With its future still being debated in peace negotiations, and a poverty rate that dwarfs those of other Israeli cities, Jerusalem has serious problems that merit the attention of the entire Jewish world.
Thus, the election of a man who appears to be focused more on solutions than ideology as mayor of Israel's capital is an event that should give hope to those who care about its fate. Nir Barkat, a high-tech entrepreneur, defeated Rabbi Meir Porush, a representative of the Haredi Orthodox community that has dominated Jerusalem politics for the past five years. This victory is a signal that Jerusalem should not be written off as a Haredi ghetto.
But Barkat's challenges are more than symbolic.
Though Jews remain a majority, the failure of past administrations to provide Arab citizens with the same services and infrastructure as that of Jews has mocked Israel's claim that the city would never be divided again. If Barkat is to defend the city's unity, as he says he will, he must do what past mayors, such as Ehud Olmert and Teddy Kollek did not — put an end to this difference.
The city's poverty rate is the result of the fact that the large Arab and Haredi sectors are among the nation's poorest. The shortage of affordable housing and a welfare-state-style culture among the ultra-Orthodox, in which work is devalued, have created daunting problems for which no easy solutions are in sight.
Nevertheless, Barkat's win ought to be a shot in the arm for the city. Jerusalem needs to attract more young people and more businesses. The divisive Porush seemed to encourage the notion that Jerusalem was no longer a place where secular or even modern Orthodox Jews, let alone entrepreneurs, were welcome.
For too long, many Jews have merely paid lip service to the importance of Jerusalem and the defense of its unity. But those arguments were undermined by the idea that it was a place in which most Israelis felt there was no future. In Nir Barkat, the city now has a mayor who seems prepared to take the practical steps to make it more livable. He deserves our support in the difficult years that lie ahead.