To obtain a kingdom

Hitorerut became a success story – from one seat in the 2008 elections to four seats in the 2013.

Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkowitz (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkowitz
‘Paris is well worth a mass,” said Henri IV, just before he was crowned king of France. Henri was a Huguenot, and the throne required a Catholic monarch. Realizing that it was his only way to reach his aim, Henri – not one for sentiment in his religious beliefs – announced he would go to mass at the Notre Dame Cathedral, kicking off one of the best, most prosperous epochs in medieval France.
Back to Jerusalem, 2015: Not exactly the same situation, but perhaps more than a bit similar. Ten years ago, youthful Jerusalemites Ofer Berkowitz and Merav Cohen, along with a cohort of friends about the same age, went on a journey to awaken the city’s young generation and encourage them to embrace it. Hitorerut was born from that vivid and contagious energy, which promised, among other things, to make this city an open one for all, a place where young adults could spend leisure time without having to migrate to Tel Aviv, a place where love for Jerusalem could and would merge with entertainment and culture, with places open on weekends – including restaurants, bars, cinemas and… 24/7 groceries, too.
Hitorerut became a success story – from one seat in the 2008 elections to four seats in the 2013 one, with Berkowitz as deputy mayor. The movement’s council members were not part of Mayor Nir Barkat’s list, but were openly very close partners, working for a renovated Jerusalem, a city that could offer a significant advantage to those who chose to remain here.
Berkowitz and Barkat were also close collaborators, associates working in the same direction to promote the capital, sharing primarily the same vision. Berkowitz upheld his promises – the city began to move to another rhythm, with outdoor parties, lots of events, many of them held on Shabbat, new cinemas and plenty of action. Barkat provided the support, and most importantly, the budgets that enabled these changes – despite his coalition including the haredi list’s representatives.
That was the situation – until last week. Until, in fact, the geopolitical scene changed. True, in the past, haredi representatives haven’t missed an opportunity to chastise Barkat for every new place open or event taking place in the city center on Shabbat. They did so even when it was clear – including to them – that according to the famous, sacred status quo, anything that could fit within the definition of an entertainment or cultural venue or event could not be prevented.
In this way, all sides understood that the First Station fit this definition, as does the new Yes Planet cinema complex in Abu Tor, especially since these locations are on private property and are private initiatives, and the municipality is not involved in them in any way.
And everyone also understood that grocery stores open on Shabbat, which began to appear some 10 years ago in several places, do not fit in the status quo definition. But all willingly closed their eyes and acted as if it was natural, as if these groceries were not there.
Everybody? Well, not the ultra-Orthodox residents and their representatives.
“On Shabbat morning, a Jewish tourist walking from one of the city center’s hotels to the Western Wall might think he is in New York or Paris, not Jerusalem,” complained city councilman Yitzhak Pindrus (United Torah Judaism). Along Hillel Street and the Mamilla Mall, plenty of restaurants and groceries remained open, with music playing, trade taking place, “and nothing of the sacred atmosphere of the day one expects to find in Jerusalem,” he added.
Thus, it was only a matter of time before the topic was reopened.
This came with last week’s Supreme Court decision, which ruled that according to Tel Aviv municipal law, White City groceries had to be closed on Shabbat.
Since the rule was valid for all cities in the country, it was a perfect opportunity to request that the mayor also close the capital’s groceries.
It was a very modest victory, considering the many places that have opened over the past few years and remain open on Shabbat. Not to mention that for Jerusalemites and for tourists, there is always the option to walk a few meters from the city center to the Old City – to buy that specific item one forgot to buy on Friday.
And this is the perfect opportunity to return to King Henry IV of France, who renounced quite an essential thing – his religious beliefs – to earn a kingdom. Barkat, in order to keep his coalition, didn’t have to take such a heavy decision. He just had to admit that he and Berkowitz had spearheaded a considerable change in the city, and had to close eight groceries on the day of rest (which, in any case, were open on Shabbat without permits) and tell the grocers to go home at least once a week to their families.
For Barkat, this was not exactly a withdrawal of his goals. He has obviously learned a thing or two in politics, and perhaps is already paving his way to the Knesset or even the next government.
And Berkowitz? He feels he cannot deceive his voters and supporters, and continues to be adamant that the groceries should stay open. That is his right, but the wind blowing between him and Barkat has become quite chilly.