How did the administrators of the community in Jerusalem do it?

“Battlefield”, “Last enclave”, “Last station before escaping to Tel Aviv”, “The elite on the mountain. “

These are just a few of the questionable expressions and compliments used to describe a number of neighborhoods in Jerusalem that held local council elections for community administrators earlier this month.

The election of community administrators was a unique solution created especially for Jerusalem, and it does not exist in any other city in the country. This system was conceived by the mythological mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, as a means of decentralizing the management of the city, which already at the time, 35 years ago, was already cumbersome and difficult to manage.

The idea was to encourage residents to take charge of their neighborhood and promote plans to improve their environment in close collaboration and in full transparency with the municipality. The other important reason behind this initiative was the idea that it would defuse internal political struggles and allow leaders to focus strictly on the needs of their neighborhoods, without engaging in discussions of a religious, political or social nature.

In reality, that is not what happened. The community administrators in Jerusalem are on the whole successful, as they have fostered local leadership and are the voice of residents within the large and sometimes heavy municipality. But the internal political struggles did not disappear and obvious clashes began to take place in the neighborhoods, rather than within the city council or in the various commissions which sit in Place Safra. The discord has mainly focused on two main issues: pluralism versus haredization, and budgets for organizations, including schools, kindergartens and community centers.

One example is the clash over Ramot’s public swimming pool, with one party pushing for separate bathing times for men and women, and other residents refusing to give in to demands from haredi residents. It can also be noted that the elections in Ramot have been repeatedly postponed for exactly the same reason, with both parties – haredi and secular – unwilling to risk the other being more represented in the management of the neighborhood. A third round of elections is scheduled for the end of the year, or at the latest, early 2022, and this time the commune has declared that an election must take place in Ramot.

There were a number of positive achievements in the last round of elections, which took place in five local councils in early July, including the inclusion of more women in leadership positions and the election of the first haredi woman to a local council. On the other hand, it appears that a number of local councils with secular or mixed populations are now headed by Haredi leaders.

Faced with various challenges, such as the lack of transparency in town planning and non-cooperation with residents, the subject of maintaining pluralism in certain neighborhoods was raised this time around, just like in the previous election in December. latest. In other words (less politically correct), they discussed how to avoid their neighborhoods being taken over by the Haredi community, with their unwillingness to live alongside secular Jews.

Two interesting elements characterized this last election: The large number of women who stood for and were elected, including for the presidency; and second, Esther Elkin was the first Haredi woman to run for and win the presidency of the local council of Greater Kiryat Hayovel. What is even more striking is that Elkin – an accountant residing on Stern Street who has become overwhelmingly Haredi in recent years – has received the blessing of many Haredi rabbis, who in an unprecedented gesture have even declared publicly their support for his candidacy.

However, residents who identify with the more pluralistic population of the neighborhood see Elkin’s support as a shrewd move, because on the outside, supporting a candidate appears to be an essential and democratic step, but according to Inbar Blauser, a resident who is is presented against Elkin, “It was very smart, because Elkin is obviously not going to support pluralistic principles.”

Deputy Mayor Arieh King, who holds the portfolio of community administration, said the increase in the number of women nominees and winners is an overwhelmingly positive achievement. However, he followed up on this statement by asserting that “the electoral regulations should no longer guarantee specific slots for female candidates, since 56% of the candidates were women”.

The famous miflezet (monster) in Kiryat Yovel (photographer: Wikimedia Commons)

On another matter, King complained that professional municipal staff intervened more than necessary in the elections. For example: “They divided the constituencies of the Yuvalim region into zones, so that the power of the Haredi residents was divided. But the Haredim overcame this obstacle by showing up in large numbers on election day. Although they constitute only 20% of the inhabitants of the neighborhood, few lay residents voted, and now they are complaining that the Haredim received a much higher percentage of representatives from the neighborhood. In my mind, it’s not very pluralistic of them.

Despite the intense discussions taking place among administrators in light of the recent vote, the results show that voter turnout remains extremely low. For example, in East Talpiot, where a woman was elected head of the local council, only 17% of the residents of the neighborhood participated in the voting process. In Beit Hakerem, which is considered a stronghold of the secular community, the turnout was only 20%.

In Har Nof, on the other hand, which is a completely Haredi neighborhood that is considered relatively wealthy and home to many new English-speaking immigrants, 28% of residents participated in the last election. In Yuvalim, which encompasses the Greater Kiryat Hayovel region, including Ramat Sharett, Ramat Denya, Malha, Ein Kerem and of course Kiryat Hayovel, 25% of residents voted. The highest percentage of votes was in Neveh Ya’acov, who registered a relatively high turnout of 31%.

Vika Elkin, the woman recently elected to head the East Talpiot local council, explains that her main interest is to strengthen the neighborhood and to lead, in cooperation with the municipality, a comprehensive urban renewal program in the neighborhood.

“We’re really excited to start working on our big plan, although I’m sure there will be a lot of unexpected obstacles, and we have some concerns,” says Elkin. “Like, for example, who will be in charge of the planning? And to what extent will residents be involved at each stage of planning their neighborhood?

Elkin is aware of the complexities and that it will not be easy to sort out bureaucratic issues, but always insists that the municipality is a partner and not a threat to the process. “I believe that we will succeed in implementing our plans and that the only way to achieve our goals is to work in collaboration with the municipality, not in opposition. If any disagreements arise, we will deal with them. The municipality is our partner, not our enemy.

Rabbi Tamir Nir of Achava Bakerem, a Reformed synagogue in Beit Hakerem, is extremely concerned about the city’s haredization. “I have no problem if a Haredi person moves in next door to me, but when the community as a whole tries to take over local institutions and make them haredi, that’s a problem, and fight against this phenomenon. “

Nir claims that when new haredi institutions are founded in the neighborhood, it changes the community character of Beit Hakerem. “We have reached the last stage, and soon we will have nothing left here in Jerusalem, and we will be forced to move to Tel Aviv. For many years we have had such a wonderful sense of community here, and we just want to maintain that warm community character. I have no qualms with any particular person, but it is a problem when a haredi postnatal house or a yeshiva is to be built here. We are against building new institutions that will change the character of our community.

Nir is actively working to find ways to maintain the community atmosphere in the neighborhood, for example by supporting the local pub, which is open on Shabbat and will continue to operate on Shabbat in the future. “There are plans to build a new campus that will include an extension of the Ziv school, a swimming pool, clubs and other places that will help strengthen the community character. We are focusing on all of these wonderful projects, ”concludes Nir.

Many residents of the Yuvalim region felt discouraged – and some even angry – the day after the election. Individuals on both sides pointed to the other side, as well as the municipality, to intervene when it was not their place. In a number of neighborhoods, residents have agreed to appoint council members without holding elections. But in some cases, such as in Malha and Ein Kerem, the representative was switched at the last moment to someone who had not been deemed acceptable by the lay residents.

Some people, for example, now claim that it was unreasonable that only one candidate stood for election in Malha. For the most part, however, the residents of Yuvalim are concerned that the recent election results have ushered in a new reality similar to the global phenomenon unfolding in Jerusalem City Council. Secular residents are deeply concerned that political interests will be taken into consideration before the good of the community and that the local council will turn into an arena for settling political battles.

Translated by Hannah Hochner.


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Albert C. Prince

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