Taking the young to heart

Following Hitorerut’s success in the last elections, a new player is now vying for the leadership of the younger generation

Hitorerut’s Meirav Cohen521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Hitorerut’s Meirav Cohen521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The local political scene is heating up. With about 100 days left before the municipal elections and despite the hot summer weather, things are moving, and every week brings us news, some of which is surprising. While it is still not clear if Moshe Leon, the declared challenger to Mayor Nir Barkat, has found a home in Jerusalem, most of the action during the past days has taken place among the groups running for the city council.
Everyone agrees that the main factor that brought Barkat to the mayor’s chamber was the awakening of the young generation in the city and their ability, in a rather short time, to encourage their peers to vote (in the 2008 elections) instead of leaving the city. It is a commonly held belief among a large part of the non-haredi residents that the city’s former mayors did not pay enough attention to their needs.
In this context, the emergence of an organized group of young adults and students who decided to try to change the course of things was a determining factor in creating the atmosphere that led to Barkat’s election. The awakening of the young generation was represented by what ultimately became the Hitorerut movement, which won a seat on the city council.
“They are young, energetic, highly motivated and have convinced me that there is a place for young adults in this city,” a 28-year-old Jerusalemite told me about five years ago. He said he had voted for Hitorerut and changed his plans to move to Tel Aviv.
“For the first time, I see that someone in this city cares about me and my generation. Until now, no political movement or representative bothered to think about us and our needs.”
The two leaders of the movement, Meirav Cohen and Ofer Berkowitz, who shared the seat on the city council, came with a long list of items to represent and promote: jobs, students’ needs, affordable housing, and fun and leisure activities adapted to young tastes, something this city hadn’t previously seen. Initiating outdoor parties, dancing and music in the streets, including many events on Shabbat in the city center, the members of Hitorerut created a totally different atmosphere, one that gave the impression that Jerusalem could be a good place for young adults. When even young adults from Tel Aviv began to show up at these street parties, it was clear that Hitorerut had begun a new trend.
During the last year, some major changes have taken place within the movement. Cohen tried to become a Knesset member as part of Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party and announced that she would not continue in the local party for the 2013 elections in October. Replacing her at Berkowitz’s side is Hanan Rubin, a man in his early 30s who is religious, married and has four children. This is more than a hint that the movement is addressing young and less young adults and is working hard to catch up to its 2008 big victory. Therefore, it was quite a shock for them to realize that they no longer had a monopoly on representing young adults’ interests.
Last week, Meir Turgeman, city council member and head of the opposition and the controlling committee, revealed the names of some of the members on his list for the elections, and – surprise, surprise – the first three candidates (after Turgeman himself) are typical representatives of the young generation. Kfir Harush, Hillel Farkash and Shahar Levy are all “hot” names in the field of public relations and leisure and entertainment, an area that is usually considered the preserve of Hitorerut. Asked why he, a religious man, former member of the local Likud branch and mostly identified with welfare issues and the needs of underprivileged families, would join those who are identified with youth and partygoers, Turgeman replies almost angrily, “Who says there is only one address for the needs of the young generation?” Turgeman is right, at least in principle. No one has a monopoly on young adults’ needs, and it’s good to see that today young adults are everybody’s business.
If the members of Hitorerut believe that they can “deliver the goods” better than others, they will have a good opportunity to do so on October 22. The question is where does the city’s young generation city stand, almost five years after Berkowitz, Cohen and their friends began to work hard for their benefit? Is it easier to attain affordable housing or to find a decent job suitable for a university or an art school graduate? And what better answers to these questions do Turgeman and his team have to offer? •