Israelis love to get down on Jerusalem. Every time new statistics are published, pundits bemoan the steady decline of the city and how much better other cities in the country are – particularly those in the Greater Tel Aviv area.
The most recent depressing numbers come from the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies (JIIS). While the city’s population is still a healthy 706,400, the report focuses on Jerusalem’s negative immigration rate: in the most recent year of the study, 18,100 people moved out of Jerusalem compared with only 11,400 who joined the city.
This negative immigration is nothing new, says Maya Choshen, the JIIS Yearbook’s author: some 240,000 people have left Jerusalem over the past 15 years. While such a calculation is clearly intended for its inflammatory impact, the total negative balance of 93,700 is nevertheless significant.
And yet, despite the bleak numbers, the Blum family is not going anywhere. Jerusalem remains the greatest city in the world – and I don’t mean just historically and theologically. This is an eminently livable city. In fact, as I see it, Jerusalem is actually improving.
How can I say that in the face of hard data? Well, here are 10 reasons (not in any particular order) why we still love it here:
1. Jerusalem has the best selection of quality kosher food in the world. You can find everything from Middle Eastern meat-on-a-skewer to Indian-Asian fusion. The choice of gourmet burgers on Emek Refaim Street alone is staggering. And whether you care about kashrut or not, quality kosher dining is one of the most inclusive activities Israel has to offer. Everyone can enjoy and appreciate; no one is left out. Eating out in Jerusalem has perhaps the best potential to bridge the secular-religious divide.
2. Jerusalem is on the cutting edge of traditional Judaism. There is more choice in liberal Orthodox places to pray here than anywhere in the world. From my synagogue, Kehillat Yedidya, to Shira Hadasha and the Leader Minyan, you could go to a different shul every week and never get bored.
3. Jerusalem has the Old City. My brother Dave, who recently visited us for my daugheter’s bat mitzvah, says our Old City is the best old city he’s been to, beating out others he’s been to around the world including Geneva, Stockholm, and Delhi. While it’s true when you live here you don’t visit that often, when then seven-year-old Aviv had his mesibat chumash party in first grade, they received their copies of the Torah in front of the kotel – the Western Wall. It doesn’t get more meaningful than that.
4. Jerusalem has better educational opportunities for modern religious and traditional students than anywhere else in the country. Don’t let the reports of our worsening educational system fool you. Junior and senior high school boys can choose from Hartman, Himelfarb, Dror, Keshet and Reut. Girls have Pelech, Amalia, Beverly Gribetz’s Tehilla, the new Hartman girls school, and the religious arts school Omaniyot. Other locations in Israel just can’t compare.
5. Jerusalem is an English-speakers paradise. Some might not see that as a blessing, but I say there’s nothing wrong in immigrants wanting to stick together. We have English-language publications, email lists like Janglo, story reading hours, the most active chapter of the AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel), English-language study institutions (like Pardes, Yakar and Elul), and no shortage of synagogues where Anglos make up the majority. No matter who you are, you can find your English-speaking niche in Jerusalem.
6. The city is built out of Jerusalem Stone. Mandated by law nearly 100 years ago, all buildings must be faced in this unique bumpy limestone. Detractors say it gives the city too uniform a look. But when the sun is setting, the Jerusalem Stone reflects back the light in shades of orange, pink, purple and peach. It’s absolutely stunning.
7. The greater Tel Aviv area may have the beach, but Jerusalem has the Haas Promenade. Known in Hebrew as the tayelet, the promenade overlooks the Old City and the City of David from the south and is one of the most picturesque views anywhere. And when the sun sets, well, see the previous point…
8. Jerusalem is to Tel Aviv as San Francisco is to Los Angeles. As a born and bred Bay Area resident, that’s important. Ours is still a laid back casual city, where you can go out for a bag of milk (or even off to work) in sweats and a t-shirt and no one will think the worst of you. When I used to work in Tel Aviv, I was dismayed by how much its residents dress up. There’s simply less keeping up with the Cohens and Schwartzes in Jerusalem.
9. There is nothing like a warm Jerusalem summer night. No matter how hot the day has been, when the sun goes down, the air feels positively silky. With virtually no humidity, the nights are the perfect temperature for a short sleeve stroll around the block or to one of the many outdoor art festivals, midnight movie screenings or rock concerts in Sultan’s Pool that the city sponsors in a spate of concentrated mid-summer culture craziness.
10. Jerusalem has an endlessly fascinating diversity of people. Where else could you find middle-aged Orthodox hippies, shaved head hip hop college kids, wanton wig wearing women, high school freichot, Amharic-speaking Ethiopian immigrants, bearded and bespectacled mathematics professors, Christian Bible Belt tourists and Palestinian doctors all under the same roof at the mall, sipping some chai masala with soy milk or chowing down on one of those gourmet burgers.
Yes, it’s a great place and if you haven’t been to visit lately, ignore the stats and head on up the hill.
Brian Blum is a journalist and entrepreneur based in Jerusalem. He writes the weekly column This Normal Life (www.ThisNormalLife.com). His latest startup Bloggerce (www.bloggerce.com) provides online publishing solutions for budding bloggers. Contact him at email@example.com
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.