A haredi kindergarten in a Jerusalem neighborhood which has been without permanent premises since the beginning of the academic year is continuing to cause communal and political problems within the city.

Currently, 25 kindergarten girls from the haredi Beit Yaakov network have been assigned a building which is already the home of another kindergarten for 34 girls, including nine with behavioral and learning difficulties.

For eight days at the beginning of the school year, the kindergarten was held outdoors, and chairs for the young girls only arrived Tuesday morning at the temporary facilities currently being used.

According to Naftali Lorentz, chairman of the haredi Community Administration of Ramot, requests were made three months before the first day of term on August 25 for premises to be made available. The temporary premises are not large enough for the number of children enrolled in the kindergarten, according to municipal regulations, Lorentz claims.

The community administration has been seeking to gain access to a building used by a Scouts group but designated as a kindergarten.

However, the secular Community Administration of Ramot has said it will not sanction the use of the Scouts building, although it is not in permanent use and not used during kindergarten hours.

According to Lorentz, the municipality has recommended that the kindergarten rent a suitable apartment in the neighborhood – but appropriate apartments, which need to be on the ground floor with a private entrance and a courtyard, are unavailable.

The estimated cost of such premises would be approximately NIS 16,000 a month which the would be paid for by the Jerusalem Municipality, while the Scout premises are owned by the municipality itself and would therefore not require additional expenditure.

Another solution offered by the municipality would be to erect a mobile classroom in the courtyard of the temporary premises, to provide for the nine children with learning difficulties. However, Lorentz says that this would mean using half of an already small courtyard for such a structure, and that doing so would make the yard too small to comply with regulations.

But chairman of the secular Ramot Communal Administration Ze’ev Landner accused the haredi communal leadership of seeking to create a provocation in the neighborhood and extort concessions from the municipality by using images of children learning without a roof over their head.

He also noted that since the kindergarten is privately run, the communal administration and the municipality are not obligated to find a solution, a position repeated by the Jerusalem Municipality. Lorentz denied this claim, saying that the kindergarten is registered with the Jerusalem Municipality’s Education Department and that the appropriate fees have been paid.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has so far not intervened.

Communal tensions between the haredi and secular communities in Ramot run high, and political concerns are suspected to be one of the main reasons the building used by the Scouts has not, for the moment, been made available for use by the haredi kindergarten.

Barkat is facing a serious challenge in the mayoral elections scheduled for the end of October and is loathe to alienate potential voters. Lorentz said that the problem may be easier to solve once the elections are held.

He said, however, that “Kindergarten girls should not be the victims of political games.”

The issue has stirred indignation from haredi members of the Jerusalem Municipality, with council member and Deputy Mayor Yitzhak Pindrus – responsible for haredi education in Jerusalem – saying fiercely that “Barkat should stop using children in Jerusalem for the benefit of his election campaign.”

The Jerusalem Municipality said in response to the issue that it was working to find a solution.

“Responsibility for a solution for the activities of kindergartens lies with the network’s administrators. Despite this, the Jerusalem Municipality is working with responsibility and commitment to all of the neighborhood’s children and the administration of the [kindergarten] network is addressing [the need] for suitable premises. In the immediate term, [the solution is to continue using] the place where they are currently operating, and in the long-term [to continue] in large and appropriate premises the rent for which is paid and which will shortly be fitting for the children’s’ activities.”

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