Ultra-Orthodox taking over Jerusalem
(VIDEO) Haredi families moving into previously secular neighborhoods in capital, pushing border between religious and non-religious areas further south; secular architect: This is natural process whereby haredi population is growing at rate ten times higher than secular population
VIDEO - Most Israeli citizens are well-aware of the division between east and West Jerusalem, but there exists another border in the capital, that which runs from north to south and separates the secular part of the city (south) from the ultra-Orthodox areas.
Even some northern neighborhoods previously considered secular enclaves are becoming more and more religious.
“On Mishmar Hagvul Street, near the religious Sanhedria neighborhood, you won’t see any TV antennas on the rooftops,” ultra-Orthodox reporter Yisrael Gliss says.
Video: Eitan Ortal and Shiran Valk
The situation in neighborhoods such as Ramot Eshkol or Maalot Dafna is most indicative of the fact that north Jerusalem is becoming more and more ultra-Orthodox, so much so that the northern part of the city is attracting many religious couples, most of whom are Anglo-Saxon.
Architect David Kroyanker says “the ultra-Orthodox are settling predominantly in the north, but the problem is that the border continues to move south. At first traditional religious people arrive, then come the more modern ultra-Orthodox, but it is not long before the neighborhoods become completely ultra-Orthodox.”
Former Mayor Teddy Kollek, who understood in the early 1980s that something has to be done, initiated the construction of a sports complex in north Jerusalem to attract the secular population. The ultra-Orthodox protested against the plan, saying cars traveling in the area would disrupt the Sabbath. Some haredim even went as far as throwing sand and stones in the tractors’ engines to interfere with the construction work.
Eventually the plan was foiled, and the city’s soccer stadium, which was named after mayor Kollek, was built in the southern Malcha neighborhood.
The history of the Edison movie theater is one of the best examples of the ultra-Orthodox takeover of the city.
For many years the theater served as a culture center; artists from all over the world performed there, and political parties held their conferences at the venue.
In the 50s the ultra-Orthodox population began protesting at the site against the selling of tickets on Saturday; a leading rabbi told demonstrators at the time, “You have nothing to be worried about – Edison will be ours.”
And he was right. Four months ago the theater was sold to the Satmar hasidic sect, which plans to build apartment buildings on the site for its members.
'There is no solution to this problem'
The old secular-religious border used to run near Edison, and its purchase by haredim marks the first time the religious population has eyed the city’s central area.
Each year the religious population takes control of additional Jerusalem neighborhoods and sites, such as the Schneller military base, which is set to be cleared in the coming year. According to an agreement between United Torah Judaism and Agudat Yisrael, the Gur hasidic sect will own the site, and 800 housing units will be built there for its members.
Across the street from Schneller is the Tnuva compound, which was also sold to haredi real estate entrepreneurs.
Tnuva compund (Photo: Haim Tzach)
Kroyanker, who lives in Malcha, is not optimistic regarding Jerusalem’s future.
“The city’s story is one of simple demographics,” he says. “This is a natural process whereby the haredi population is growing at a rate ten times higher than the secular population.”
“There is no solution this problem,” he says.
Gliss, the haredi journalist, says “the ultra-Orthodox will take control over Jerusalem, and those who don’t like it can leave.
“Jerusalem is special and should be a haredi city. Every time a school or plot that was once in Zionist hands comes under ultra-Orthodox ownership is cause for celebration,” he says.
Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, the founder and chairman of the religious ZAKA organization, says “haredim are not taking control of the city because a few rabbis planned it. They are taking control because ultra-Orthodox couples have many children – that’s just how it is.
“Those who want to stop us should have killed us when we were young,” he says.