Don’t take Jerusalem, the city on a hill, for granted

In my 10 years of experience in municipal politics, I have seen many ups and downs on our road to build Jerusalem.

Jerusalem Chords Bridge (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Jerusalem Chords Bridge
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
In 1989, in his last speech from the White House, Ronald Reagan spoke of America as a shining city on a hill. In his vision, this city was a “tall proud city… wind-swept, God-blessed and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace. A city [that] hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”
If you were not familiar with those famous words, you might just think they were about Jerusalem. These words also happen to be a beautiful summation of my vision for the city – one that respects our past while creating the means to improve our economic, cultural and social standing.
In my 10 years of experience in municipal politics, I have seen many ups and downs on our road to build Jerusalem. After five years of army service, I returned to the city where I was born and raised to find it in crisis. Municipal services were in disrepair, our capital was unattractive to businesses and culture was suffering greatly. As a result, people were leaving the city in droves. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the mayor at the time, Uri Lupoliansky, would eventually be convicted of corruption. Jerusalem was lacking harmony and peace, commerce and creativity. Jerusalem’s gates were closing to many. It was under these circumstances that I founded Hitorerut and, over the next 10 years, the city began to change for the better. Jerusalem woke up and started actively opposing the backroom deals that were selling out their interests for those of national parties and connected individuals. The municipality again turned its focus toward working for everyone.
I personally had the privilege and responsibility of being a part of a number of projects during this time – combining Jerusalem’s history with its future as the director of strategy and content for the First Station, working with the Jerusalem Development Authority to create a framework to bring in more than 300 new tech startups and helping to develop the city center’s influx of businesses and cultural institutions as the chairman of the Eden Company. We began to create affordable housing in the city center with initiatives such as the Agron dorms and brought in WeWork, which will provide new economic opportunities for many people.
The motivation behind all of these decisions was the good of the city. My party has never been attached nationally, which has afforded us the ability to work with members of Knesset no matter what their party is. It allows us the ability to think only of Jerusalem’s welfare without the distraction of a greater national political calculus.
Our city is now shining more than it has for years, but we have by no means finished the job. The decision you will all make on November 13 is between a grassroots municipality that cares for the concerns of every resident, or one controlled by figures for whom Jerusalem is just one piece in a greater political puzzle.
This is why you cannot take Jerusalem for granted. Every vote in the second round will matter. If people fail to come out to vote, then Jerusalem could be dragged back to 2008. However, if you make sure to vote – if you make sure your friends and family vote – then there is so much more we can do.
We will increase the budget for the sanitation department and change the culture of cleanliness in our city; garbage will never be strewn in our streets in order to achieve our goals. We will work to create affordable housing opportunities by expanding urban renewal projects and ending building freezes over neighborhoods such as Gilo. We will strengthen our economy by reducing bureaucracy and work with the haredi and Arab populations to improve their education and employment opportunities. We will provide new programs that integrate olim into the city in order to allow them to use their unique skills for the good of us all.
We also need to protect the advancements we have already made. It was not long ago that the First Station was almost closed. While we should protect the status quo, we must also provide spaces for all people to enjoy the city.
The most beautiful part of the “City on a Hill” image is that it is aspirational but achievable. Indeed, the last 10 years have seen Jerusalem regain its glory. Olim, more than anyone, should understand the ability to turn dreams into reality and the work it requires to do so.
When you go to vote on November 13, vote to continue the process of Jerusalem’s rebuilding. Vote for harmony and peace, commerce and creativity. Vote for open doors to all who are invited to participate in our joint project. Vote for the City on a Hill.
The writer is Hitorerut in Jerusalem’s mayoral candidate. Born and raised in the Holy City, he has over the past decade built a grassroots political movement that will be the largest individual party on the city council in the coming term. Under his leadership, Hitorerut has led numerous improvements in key areas such as transportation, business, culture, housing and much more.