Citywide Religious Denominations Dialogue

A Strategic Group on Ultra-Orthodox – Non-Ultra-Orthodox Relations in Jerusalem – August 31, 2009

Since the last post on this forum we convened twice more and concluded our in-depth discussion on housing issues in Jerusalem in the context of Haredi – non-Haredi relations in the city. This was not an easy task since while we were discussing long-term strategy the city experienced tensions between Haredi and non-Haredi populations, which resulted in riots in the streets. Such tensions could be easily reflected in our work. Yet, all participants in the forum made every effort to maintain our focus on the long-term issues. At the same time, many of the participants helped the JICC in the parallel behind-the-scenes process of responding to the riots and tensions.

During today’s meeting the detailed housing plan of the city was presented by the municipality, specifically highlighting potential housing solutions for Haredi and non-Haredi populations. It became obvious that while prospective areas for non-Haredi neighborhoods do exist, there aren’t enough options for Haredi neighborhoods. Obviously, this was bad news for the high-level Haredi participants. However, it was well understood that this may reflect negatively on all the others too, since in practicality it means that young Haredi couples will be forced to look for residential solutions in a number of other neighborhoods and tensions between the populations will continue. Yet, the mutual understanding of the problem created the motivation to demand of the municipality professional planners to increase their efforts to find better solutions. Hence, the process of solving the housing issues will be continued on the municipality level, with us at the background. We will communicate our conclusions to the decision makers, many of which are active members of the forum, and continue to our next topic of discussion – the tensions in Jerusalem. Stay tuned to read about our October meeting.

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A strategic group on Ultra-Orthodox – non-Ultra-Orthodox relations in Jerusalem – May 24, 2009

Today we convened once again for the meeting of Jewish Jerusalemite leaders that discuss and negotiate a strategic approach to relations between Ultra-Orthodox and non-Ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem. The meeting took place at the office of the Municipality Engineer, with 15 participants – municipality council members, high-level Rabbis, and non-Ultra-Orthodox leaders and professionals.

The meeting focused mainly on housing issues in Jerusalem, and the feeling was that the group had an important breakthrough. In previous meetings we understood that demographic changes in different neighborhoods create most of the tensions. The main way out is to find proper solutions for expansion for both Ultra-Orthodox and non-Ultra-Orthodox populations, while minimizing co-living in the same neighborhoods. The religious autonomy required in Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, and the extremely different perspectives that the two groups hold on the character of the public sphere, require separation between the communities as much as possible. The main solution for the short term is the creation of 15,000 new apartments for each of the two populations, in different parts of the city. Obstacles for moving forward with this solution exist and important questions and issues were raised.

Yet, additional housing is only part of the solution. While the Ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods are very appealing to the Ultra-Orthodox Jews, many non-Ultra-Orthodox residents do not find their neighborhoods attractive, leading them to decide to leave the city. Frequently they sell their apartments to Ultra-Orthodox Jews and then again mixed neighborhoods – with their many tensions – are created. An integral part of the solution must be the effort to make these neighborhoods more attractive in terms of culture, improved services etc. The Ultra-Orthodox members of the group said, to the surprise of some other members, that they are willing to support such processes, in order to keep the non-Ultra-Orthodox residents in the city.

At the conclusion of the meeting the participants felt that we made an important step forward and they are now looking forward to our next steps.

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A strategic group on Ultra-Orthodox – non-Ultra-Orthodox relations in Jerusalem – February 18, 2009

We reported in an earlier post that the JICC invited a group of Jewish leaders to begin a high-level process of discussions and negotiations on the future of Jerusalem. Since then the municipal elections took place, following which a group was quietly formed to look for agreed-upon strategies for Ultra-Orthodox and non-Ultra-Orthodox Jews to live together in the city.

It is interesting to note that at present the non-Ultra-Orthodox Jews who live in Jerusalem can only be defined by “what they are not”. In the past, the alternative to Ultra-Orthodox was “secular”, reflecting affiliations in the city. The “national-religious” and other traditional Jews were defined as “in-between”. Nowadays, the demographics of the non-Ultra-Orthodox group show that it can no longer be called “secular”. Yet, this group is perceived by many residents as hegemonic in Jerusalem. Also, in many ways, the anxiety of “Haredization” of the city is common to most of the non-Ultra-Orthodox residents – be them secular or religious.

On January 19, 2009, the group of high-level Jewish leaders met for the first time to begin the tough and hard dialogue on the future of the city, looking for shared strategies. the issue of affordable housing for all groups was raised as central. For the non-Ultra-Orthodox, the issue of culture was also prominent. It was claimed that for many Jerusalemites, the city is not attractive enough. The group agreed that Jerusalem needs to preserve its “conservative” character, while at the same time creating a vibrant cultural atmosphere.

Today, on February 18, the group met again to continue the learning process. Messages were deepened and it was agreed that towards the next meeting a document should be drafted for discussion.  Stay tuned for further reports as this important process unfolds.

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Municipal Elections in Jerusalem!!!

Yesterday, Jerusalem’s secular mayoral candidate, Mr. Nir Barkat, won the municipal election with 52% of the vote. His ultra-orthodox opponent, Rabbi Meir Porush, was close behind with 43%. The Jerusalem Inter-Cultural Center cannot, of course, support any of the candidates, as one of our most important functions is the enabling of fair dialogue and negotiations between the many identities in the city. The members of the JICC board,  representing different groups in the city – Palestinians and Jews, ultra-orthodox and members of other religious denominations – supported various candidates.

Nevertheless, most of the 31 members of the newly elected City Council are new to their role, and they too represent many different identity groups and attitudes. It is our role to help them create effective and profound dialogue amongst themselves, as well as between them and the Jerusalem residents.

The JICC aspires to promote Jerusalem as a Culturally Competent City – and we hope to convince the new Council to adopt this approach. We will try to enhance the impact of the Jerusalem Employment Coalition on the decisionmaking process in the municipality. The municipality is a member of the coalition, which was founded and is facilitated by the JICC. In addition, the JICC has already started a dialogue process between main ultra-orthodox and non-ultra orthodox groups touching upon the issue of living together in Jerusalem. We would like the municipality to be a partner to the thinking process and to the implementation of the outcomes.

In recent years, we attempted to improve the dialogue between the municipality and the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, most of whom feel alienated from the municipality and therefore ban the elections. We hope that this dialogue will now intensify and result in better infrastructure and services in East Jerusalem.

To conclude, we see the elections’ results as an opportunity for positive change in the city, hopefully through the cooperation of the many rival groups at the City Council. To respond to these new challenges and opportunities the JICC will shortly initiate meetings with City Council members.

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Ultra-orthodox and other Jews in Jerusalem – November 6, 2008

Towards the Municipal elections in Jerusalem, the rift between Ultra-Orthodox Jews and other Jewish denominations is escalating. The main two candidates to the Mayor office represent the main two groups, and although the results will not be known until the elections on November 11, it is anticipated that whichever side wins will make the “other group” feel excluded in the city.

Earlier this week, the JICC invited a group of leaders to begin a high-level process of discussions and negotiations on ways to live together in the city. Today, a public conference on Jerusalem as a Multicultural City was held at the Ethics Center of Mishkenot Sha’ananim (see the program in Hebrew).

The conference was organized and facilitated by Avner Haramati, the JICC board chairperson, and by Prof. Shlomo Hasson. In addition to Haramati three other JICC board members spoke at the conference: Father Pier Battista Pizzaballa, OFM, Custos of the Holy Land; Sharon Rosen, the Israeli director of Search for Common Ground; and Dudi Zilbershlag, Director of Meir Panim. This demonstrates the diversity of the board and its serious attitude towards multiculturalism.

Importantly, the candidates for the Mayor office attended the conference and presented their approach to diversity in the city. Dr. Hagai Agmon-Snir, the JICC director, presented an example of a challenging dialogue process that took place between the gay and the Ultra Orthodox communities in Jerusalem around the Pride Parades conflict. In this case, the facilitation by the JICC resulted in understanding between the two sides. The challenge for the future will be to create similar processes in additional neighborhoods as well as citywide.

The JICC took the opportunity to announce the strategic process that was started this week. Next steps will be taken after the elections. Without doubt these issues are crucial for the future of Jerusalem.

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