In Jerusalem, Karl Vick Sees in Black and White

Karl Vick‘s Aug. 13 Time magazine cover story about haredi (ultra-Orthdox)-secular battles in Jerusalem is as black and white as the attire of his haredi subjects. He offers up a simplistic, slightly behind-the-times narrative in which extremist ultra-Orthodox and extremist secular residents are constantly at war, and in which the haredim are successfully taking over secular neighborhood after secular neighborhood. While some Jerusalem neighborhoods have become increasingly, and even exclusively, haredi, he nevertheless ignores the most current facts and figures which suggest that the trend may be slowing. He also misses signs of coexistence. Focusing on the extremists, he writes:

In a city of almost 800,000 people, Kiryat Yovel may be the last stand for Jews like [Noam] Pinchasi, seculars who for decades have been fleeing the city in droves. . . .

“This is a war over territory,” says Pinchasi, speaking without metaphor. On Friday nights, he leads commando raids with like-minded compatriots on enemy positions, dodging police and groups of angry “blacks” — as the ultra-Orthodox are sometimes called — to sow discomfort and mischief. He’s been arrested; he’s been roughed up. But each week he’s back out, an urban guerilla in a hoodie, slapping posters of classic nude paintings on synagogue doors. “They’re afraid their children will see things they shouldn’t see,” he explains. “Our message is very strong and clear: This is not like Ramot, Ramot Eshkol, Neve Yaakov, Maalot Dafna,” he says, naming Jerusalem neighborhoods that started out secular and are now solid blac. “Here it is going to be a war.

Yet there have been several recent articles in Israel’s English-language press pointing to a different emerging story. For instance, a Times of Israel article two months ago (“Jerusalem’s non-Haredi school enrollment rises for first time in 15 years“), begins:

For the first time in 15 years, enrollment in state secular and religious schools in Jerusalem has increased, reflecting the start of a possible turnaround in the demographics of the city.

The population of Jerusalem is about one-third ultra-Orthodox and one-third Arab, and both of those sectors are growing rapidly. Many non-religious or national religious residents have left the capital in recent years; however, the increase in enrollment in the state schools indicates a possibility that this trend is reversing.

Enrollment in state-run secular elementary schools increased to 11,133 students in 2012, up from 11,024 students in 2011, according to a statistical report released for Jerusalem Day on Sunday. State-run religious primary schools also saw a rise to 11,003 students in 2012, up from 10,872 students in 2011.

The municipality credits education reforms for the increased enrollment.

State-run elementary schools in both the secular and religious school systems also saw an increase of 4% in matriculation rates, after a decade and a half of decline.

Similarly, Ha’aretz published two articles focusing on signs that the old trend might be reversing. The first, on May 17, conveyed very upbeat feelings on the part of the secular population (“Visions for a new Jerusalem“). It began:

After 15 consecutive years of declining enrollment in Jerusalem’s secular public schools, this year 109 more children were enrolled in the city’s secular elementary schools than last year.

The change is negligible in a city the size of Jerusalem, but secular people hope it signals a trend. “We have to keep watching it, but this definitely indicates a rise in the number of young secular couples with children in Jerusalem,” said Dr. Maya Hoshen, head of the research team at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, which compiled the figures. . .

None of those interviewed mentioned the increased ultra-Orthodox presence in the city as a problem, which lined up with the study’s finding that economic or employment-related reasons are usually cited as reasons for leaving the city. The Lipschitzes live on Palmach Street, which has become Orthodox, though not ultra-Orthodox. “On Saturday we say ‘Shabbat shalom’ to the neighbors, get into our car and drive off; it’s not a problem. But we do feel a bit special,” Tali said.

In 2001, 13,886 children were enrolled in the capital’s secular public schools, but migration out of the city brought down that number to 11,024 by last year. Now, surprisingly, the number is up by 109 to 11,133.

The number of Orthodox – but not ultra-Orthodox – children in the Jerusalem school system has been on the rise for several years.

The figures seem to contradict, if only slightly, the image of Jerusalem as being increasingly ultra-Orthodox.

There is still migration from the city – some 7,500 people left in 2011. But a comparison of that data with school enrollment statistics show that most of those leaving the city are young ultra-Orthodox families heading for ultra-Orthodox exurbs like Modi’in Ilit, Beitar Ilit and Elad.

One reason for this glimmering of a secular return to Jerusalem may be the return of a secular mayor, Nir Barkat, to City Hall for the last three and a half years. Another element encouraging secular residents is the proliferation of secular social organizations in recent years – Awakening, New Spirit and the Jerusalem Center for Young Adults, for example.

Yet another new trend is that of secular and modern Orthodox families joining together in community life in neighborhoods such as Katamonim and Baka, which have become magnets for secular families.

But Vick ignored virtually all of the new religious-secular population trends in Jerusalem, including the uptick in enrollment in state (non-Haredi) schools, the comfortable coexistence of secular and modern Orthodox families, and the proliferation of secular social groups. (He does mention, though, the concerted secular effort, called New Spirit, to populate Kiryat Yovel.) Vick also ignored the secular mayor, Nir Barkat, though he twice quotes Yitzchak Pindrus, the ultra-Orthodox vice mayor of Jerusalem.

An article just last week in Ha’aretz, with the striking headline “To some Jerusalemites, the secular vs. Haredi paradigm is passe,” underscores just how far behind the curve Vick’s reporting is. The Ha’aretz piece highlights a more complex and nuanced reality than Vick’s black vs. white (literally) war story. Nir Hasson reported:

In November 2011 translator and literary critic Azka Zvi passed away. In addition to her cultural activity, Zvi was known in Jerusalem as the last of secular resident in the ultra-Orthodox Mea She’arim neighborhood. She lived on Yoel Street, in the heart of the capital’s Haredi compound. Across the street from her home is a study hall belonging to the Satmar Hasidic community.

“She really liked the situation, she liked the neighbors. There was a Haredi family who adopted her and would invite her for meals and holidays,” says her friend Yonadov Kaplan. She called that family “the people with warmth,” says another friend, Gila Lahav-Snir. “She always said that she wouldn’t want different neighbors.”

Zvi’s friends say that she did not adapt herself to her surroundings. “She didn’t dress in a way that they approved. Sometimes there were men who would cross the street only because she was a woman, but that would amuse her,” says Kaplan. “Living there suited her overall philosophy. She refused to relate to people according to categories. She didn’t see people as members of ethnic groups; she wanted to see every person as a human being, no matter what he wore.” . . .

Some of the common daily problems faced by secular people who live in Haredi areas include: long walks to the car on Shabbat, second thoughts about what to wear on the way out of the house and consideration for the neighbors when listening to music on weekends.

But there are also advantages. “For me it’s part of my attraction to the neighborhood,” says Shahar Fisher, 29, a sociology student who lives in the Mahaneh Yehuda neighborhood north of Jaffa Street, not far from the market. “I believe that an encounter with the other is productive. It means challenging yourself on a daily basis, experiencing Jerusalem all the way.” . . .
Fisher’s neighbor, Karen Brunwasser, 35, says what is happening to their area requires a more complex description than the way Jerusalem is usually described. “Something very special is happening here. The entire paradigm of secular vs. Haredi is passe. I don’t see myself as a secular pioneer in a Haredi neighborhood, but as a Jerusalemite who appreciates the uniqueness of the city,” she says.

She tries to explain the complexity through an incident that happened to her recently. “I boarded the light railway and without noticing I sat down to a religious man. He started shouting at me, but the person standing next to me was Haredi, a Hasid, who defended me and said that I was absolutely right. The pluralist community in Jerusalem includes not only secular people, but religious people and even Haredim who want to talk with us.”

Shahar Fisher, right, and Karen Brunwasser, live in a haredi neighborhood. Brunwasser: “The entire paradigm of secular vs. haredi is passe” (Photo by Emil Salman/Ha’aretz)
When Black is White: Vick Gets Population Trend Wrong

In one instance, Vick claims that black is white. He writes:

Since 1967, Jerusalem has become a resolutely Jewish city, so much so that the central question preoccupying residents today is not how it might be divided with Palestinians — for they are widely ignored of late — but rather just how religiously conservative the city can become while remaining a place most Israeli Jews could imagine living. (Emphasis added.)

But, far from becoming “a resolutely Jewish city” since 1967, the opposite is the case: Today, Jerusalem is less Jewish than it was in 1967. As reported in the “Jerusalem: Facts and Trends 2012” report by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies:

Over the years, there has been an evident decline in the proportionate size of Jerusalem’s Jewish population, with a concomitant increase in the proportion of the Arab population. The proportion of the Jewish population fell from 74% in 1967 to 72% in 1980, to 68% in 2000, and to 64% in 2010. Simultaneously the Arab population rose from 26% in 1967 to 28% in 1980, to 32% in 2000, and to 36% in 2010.

Source: Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies

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