In an attempt to undermine celebration of Jerusalem Day this year, the Israeli media has been wringing its hands over Jerusalem’s supposed slide into poverty.
These lamentations were brought about by statistics from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics which supposedly are indicative of poverty: low employment rate, a high birthrate, high spending on basic food (the highest spending on meat and poultry in Israel) , low spending on outdoor dining (‘only’ the equivalent of $70 per month) , a low rate of high school graduates, a low rate of adults who have a driver’s license, a low percentage of households that own two cars (10%), a low percentage of households that own a computer (66.2%), and a high percentage of households with only one breadwinner.
Ynet News is indicative of the way that these statistics have been interpreted and reported: “The economic figures provide a painful reminder of what has been known for years: Jerusalem may be the center of the Jewish people in Zion, particularly in terms of politics and nationalistic slogans, but its financial situation does not match the statements on its status as Israel’s most important city.”
But these statistics and analyses completely miss the point: Jerusalem is not Jerusalem because of its financial importance; Jerusalem is Jerusalem because of its spiritual and religious importance. And every one of the ‘negative’ economic statistics above can easily be explained by Jerusalem’s surging population of orthodox Jews.
The birthrate in the orthodox Jewish sections of Jerusalem now exceeds 8 per family. Can you imagine taking your family out to dinner at night? Or having enough money for two cars? Unemployment is high and high school graduation rates are low because men are at the yeshiva (the fact that the non-orthodox population must subsidize substantial portions of the orthodox population is a major problem that must be addressed). But do the orthodox consider themselves ‘poor’? I doubt it.
Jerusalem is a unique city that rejoices in its diversity of religion–specifically in its Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Nevertheless, it is this writer’s belief that we should also rejoice in the ever increasing Jewishness of Israel’s capital!