Last week, sponsored by The Jerusalem Foundation, Nir Barkat, that business guy who is the mayor of Jerusalem, visited Los Angeles appearing publically and in private.
It is not often that you get a chance to meet the mayor of the holiest city to Jews, the heart of the Jewish nation, a holy city to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
It is not often you get to hear firsthand what is really going on in the city that is so often in the news, and not always good news.
I went to hear the mayor at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, California, an event that was organized by Jill Hoyt, director of The Jerusalem Foundation, West Coast USA and hosted by rabbi Laura Geller. (www.jerusalemfoundation.org)
It is easy to grasp that to manage Jerusalem, the most complicated city in the world, is a job like no other. Managing the city is based on coexistence of large diversity of people. A city that must be kept stable, open to all where all must keep living in it together.
After his military service, for fifteen years Barkat was busy with his hi-tech business in which he was extremely successful. After selling his company he started philanthropy work and slowly got sucked into public service, the elegant man tells the audience.
When Barkat took office the city had a negative migration, it was and still is the poorest city in Israel. He was determined, and is still working on it, to turn the city around. Barkat’s vision is a model based on 3000 years old biblical Jerusalem, a city that makes all of Israel friends. That Jerusalem that did not belong to any tribe. In biblical times the city served as the holiness and spiritual center to all twelve tribes and there everyone united, because the city related to the common good of all the tribes and there is room for all in the holy city.
Jerusalem faces ongoing multitude of challenges.
One challenge is to keep the youth in the city. The young are leaving because of lack of work and high housing prices. The challenges are to boost education, reform the poor education, and reduce the price of housing, which much depends on the government policy.
Jerusalem in its core is a center for tourism and if nowadays 2million tourists visit the city each year, Barkat wants to see 10million tourists come each year to enjoy Jerusalem and all it has to offer, religiously and culturally. Increase in tourism will create jobs and jobs are the oxygen to the city that will help getting her out of poverty.
Other plan is to develop the economy. For that there are plans in place to build a spectacular business center, with skyscrapers, in the entrance to the city.
Also to teach skills and guide the religious sector to enter the labor force and the Arab sector as well.
Barkat sees it imperative to keep the city pluralistic.
As for the situation on Temple Mount, where Jews are for
bidden to pray he totally opposes it. However, he knows that one cannot get all one wants. When it comes to the holiest to the Jews, for now there is a status quo. He does not like to see the prime minister of Israel struggling with this ongoing challenge. However Barkat claims he must detach himself from what he personally believes and work to achieve what is the best for the entire city and its residents.
Jerusalem is not just another city; for political, historical, spiritual and religion, it is the heart, mind and soul of (almost) all the greatest brands in the world.
Forty five years ago, then the Mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, established The Jerusalem Foundation its current president is Amb. Mark Sofer. Everything in the city of 800,000 population has the stamp of The Jerusalem Foundation, that can be called the executive branch of the city.
Jerusalem is too important to all; Barkat strongly believes in motivating the youth to take leadership and tailor solutions to turn the city around. One way is integrating old and new and that is what the secular yeshiva, was represented by Ariel Levinson, is doing, its goal is to end the alienation and negative image of Jewish culture and through studies make Jerusalem the eyes of the young in Israel. This institute takes the old traditional yeshiva and combines it with the knowledge of the past, training scholars, not rabbis, making Jewish culture sexy and interesting enough for the young generation to follow. (https://www.facebook.com/hayeshivah)
Renaissance of Jerusalem is in its fullest and that should make every Jew and Israeli proud. Perhaps one day Jerusalem will become so captivating that the nations of the world will finally recognize that it was, is and will be the eternal capital of the Jewish nation.