Over a month ago, one of Mayor Nir Barkat’s aides asked for my endorsement. Barkat was gathering names from the National Religious camp to advance his forceful campaign in that sector. I turned him down.
The reason I refused to endorse Barkat is best illustrated by a conversation I overheard on a bus during the Grand Prix racing event Barkat recently brought to Jerusalem. An older woman was speaking with a much younger acquaintance, asking her what was going on.
The younger woman explained, then commented,“ it’s not fitting here, it belongs in Tel Aviv.”
These women did not look religious. More likely they were what one would call “amcha” – typical Jerusalemites with a strong sense of family and tradition.
As is often the case, they were able to intuit what sophisticated rabbis in my community have not: Barkat doesn’t have a Jerusalemite consciousness. As a result, the past four years have witnessed Jerusalem becoming much more like Tel Aviv.
Being like Tel Aviv is not without its advantages. First and foremost, it has meant more money and more jobs. It is hard to argue with that. Yet one of the things that had always made Jerusalem so special is that money was never a strong value here. Ever since I can remember, most Jerusalemites haven’t had lofty financial ambitions; many still live by the dictum in Pirkei Avot: “more possessions, more worries.”
Being like Tel Aviv has also meant more culture. Besides all the cheap “culture” he has brought to the holy city, Barkat has also brought some cultural events and attractions worthy of the name. But more typical is the monstrous basketball stadium that has just been finished in the southern neighborhood of Malha. Though conceived before his tenure, it had been all but abandoned before he came to the mayor’s desk. Barkat, however, decided Jerusalem should have the largest stadium of its type in the country, and now it does. From being known as the City of David, Jerusalem will also now have the dubious honor of being called the basketball capital of Israel.
It would not be fair to ignore the current mayor’s many good qualities. He is honest (something you unfortunately can’t say about all of our mayors), efficient and really tries to be fair. I would vote for him... in Tel Aviv. But in Jerusalem, one requires a “rosh Yerushalmi,” a Jerusalemite way of thinking.
One doesn’t even have to live here to have such a consciousness.
In that sense, Moshe Lion, who is not from Jerusalem, is much more a man of this city than Barkat, who is.
I am not completely comfortable voting for Lion. I don’t know enough about his intentions and I don’t think he has run his campaign very well.
Regardless, I will vote for Lion, because I will vote against Barkat. If there were a poll conducted dividing people between bus riders and car drivers, I think one would see Barkat way ahead with the latter but probably behind with the former. He represents a vision of Jerusalem which is ultimately quite sectarian. But most disturbing is that such a vision is out of sync with the city’s special past and out of sync with that unique flavor that makes Jerusalem the special city that it is.
The writer is a Jerusalem-based educator, writer and thinker.