There are moments in my role as an elected official that are incredibly difficult and disheartening. None more so than when I am assaulted by a fellow City Councilman.
Over the last few years, we have striven to build groundbreaking cooperation between the haredi, Modern Orthodox and secular communities of Jerusalem, realizing that it is in the best interest of Jerusalem that we know how to work together. A big part of that is knowing how to manage disputes. Indeed, the triumph of Beth Hillel over Beth Shammai was owed primarily to the humility and civility displayed by the followers of the former. Of course, disputes are not always positive. The Gemara is full with stories of such disputes ending in pain, exile and even death. But it also tells us that Beth Shammai and Beth Hillel did not refrain from intermarriage. What bound them together was stronger than any dispute.
The Gemara is one of many texts whose study forms the basis for what is known in Israel as the Jewish Revival scene. It is a network of organizations that allows secular and religious Jews to interact with the rich intellectual heritage of Judaism – and with one another – in a pluralistic spirit. A close haredi friend told me his contact with the world of Jewish revival “strengthened my devotion and love for HaShem”, and a secular friend said that “this world gave my life a new meaning”. This scene has blossomed in Jerusalem over the last few years, where Jews from all walks of life continue the tradition of “studying the Torah continually, meditating on it day and night” (Joshua 1:8).
Since assuming office as a City Councilman, I have worked tirelessly to gain official recognition and support for Jewish Revival by the Jerusalem Municipality. Following our success last year in providing funding as part of the general budget for Jewish learning, this year, supported by Mayor Barkat, I proposed a dedicated line item for Jewish Revival for the first time ever. Most of my haredi colleagues went along with this proposal, but as sometimes happens, we were opposed by a sole extremist voice, that of Yaakov Halperin, representative of Chabad. Deviating from his movement’s grand tradition of love and brotherhood, and realizing that even his fellow haredim no longer backed his position, he chose to display his anger by physically preventing me from performing the role as chair of the committee charged with relevant appropriations (as seen in this video).
Following this session, and the tumultuous City Council meeting that followed, many have tried to persuade us to take vengeance against the haredim by opposing them on unrelated issues. But myself, and the rest of the Hitorerut movement, are not here to play politics as usual – we are here to change the rules of the game. At the end of The Dark Knight movie, Batman took responsibility for crimes he did not commit, so people would remember the true perpetrator for the hero he once was, and not the villain he had become. Batman did so because “he can take it” – in my mind, the single most important quality for a public leader.
I’m no Batman. But I agree with the message wholeheartedly – it’s our job to know how to take it. I did not descend to Councilman Halperin’s level. Instead, I pushed forward with the business at hand. And in the end, we won. For the first time ever, the Jerusalem Municipality will contribute a significant sum towards promoting and strengthening the wonder that is Jewish Revival, supporting the teaching of pluralistic Judaism to whoever wants it.
Following the meeting, Cheli Bareket-Tabibi, Director of Beth Hillel, thanked me for the support given to her organization, alongside countless others. Hopefully, this will allow thousands more to be a part of this extraordinary mix of Jewish traditions, identities and beliefs that comes to life in Jerusalem and brings its people closer together. But the truth is, it’s Cheli and her friends that deserve the real thanks. They have been leading this scene in Jerusalem for many years. They are those who make this marvelous reality possible, and it is my role as an elected official to give them the means to do that. With leaders such as these, and with people willing to think, learn and interact, Jerusalem’s future is brighter than ever.