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At GA, the business of Jerusalem

Jerusalem Mayor Nir BarkatFORGET what you hear about Orthodox supremacy in the Holy City and clashes in the street, Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat told an audience at the GA Sunday, Nov. 6.

“We are having healthy, professional discussions with the Orthodox,” Barkat informed interlocutor David Makovsky. “I find they are more partners than not.”

He downplayed stories circulating in the media about separate sidewalks, women sitting in the back of buses in haredi neighborhoods and secular fears that Jerusalem’s essential character has suffered.

“First, there is not one kind of Orthodoxy,” Barkat said. “There are many themes and threads. Today the haredim make up 7% of the community. In the last three years that I’ve been mayor, there have been huge changes.

“For example, we do not allow segregation on the streets. Today’s challenge is how to work with the ultra-Orthodox.”

While 65% of haredi males are unemployed, he said both ultra-Orthodox men and women are entering the workforce in increasing numbers.

“Two months ago we held a job fair,” Barkat said, “and 4,000 ultra-Orthodox showed up. It was unprecedented. People were shocked.

“It’s no longer a matter of convincing them to find jobs in Jerusalem but how to create more jobs for them. That’s a huge departure from the past. I believe we should focus on the practical side and help them get jobs — and we’re headed in the right direction.”

More coverage of the GA from Andrea Jacobs

The real problem, explains Barkat, is that Jerusalem’s unemployment figures are untenable. “We don’t have enough jobs for those who want to work,” he said.

DUE to the scarcity of employment and Jerusalem’s exorbitant housing costs, secular and Orthodox Jews are leaving the city for greener, more affordable pastures.

Makovsky noted that 87,200 residents left Jerusalem between 2005-2009, and that 48% were between the ages of 20-34. The majority of those who left were secular Jews, he added.

Barkat, elected mayor in 2008 after a successful career as a businessman, venture capitalist and philanthropist, outlined three oper- ational spheres that will entice younger people to return to a prosperous Jerusalem.

“First, Jerusalem must become a nation for pilgrims from all over the world,” he said. “Everyone wants to come here at least once in his or her lifetime.

“My goal is attracting 10 million tourists in a decade. If New York can do 50 million and Paris can do 60 million and Rome can do 40 million, we can do 10 million,” he said to applause.

Secondly, he wants to develop what he calls the atmosphere of Jerusalem — culture, sports, education and housing.

Fulfill the first two goals, and the business community will follow.

Asked what he’d like from the American federation system, Barkat utilized a monetary analogy:

“Because we are all shareholders in the city of Jerusalem, you’ll make sure the value goes up rather than down.”

This can be accomplished through philanthropy, tourism, business investments — and renting apartments owned by absentee American owners.

“We need every apartment in the marketplace,” he emphasized, “with rents that our residents can afford.”

Copyright © 2011 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Andrea Jacobs

IJN Senior Writer |

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