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Home / World / Israelis have a love-hate relationship with Jerusalem: Parallels: NPR

Israelis have a love-hate relationship with Jerusalem: Parallels: NPR



An Israeli hanged in the national flag passes an ultra-orthodox Jew in the Old City of Jerusalem on May 13 when Israelis mark the Jerusalem Day.

Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty Images


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An Israeli hanging in the national flag passes by an ultra-orthodox Jewish man in the Old City of Jerusalem on May 13 when Israelis mark the day of Jerusalem.

Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty Images

A short walk from the new US Embassy in Jerusalem is a stone building in a leafy street that could be a metaphor for the Israelis' love-hate relationship with the city and its religious character.

On the ground floor, a religious Jewish-Israeli man has moved in with his family. One floor up, a secular Jewish-Israeli woman has moved out.

When President Trump relocated the American embassy from Tel Aviv, he said Jerusalem was "the capital of the Jewish people founded in ancient times." The city is at the center of Jewish tradition. It is also worshiped by Christian and Muslim traditions. The Palestinians rejected the removal of the embassy and demanded their own capital in parts of the city that Israel had conquered in 1967. Most countries do not base their messages on Israel in the city, in order not to take sides.

Some Israelis Celebrated The US Embassy is moving in recognition of Israel's right to sovereignty in the spiritual home of the Jews. Some shrugged and accepted what most Israelis consider a long-established fact that Jerusalem is Israel's capital.

The US Embassy in Jerusalem.

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The US Embassy in Jerusalem

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But every Israeli has a strong opinion about Jerusalem as a city. It has changed dramatically in recent decades, including the trauma of Palestinian uprising violence in the 2000s and the growing influence of its religious Jewish community.

There is a concept in the Jewish tradition about the existence of two Jerusalemites: Yerushalayim Shel Maala – the heavenly Jerusalem – and Yerushalayim Shel Mata – the earthly Jerusalem. It is a city of contrasts, with both spiritual and physical dimensions.

Jerusalem draws and lures like a two-pole magnet.

This home, a short walk from the new US Embassy in Jerusalem, is emblematic of the Israeli love-hate relationship with the city. On the ground floor, a religious Jewish-Israeli man has moved in with his family. One floor up, a secular Jewish-Israeli woman has moved out.

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Located just a short walk from the new US Embassy in Jerusalem, this apartment building symbolizes the Israelis' love-hate relationship with the city. On the ground floor, a religious Jewish-Israeli man has moved in with his family. A floor above is a secular Jewish Israeli woman undressed.

Daniel Estrin / NPR

The one who left

"I always said that I was born in Jerusalem, I'm dying in Jerusalem and being buried in Jerusalem That's what I always said And I see myself not back now, "says Daphna Eilon, 64, who lights a cigarette in her new apartment in the coastal city of Tel Aviv.

Eilon previously worked as a TWA ticketing agent before the airline closed and then as a bank clerk in Jerusalem. She lived in the sixth generation of her family.

She remembers Jerusalem in the 1990s when there was less tensions between Israelis and Palestinians and her young son was playing with a Palestinian boy from a neighborhood nearby.

Daphna Eilon in her Tel Aviv apartment in January.

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Daphna Eilon in her apartment in Tel Aviv in January

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"He rode on the donkey and my kid was on his bike and changed and my kid went on the donkey and he took his bike and they were friends and everything was nice," says Eilon. "You would not see this anymore, there is no communication, there is no relationship, I do not know, everything was extreme, and I do not like the tension, so I ran away."

Eilon lived through waves of Palestinian suicide bombers in the 2000s. Some friends of her son were killed. Today, about 38 percent of Jerusalem's population is Palestinian.

It witnessed the growth of the Haredi city or ultra-Orthodox Jewish residents who largely reject secular culture and live in monastic communities that focus on the study of Torah. Now, 34 percent of Jerusalem's residents are ultra-orthodox, which is the highest percentage in a large Israeli city. According to the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, an Israeli non-party think tank, the national average of ultra-Orthodox Jews is 9 percent.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem often shut off public roads with barricades to prevent cars passing through on the Sabbath, which lasts from dusk to dusk on Saturday

"If I am on Shabbat too I can not go the same way as half the streets on Shabbat, "Eilon says.

Her son, and more than a dozen of his childhood friends, have moved an hour's drive from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. It is Israel's business center and offers better salaries in the private sector than most public places in Jerusalem.

When it comes to religion, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are opposites. Today, only 20 percent of Israelis in Jerusalem identify themselves as non-religious. In Tel Aviv, 67 percent of the population

"We have the Arabs and we have the religious and we are somehow marginalized," says Eilon about non-religious Israelis in Jerusalem. "Slowly but surely we feel unwanted, unwelcome, un-everything."

The one who came

On the lower floor of the Jerusalem dwelling Shaike El Ami hums a Sabbath sound and prepares a great Sabbath meal. He moved into the apartment with his family last year.

El Ami, 59, is in love with Jerusalem, a city where his great-great-grandparents prayed in Eastern Europe.

"They all dream of Jerusalem, and I have the ability to be part of Jerusalem and build a community of Jerusalem," says El Ami. "Not just a dream, I have a mission."

He belongs to Hakhel, one of the few progressive Orthodox synagogues in the city that allows women more prayer guidance than is usual in orthodox Jewish tradition.

"There is something in Jerusalem that gives people the ambition and ability to create a new community, to create new synagogues, to create their own lifestyle," says El Ami.

Shaike El Ami prepares a sabbath dinner in his life.

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Shaike El Ami prepares Sabbath dinner at his home.

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He leads community centers in Jerusalem and participates in projects designed to encourage Palestinians and Israelis to mingle.

He also seeks to create a common ground between Orthodox and non-religious Jews, a frequent source of tension in the city. As the ultra-Orthodox families expand, they seek shelter in parts of the city where traditionally no majority is Orthodox.

Inhabitants of these neighborhoods are often against the newcomers, fearing that their local schools would adopt a religious Jewish curriculum. Their neighbors will change the status quo of the public, such as closing streets during the Sabbath.

El Ami calls this dilemma the city's biggest challenge. "If we do not handle it," he says, "people will not stay in Jerusalem."

What the city needs

There are efforts to make Jerusalem a better place to live, say activists in the city.

Over the past ten years, Jerusalem has developed culturally, with marathons, festivals, and tourism initiatives to attract Israelis from across the country, says Sharone April, the director of the Jerusalem Innovation Team, an advisory group made up of officials from the region City and is sponsored by the founding of former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.

More coffee houses in the city are open on the Sabbath than in the past, she adds.

April also says that there has been an increase first enrollment in secular and modern Orthodox Jewish schools, a sign that the non-Orthodox population is asserting itself. And Jerusalem is building skyscrapers at its western entrance to encourage high-tech companies to settle in the city.

The eastern sector of Jerusalem, home to the city's Palestinians, has been neglected for years as compared to the city's Jewish areas. The mayor has announced a multi-million dollar initiative by 2023 to reduce socio-economic disparities and promote economic development and infrastructure in this part of the city.

This type of investment has a political dimension. It is Israel's vow never to give up control of the Palestinian territories of Jerusalem. But many Palestinians in the city do not accept Israeli rule and want to rule in an independent state with a capital in Jerusalem.

Both El Ami and Eilon – from the home near the US Embassy – see Jerusalem as Israel's capital. However, both argue that President Trump's endorsement of the Israeli perspective is not what the city needs most.

"I can live without his explanation," says El Ami. "I am very concerned that we can carry on any process with the Palestinians."

"Trump will not change the reality of Jerusalem," says Eilon. "The reality of Jerusalem will be changed by his people, and unless it is deliberately changed, it will not change for the better."


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