Only In Jerusalem: Driven out of town

'You've heard of ethnic cleansing? This will be called "financial cleansing." The wealthy will be the only ones left who can afford to live here.'

The dented, decrepit 1989 Fiat passes an empty lot, one of the many that now pockmark the neighborhood of Katamon, as well as practically every other area of Jerusalem. The lot is typical of the times: one of those construction sites surrounded by corrugated metal fencing and the flashy sign heralding the imminent establishment of yet another luxury apartment building for the well-to-do. The Fiat, with engine sputtering and smoking, clutch slipping and brakes squealing, is certainly on its last legs. The empty lot represents what our two protagonists believe will be "New Jerusalem," the land of penthouses, jacuzzis and Bentleys; the Fiat will soon inhabit a scrapyard and stand as a rusty testament to what used to be an affordable city. The passenger in the car, Shira, 25, clad in a long denim dress and magenta head covering, turns to her husband of two years and begins to speak. Yaacov (Yaki), 29, behind the wheel, dressed in khaki pants, untucked white button-down shirt and knitted beige kippa, is tuning the radio to Army Radio. "Another affordable housing unit torn down," Shira begins, her voice registering chagrin as she eyes the empty lot. "Another potential apartment for us gone, and another grandiose edifice to the wealth of rich foreigners going up in its place." Her voice is heard against the backdrop of the old generic AM-FM radio and cassette deck, now spurting out the series of beeps that signals the top of the hour and the beginning of the news. "I sure wouldn't mind living in one of those walnut, brass and marble edifices," he answers back in his southern drawl. He's originally from Atlanta. "Well, our lease is up in three months, and with our financial situation being what it is, we're heading out of this neighborhood. Probably for good." Her accent is pure Brooklyn. As they sit and ponder their apartment search recently begun in earnest, Shira recalls her recent conversation with the clerk from Ma'agar Meida in which she rattled off the list of periphery neighborhoods and cities to include in their search, those outlying places where others like them have been exiled. Yaki turns to his wife as the radio newscast turns to the American presidential race. "I've really gotten to thinking," he says, "that with things going the way they are here, when Moshiach finally arrives in Jerusalem, the only ones who will be here to greet him are going to be a bunch of millionaires." "Don't you think that might be a bit extreme?" "Not really. With 'average Joe' - or 'average Yankele' as I like to call him - getting forced out, it's going to happen. There's going to be a lower- and middle-class migration out of here. You've heard of ethnic cleansing? This will be called 'financial cleansing.' The wealthy will be the only ones left who can afford to live here. It's going to be a redemption for the rich. Those who arrive to meet Moshiach will pull up in new Benzes and BMW's and extend their Rolex-clad wrists to shake his hand. Then they'll go back to their brass, marble and walnut edifices for dinner." "Served to them by butlers, I presume?" "Good one! Now I'm making progress!" "And what about us?" "I have no doubt that we'll find ourselves a good way from here, somewhere in a far-off corner of Israel, Kiryat Shmadoodle maybe… or sadly we'll long since have gone back to America, unable to pay our bills, tails between our legs, begging our former bosses for our jobs back." "So maybe we'll be back in the States when Moshiach arrives. Is that so horrible?" "It's just that -" "That what?" The brakes of the Fiat screech furiously, stopping just in time. The car in front, a late-model Subaru, stops suddenly in the middle of the road, no turn signals signifying its intentions. Loud trance music pours from the car. The driver, a young twentysomething, backs into a parking space, opens the door and bolts from the car. "Hey, buddy!" yells Yaki out of the open passenger side window, "That's a disabled space!" The youthful driver, who couldn't appear to be a more healthy specimen, a look of 'What do you want from me?' on his face, responds "Yihyeh b'seder!" and continues on his way. "What chutzpah!" "Don't let it get you down," says Shira in her comforting voice. "Now, where were we?" "Well, it's just that when we became religious… and I put the kippa on my head, I ... I thought that we had somehow earned our place…" "You earned something by taking on mitzvot?" "Well, maybe 'earned' is too strong a word. After all, we never did it with ulterior motives. I-I just always figured that when the Anointed One arrived to redeem us, we wouldn't be watching it from afar on FOX News or CNN. I always figured we would have front row seats. "Front row seats?" "Well, at least up in the bleacher section." They're back in the Fiat after Shira's doctor appointment at her health fund. It's late afternoon. The heat of the day has given way to overcast skies and a cool breeze. The autumn sun, arcing downward, closes in on the western horizon. With a sputtering cough and an initial burst of black smoke from the exhaust pipe, the almost 20-year-old car comes to life and our two protagonists are on their way. "I still can't believe the nerve of that lady," she says in exasperation. "We sit in line for almost an hour, having made an appointment, and she just comes prancing up, gets in front of everyone, says, 'I just need a prescription,' and barges in!" "Can't let those things get to us." "It's hard not to," she says. "Well, where were we?" "Redemption for the rich," she smiles wryly. "Well, wherever we end up, be it a caravan in the Negev or Carson City, Nevada, my heart will be yearning to get back to Jerusalem to see Moshiach." "Amen," says Shira. "But even then, I have some doubts…" "Such as, Yaki?" "How will we be able to afford it here?" "Don't worry," she says. "I have no doubt that when he comes, he'll arrange good jobs for all of us." "And how will we get back here if we end up in the States?" "You don't worry about that. I have a feeling that in the Messianic age, we'll all be able to fly El Al for free." "You think the food will be better?" "No doubt." "And how will we be able to rent in Jerusalem?" asks Yaki doubtfully. "He'll arrange affordable housing for all, please God." "Sounds pretty impressive, this Moshiach," he quips. "I think he'll be able to do just about anything." "Anything?" "Anything," she asserts. "Even stop people without appointments from pushing in line at the doctor's office and stop able-bodied people from parking in spots for the disabled?" "Well, that's an entirely different ball game," she says with a coy smirk. "I don't think he's going to bother coming until people stop that on their own." "Well, let's hope he gets here soon. Amen!" "Bimheira b'yameinu [speedily in our time]," says Shira emphatically as they pass another empty lot.