Joel Burstein, an advocate for French olim in Jerusalem

"I believe I reached my limit in the business realm and I feel I am ripe to contribute something to public affairs."

Joel Burstein (photo credit: Courtesy)
Joel Burstein
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Joel Burstein was born in France in 1972 and made aliyah at 17. He is married, the father of five and grandfather of one, and speaks Hebrew with a heavy French accent.
Why did you make aliya as a teenager?
Zionism. Pure and simple Zionism. I went to Yeshivat Har Etzion, then did army service and then law studies at Bar-Ilan University, where I met my wife, who also made aliyah from France.
Why politics?
I believe I reached my limit in the business realm and I feel I am ripe to contribute something to public affairs, by using my knowledge and experience in my field – a law and construction entrepreneur. Coming from the private sector gives me a significant advantage to understand how things work and are perceived from outside of the bureaucracy.
What brought you to Moshe Lion’s list?
In the beginning, I was involved with the Yerushalmim. I liked their pluralistic approach very much. I took part in their meetings – but after a while I realized it didn’t fit my views. They brought in Reform Jews, a director of a secular yeshiva and others. I felt it was not for me.
What’s wrong with the Reform stream? Isn’t it the precise idea of pluralism?
No problem, but I was invited because I was supposed to recruit the French there. I can live with the Reform approach, but in general, French olim cannot. It won’t work with them. So I told the party I could be of no use there.
Wasn’t it a good opportunity to explain to them that this is part of pluralism in Jerusalem?
It doesn’t work like that. That’s the motto of [Ofer] Berkovitch, saying that there is a national politics and a local politics, and they deal with different issues. That’s not true, especially in Jerusalem.
The French who made aliyah don’t really understand what it means to be Reform. For them, this a real danger to our Judaism. They don’t see the pluralist side. They can be pluralistic and open-minded in many fields – education, culture and so on. But on Jewish identity issues, Reform is mukzeh (forbidden) in their eyes – it is out of the question. They will accept secular people who do not observe Shabbat – but Reform, under no circumstances. So I couldn’t help in any way within Yerushalmim.
So we understand why you didn’t stay with Yerushalmim. But why Moshe Lion out of all the candidates? What did you find there?
It started with friends from Aleinu, one of the associations representing the olim from France. They talked to me and convinced me to explore it because they reached the conclusion that the biggest problem of the French here is that they lack political representation on the city council. At the beginning I said no, based on what I knew then about Lion – his acquaintances with Arye Deri and Avigdor Liberman – not exactly the kind of politics that the French appreciate. But I agreed to meet him and I changed my mind totally.
Personal charm is enough to make such a decision?
I checked into his capacities and his deeds for the past five years he spent at the municipality and I discovered only the best things. I’ve reached the conclusion he is a hard worker and the more time I spend with him, the more I appreciate him.
If Lion is elected mayor, which portfolio will you ask for – assuming you’re in – as number 4 on the list/
The klita (olim absorption) portfolio. That’s what I want to do; that’s where I know I can be most useful.