A Chareidi mayor for Jerusalem
by Jonathan Rosenblum
February 20, 2003
With the resignation of Ehud Olmert to pursue his national ambitions, Jerusalem became the first major city in Israel’s history with a chareidi mayor. Not surprisingly, Jerusalem’s shrinking secular population is concerned. They needn’t be.
But if some elements in the secular population look with fright upon the advent of a chareidi mayor, the reaction in the chareidi street has been restrained. Uri Lopoliansky’s elevation to the mayor’s office has occasioned little rejoicing.
The attitude of the capital’s chareidi population parallels to a large extent the concerns that many in the American Jewish community have voiced about the presidential candidacy of Senator Joseph Lieberman. American Jews worry that if Lieberman were elected president he would be haunted by the dual loyalty charge, and would have to bend over backwards to show himself not to be a blind supporter of Israel.
Similarly, Jerusalem’s chareidi population have no great expectations that there will be any major changes in their favor during Lopolianski’s term in office, no matter how long or short that may be. And they are no doubt right. Lopoliansky properly moved immediately to reassure secular residents of the city that they had no reason to fear any major changes in the status quo during his watch.
Though Lopolianski’s term in mayor will result in few tangible gains for the chareidi population, except perhaps in the most egregious cases of discrimination against chareidi institutions, that hardly means that his succession to the mayoralty is a matter of no significance.
Occasionally we are zocheh to see Hashgacha in a particularly clear fashion, and the case of Lopoliansky’s selection would seem to be one of those. If one had to draw up an ideal chareidi politician for the position, one would come up with something very close to the real Uri Lopoliansky.
First, he enjoys a unique level of credibility with secular Israelis. He is a winner of the Israel Prize for founding more than two decades ago Yad Sarah, the country’s largest volunteer organization. By far the overwhelming majority of those benefited by Yad Sarah’s services are non-chareidim, and most of the volunteers staffing Yad Sarah branches around the country are also not chareidi. In that sense, Yad Sarah is a unique example of secular-religious cooperation in Israel.
Yad Sarah showed Lopolianski to be someone who thinks out-of-the-box. His perspective is clearly one of Klal Yisrael, not one narrowly focused on the chareidi community.
That is what makes him the ideal representative of the chareidi community. During his term as mayor, he has the opportunity to demonstrate that a chareidi Jew acts and thinks with the welfare of all the city’s residents in mind. We can be confident that he will provide another model of a competent, honest, and concerned chareidi leader.
At the very least, Lopolianski will further show the blatant injustice of the refusal to recognize an advanced yeshiva education as meeting the academic requirements for appointment to many civil service positions and the directorates of government companies. Today university degree in Sanskrit counts for more than dozens of years of experience running multimillion dollar institutions with hundreds of employees, or for that matter running a major city.
In many respects, administrative work at the municipal level provides the best training ground for the new generation of chareidi askanim of whom we will be very much in need in the dark period ahead. Though sitting in the Knesset continues to be viewed as the summit of a public career in the chareidi world, it ought not to be. The opportunities to affect the actual lives of chareidi citizens may be even greater at the municipal level and the skills required are ones that are needed to introduce a new level of professionalism to the chareidi community. Being a mayor requires problem-solving skills and the ability to work with many disparate groups and a host of government ministries.
A number of sitting chareidi mayors have done much to dispel negative stereotypes. The chareidi city of Beitar has been blessed with a series of highly competent mayors determined to show that a chareidi-run city can be synonymous with the highest level of municipal services. The current mayor, Yitzchok Pindrus, for instance, is justly proud of the fact that the city has the lowest rate of per capita water consumption in the country, which reflects a concerted conservation campaign on the part of the city.
Mayor Mottel Karelitz has completely transformed the city of Bnei Brak, which was once synonymous with hefkerut. His stamp is felt at every level of city hall, down to the way that the secretaries at City Hall answer the phone and leave one with the feeling that one’s call is of importance and will be attended to.
Uri Lopolianski, however, now has the opportunity to do something absolutely unique by bringing the same standards of competence and honesty to a city in which chareidim are only one element of the population mosaic. The Kiddush Hashem resulting from his efforts will do more for the chareidi community than anything else he could possibly do for us.
Related Topics: Chareidim and Their Critics
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