Jerusalem and the post-Corona Culture of Clean

Jerusalem can be more golden if we use the lockdown, when the city was noticeably cleaner, as a 'tipping point' and keep it that way. Op-ed.

Dr. Reuven M. Schwartz ,

Jerusalem, Israel
Jerusalem, Israel

Jerusalem is gradually emerging from a post-apocalyptic emptiness and calm. Although eerie, the streets were peaceful, quiet–and clean during the lockdown. Most experts agree that as we return from the shutdown, we will live in a ‘new normal,’ at least for the foreseeable future.

Beyond the restrictive changes in social distancing, business, and tourism, some have sought positive aspects of that new normal. One is to seize the opportunity of a potential ‘tipping point’ in the cleaning and greening of our city, in transforming Jerusalem into the ‘City of Gold'. Mayor Lion recently renewed his pledge to continue making the physical environment commensurate with the spiritual nature of our Holy City.

In the case of the corona virus, even an insidious negative can lead to a positive. That’s a classic Jewish idea.
I recently made the quip that after several years as chair of the Jerusalem Green Fund Cleanup Committee, I finally stumbled on a simple method to get the city clean, practically overnight: Open a U.S. Embassy in your neighborhood. I can see the embassy from my balcony and before it opened, flower beds were cleaned of trash and planted, the floor of the nearby bus depot became visible, road lines were painted and the streets scoured.

At that time, one positive event was followed by another positive. In the case of the corona virus, even an insidious negative can lead to a positive. That’s a classic Jewish idea.

The aphorism that ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness’ and now, vital to life, is being riveted into our consciousness. In addition to the familiar face masks, ritualized hand washing and omnipresent sanitizers, other healthful behaviors are appearing. There has been less littering, people are closing the trash dumpsters, gyms are enforcing the rule to shower before entering, restaurants and public facilities are rising to a higher standard of cleanliness.

Even technology is contributing to this corona clean revolution. When the Ben Gurion Airport expands its opening, sanitizing robots will regularly scour the terminal!

But man cannot live by robots alone. We also need to harness the power of human will. This tragic but historic moment is what educators call a ‘teachable moment,’ an auspicious time in the life of an individual or society when new beliefs and behaviors can be learned and internalized. The negative side of the corona virus that has claimed so many precious lives can become the inspiration for the culture change that Jerusalem now cries out for more than ever.

Steps are being made to improve the physical infrastructure, such as the municipality recently installing trash bins at 1000 bus stops. In gratitude to the city, we can all take the extra steps to the next bus stop or trash dumpster before dropping the coffee cup or pastry wrapper. Another is to talk with our children and encourage them to do the same.

Change begins with adults but ends with children. A media campaign and nationwide school program is vital to achieve the deep culture change that has occurred successfully in other nations. Lasting cultural change will occur only when schools, youth groups, and community centers embrace the value of a ‘green Jerusalem.’

In Singapore, one could arguably eat off the pavement (before corona at least) in part because the fines for littering are stiff and enforced. A couple from Singapore I met on a boat ride in Venice told me the fines were several hundred dollars, not shekels!

Previously, there were more critical laws to enforce, but now with health hanging in the balance, more can be done to fine transgressors. In the likely absence of law enforcement authorities, perhaps a polite mention to someone you see littering will heighten their awareness to do the right thing. Businesses need to extend their range of responsibility to not only better clean their facility, but also the area surrounding their establishment.

On the way to my Bet Knesset every Friday afternoon I see a simply dressed, elderly woman sweeping the sidewalk in front of her apartment house. I recalled that common scene when spending time in Switzerland and was not surprised to learn this woman was originally from Europe. Some aspects of the old country are worth retrieving. Businesses and individuals can add this step of caring for their immediate environment to their corona clean rituals.

The Jerusalem Green Fund, initiated five years ago by former Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur and prominent Israeli volunteer Richard Corman, has been organizing volunteer community cleanups and lobbying to promote a healthier and cleaner environment. The success of this culture change requires a groundswell movement and ‘עכש׳ו זה הזמן’ – now is the time.

Dr. Reuven M. Schwartz. is a clinical psychologist, scientist and writer who made Aliyah 5 years ago. He a board member of the Jerusalem Green Fund and dedicated to improving his new homeland.