After years of setbacks, Jerusalem's secular population has begun to push back against what many believe are heavy-handed tactics by the city's haredi residents to impose their religious mores on the general population. A growing number of restaurants now open on Saturday, an array of cultural events have sprouted up, and for the first time in years, a longtime exodus of secular residents for nearby suburbs appears to have halted.
The AP reports:
Hundreds of people packed a Jerusalem community center recently for what many in Jerusalem consider a subversive act: They attended a lecture on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.
The seemingly harmless event, in which the popular Arab-Israeli journalist Sayed Kashua talked about pluralism and tolerance, broke a long-standing ban on holding activities in public buildings on the Jewish day of rest.
That turned Kiryat Yovel, a tranquil neighborhood in west Jerusalem, into the latest battleground in Jerusalem's protracted culture war between Jewish conservatism and pluralism.
After years of setbacks, Jerusalem's secular population has begun to push back against what many believe are heavy-handed tactics by the city's ultra-Orthodox residents to impose their religious mores on the general population. A growing number of restaurants now open on Saturday, an array of cultural events have sprouted up, and for the first time in years, a longtime exodus of secular residents for nearby suburbs appears to have halted.
"We're not against the ultra-Orthodox, we're for tolerance and integration and against intimidation. But from no public services offered on Saturdays to promoting gender segregation, the community is undermining the very basis of our democratic state," said Dina Azriel, a leader in the grassroots "Free Kiryat Yovel" initiative, which sponsored the recent lecture.…
The influence of the ultra-Orthodox is especially pronounced in Jerusalem, where their numbers are proportionally much larger than the national average. Jerusalem, Israel's largest city, is split almost evenly into thirds between secular and modern Orthodox residents, Muslim Palestinians, and the ultra-Orthodox Jews.…
The ultra-religious have used their large numbers and political muscle to shape modern Jerusalem. The city grinds to a virtual standstill on the Jewish Sabbath, with businesses closed, public transportation halted and few options for entertainment.
Attempts to change this status quo have prompted violent backlashes from the ultra-Orthodox, who haven't hesitated to block roads, clash with police or send tens of thousands of activists into the streets when ordered by their rabbis.….
The "Free Kiryat Yovel" movement was formed after ultra-Orthodox activists were allowed to build a kindergarten that maintained a wall to separate religious and non-religious preschoolers. It took four years of petitioning the local community center to win a permit for the Sabbath lecture.
"We're in a really critical time right now, and I'm not optimistic," said Sarit Hashkes, who runs another secular rights group, called "Be Free Israel."
"What we're seeing now is cooperation of state and police officials with the ultra-Orthodox. Women are being pushed aside, and everything is pushed more to the right."
The group is behind a number of initiatives, like offering discount cards to patrons to use at restaurants that are open on the Sabbath to increase "secular buying power."
Hashkes said momentum among the secular population is percolating, but not without an equally fierce backlash. While separate sidewalks are officially banned, she said some streets were still off limits to women during the recent Jewish Sukkot holiday.…
Over the years, the growing religious influence, coupled with a high cost of living, has pushed tens of thousands of secular Jerusalemites to leave the city.…