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You can't blame the youth

by michael June 17 2008
Municipal news
Have you seen a young person in Jerusalem lately? Let Jerusalemite know

There are so many elephants in the room at the average city government session it's a wonder anyone can see past them long enough to decide on, say, how far to delay the light rail this time, or how to alienate every business owner downtown.

Among the many pressing municipal issues being overlooked lately is the mass exodus of bright young Jerusalemites to greener pastures in Tel Aviv or abroad. The job market, especially in the tech sector, has failed to expand in a manner commensurate with the aspirations (and educations) of local young people. Gentrification and high prices in some neighborhoods and neglect in others have conspired to create a housing crunch, with affordable apartments appropriate for young residents and students becoming increasingly rare in the heart of the city. Many secular residents feel marginalized as the city's ultra-Orthodox population, in the midst of a population boom, begins to flex its political muscles. And so far, even though residents are gushing out by the thousands, the government hasn't paid it much mind.

But the kids aren't taking it lying down. A youth movement called "Wake-Up in Jerusalem" (Hitorerut Birushalayim) has recently drafted an open letter (with petition) to Mayor Uri Lupolianski begging him to address their concerns and to take concrete action to stave off the youth exodus, and to prove how serious they were they staged a demonstration during which dozens of cars loaded with young people symbolically departed the city.

The petition, which can be found online here, has already gathered nearly 2500 signatures toward the goal of 10,000, which is fairly impressive given Jerusalem's mere 700,000 people. The comments are illuminating: dozens of people claim that despite their love for the city and desire to return, the housing crunch and the lack of employment drove them out.

Sure, the bars are still packed on Thursdays and Fridays, and Jerusalem looks for all the world like a city with a vibrant cultural life - which may be why the government has been slow in addressing the problem. But much of the booming nightlife is fueled by residents who are essentially transient - university students, international visitors - because the twenty-something native sons and daughters of Jerusalem are often already elsewhere. Except, of course, for those civic pride-niks in "Wake-Up in Jerusalem," who have asked the mayor for employment, affordable housing, better transportation throughout the city, more attention paid to youth culture and its institutions, and a fair, transparent city government. So yes, they're asking for everything. The least anyone could do is give them something.

Photo of Seven by Asaf Kliger for Jerusalemite. 

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