Zionist, educated, open minded. I wouldn't care at all being very considerate because I know they wouldn't force it on me. The whole issue is the fact that haredim force themselves on us, and we have become accustomed to the idea that it's the way it should be...

...we seem to think that it is normal that they should tell us how to live, how to dress and where to go and when. Well, this is over. The times, they are changing."

..."One thing is sure," Hit'orerut chairman and city councilor Ofer Berkovitch - one of the major figures in the secular demonstrations - tells In Jerusalem, "we worked very hard to promote this tremendous change, which culminated in the election of a secular mayor, and it means much more than the opening of some parking lot or other. We're talking about saving this city to keep it a pluralistic, open city for all of us."

..."The days when we just packed our things and left for the center of the country are over," says Berkovitch. "Today we are ready to stay here and to fight - not against the religious, we do not hate them - in favor of a pluralistic city in which we can all live, work, spend our leisure time and raise our families together. And, of course, the Safra parking lot is not the issue. What is at stake is our life here: Do we have an opportunity to earn a decent living in Jerusalem? Can we lead our way of life here without being threatened by haredim who want to bind us to their way of life? These are the issues that will determine if we can live here or not."

...As for the reasons behind the rather unexpected strong reaction of the secular residents, Margalit concurs that the change at the head of the municipality was the impetus for a more significant change in the attitude of the residents. "There's no question about it, Barkat represents a real alternative for young, educated, successful people, so they support him and they react whenever they realize someone is trying to take things in another direction."

..."It's not difficult to understand why Barkat has become a sort of hero of the local young generation," explains the city council member. "He is the first mayor who to take them into consideration; and even more than that, he is the first mayor whose vision and agenda are based on the roles and tasks of the young generation. The poor, the underprivileged, the traditional clients of the welfare department - he certainly wants to improve their situation. He is a good man, but his economic-political view is liberal, based on those who succeed. It's even, perhaps unconsciously, the name of his party. Barkat believes in those who strive to succeed - and who fits that vision more than the youth and the students?

"So what we have here is an interaction between two groups that complement each other. And now, when he made a move and he is under attack from the haredi extremists and quite a few of the 'ancients' who think he didn't handle the matter wisely, the young supporters show up at his side and give him back what he gave them before," says the council member...

...Michal Sternberg is in charge of activities at New Spirit. She says, "The quick and strong mobilization of our people is not surprising, at least not for us. We've seen for the past six years how much more deeply involved our members are becoming in anything connected with this city's life. What we are seeing now is the outspoken part that was there already and it's all because of the election of Barkat: a young, secular, modern mayor who speaks our language. We have been working hard to organize the association and its members, and now we see the results and they are more than encouraging.

"It's even becoming much easier to pass on our messages via mobile phones and the Internet, and the students all come and take part. Our organization includes students from the Hebrew University, Bezalel, Hit'orerut, Meretz, and we recently created the coalition of all these groups into one called 'A Free Jerusalem.'"

...Sternberg adds that among the participants at the last demonstration organized by the secular on Saturday were many young families, including quite a few religious ones, "who believe in a pluralistic city without violence or coercion. And that is why we are so strict in respecting the regulations of Shabbat in these demonstrations: We do not use megaphones, we invite people who live within walking distance and the like," she says.

It has nothing to do with hatred of the religious or haredim," insists Meirav Cohen, "but it has very much to do with the way we see this city. We love Jerusalem, we want to live here, to stay here, so we need to know that we are comfortable here, that we can live in a pluralistic environment that offers us ways to build our future here. We were the engine behind Barkat's election to power because we knew that by changing the person at the head, we would be able to bring about a more significant change as well."

...All agree that the Safra parking lot is much more than a parking issue. "We don't really care if it's Safra or Karta or anything else," say Allalu and Segev. "I trust Barkat that he wants to open a facility for visitors on the weekend, and we give him the support he needs now," says Allalu. "But what we are fighting for now is much more important than a parking issue; it is the future of the city, and ours too," concludes Berkovitch.

From a perspective of time, former city council Anat Hoffman, who served for 14 years when Teddy Kollek and Ehud Olmert were mayors, says there is no doubt that the election of Barkat is the key to understanding the change in the secular residents' attitude. "Had Meir Porush been elected, we of course wouldn't have had to confront riots following the opening of a parking lot on Shabbat. But on the other hand, things would have been going on the same way - meaning without any hope to see a change, with increasing numbers of young and secular leaving the city, and without any chance of seeing Jerusalem residents fighting to regain their place in their city. Barkat has definitely brought in the winds of hope, and this is the result."


Hope might not be enough, but it's a start.

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