Young Israelis of the year: Hitorerut Yerushalayim (Wake Up Jerusalem): Sounding the alarm

Hitorerut Yerushalayim (

A year ago, Hitorerut Yerushalayim (Wake Up Jerusalem) was more of an idea than a political party. True, as the Jerusalem municipal elections were rapidly approaching, the fledgling movement was gaining a lot of steam on the street, but no one, not even its most die-hard members, would have believed last September that Hitorerut would tally 17,000 votes and win two seats on the city council. "There's no doubt that it was exciting," said Ofer Berkovitch, 26, who received one of those city council seats and now holds both the youth and film portfolios at city hall. "But it didn't happen overnight. We had so many volunteers who worked so hard, people who really gave so much of themselves, that we could see the momentum building." Still, Berkovitch conceded that his party's campaign, which had a mere NIS 100,000 budget, beat amazing odds considering that it was able to do so well in such a short amount of time. "I think we really tapped into something," he said. "Because we're Jerusalemites ourselves, I think we had our finger on the pulse of the city, and knew exactly what it was that people wanted." Fed up with story after story of young people fleeing the capital for more cosmopolitan destinations like Tel Aviv, and what he felt was an ongoing downward spiral with regard to the city's cultural life, financial state and housing situation, Berkovitch and his band of grassroots supporters decided that the 2008 elections were the last chance to make a significant change - one that would not be possible without political power. "We're just simple citizens who decided that we didn't want to give up," Berkovitch said. "And I think we spoke to a lot of other simple citizens just like us." So they hit the streets. Campaigning on a reform platform that would not only address the major issues facing the capital, but safeguard and reenthuse the "authentic Jerusalem," "like Mahaneh Yehuda market," Berkovitch said, the party's simple message of "Wake up Jerusalem!" began to resonate. "I think people really did wake up," he said. "They realized that all was not lost, and that the city still had a chance of being saved." Now that it's been given a shot, Berkovitch said Hitorerut is just as focused on bringing change to the city as ever before. "We're constantly working toward our goals," he said. "We've been sponsoring initiatives to improve cultural life in the city - with things like the Jerusalem Film Festival - and really just listening to the ideas of the people who put us in office." In that vein, Berkovitch said it was important to correct a common misconception with regard to his party. "We are not a secularist movement," he said. "Many of our members belong to the national-religious camp, or the liberal-religious camp, and our voice is that of pluralistic Zionism. That's who we represent, and our job is make Jerusalem a better city, and to make it a place where young people will want to stay and live."