Published in The Jerusalem Post on August 10, 1997.
There’s few things worse than being labeled a deserter. Nobody’s come right out and said it, yet, but that’s how I feel. Moving out of Jerusalem weighs heavily on my conscience. It’s hard to shake the thought that I’m ‘abandoning’ the city to the Arabs and the ultra-orthodox.
No, this is not another polemic by an ‘enlightened’ Israeli who is ‘suffocating’ in the overly-intense holy city and is ‘fleeing’ for the free expanses of cosmopolitan Tel Aviv. Just the opposite. This is the lament of an ideologically-driven, religious immigrant, who is tearing himself away from the city to which, and for which, he made aliyah. (My young family and I arrived here four days after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait!). This is the elegy of a die-hard romanticist who still pines for Jerusalem – friends, fanatics and all.
(We’re the classic Jerusalem casualty: a growing family forced out by the high cost of housing. A three-bedroom apartment in Ramot buys you a three-story semi-detached house in the Modi’in area).
This relocation wrenches at my soul. I will miss the spirituality of Jerusalem that so bothers others. The clash of ideologies and eschatological yearnings, the plethora of conflicting cultural and religious institutions across all the spectrums, the genuine search for meaning – these make Jerusalem an intense, stimulating and fulfilling, if sometimes dangerous, place. This is the center of the world, and I have reveled in its potency.
My angst is compounded by guilt. Just when the ‘battle for Jerusalem’ is really heating up, when the ‘Jewish presence’ in Jerusalem will be of critical importance, we’re heading-off for the coastal plain. Everybody has some ‘red lines’ when contemplating the inevitable Oslo III and Oslo IV diplomatic settlements with the Palestinians; mine is uncompromised Israeli sovereignty over united Jerusalem. And yet, I forsake the city for other pastures. In the still of the night, alone, I ask myself – am I yielding Jerusalem?
Even worse is the gnawing fear that I’m abdicating to the fanatics who grace David’s Capital in ever-growing numbers: from the incautious nationalists who insist on implanting themselves in Ras-el-Amoud, to the ultra-religious hooligans who burn bus stops and hurl dirty diapers, to the rabid secularists who find it impossible to grant the believer his corner of Sabbath peace. I’m convinced that the sane, moderate public can prevail (yes, ‘moderate’ is a substantive label to be proud of, for religious and secular alike)…….but, alas, I won’t have a vote in the next Jerusalem municipal elections.
Despite it all, I’m determined to remain a Jerusalemite, in spirit if not in civic identity. Relocation is not relinquishment, migration need not equal divorce. We’ll be back – for the shiurim and the spirituality. My wife and I will be back for the clean mountain air and the mystique of Jerusalem’s old neighborhoods at night. And we’ll be back with the kids – for the celebration of religious holidays and Jerusalem national celebrations. And if you ask me, Jerusalem Day should be a formal civic holiday, like Yom Haatzmaut.
And I’ll be there, if necessary, to man the barricades in preserving Jerusalem’s unity. You won’t even need to call – I’ll be there, first, on the front lines of defense, literally. If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…….
When the Jerusalem Institute next publishes its statistics on migration from Jerusalem (between 15-17,000 in each of the past five years!), let them not assume that all those who left Jerusalem in 1997 were of one ilk. And let our politicians not make the mistake of thinking that the constituency for Jerusalem is shrinking. There are ‘non-resident Jerusalemites’ in heart and spirit whose very soul is tied to this lyrically-powerful city. On the eve of Tisha Be’av, I’m about to become one of them, and I suspect that Israel’s hinterlands are refuge for many more like me.