Haredim in Jerusalem (archives)
Photo: Gil Yohanan
In response to a Ynet inquiry which revealed that only 12.7% of first-grade pupils registered for the current school year in the municipal school system are secular, the Jerusalem Municipality said it is working to "stop the migration from the city and strengthen its Zionist, productive and young population."
City officials said the percentage of students enrolled in state and state-religious schools is actually on the rise. "During the first year of Mayor Nir Barkat's term, a 10% increase was registered in the number of first-graders from the Zionist sector, this after many years which saw a decline in this category," one official said.
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According to the officials, the data are indicative of the strengthening of Zionist education in the capital. They also said the number of residents leaving the city has dropped for first time in many years.
The officials said Barkat has taken measures aimed at attracting a younger population, including doubling the cultural budget.
"The mayor established a special city renewal body which is in charge of building and marketing affordable housing projects throughout the city," an official said, "For example, a few days ago the City decided to turn a posh housing complex in Kiryat Yovel into hundreds of apartments designated for youngsters."
But there are also those who are concerned about the Ynet inquiry's findings. Knesset Member Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) said the data prove that the "window of opportunity to effect change in the ultra-Orthodox community with regards to the military and the economy is closing. Today there is the ability to change, but no desire. Later the desire will be there, but we won'y have the capabilities. We should look at Jerusalem as an example of what could develop throughout the entire country."
'Fight to save Jerusalem is internal'
MK Einat Wilf (Labor) called to stop funding the haredi education system until it adopts the core study program. "These shocking figures should worry all of Israel's citizens. If the country continues to neglect the public education system and nurture the recognized but unofficial education system, we will all face a gloomy reality," she said.
"We cannot carry on funding an educational system that breeds people who cannot be a part of the workforce and do not recognize the Zionist and universal values that the State of Israel is based on," added the MK.
The "Awakening In Jerusalem" movement, which is represented in the City Council, blamed the current situation on past Israeli governments and city leaders who "neglected the city in favor of foreign interests."
Rabbi Uri Regev, who heads the Hiddush movement for "religious freedom and equality in Israel," said that "if this trend persists, Jerusalem will no longer be the capital of Israel. Barkat and the Israeli government must realize that the fight to save Jerusalem is internal; it is not taking place in the UN."
Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Yitzhak Pindrus of the United Torah Judaism Party said the figures "are indicative of the social trends in the city.
"The city is obligated to care for all of its sectors, including the haredi sector," he said.