Coming out of Egypt

City council members give their perspectives on the contemporary meaning of the Exodus.

What could the nine leaders of the parties that form the city council (including one representing the opposition) have in common on the eve of Pessah? Well, it seems more than one would expect. After all, city council members are, in a way, just like MKs - moved mainly by personal interest; yet sometimes those interests could overlap with the interests of the residents. Well, this time it would appear that after a brief overview of their respective perspectives on the meaning of "coming out of Egypt" in our day, an aspect of the miraculous amicable atmosphere of the holiday prevails. For Shlomo Attias (Shas), this Pessah comes at a rather gloomy time: less than four months since he lost his comfortable position as deputy mayor on the former city council (including a nice salary), and the future - his own and his constituency's - is unclear. Shas has been included in the new mayor's coalition, but it has no deputy mayor, no important portfolios, no influence whatsoever. Attias says that for him, "coming out of Egypt" this year (apart from the religious point of view) is just not happening. "The mayor seems genuinely concerned about the needs of the haredim, but as long as we do not have a serious portfolio in our hands, the situation is precarious and the suffering of our people is heavy." Among Shas voters who are not official representatives, things are stated in a much more blatant way. They believe that the new administration has obtained Shas "for less than a penny," and some even declare that if things do not improve soon, the party should join the opposition. Attias's counterpart as representative of the haredi Ashkenazi community, Itzhak Pindrus, is a new face at Kikar Safra. His situation is a little better than that of his brethren in Shas, as his party has at least one deputy mayor (which also means a salary for Pindrus). Pindrus admits that now that there is no longer a haredi mayor, whatever he does for the sake of the haredim is not a matter of inquiry for anyone. So things are a little better at the United Torah Judaism party, but the general feeling is that the glorious days of total power are over, and now that the two major figures - Uri Lupolianski and Yehoshua Pollack - have left, things will never be the same again. "For us," says one of the assistants of the city council members of UTJ, "coming out of Egypt is far from being achieved this year." For deputy mayor and long-time champion of workers' rights Pepe Allalu of Meretz, "coming out of Egypt" has a contemporary meaning: "For me, 'coming out of Egypt' is connected to the end of slavery experienced by our ancestors. This is what it is about, the end of slavery. But as for me, when I look around and see how far we still are from the end of slavery, I say we still have much to do. The state of slavery - workers who are employed under outrageous conditions, whether it is among our own people or in other surrounding societies - it is our responsibility to see that a real end to slavery comes." David Hadari (Habayit Hayehudi), the new rising star at Kikar Safra (deputy mayor and head of the Finance Committee) says that the only interpretation of 'coming out of Egypt' in our days is "to do our utmost as elected members for the sake of the State of Israel and the success of Jerusalem. The only way to achieve redemption is to strengthen the city, to assure its status as the sole and undivided capital and, on a more practical level, to see that young Jewish couples and families can find affordable housing and attractive education and stay here." For deputy mayor and head of environment planning Naomi Tsur of Mayor Nir Barkat's Jerusalem Will Succeed party, things are comprised of three different stages. "We have to clear off the hametz and clean our surroundings; we have to become free; and we have to consider ourselves every year as coming out of Egypt. So I would say that here and now in Jerusalem, the hametz is the dirt we have to clear off our streets; the freedom is to have open and transparent dialogue with the residents; and the obligation over the generations is for each one of us to ensure that these principles are sustained and implemented." Meir Turgeman (For the Sake of Jerusalem), the sole representative of his party and the only member of the opposition on the city council, says that the words of the Haggada are still meaningful. "My feeling is that as far as the social aspect of our lives is concerned, we are still in the process of coming out of Egypt. How could it be otherwise, when we know that on this Pessah, at least 62,000 families depend on charity in order to afford even the most modest Seder? There can't be a real 'coming out of Egypt' as long as people around us - whether they are Jews or Arabs - are so poor and deprived. But on the other hand, I cannot ignore the fact that we are here, and Jerusalem is full of life and attracts so many pilgrims each year, but there is still much to do." To end on a positive note as is appropriate for Pessah, let's just sum up by saying that "coming out of Egypt" is an experience but probably also a process that takes time, and that what we have left behind is something we need to struggle against every year, long after the four questions have been asked and the four cups drunk.