As we again celebrate Jerusalem Day, anyone who cares for the future of the city is cognizant of the challenges posed by our capital’s demographic realities.
According to a study released this week by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, 35 percent of the capital’s residents define themselves as haredim, or ultra-Orthodox, compared to seven percent in the rest of the country. A nearly equal percentage of Jerusalemites are Arab residents. Jerusalem remains among the poorest cities in the country due to the relatively high unemployment rate among the city’s haredi and Arab residents.
The study also indicates that the issue of emigration from the city remains a real concern. While more recent statistics issued by the Jerusalem Municipality indicate that this trend is now in reverse, the challenge to attract young people to build their lives and future in Jerusalem remains of vital priority.
What is the role of institutions of higher learning in strengthening Jerusalem as an attractive and vibrant city? Jerusalem is blessed by a world-class research university, and a number of highly respected colleges. Beyond a primary mission to ensure a high level of academic instruction, these institutions must make conscious efforts to reach out to the city’s prospective students and offer them real incentives to pursue their post-secondary studies at home in Jerusalem.
At the same time, the institutions should actively reach out to prospective students from other parts of the country and encourage them to live and learn in Jerusalem and offer the experience of this unique city. In doing so, many of these students may be inspired to remain in Jerusalem upon completion of their studies.
At the same time, Jerusalem’s institutions should foster close ties with city employers from both the public and private sectors in order to offer their graduates real and rewarding career opportunities upon graduation.
It is for this reason that our college recently established a Career Counseling Center, which together with our newly established Alumni Association is pro-active in identifying job opportunities in Jerusalem for our current graduates.
In recognition of the changing demographics, the institutions must reach out to and offer career track academic studies to those in the haredi community who have the ability and drive to learn and yearn for a better, stronger future for themselves, their families and their community. While those same institutions should not seek to alter these communities’ lifestyles and beliefs, Jerusalem’s social and economic infrastructure will be dramatically strengthened by bringing the haredi community into the workforce while creating dialogue between secular and haredi populations.
This same principle applies to the city’s Arab population. If we aspire to a united Jerusalem, our Arab residents must be offered a better future including career-focused academic opportunities.
As the only institution of higher learning situated in downtown Jerusalem, Hadassah Academic College assumes a special responsibility to contribute toward the strengthening of our city. By bringing students from all parts of Israel to live and learn in Jerusalem, and then actively assist them to secure rewarding employment in the city, we are playing a vital role to ensure the future of the city. Indeed, the fact that our College is today among the fastest-growing institutions of higher learning in the country indicates that we have every reason to be confident in a better, stronger Jerusalem in the years ahead.
The author is president of the Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem.