'J'lem must attract more newcomers to flourish'

Hadassah College president laments lack of incentives to attract young couples to work and live in city.

jerusalem 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
jerusalem 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
For Jerusalem to live up to its potential, much more has to be invested in incentives, culture, and connecting people to the meaning of the capital's grand history, according to Nava Ben-Zvi, president of Hadassah College, one of the city's leading educational institutions. "Something is wrong if we cannot say, 'we urge you to come to Jerusalem' and don't get people to come here," Ben-Zvi told The Jerusalem Post in an interview last week. Ben-Zvi sat down for a post-Jerusalem Day interview on the needs of the city. Hadassah College and Medical Center is the second-biggest employer in Jerusalem. Ben-Zvi, originally from Tel Aviv, moved to Jerusalem years ago, enjoying a distinguished career as a chemistry professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and helping found the Open University. As president of Hadassah College for the last nine years, she has overseen impressive growth, such as the 50 percent rise in registration this past year. Ben-Zvi was also a member of the Shochat Committee, which examined the state of higher education and produced the report at the heart of current demands by the universities for an immediate boost of NIS 1.8 billion, just to be able to open their doors next year. Ben-Zvi outlined a unique vision of Jerusalem's culture, one which combined the eternal aspects of the city with avant-garde social justice and community organizing. "We cannot imitate Tel Aviv. We are different. Culture is diverse and what works there doesn't work here. Jerusalemites have a stay-at-home culture [unlike Tel Avivians]," Ben-Zvi said. The history of the city is underused and under-celebrated, she said, and there are no incentives to attract young couples to work and live in the city. "Doing enough for Jerusalem starts with honestly attracting people," according to Ben-Zvi. "We instituted orientation week for new students at Hadassah College - a week where we tell them about Jerusalem and introduce them to its stories, streets, industries and academic arena" she said. "So many come to the college without realizing they are coming to Jerusalem too." Ben-Zvi's vision is of Jerusalem as a clean city, teeming with young couples, abounding with interesting communities and supportive of a good chunk of industry. Right now, she said, "we are not investing seriously in what Jerusalem means. Culture is neglected, education taken for granted. We have lots of programs that look into the future, 20 years, 30 years on, but what happens now?" "Too many people think we cannot attract people to Jerusalem," she said. "If we want to attract hi-tech, we need to offer young people the best of all possible worlds - cheap living packages and the best education system for their children. We should develop urban kibbutzim and bike paths, we should have more tours of Jerusalem. "If anyone has a good idea about how to help their community, they should light a bulb on the new bridge," she continued. "We need a city which has real dialogue [between its Jewish and Arab halves]. We don't have to be friends, but we need to give respect to the other," she declared. "In contrast, too many foundations come up with good ideas but then go home and sit on their couches and watch TV and never develop them, she said. We don't fight for our rights with the government either." Hadassah College made a practical contribution by building a dorm for its students downtown. They had a dorm for four years, but it got so noisy there with all the construction for the light rail that they recently decided to cooperate with Hebrew University and create a dorm culture on Mt. Scopus, Ben-Zvi said. Ben-Zvi, a grandmotherly type with a twinkle in her eye, is an advocate of the big idea and the small gesture. "The new Zionism is to be in Jerusalem. Zion is Jerusalem and we have forgotten that," Ben-Zvi said.