Up to 250 homeless young people aged 14-25 lived in the streets of Tel Aviv during 2005, according to statistics published by the Elem association for youth in distress. Approximately 20 percent are residents of the city, while the others have come from around the country.
According to municipal statistics, the number is closer to 200. Bruria Saltzman, who heads the department for teenage girls at risk in the Tel Aviv-Jaffa social services administration, told the Hebrew weekly Tel Aviv, "Tel Aviv is seen as a city that is easy to live in. The youngsters feel that here they will be understood. Here there are shelters and voluntary organizations that can assist them."
However, Orit Masul, acting head of the administration's division for children, teens and the family, noted that their best efforts are not always successful because "there are always those who have never managed any framework and have chosen life in the street as an ideology."
Yael, only 12 and a half years old, explained that she ran away from home because her mother is hospitalized in an institution for the emotionally disabled, while her father is a drug user whose friends abused her sexually from a young age.
Today, she washes in the sea and spends most of her time searching for food. "At first I wandered around all day trying to survive. I slept on the beach. It was scary. I stole blanket to cover myself. I cried all night, because I wanted a home and a family. I felt like a dog. On cold nights, I slept in garbage rooms. I was not afraid of mice and cats, rather of people. I do not trust them. It is hard to survive in the streets. I was afraid that someone was following me. I could not sleep much, I longed for my room, heat and food. No one looked for me, not even my father. Sometimes, I go a friend's house when their parents are not home, in order to take a shower and have something to eat."
Before long, older teens living on the street introduced Yael to drugs. After 18 months, her friends' parents got together and reported the situation to the welfare department. She was placed in a home for at-risk girls, but ran away after two weeks and returned to the street.
Three months ago, Yael learned about the Makom Aher shelter at Rehov Basel 16 and ask to be accepted. She is still awaiting an answer. In addition to Makom Aher, there are two additional shelters for teens in the city: Bet Dror on Rehov Bustenai in Neveh Tzedek - that focuses on homosexual and lesbian teen - and Beit Hashanti at Simtat Cheloushe 17 - that houses approximately 40 homeless children and teens aged 14-21.
Wholesale market to close
At the end of April, Tel Aviv's wholesale produce market will close after 53 years and be transferred to a new site near the Messubim junction. The municipality has been planning to move the market out of the city center since 1965, but the merchants objected and used every means of protest at their disposal to delay implementation of the decision.
The current 60 dunam (15 acre) site between Carlebach and Hashomaim streets will be cleared and developed. According to Tel Aviv, if the city's current plan is implemented, the site will become home to 1,200 people living in 60-story towers.
One merchant, Ami Mo'arman, began working with his father at the Carlebach market when it opened in 1953. His father's original stall was in the previous market on Rehov Aliya. "My first childhood memory is of my late father's fruit stall on Rehov Aliya. The merchandise would arrive on camelback. When we heard the bells, we knew that merchandise was approaching the market. It was an international market then but today this sounds like the legend of Ali Baba. Apples came from Syria, cherries from Lebanon, dates from Jericho, and grapes from Gaza and Jordan. The selling was also different because merchandise was auctioned."
Mo'arman remembers Paula Ben-Gurion, wife of Israel's first prime minister, as a tough negotiator who haggled over "every grush, as if it were the national budget for the next five years."
Striving for employment
Nearly 800,000 unemployed Israelis are reportedly not included in official unemployment statistics, because they are not entitled to unemployment insurance and are not seeking work through governmental employment bureaus. Many - if not most - of them have lost hope of finding gainful employment, but for several dozen Tel Aviv residents there is a new light of the end of the tunnel reports Tel Aviv.
The STRIVE (Support and Training Result In Valuable Employees) program assists people aged 21-40 who have been unemployed for six months or more. The program begins with a one-month preparatory workshop that provides participants with the attitudes and skills to help them find employment, empowers them to succeed and express their positive points. The workshop opens a three-year process that includes professional training and courses in computers, English, etc.
Founded in Harlem, NY in 1985, STRIVE was imported with the assistance of the Joint Distribution Committee, the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Employment, the Atzmi association and the city. Participants are recruited through community centers, by social workers and by current participants bringing their friends.
Two groups have already completed the workshop. Of the first group, 25 out of 28 participants found work. The second group completed the workshop a week before Pessah and eight participants found work before the holiday. The others were still looking at press time but feel more hopeful than they did before the workshop.
One participant, Moran, told the paper that she was skeptical at first. "The entire business seemed imaginary. Employment counseling and classes at their expense - it sounded too rosy. It was very difficult for me at the beginning. It is unpleasant to discover some things about yourself. However, today I am an aide in a school for children with cerebral palsy."
The Tel Aviv Center is located on Rehov Balfour and additional centers are planned for Haifa and southern Israel. The building's walls are decorated with encouraging slogans such as "Take work seriously" and "Excuses are the fuel of failures."
Despite the staff's commitment to participants' success, they stress that each individual is responsible for his or her own future. "We try to provide participants with a unique climate that will make it possible for them to realize their potential. We set high expectations: strictness, respectable appearance, keeping schedules and meeting standards. Together with this, we provide personal attention from a team that is totally committed to them," said project manager Amir Natan.
Underground shopping mall planned for Ramat Gan
Having exhausted every possible location for construction and building some of Israel's tallest structures, the city of Ramat Gan has decided to reverse its direction and go underground. Planning has begun for a subterranean shopping mall beneath Elite junction at the corner of Jabotinsky and Abba Hillel streets. According to local.co.il, construction is expected to begin in 2009, together with work on the underground rail line. The planned mall will cover approximately 27,000 sq. meters on four floors. Work is expected to take two years and developers hope to attract leading brands to their unique center.
Rishon doesn't want waste
Rishon Lezion opposes the Dan Region Association for Sewage and Environment's plan to construct an industrial waste disposal plant on the western side of the city near the coastline within two years, reports local.co.il. The plant is designed to burn off tens of thousands of tons of industrial sludge and other waste annually, and there are serious concerns that gases - some of them poisonous - emitted by the plant will create increased air pollution and higher rates of cancer and other illnesses. In response, the regional association claims that they plan to invest several million dollars in improving the quality of the facility, so that it will meet the strictest requirements and standards set by the environment ministry.
New bus company causes confusion
Under the national plan for competitive public transportation, bus routes in Petah Tikva were transferred to the Kavim company at the beginning of April. Previously, the Dan cooperative operated local buses in the city. According to local.co.il, there has been confusion among riders because routes and route numbers have changed. Some regular riders are no longer certain where the buses go and how to reach their destination. Some riders also claim that there are fewer buses running and others that the buses run behind schedule.
A spokesperson for the company and the transportation ministry confirmed that there had been some changes in routes, "in accordance with public demand," and expressed confidence that other difficulties would work out with time. Furthermore, they claimed that the overall frequency of buses has increased by nearly 50 % and that fares have dropped.
Water prices highest in country
Haifa residents pay the highest rates in Israel for their water - NIS 6.03 for every cubic meter - claims councilor Yisrael Savyon, according to a report in Yediot Haifa. Savyon bases his claim on a recent article in the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot that stated that Jerusalem charges NIS 5.81 per cubic meter, while Tel Aviv charges NIS 5.53.
"On the basis of this data, it appears that Haifa residents pay nine percent more than Tel Aviv residents and 3.8 % more than Jerusalemites," wrote Savyon in a letter to Mayor Yona Yahav. "If the city purchases water from Mekorot [the national water company] at a uniform rate of NIS 2.39 per cubic meter and charges citizens NIS 6.03, what can explain this gap?"
Municipal spokesperson attorney Ronnie Grossman, responded, "As a city councilor and former city manager, Mr. Savyon surely knows that the price of water in all municipal authorities in Israel is uniform and set by the state. Water bills also include a sewage levy that is set by the sewage treatment association and transferred directly to the association without the city receiving any part of that payment. The bill also includes a sewage fee that is set according to law and approved by the interior ministry. There are differential rates for residences and businesses.
Haifa is relatively inexpensive. Unlike other municipalities, Haifa does not add the sewage fee to water consumed in the public areas of apartment buildings or for water used by industry - which means that Haifa exempts approximately 40 percent of the water used in the city from this fee. Despite the fact that the cost of supplying water in Haifa is among the highest in Israel, because of the necessity to bring water to an elevation of 480 meters, the price of water and sewage fees paid by residents are no different than those paid by other citizens of Israel."
Additional figures reported in local.co.il show that the least expensive water in Israel is in Kiryat Gat, where a cubic meter costs NIS 3.49, including a NIS 0.57 sewage fee. In Hadera, the same cubic meter costs consumers NIS 5.02 and in Petah Tikva, NIS 5.26. In Kfar Saba, which has an independent water system, the basic price to consumers is NIS 3.57 per cubic meter and there are differential prices for gardens or use above a certain level per capita.
Dioxin survey cancelled
Environmental organizations are infuriated by the cancellation of a dioxin survey planned for Haifa, Kiryat Ata and Kiryat Tivon. According to Yediot Haifa, the survey's cancellation was announced last week by Tzvi Forer, head of the municipal association for the environment. The survey had been planned to determine the connection between air pollution originating in the Haifa Bay industrial area and increased incidence of cancer in the region.
Forer explained that the survey was canceled because of its cost. "To my dismay, we discovered that the cost would be twice what we originally thought. We found that mapping dioxins would cost approximately NIS 3 million, which is a very high sum that the state ought to fund. I hope that the Environment Ministry or the Health Ministry will take up this cause, but currently there is no-one to talk to because the government has not approved budgets for any ministries."
Gil Ya'akoby of the Public Health Coalition reacted, "It is sad that Forer has reneged on his intention to study the issue in depth and identify the largest polluters in Israelâ€¦ it is surprising to see the manner in which the association for the environment is behaving, because it knew from the beginning how much the mapping would cost. Now we will have to wait for the sluggish government ministries to do something. The mapping will not be carried out anytime soon. This is bad news for residents and a green light to the factories that they may continue polluting without any supervision."
Dioxins are chlorinated organic compounds that can accumulate in the body and have been found to be carcinogenic.
Why so many antennas in Neve Sha'anan?
Angry residents of Neve Sha'anan are accusing the city of giving preferential treatment to the affluent and ignoring their welfare by allowing an excessive number of cellular antennas to be installed in the neighborhood. According to Yediot Haifa, the roof of the absorption center on Rehov Hanita alone houses 34 antennas, most of them installed without permits. Some of those antennas are barely 1.5 meters from the windows and bedrooms of immigrants in the center, a clear violation of regulations. At a meeting called by neighborhood residents, Deputy Mayor Shmuel Gelbhart explained that the city was trying to fight the installation of the antennas. The residents reportedly found that explanation hard to swallow.
Recently, their anger intensified when they learned that the Technion refused to allow antennas to be installed near its campus. "How can it be that a respectable institution like the Technion, which has the tools and knowledge to monitor levels of radiation, opposes to the installation of antennas in its vicinity?" asked a neighborhood representative. "This requires an explanation beyond the learned rebuttals of Gelbhart. We cannot allow there to be one set of laws for the wealthy and another for the common people. This will encourage anarchy because citizens who have no choice will take the law into their hands and burn the antennas installed on their roofs."
Volunteers feed the needy
More than 17,600 families in Haifa are recognized as needy by the municipal welfare office, according to pre-Pessah figures published in Yediot Haifa. Prior to the holiday, many people were found scrounging through garbage looking for their next meal and hoping that one of the many voluntary organizations in the city would be able to supply them with a basket of staples.
Approximately 1,500 people celebrated the Seder at one of the many public ceremonies organized by the religious council and a variety of voluntary organizations. A municipal spokesman added that the city had allocated approximately NIS 70,000 to eight voluntary organizations that distribute food to the needy.
No apartment blocks in projected park
The Herzliya local planning and construction committee has rejected a plan to build housing units in the Bassa area, which is zoned to become a park in the city's master plan. Owners of land at the site intended to build several 23-story apartment towers on a section of the parkland.
If the regional planning and construction committee accepts the city's position that the site should be developed as a park and "green lung" for the benefit of all residents, the landowners will be entitled to monetary compensation but not an exchange of property. The city fears that a significant change in the master plan could delay development of the park for as long as 20 years.
Herzliya has invested NIS 1 million in improvements to its much-maligned beaches, according to a municipal press release. Entrance to the municipal beaches - Nof Yam, Hasharon, Zevulun, Acadia North, Acadia Center, Acadia South (accessible) and the segregated beach - is free-of-charge. The seven life guard stands will be staffed by 21 lifeguards. Boats may be put to sea at the Hasira beach. All beaches will be guarded in accordance with directives from the interior ministry and police.
There are six parking lots with space for several thousand cars. The cost of parking is NIS 15 for out-of-towners and NIS 7 for cars with Herzliya residents' stickers, upon presentation of an identity card. Illegally parked cars risk being fined or towed, even on weekends. Driving on the beach is forbidden. The Herzliya beaches will remain open until October 21.
Another school to move near Lev Hapark
The park near the Lev Hapark neighborhood in Ra'anana is on the way to losing its pastoral nature. Zman Hasharon reports plans to move the Tochelet special education school, with 37 students aged 6-21, from its current Rehov Ostrovsky location to the park next year.
Neighborhood residents have begun circulating a petition opposing the city's development plans for the park, which also include a new religious high school, swimming pool, sports center (including squash courts), large synagogue and a community center. Residents wrote that they do not oppose all development, but fear that the rapid development and corresponding increase in traffic will seriously damage their quality of life.
Municipal spokesperson Michal Yaron responded, "The Tochelet school's building on Rehov Ostrovsky is old. There are accessibility problems for some of the population and an urgent need to improve the sanitary conditions. In consultation with the education ministry, it was decided to move the school to Lev Hapark where it will be more accessible to the students' transportation. Tenders will be issued next month."
Parents oppose new high school
Hod Hasharon Mayor Hai Adiv plans to open the new Ilan Ramon High School next year, as part of a larger plan to reorganize the city's secondary education into three "educational complexes." The citywide parents' committee opposes the plan and is threatening to fight it by refusing to register students for the new school, reports Zman Hasharon.
Parents oppose the plan because they claim there are not yet enough high school students in the city to populate three schools, despite the growth expected in the near future. They fear the result will be smaller grade levels which will lead to higher parents' fees and fewer special educational programs.
The city plans to manage the Ramon school and the adjacent Atidim Junior High as a single six-year school with one principal. Next year's tenth grade class would have fewer than 150 students - 113 graduates of Atidim and 43 graduates of the Tali regional school who live in Hod Hasharon. In order for a high school to be financially feasible, the Education Ministry recommends that each grade level has six or seven classes. By that standard, Hod Hasharon's Hadarim High School is already under-enrolled, with only four or five classes per grade. Despite this, the ministry is pressuring for the new school to be opened, because of the money already invested in its construction.
Sapir fund to finance park instead of scholarships
For 30 years, the Shoshana and Pinhas Sapir Fund has granted small scholarships to approximately 700 college students from Kfar Saba. This year, the fund's public committee chaired by Mayor Yehuda Ben Hamo plans to reallocate the money and transfer NIS 11 million towards developing the new city park and naming it in honor of the Sapirs, reports Tzomet Hasharon.
"This is an unfortunate and disappointing decision," a disappointed student told the paper. "The fund has helped finance my education and, as a resident of Kfar Saba, it has been a source of pride. It is not clear to me why the committee thinks that planting a tree or two is more important that higher education for city residents."
Former mayor Yitzchak Wald, who is also a committee member, said that he has been flooded with requests to restore the scholarships.
Amos Sapir, son of the late finance minister, is a member of the committee and supported the city's request that funds be transferred to the park project. However, some city leaders consider the change inappropriate because the money was originally raised from people who thought that their contributions would be supporting education and therefore the change amounts to deception.
A municipal spokesman responded, "The mayor responded positively to the donors' request to transfer the funds to the park project."
STAR CATCHER will be back next week, after Pessah.