Close your eyes for a moment and think about Jerusalem. What comes up? King David? The Western Wall? Maybe the Six-Day War? Now, open your eyes and open a newspaper. In recent years it seems that Jerusalem is begging for some good PR: Light railway problems, Shabbat wars, Sheikh Jarrah, exclusion of women, and so on and so forth. The city that was once reunited is getting a bad reputation.
Despite this, a city like Jerusalem should not have any trouble marketing itself. There is no shortage of beautiful sides to boast of: Glorious history, heritage, global archeological sites, folklore and many other values. So why isn’t all of this being expressed?
Jerusalem’s tourism problem starts with policy makers. Surprisingly, and perhaps disappointingly, those tasked with presenting the magical, touching and special Jerusalem to a local and global audience are trying to turn the capital into a “second Tel Aviv.” The various authorities, headed by Jerusalem city hall, hold many street parties, rock concerts and festivals that all ignore the wonderful, unique potential of this city.
Don’t get me wrong: I certainly think that youngsters, students, or any other residents deserve parties and leisure time as well, but what about some Jerusalemite substance? Is it really that important to hold a Jerusalem marathon? Isn’t it better to concede superiority on this front to Tel Aviv? These grand, expensive ventures take a big bite out of the city’s tourism and culture budgets, so instead of investing in Jerusalem’s uniqueness we invest in fields where Jerusalem has nothing to offer.
Even when officials decide to focus on a festival that seemingly pertains to the city’s uniqueness, it seems they attempt to import projects that aim for the “lowest common denominator.” The result is artificial and distorted. Look at the Jerusalem Knights Festival, for example. For those who don’t count history as a hobby, I shall note that these are the same knights who conquered Jerusalem in the year 1099, while murdering anyone walking the streets. All the city’s Jews, for example, were burned alive inside a synagogue.
Embrace Jewish story
The festival offered dance, fire, acrobatics, music and theater in the Old City. While the general public enjoyed this festival (for free, no less), what did it all have to do with Jerusalem’s history? What’s the advantage Jerusalem offers on this front? Why did it have to be so shallow and empty of substance? Those in charge of the budget have the answers.
You may be asking yourself: What’s wrong with a little light-hearted culture, without any depth? Let me ask you the opposite question: What’s wrong with fascinating, exciting culture, but with substance? Instead of a Knights Festival, a Pilgrimage Festival, for example? Or instead of the Israel Festival and other ones that bring artists from abroad, festivals that promote local artists and authentic Jerusalemite creation?
Jerusalem Day is an excellent opportunity to turn to Jerusalem officials and lovers, and to national tourism officials, and ask them to approach Jerusalem as it is. There is no need to reinvent the city, while it still has so much to say about itself. Don’t fear the Jewish, historical story told by Jerusalem – you will be surprised to discover how interesting it is.
The writer is a veteran tour guide in Jerusalem, an actor, and the owner of Meorav Yerushalmi Productions