Uri Lupolianski’s election last week as Jerusalem’s first haredi mayor does not yet herald a new era of secular-religious relations in the capital.
A handful of endorsements by high-profile secular Jerusalemites – Lilly Galili in Ha’aretz, Guy Erlich, a former city councilman on the ticket of the late anti-haredi firebrand Ornan Yekutieli, and Tami Hausner-Raveh – did not translate into a large number of non-religious voters for Lupolianski. While religious parties – United Torah Judaism, Shas, and the NRP – captured 58% of the new city council, Lupolianski only received 51% of the mayoral vote.
As Erlich wrote in these pages, the vast majority of those who march under the banner of pluralism still found themselves unable to judge Lupolianski on the basis of his long record of public service rather than as a ``black" man. Pluralism for them remains, in Erlich’s words, supporting only someone ``who thinks what they think and votes as they vote."
The most that can be said is that Lupolianski failed to terrify Jerusalem’s secular population. That itself was no small feat given the efforts expended to whip up secular hysteria. Shinui proposed a legal ban on home sales to haredim in neighborhoods outside their current Bantustans. And Shahar Ilan warned Ha’aretz readers that they would have to flee the city if Lupolianski were elected.
Yet despite polls predicting a neck-and-neck finish, voter turnout was 4% lower than in 1997 when Ehud Olmert’s reelection was a foregone conclusion. Apparently most secular voters did not believe the doomsayers.
IF LAST WEEK’S election does not mean that the wolf and the sheep have lain down together, Lupolianski’s victory is not without significance. Perhaps most important is the opportunity afforded to refute familiar stereotypes of haredi politicians.
The main action in haredi political life has shifted increasingly to the municipal level. A group of haredi mayors has emerged that bears watching. Heading the list is Mordechai Karelitz of Bnei Brak, and now Lupolianski, but it includes others in their early to mid-30s, like Yitzchak Pindrus of Beitar and Yaakov Gutterman of Kiryat Sefer.
Running a city requires a high level of professionalism and problem-solving skills, as well as the ability to work closely with a host of officials in different government ministries. These skills will be much needed by the haredi community in the years to come.
It is not accidental that the rabbinic leadership of the haredi community has repeatedly turned to Bnei Brak mayor Mordechai Karelitz as its chief negotiator on issues ranging from the Tal Commission to the recent dramatic cuts in funding of haredi educational institutions. He commands the universal respect of those he faces across the negotiating table because of his ability to understand the other side as well. Karelitz begins every negotiation by studying the needs of his opposite number.
The new breed of haredi mayors has done much to refute negative stereotypes of haredi politicians and to introduce a new level of professionalism. The entirely haredi city of Beitar, for instance, has the lowest per capita rate of water consumption in Israel. After a recent visit to Beitar, veteran economist Amos Bar-Haim told Dudi Zilbershlag that he found every decision in Beitar to be based on purely professional considerations, in sharp contrast to virtually every other local authority where political considerations dominate.
Bar-Haim, who sat on the Interior Ministry committee charged with oversight of Bnei Brak after the city went bankrupt in the early ‘90s, has similarly high praise for the present mayor of Bnei Brak. Illegally parked cars no longer block traffic on major shopping street, and a city that was once synonymous with filth can take pride the cleanliness of its streets.
Karelitz’s stamp is felt all the way down to the way that secretaries at City Hall answer the phone. Callers to the mayor are made to feel that their call is of the utmost importance to the mayor, and it is not unusual for a secretary to call back to explain why the mayor has not yet been able to respond personally.
Lupolianski, of course, has a much more difficult task than just establishing his competence and honesty. Unlike his haredi mayoral counterparts, he now heads a city in which haredi Jews are only one element of the population mosaic. He must demonstrate that he acts and thinks with the welfare of all the city’s residents in mind.
If anyone is ideally suited for the task, it is Lupolianski. From the beginning of his public career, his focus has been on the needs of the entire population. Yad Sarah, which he founded, is a unique example of secular-religious cooperation. Most of the 6,000 volunteers manning Yad Sarah branches around the country are non-religious, as are the vast majority of the 340,000 beneficiaries of its services annually.
Yad Sarah’s services extend, at Lupolianski’s initiative, to Arabs in Ramallah and elsewhere as well.
Not only is Lupolianski too good to narrow his concern to haredi Jews, he is too smart to seek to turn Jerusalem into a haredi enclave. He knows that he must attract capital investment and reverse the flight of more affluent residents to adjacent suburbs and the Tel Aviv area to protect the city’s tax base. I would expect him to make every effort to bring his defeated rival for mayor, high-tech entrepreneur Nir Barkat, into his municipal coalition.
Lupolianski declared his intention to serve as mayor of all Jerusalem’s citizens from the moment he was appointed deputy mayor. And as Tami Hausner-Raveh testifies in the June 9 Maariv, he spent many hours listening late into the night to secular Jerusalemites describe their needs and concerns.
Even those most critical of Lupolianski’s candidacy do not fail to mention the familiar litany of his virtues – yes, he smiles all the time; yes, he has shown himself a capable administrator in Yad Sarah; no, he does not seek to impose a haredi lifestyle on secular Jerusalemites.
Lupolianski’s virtues, however, are treated as if they were the exception that proves the rule about haredim. They are not. He exemplifies the highest values of the Torah. The pleasantness of his ways – his smile, his patience, his refusal to engage in mudslinging, his concern with others – derives from his faith. In this regard, it is worth remembering that Yad Sarah itself is only one of a dozen or more haredi charities – ranging from medical referral organizations to soup kitchens to ZAKA -- serving the entire community.
The big ``but" always mentioned in connection with Lupolianski is that he will be subservient to Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. I personally would prefer a city in which the mayor consults with a great Torah sage, whose melodic ``singing in learning" can be heard outside his window before 4:00 a.m. every morning, rather than with building contractors, before making crucial decisions.
Lupolianski has always consulted with Rabbi Elyashiv on matters great and small. If until now, his actions have won favor in the eyes of a broad public, there is no reason that should change now.
The same sage held up to the secular public as a bogeyman has repeatedly called for an emphasis in the haredi educational system on the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem – making the Torah beloved through one’s actions.
Uri Lupolianski has proven himself one of Rabbi Elyashiv’s most apt students in this regard in the past, and will hopefully continue to do so in his new role as mayor of Jerusalem.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics, Israeli Society
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