Note: This is the second in a series of columns about my recent trip to Israel. Next week, What Bibi Netanyahu had to say.
Reuven Rivlin is the president of Israel ... yes, Israel has a president! For the first time, Drew and I were invited to the President’s Residence.
On the approach to the security station, we walked through a beautiful garden complimenting 10 large busts of the former Israeli presidents perched on columned pedestals. We met Rivlin in front of a wall of six Marc Chagall stained glass windows in the bold colors and religious themes for which his windows are noted. It is quite a setting.
Rivlin is the rotund, broad-smiling elder statesman one would expect in the job of chief cheerleader and ceremonial champion of a country. He spoke to us of his family’s seven-generation residency in Jerusalem, quipping that the Palestinian’s claim that there were no Jews consistently in Israel as rubbish.
“Hah,” he almost snickered, “what were my ancestors? They lived here long before the term ‘Palestinian’ even existed!” There was a documented population of at least 250,000 Jews, most of whom, like Rivlin’s ancestors, had been living in and around Jerusalem for generations — nay, millennia — before Israel became a state.
Rivlin spoke in historic terms with enthusiasm and charm. I felt like we were sitting at the feet of a beloved grandfather.
Quite a contrast to Nir Barkat, the young, energetic Mayor of Jerusalem who, for seven years, has held the reins of power of arguably the most complex city in the world. I had participated in a conference call with him many months ago and was extremely impressed with both his passion and his vision for the city. Described as “The City of Peace” in many ancient religious texts, we all know too well that Jerusalem, at times, is anything but peaceful.
There is a very interesting statistic for those fearing to go to Israel. In the U.S. there are 9 murders for every 100,000 residents per year; in Israel there are 1.5 murders per 100,000 residents. By any standard, that is a significant difference. Just sayin’.
OK, back to Mayor Barkat. I was able to meet him and get a briefing on what is happening in Jerusalem today — and whoa, was I ever impressed! The city has had a 10 percent growth in its operating budget every year of his mayoral term. In 2015, Time Magazine named Jerusalem the “number one start-up city in the world” for high-tech businesses. The city is investing heavily in infrastructure, earmarking 30 billion shekels in rail lines, including a “bullet train” from Jerusalem to Ben Gurion Airport. There are plans for 10 million square feet of office space adjacent to the line with 13 towers of 35 stories each. And there is a less tangible, cultural renaissance that can b felt as one walks the streets.
When thinking back on my encounters with these two influential residents of Jerusalem I couldn’t help but see a similarity between the men and their city. For in Jerusalem the old and spiritual exists side-by-side with the new and innovated just like these two men each with their own power and value.
Wendy J. Levenfeld is a published novelist, playwright and columnist. Comments can be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org.