NPR logo

Tale Of Two Cities Illustrates Battle For Israel's Soul

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Tale Of Two Cities Illustrates Battle For Israel's Soul

Middle East

Tale Of Two Cities Illustrates Battle For Israel's Soul

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

While the rest of the world focuses on the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, there is growing divide within Israel. Religious and secular Jews are increasingly at odds, and nowhere is the split more obvious than in Israel's two main cities.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro explores the differences between Sin City, as Tel Aviv is called, known as and the Holy City of Jerusalem.

(Soundbite of a crowd)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's the Sabbath, the Jewish holy day when many observant Jews hold firmly to the belief that it's a sin to work - a group of ultra-Orthodox men in long black coats, pace back and forth in front of a row of policemen.

(Soundbite of a chanting)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Chanting Sabbath over and over again, 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's also ultra-Orthodox, says that it's important to keep the Sabbath.

Mayor YITZHAK PINDRUS (Jerusalem): I don't think anyone really thinks that in Israel in general, and for sure in Jerusalem, Shabbat has to be a regular working day.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's only the most recent in a series of protests by the ultra-Orthodox community here. Data show that Jewish Jerusalem is becoming more religious. According to recent figures, only 23 percent of the population describes itself as secular. People are four times more likely to say that they are religious here than in any other part of Israel, and that has prompted some secular Jews into a fight-or-flight mode. Battles over housing and schooling between secular and Orthodox groups have become more common.

Yair Assaf-Shapira is a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies.

Mr. YAIR ASSAF-SHAPIRA (Researcher, Jerusalem University for Israel Studies): The rift between populations in Jerusalem is deep. There is a feeling of mistrust and there is a feeling of hostility.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Assaf-Shapira says one of the indicators is in the education system.

Mr. ASSAF-SHAPIRA: If you look at the secular versus religious and you put on the side the Arab population and the ultra-Orthodox population, you see this trend. You see that the religious education system is growing and the secular system is shrinking.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And the data showed the place where most Jerusalemites flee to is Tel Aviv.

(Soundbite of dance music)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: it's just getting dark on Friday evening in Tel Aviv and the cafes are buzzing. The seaside city is getting a reputation as a hot destination. It's now in the top 10 for gay travelers.

Mr. SHAI DOITSH (Spokesman, National Association of LGBT, Israel): It's unique, it's new, it's really trendy, and hey 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.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Shai Doitsh is 30-year-old who promotes gay tourism in Tel Aviv. He says Tel Aviv is the real city that never sleeps.

Mr. DOITSH: You can go in 4:00 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.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says there's only one way you know it's the Jewish Sabbath here.

Mr. DOITSH: You feel it only because the best gay parties are on Shabbat evening, are on Friday night. So that's how we know Shabbat's arrived.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says there is a real rivalry between Jerusalem and his city.

Mr. DOITSH: Like it's half an hour, 50 minutes away from each other, but it's like living in two different countries. Israel is a unique country because it says it's Jewish and democratic. And when tourists ask me what does it mean when we have Jewish Jerusalem and we have democratic Tel Aviv.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tel Aviv is a caf� society so in another caf� across town, I meet Neri Livneh. She spent most of her life in Jerusalem, but then a few years ago, she left for Tel Aviv. She's a columnist for the left-leaning daily Haaretz, and she's written extensively on the divisions between the two cities.

Ms. NERI LIVNEH (Columnist, Haaretz Newspaper): (Through Translator) 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. In Jerusalem, most of the city hates most of the city. Tel Aviv is tolerant.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says she still loves Jerusalem, but she goes rarely. She says she feels out of place and unwelcome.

Ms. LIVNEH: (Through Translator) 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?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Livneh says there is a battle for Israel's soul going on: Tel Aviv is fighting by partying, Jerusalem by praying.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.