The real Jewish revival starts with us

Two years ago, just after I took office as a Jerusalem city councilor, I met Y. for the first time.

Jerusalem light rail. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Jerusalem light rail.
Two years ago, just after I took office as a Jerusalem city councilor, I met Y. for the first time.
Y. is haredi (ultra-Orthodox), in his sixties, an old hound in local politics, always dressed just a little bit shabbily, always in a hurry, with his two cell phones that never seem to stop ringing.
I sought out Y. to get to know a little bit more about haredi politics. As I was sitting down in his office, I had my first lesson. “There’s one rule in haredi politics,” he said half-jokingly. “Don’t trust anyone. Especially if they’re not haredi themselves.”
That was a premise I refused to accept. As a representative of a movement that sees the diversity of Jerusalem not as a weakness, but as its greatest asset, I just could not come to terms with the apparent inability to create meaningful cooperation with the haredim of Jerusalem.
It’s true that for many years, the media chose to portray Jerusalem at best as an exotic tourist spot, and at worst as a bastion of backwardness.
There was wide-reaching consensus that the city was “lost.” And yet, they were wrong. We went into politics with a firm belief that out of all places, Jerusalem is exactly the place where a novel approach can come to life, where different strains of Israeli society can not only coexist, but create alliances thought impossible almost everywhere else.
My meeting with Y. was just the beginning. As chairman of the committee charged with distributing city funds to nonprofit organizations, I received responsibility for an important line item titled “Torah classes in Jerusalem.” Ever since it was introduced, this line item was used to fund classes exclusively in the haredi sector.
Thus, it failed to recognize an incredible development seen in Jerusalem over the past few years.
In what has been termed the Jewish Revival scene, biblical studies have transcended the world of synagogues and yeshivas. Observant and secular Jews now study together in modern, pluralistic batei midrash (like Elul, Hartman or Kolot), seeking to understand the Jewish tradition as a point of reference to contemporary life. A new discourse is being formed, drawing inspiration from Jewish history and legacy while still looking forward, toward a new vision of our existence as Israelis and Jews. This revolution is spreading from Jerusalem, providing guidance and meaning to many across the country and the world.
When the Torah classes line item came up for discussion, and after considerable effort, we managed to bring together the myriad Jewish Revival organizations, an achievement in and of itself. This coalition filed a unified application to access this budget.
Everyone was convinced the haredim would never let it go through. But I believed it was possible. It is our role as a young movement to believe.
Over the past two years, I have worked tirelessly to build trust with the haredi city councilors. And still, reaching consensus on this matter was not an easy endeavor. After endless hours of dialogue and negotiation, a few hours before the vote I approached the haredi delegates and made sure we were on the same page, following the words of the sages who said “the Torah has seventy faces.” When the committee came together, we looked each other in the eyes and knew we were doing the right thing – for Jerusalem, for the Jewish people, for us all.
The vote was unanimous. For the first time ever, the revolution that is Jewish Revival won support from the City of Jerusalem.
It is highly symbolic that this vote took place just before Tisha Be’av – the day on which baseless hatred triumphed, and God lost His abode among the people. When they realize that allowing for internal dissent can be a source of fortitude, the Jewish people grow stronger. For me, this also relates to the story of Nachshon Ben-Aminadav, the first to walk into the Red Sea during the Exodus. It is the hardest thing in the world to be the first one to put his foot forward.
But true cooperation requires this courage, to step out of our comfort zone and go about the hard work of building trust.
For years, the Jerusalem Municipality was blindly opposed to supporting Jewish Revival. We have proved that things can be done differently. Not bad for politicians.
The author is Jerusalem City councilman from the Wake Up Jerusalem movement.