So, You're moving to Jerusalem?

City's character attracts olim, but pushes veteran Israelis away.

September 27, 2007 01:45
So, You're moving to Jerusalem?

Old Jerusalem 224.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

In 2006, 17,264 people left Jerusalem, many of them for the nearby suburbs of Mevaseret Zion, Betar Illit, Ma'aleh Adumim and Modi'in. That same year, 10,922 others made the capital their home, about 2,000 of whom were new immigrants, most of them from English-speaking countries. While the attraction of the holy city to foreign newcomers may be easily understood - religious, cultural and historical bonds - the reasons for its appeal among veteran Israelis who have relocated to the city from elsewhere in the country may be different. What is surprising to learn is that the same reasons that repel many from the city attract others. "Job opportunities, studies and a special atmosphere bring people to Jerusalem and drive them out of here," says Maya Choshen, researcher and editor of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. "Most of the newcomers to Jerusalem are young people" who come to study at the Hebrew University, the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design and the various religious education facilities, among them the Jerusalem College of Technology (Machon Lev) and countless yeshivot, adds Choshen. As for career opportunities, Hadassah-University Medical Center and its expected biotechnological center have drawn many. According to Uri Ullman, head of the municipal planning and strategy department, the strongest element attracting people to Jerusalem is higher education, drawing 20 percent of all newcomers, and 34% of new olim. The second factor is employment, drawing 15% overall, and 8% of haredi newcomers. The city's unique atmosphere ranked third, drawing 13% of the newcomers, "so I would humbly suggest that the leadership of this city take good care to protect this special atmosphere, architecture, character," adds Ullman Another key for keeping people in Jerusalem, says Ullman, is zeroing in on the prospective Hebrew University graduates, many of whom are not native to the city. "They are here at least for three years. But what happens after that? We don't know. But we should bear in mind that 70% of the Hebrew University students are not local - so they are a real target to be kept here. How we do that? Well, there are a few programs, but there should be more." Yael, who moved to Jerusalem about a year ago to pursue a PhD in biology at the Hebrew University, is one such example. "I found the best professors here, and even the scholarship I received here was the largest compared to other universities, like in Tel Aviv, where I studied for my first and second degree." When she first decided to attend Hebrew University, recalls Yael, her friends warned her that Jerusalem was a difficult city - religious, poor and dirty. At first she was happy with the change in atmosphere and was optimistic. "I am very pleased from an academic point of view. I've also met great people." However, she adds, "There is a problem meeting people my age here. When I go out to the pubs or any other entertainment venue, single males tend to be much younger - this is different than in the center of the country. "And also," she continues, "I must say, it's kind of heavy here. Conversation always veers into serious topics. This can be good, but sometimes it's just too much. I don't think you can have a nice, light conversation here. "So while I am here for at least four years, I am not sure where I will be afterwards," she concludes. "The superiority of the higher education opportunities in Jerusalem is confirmed. We know it from the figures. And not only the Hebrew University. But there is also the legendary, special feeling this city rouses, and while olim are especially known to connect to this feeling, I can tell you that there are also young Israelis, religious and non-observant, who share these feelings," adds Choshen. SUCCOT IS one of three holidays - the others being Pessah and Shavuot - on which Jews have traditionally made an annual pilgrimage (aliya laregel) to Jerusalem, since Temple times. During Succot, tens of thousands of Israelis and tourists visit the holy city, pray at the Western Wall and get a priestly blessing. According to Tourism Ministry officials, this tradition not only attracts religious Jews, but has become a custom also practiced by the secular and traditionalists of various levels of observance, who feel, at least for once or twice a year, that this is a special place to be. Others have chosen to extend the pilgrimage and make the city their home. "Coming to live in Israel was our dream for years," recalls Ana Aouate, a recent immigrant from France. "Two years ago, we finally joined a group of young couples like us and we settled in Ofra. "It was great, and we enjoyed every moment there, but after a little more than a year-and-a-half, we began to feel the need for a big city," she continues. "I have lived all my life in Paris, I needed the special feeling of a big city. Also for employment reasons, Ofra was not the best answer, so we came here. For us, it's a dream fulfilled. We live in Har Homa, we have a breathtaking view and we are in Jerusalem - what else could we ask for?" Har Homa is also home - albeit a second home - for the Yossef family, who spend most of the year in France. "We have been in love with Jerusalem for years, almost all our children already live here and we will also move here one day. In the meantime, we bought this house and we try to come here as much as possible, for holidays, for the summer, in preparation for the day we will move here indefinitely," says Janete Yossef. "This is not just another city," she continues. "From my balcony in Har Homa, I can see the hills where King David wandered with his sheep. This is the landscape our people have longed for for centuries, and I am fortunate to be able to live here. "I feel the city's uniqueness in everything I do," she adds, citing the biblical origins of many of the city's street names as an example. "I loved living in Paris," says Aouate, "but I love being here because we are observant and it's easier to be observant when you live in Jerusalem. Also, our kids, aged 10 and six, already have lots of friends here. They speak fluent Hebrew, they are totally integrated. "Sometimes I think that people who live here for years forget its preciousness. True in Tel Aviv or Netanya you can enjoy the sea. But here, you walk amidst centuries of history, it is so special. And everywhere you go, you can see archeological sites and it ties you to your past. "And the color, it's different at each hour. From my window I can see Bethlehem and Rachel's Tomb. I stare at them in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening - it's like a different landscape every time, because of the changing color and the reflection of the stones. It's magical." Aouate is aware of the city's less appealing aspects. "I realize that it [Jerusalem] can also be frightening and uneasy. My mother, for example, wouldn't live here, she feels stressed in this city." Still, "I say it is not just another city, you cannot be indifferent. This is not a place you live in just by chance or because you have something to do here. You have to feel involved, gripped. Neither I nor my husband could live any other place in the world," she says. FOR THE Absorption Authority, the city's historical and aesthetic appeal goes without saying. "We don't waste our time selling the history of Jerusalem, it sells itself," says department head Pini Glinkevitch. "[It's] not a part of our marketing. "At the aliya fairs the Jewish Agency organizes in different locations, we realize that these people, who come to hear about the different prospects and options here, know the city very well. They can tell us about Caffit or Pituyim [cafés] or the Cinematheque or the Malha mall - they come here, more than once, they spend weeks and months here - we don't have to tell them about Jerusalem as a city. "What we do bring them is what the city can offer in terms of facilities, employment, education and dwellings - that's the part of the picture they need to know," he says. "We focus on what moves people in the world - the care for their children," he continues. "The first step is theirs: They move here in the hope of giving their children a better Jewish education, and we 'complete the decision' by offering special educational programs. "For example, Jerusalem is the only city in the country that offers ulpanim for children. Since most of the olim come during the summer vacation, we offer them a special three-week program of Hebrew preparation so that in September they can start school with a basic Hebrew knowledge. "During the school year," he adds, "we organize an additional ulpan, three times a week, with transportation from all the neighborhoods and schools to the Argentina School in Kiryat Hayovel. And starting this year, we are also offering an ulpan for haredi girls at the Givat Shaul Community Center." The municipality is not alone in its mission to facilitate the coming of new olim to Jerusalem. In the last few years, aliya organizations like AMI and Nefesh B'Nefesh (NBN) have also taken on the task. "The core mission of Nefesh B'Nefesh is to revitalize aliya and to substantially increase the number of future olim by removing the financial, professional and logistical obstacles that prevent many individuals from actualizing their dreams," says organization representative Yael Katzman. "We want to help people to fulfill their dream to make aliya, but first and foremost we want to prevent failures," adds Avi Zana, head of AMI in Israel. Both organizations aim to prepare potential olim for the move by providing them with relevant information and a support network that even includes social workers - in short, whatever is needed to make the decision and the transition easier. For the municipality, the push to preserve a Jewish majority in the city is a strong force behind their campaign to bring people to Jerusalem. This campaign includes incentives for students, among them discounted arnona for downtown apartments and up to $300 in rent subsidies for those who continue living here after they complete their studies. The revitalization of the city center and the return of Bezalel's architecture department to its former downtown location are also part of the strategy to convince young people to make Jerusalem their home. Immigration figures are encouraging. According to the municipality, from the start of 2007 until the end of August, 1,820 olim moved here. The usual annual figure is, according to Glinkevitch around 14% to 15% of the number of olim who arrive in Israel each year (Jerusalem is 10% of the country's population). Overall, the number of olim moving to Jerusalem over the past three to four years has remained stable, and it is the highest since the end of the Six Day War. "They come because it is what they want to do, because it is their dream," says Zana. "It is not connected to all kinds of events like wars, anti-Semitism, economics. Rather, it is a dream and Jerusalem is an important part of that dream." As for veteran Israelis who move to Jerusalem from other parts of the country, the municipality had little information. They are mostly "students, university staff or health services and hospitals, even artists," says an official at the municipality. "We don't know [more about] who they are perhaps because the media are not interested. They prefer the stories of those who leave."

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