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Saturday, 26 January 2008

Reform Reflections: To be a Jerusalemite - Rabbi Marmur

Reform Reflections: To be a Jerusalemite

Posted by Rabbi Michael Marmur

My municipal tax bill arrived this week, and on its envelope an
unforgettable slogan: it pays to be a Jerusalemite.
My first response was to laugh out loud: the contents of the envelope
made it abundantly clear that one has to pay a significant amount of
cash in order to be a Jerusalemite - or at least one of that
increasingly besieged species: Jerusalemites who pay any taxes at all.
The City of Jerusalem can be a demanding hostess. Only one thing could
be more concerning than taking a brief look at its economic prospects -
namely, taking a long look at those prospects. Destruction and
construction are to be found strewn across the city in equal measure.
The ultra-rich are displacing the working poor and also just regular
folks from certain neighborhoods. To put the icing on the cake, this
week I find myself banished from my own office due to the presence in
this city of George W. Bush and the 8000 police personnel on duty here.
Often the magic of the city, so apparent to a passing visitor, can be
hard for a local to perceive. It's messy and angry and less tolerant
than it used to be. A steady stream of non-Haredi residents is heading
(literally) for the hills, scouring the Jerusalem Corridor for a broom
cupboard or a cubbyhole.
The slogan that "it pays to be a Jerusalemite" did indeed make me laugh,
which was fortunate, since it helped soften my shock and awe when I
discovered how much I was being charged for the privilege of living
here. After the amusement and the amazement, however, came the
realization that it really does pay to be a Jerusalemite.
For me it is not any particular aspect of what my Municipality does with
my tax shekels which leads me to the conclusion that living here has
such a hefty pay-off. The mayor is not likely to hire me as his PR
spokesperson. It is not as if the garbage collection or the street
lighting is so much better organized or enlightening than anywhere else
one might choose to live. For me, it pays to be a Jerusalemite for three
reasons: history, variety and involvement.
For almost any time during the last forty generations the claim to be a
citizen of Jerusalem would have been at best implausible, at worst
impossible. To live in Jerusalem was a distant dream, and the privilege
of realizing the yearning of generations is palpable. Jerusalem's stones
are seeped in time. History leaks from its roves. Tombs and temples,
reservoirs and residences, and the prayers of generations - they are all
here. It is a wonder to be part of it.
Jerusalem is In Your Face. Walk around the Machane Yehuda market and you
will have every kind of produce and opinion held up right in front of
your nose. Now it is true that one of the most important encounters of
our time, that between Jew and Arab, has been severely curtailed in this
city (and just about everywhere else in Israel). Still, there are some
contacts and conversations which persist. The gulf separating rich and
poor in this city has not been so egregious since the days when the
Temple stood here, and that also presents a moral blight on Jerusalem.
But despite all these real concerns, she is still a place where you can
walk down the street and encounter friends, foes, strangers, teachers,
provocateurs and prophets. It's not like living in a generic leafy
suburb. There is much I dream about seeing in this city: high on the
list at the moment are real East-West communication, a decent light
railway system, bicycle lanes and a sea view. We are as likely to get
the last of these as we are to see the first three any time soon.
As a Reform Jew, I hear the call of Jerusalem to be part of its
impossible mosaic. I read the papers and see the signs, and I know that
one day in the coming years the demography of the city may have little
place for Jews of my disposition. In the meantime, the city remains what
I called in an earlier piece a Jewish Disneyland. The sheer volume and
quality of the learning and teaching going on here is stupendous. I
don't want us Liberals here to go gently into that dark night of
intolerance and narrowness. We must not give up on this place. We are
not missionaries here in Jerusalem, but perhaps in some way we are heirs
to the pioneers. If Jerusalem is to remain the capital of the Jewish
world, those who espouse views reflective of that wider Jewish world
will have an important role to play in preserving the city's variety,
and also perhaps her sanity. I don't want Disneyland to turn into
Theater of the Absurd.
As I pay the exorbitant City Tax I will have cause to reflect that
whatever they are charging, the price of admission to the greatest show
in the Jewish world is cheap. I can't be sure that my children will want
to live in Jerusalem, or that tomorrow's Jerusalem will want them to be
part of it. I think it's up to us to see that in the future, despite
many sad, infuriating and often desperate aspects of life here, it will
still pay to be a Jerusalemite. And I still think they should change the
slogan to read: You'd Be Paying Less If Other Jerusalemites Were Paying
At All.

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