No gold in Jerusalem

Many Jerusalemites are willing to live with paltry salaries in order to live in the Holy City.

Rehavia_521 (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
(photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
Like all cities, Jerusalem has distinct neighborhoods – defined by location, residents and cost of real-estate. When I made aliya just over two years ago I decided from the get-go to settle in the historic and holy city of Jerusalem. Although perhaps “settle” isn’t the right word – in the short time since my arrival, I have lived in five different apartments in four different neighborhoods, which has given me a unique insight into Jerusalem’s cultural diversity, psychological makeup and economic challenges.
Starting at an absorption center in Armon Hanatziv, a mostly secular Jewish “ring neighborhood” in east Jerusalem surrounded by a predominantly Arab population, I was thrown in to the deep end. I marveled at the majestic views, got my first taste of Israel’s bureaucracy and inconvenient public transportation, and couldn’t help but notice how Arab and Jewish land is so intertwined.
From there I crossed over to the adjacent neighborhood of San Simon. Populated by mostly lower-income families, I started to get an idea of real life in Israel and the difficulties it entails. Coming from the comfortable Jewish community of Toronto, the small, dusty apartments and third-world lifestyles were an eye-opener. Despite having to work hard and long to afford necessities that are often more expensive than anywhere else in the world, everyone I met was living life to the fullest with positivity and a smile.
When I had to move to a more central location, Rehavia was the ideal choice. Located in the middle of Jerusalem with a predominantly Anglo population, I thought surely this would be home. I found a great place with a friend from the army but when our landlord raised the rent it became unaffordable, and I was on the move again. Rehavia is beautiful, but us locals complain that the Americans and French buy apartments and only live in them for one or two weeks a year, shooting property prices through the roof. So I moved to a small but nice place in Nahlaot, the central and eclectic neighborhood right next to the Mahane Yehuda market (known as “the shouk”) where I still live today.
Nahlaot is remarkable because of its location and diversity. It is a microcosm for the whole of Israel, bringing together the secular and the religious, hippy and preppy, young and old, Ethiopian, Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Anglo and Russian. One thing’s for sure: Nahlaot isn’t boring. It’s an in-demand neighborhood with construction everywhere and rising property prices. Because of the close quarters and narrow alleyways, privacy is an issue, but a social life is not.
SO WHAT’S the problem? Sounds utopian! Well, my friends and I complain not about the food or the fun in Jerusalem, but rather about the lack of employment opportunities.
After having been out of the army for over four moths, I still cannot find a job. The city of gold appears to be the city without gold. With two degrees and several years’ work experience, even an interview is considered a rare treat, and I am no anomaly.
I have a friend with a Masters degree working as a waiter and others, also with degrees, who simply cannot find jobs. Those lucky enough to have work complain that it is not their ideal, and that they are making a financial sacrifice in order to live in Jerusalem. Others, more often than not, cannot survive without an income and either leave Jerusalem or leave Israel altogether.
The question arises, why should it be this way? At this stage in life my friends in Canada, South Africa, Australia and the US (never mind Tel Aviv) already have their careers under way and are earning generous salaries in the process. In choosing to make aliya and live in Jerusalem, must my career be the sacrifice? Perhaps my honeymoon with Israel is over and it’s time to move on and out of Jerusalem to a more feasible location where jobs exist, because as they say: follow the gold.
I’m not only an individual voice. I represent the collective Jerusalemite, as manifested in the social protests of 2011. I want change for my sake, but also for the sake of my beloved city and fellow neighbors. In Israel, we don’t have dictatorship to protest about like our Arab neighbors, but we do protest for social justice. We demand jobs, affordable housing, affordable consumer goods, health care and education. Is that too much to ask?
Israel suffers from what is known as the “brain drain” phenomenon, where people of value leave Israel because they receive greater compensation elsewhere. This reality is 10 times as evident in Jerusalem. Jobs in finance, law, marketing and hi-tech pull quality people out of Jerusalem, forcing them to commute or move out – both unpleasant realities. I love Jerusalem so much. I feel alive and at home, fulfilled and happy; but to earn a shekel, Tel Aviv may be my next stop.
Last month Israel published a five percent unemployment rate, one of the lowest in the world. Although impressive, Jerusalem should not share in that pride. A historic city, Jerusalem must embrace the future by creating more jobs. A new approach is needed to integrate and absorb the thousands of young adults who come from all over Israel and all over the world to settle in Jerusalem every year. Surely such a plan will retain young talent and ensure a much-needed Jewish majority for many years to come.

The writer finished his IDF service army in September and has been looking for a job since then. He is considering moving to Tel Aviv to find employment.