A wide range of Jerusalemite leaders gathered at the President’s
Conference at the International Convention Center on Wednesday to
examine the complicated reality of life in the capital.
discussion, titled “My Visions of Jerusalem,” featured Mayor Nir
Barkat, former Palestinian Authority Minister Ziad AbuZayyad, City
Councilor Rachel Azaria, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of
the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations,
Jerusalem Venture Partners founder Erel Margalit, the Franciscan Order’s
Custodian of the Holy Land Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa and haredi
leader and journalist Dudi Zilbershlag.
Eretz Acheret editor Bambi Sheleg moderated the panel.
of the panelists agreed that Jerusalem should draw strength from its
many conflicts rather than allow the disagreements to consume the city.
on the extreme is exhausting,” Azaria said. “In Jerusalem, you can’t
just wake up, take the kids to school, and fall asleep in front of
Channel 2 at night.
of us go to sleep and hope they’ll wake up and someone will flee the
city. It could be that we want the Palestinians or the haredim or the
secular people to flee,” she said. “Here’s a secret: It’s not going to
happen. No one’s going anywhere. We all love this city, it calls to so
many people, and no one is going anywhere.”
the importance of respecting all religious streams in the city amid a
rapidly shrinking Christian population.
“The two sides need to figure out their problems, but remember that there is a universal profile to the city,” he said.
A passionate Hoenlein stressed that Diaspora Jewry deserved to have a
role in the discussion about the future of Jerusalem, because of its
spiritual importance to Judaism.
“I’m more confused now than when I arrived,” said Barbara Ford, the
president of ARZA, the Australian Reform Zionist Association, who
attended the panel. “From the outside [of Israel], we don’t understand
the complexities of the relationships between all of those who are
involved in these processes,” she said.
“The idea of Jerusalem that we understand is the religious part and its
cultural part,” said Anthony Arkin, president of Arzenu South Africa,
part of the international umbrella organization of Reform and
“We forget it’s a living, vibrant city with normal urban problems that
also have to be addressed, and that can’t be done on a theoretical
Moderator Sheleg called the panel a way to “get closer to reality. Now,
we’re not just proprietors of our dreams, we’re also proprietors of
She stressed that the panel gave her hope. “Jerusalem is not an
impossible situation, it’s not a simple solution, but it’s not
impossible... but the problems can only be solved if you invest in
them,” she said, adding that the only way to start fixing the problems
in the city was to concentrate on the neglected areas, such as east
Jerusalem, the educational system, sanitation and the “less sexy” areas
of urban development.
Zilbershlag emphasized the importance of understanding people on the
opposite side of the conflict, and added that the haredi segment of the
population had no illusions of taking over Jerusalem.
“Tel Aviv will never be capital of Israel, the same way Jerusalem will
never be a haredi city, because Jerusalem needs to be a mix,” he said.
The three-day Presidential Conference, under the banner “Facing
Tomorrow,” brought hundreds of people to the capital to discuss topics
ranging from economics, nuclear proliferation, international relations,
technological advancements and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Big names such as comedienne Sarah Silverman, pop star Shakira and
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales also spoke to large plenary sessions.