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Friday, October 24, 2014

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Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat deserves our support

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Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is running an intense re-election campaign, and he deserves worldwide support. Anyone who can donate money legally – meaning legitimate, voting-eligible Israeli citizens, whether or not they live in Jerusalem – should. And non-citizens should lend their support in other ways, making it clear that Jerusalem already has the right mayor, whose term should be extended.

It is, of course, legitimate to ask why non-residents of Jerusalem should care, about a local municipal election 10,000 kilometres away. The answer, of course, has to do with the magic of Jerusalem and its link to the Jewish People. For 3,000 years, Jerusalem has been our capital, religiously and politically. This golden city is where our collective soul resides. When that city suffers, be it from Roman conquerors or Palestinian suicide bombers, we all bleed. And when that city thrives, be it under the legendary mayor Teddy Kollek or his worthy successor Barkat, we all rejoice.

Once, I was walking around Jerusalem with my dear friend from Montreal, Rabbi Pinny Gniwisch. As we wandered, I showed him the parks, walkways, schools and museums that had been built with donations from abroad – emphasizing the many Canadian-financed good works you can see wherever you wander.

“It’s remarkable,” I said, “to consider the generosity of Jewish people all over the world for a city so far away from so many of them.”

Pinny responded: “But Jerusalem is the Jewish people’s shared synagogue. Of course we all feel connected and committed.”

Supporting Jerusalem is both a religious and secular act. Wherever one stands religiously, Jerusalem looms large in the Jewish soul. The very fact that it’s a place with spiritual power, historical resonance and emotional meaning for so many Jews – and so many different kinds of Jews – attests to the broad bandwidth of Judaism itself as a world religion with a national dimension that consecrates both time and space.

But for all of Jerusalem’s poetry – and there are many of us whose heart still beats faster when we drive up to the entrance of the city from Highway 1 – the prose of Jerusalem is about the challenges of managing a modern multicultural municipality that must run smoothly.

Barkat has mastered both these missions. He understands that the mayor of Jerusalem must be the custodian of the city’s special heritage. But he also understands that the mayor of Jerusalem must be the manager of the city’s thoroughly pedestrian problems. As mayor, he has worked hard to resurrect the city as a cultural centre and a destination for tourists, from the rest of Israel and abroad. At the same time, he has worked hard to restore the city’s economy, clean the streets, fix the roads, tame the bureaucrats and raise morale.

In late October, Barkat won’t just be running for re-election, but Jerusalem’s vote will be seen as a referendum on the city’s future. There’s a struggle going on between haredi power brokers who want to bully city hall and a broader coalition of citizens supporting Barkat. And there’s also a power struggle between national politicians trying to advance their partisan agendas and the coalition of those who care about their city who are mobilizing for their incumbent mayor.

That’s why Jews from all over the world, and especially Canada, should endorse Barkat’s re-election heartily, and as generously as they can, within the limits of the law. The mayor of Jerusalem automatically becomes a prince of the Jewish people. Although Jerusalem’s citizens are the only ones who can and should vote in the election, it helps to hear from others that this man has been a worthy leader, honest and incorruptible, smart and insightful, visionary and activist. And given how many Canadian Jews are investing in Jerusalem, supporting the Jerusalem Foundation, and helping to build and beautify the city, the Canadian Jewish voice should be heard.

Hakarat hatov is a great Jewish value, and supporting a successful politician is a basic democratic value. Jews from all over the world, in Israel and beyond, should take this moment to say, “Thank you Nir Barkat, we value what you have done and will do what we can to support your re-election,” be it symbolically or substantively.

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