Holon slum's tent city nothing like Rothschild Boulevard

Jesse Cohen slum is home to a far more desperate side of tent city movement, where hard-luck stories far outnumber acoustic guitars.

August 7, 2011 21:57
Moshe Dabush at tent city in Holon slum

Holon Tent City 311. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

“I’m telling you, if a solution isn’t found, this will all explode. You’ll see real violence, any moment now.”

Rafi Moseri, 35, walked through Holon’s Jesse Cohen neighborhood on Sunday, pointing out the shattered and decaying sidewalks and trashstrewn courtyards that surround the slum’s tent city.

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Unemployed, Moseri volunteers in youth outreach programs in the community, trying to help kids who grew up as part of what he calls “a generation of criminals.” Like several others staying in the 40 or so tents at the campsite, Moseri has been in prison - he was given a life sentence as a young man for what he described as “an argument.”

After 15 years in prison he was granted parole, an he said he started working with the area’s youth, to help them escape the cycle of poverty and violence.

“This is not Rothschild here, the people here grew up with nothing and have nothing.

Any day it could explode if there isn’t a solution found.”

Less than a half hour by bus from Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, the Jesse Cohen campsite could not be more different. There are no tents decorated with artistic whimsy, no jam sessions, no young people with dreadlocks, and no all-night bull sessions on the free market and neo-liberalism.

Instead, there are about 50 people, most of them homeless and dead broke, who found themselves on the streets before or shortly after Daphni Leef and her friends began setting up their tent city on July 14. Their demands revolve around public housing and assistance of any sort that would help get them off the streets.

They live in around 40 tents and a half a dozen wooden shacks built over the past weeks. There are far more toddlers and exhausted-looking parents at the Holon campsite, one of which was dressing her toddler inside one of the shacks following a bath she had given her with a garden hose in an adjacent courtyard.

In two tents at the edge of the campsite a Russian mother and her 32-year-old son live in two tents with their dog Jessica, and a cockatiel, leaving each day to perform cleaning work before returning.

According to those spoken to by The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, everyone sleeps in their tents and shacks, and there is no music or parties at night, because it would keep the children awake.

Much like the disparity between central Tel Aviv and Jesse Cohen, the Holon campsite looks neglected and wellworn for its age. The “kitchen” is a battered, nearly empty shell with a single refrigerator and a barbecue grill, neither of which seem to be getting much use.

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In one of the shacks lives Amos Avraham, a 63-year-old who spent all of his life in Jesse Cohen, other than two stints in state prison and several years where he lived on the streets addicted to cocaine and later heroin.

Divorced with two kids, Avraham said he got clean eight years ago, and began working as a guide at a rehabilitation center in Jaffa.

While the hard-luck stories he tells are rambling and hard to follow, his demands from the government could not be simpler.

“I want a room, not a villa, just a room. All I need is a room or just give me a trailer, I don’t care, I just need a place to lay my head.” Avraham is staying in the shack with Rafi Kerem and his wife Osnat, and their three kids ages 4 to 7 months. The Kerems found Avraham sleeping on the street a few weeks earlier and brought him to stay with them in the shack, Rafi said.

A drug addict for more than three decades, Kerem was a truck driver and worked in construction before he said he fell eight stories off a work site two years ago, and has had to make do with odd jobs and national insurance supplements ever since.

Kerem said that while he has nothing against the protesters on Rothschild, their struggle is far different than his.

“They are looking for equality between the rich and the poor. They want the price for electricity or gas or cottage cheese to go down, but they want that because they have a house, they have a car, they have a refrigerator. I have none of this, all I need is a house. I don’t care where, I’ll live anywhere in the periphery just give me a house where I can find work.”

Still, Kerem said, “everyone fights their war, that’s theirs and this is ours.”

Just then, Sarit Yosef, a 32- year-old mother of six walks in and gives Avraham a sandwich.

Not a resident of the tent city at the moment, Yosef said she will probably move in at the end of the month with her kids and her husband when they get evicted from her apartment, after three months of not paying rent.

She said that she also supports the young protesters in Tel Aviv, though she said in Jesse Cohen “everyone wants the same thing, just a roof over their head. They don’t care where.”

A few meters away, Moshe Dabush is putting the finishing touches on a shack that he calls home. The shack is somewhat well built, though barely furnished, with only a mattress, a TV, and a faded photo of the Moroccan Jewish sage Baba Sali on the wall.

Dabush said he’s been living for several years in the bomb shelter of a nearby building, after he became homeless following his divorce several years back.

“I’ve reached 51 years old and I’ve failed in life. I’ve given up, they’ll have to bury me here,” he said, his voice cracking as his eyes welled with tears.

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