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Tale Of Two Cities Illustrates Battle For Israel's Soul

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Tale Of Two Cities Illustrates Battle For Israel's Soul

Middle East

Tale Of Two Cities Illustrates Battle For Israel's Soul

Tale Of Two Cities Illustrates Battle For Israel's Soul

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/122102989/122125080" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men protest behind a police line outside Intel's plant in Jerusalem. i

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men demonstrate behind a line of Israeli police outside Intel's plant in Jerusalem on Nov. 21. The men were protesting the U.S. company's operating on the Jewish Sabbath. As Jerusalem becomes an increasingly religious city, secular Jews are fleeing for Tel Aviv. Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP hide caption

toggle caption Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men protest behind a police line outside Intel's plant in Jerusalem.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men demonstrate behind a line of Israeli police outside Intel's plant in Jerusalem on Nov. 21. The men were protesting the U.S. company's operating on the Jewish Sabbath. As Jerusalem becomes an increasingly religious city, secular Jews are fleeing for Tel Aviv.

Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP

While the rest of the world focuses on the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, a divide is growing within Israel. Religious and secular Jews are increasingly at odds, and nowhere is the split more obvious than in Israel's two main cities: Tel Aviv, known as "Sin City," and the holy city of Jerusalem.

On a recent Saturday in Jerusalem, a group of ultra-Orthodox men in long black coats paces back and forth in front of a row of policemen.

It's the Sabbath, or Shabbat, the Jewish holy day when many Jews hold firmly to the belief that it is a sin to work.

The men are protesting the Saturday opening of a Jerusalem factory belonging to the computer-chip manufacturing giant Intel.

The deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Yitzhak Pindrus, who is also ultra-Orthodox, says that it is important to keep the Sabbath.

"I don't think that in Israel, and for sure in Jerusalem, anyone thinks Shabbat has to be a regular working day," Pindrus says.

It's only the most recent in a series of protests by the ultra-Orthodox community in the city.

Deep Rift

Data show that Jewish Jerusalem is becoming more religious. Recent figures show that only 23 percent of the population describes itself as secular. People in Jerusalem are four times more likely to describe themselves as religious as in any other part of Israel, and that has prompted secular Jews into a fight-or-flight mode.

Battles over housing and schooling between secular and Orthodox groups have become more common.

"The rift between populations in Jerusalem is deep. There is feeling of mistrust. There is a feeling of hostility," says Yair Assaf-Shapira, a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies.

Those who don't want to battle it out leave. Assaf-Shapira says one of the indicators is in the education system.

"If you look at secular versus religious and put on the side the Arab population and the ultra-Orthodox population, you see that the religious education system is growing and the secular system is shrinking," he says.

And the data show the place where most Jerusalemites flee to is Tel Aviv.

Reputation For Liberalism, Tolerance

On a recent Friday evening in Tel Aviv, just as it's getting dark, the cafes are buzzing.

This seaside city is getting a reputation as a hot destination. Shai Doitsh, 30, promotes gay tourism in Tel Aviv. He says the city is among the top 10 destinations for gay travelers

"It's unique, it's new, it's really trendy. They are very, very surprised how it's liberal, how it's free, how it's safe to go in the streets in the middle of the night," Doitsh says.

An Israeli woman cheers from her balcony to the crowds below during a street party in Tel Aviv. i

An Israeli woman cheers from her balcony to the crowds below during a street party in Tel Aviv on Dec. 25. The city's reputation as a liberal, international hot spot is growing. Yehuda Raizner/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Yehuda Raizner/AFP/Getty Images
An Israeli woman cheers from her balcony to the crowds below during a street party in Tel Aviv.

An Israeli woman cheers from her balcony to the crowds below during a street party in Tel Aviv on Dec. 25. The city's reputation as a liberal, international hot spot is growing.

Yehuda Raizner/AFP/Getty Images

He says Tel Aviv is the real city that never sleeps.

"You can go in 4 o'clock in the morning to a restaurant or to a bar to drink. You can buy clothes in the middle of the night if you want," he says.

Doitsh says there is only one way you know it's the Jewish Sabbath in Tel Aviv.

"You feel it only because the best gay parties are on Shabbat evening, are on Friday night, so that's how we know if Shabbat arrived," he says.

He says there is a real rivalry between Jerusalem and his city.

"It's like half an hour, 45 minutes away from each other, but it's like living in two different worlds, countries," Doitsh says. "Israel is a unique country because it says it's Jewish and democratic. And when tourists ask me what does [that] mean, I say we have Jewish Jerusalem and we have democratic Tel Aviv."

Partying Vs. Praying

Neri Livneh, a columnist for the left-leaning daily Haaretz, has written extensively on the divisions between the two cities. She spent most of her life in Jerusalem but then left a few years ago for Tel Aviv

"Tel Aviv is a city where you don't have to explain why you live there. Most of the people here are secular. You don't have to explain if you are Jewish or not," Livneh says. "In Jerusalem, most of the city hates most of the city. Tel Aviv is tolerant."

She says she still loves Jerusalem, but she rarely visits. She says she feels out of place and unwelcome.

"In Jerusalem, you have segregated buses for men and women, and they are talking about segregating mental institutions. What is the difference between them and Iran?" Livneh says.

She says a battle for Israel's soul is under way: Tel Aviv is fighting by partying, Jerusalem by praying.

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