The crowd included pensioners and toddlers, the disabled who use it for therapy, and the fitness buffs for whom it's part of their regimen. Many dressed in bathrobes and towels. Most bought hats sporting the logo "Save the Jerusalem Pool." The diversity of the 300 or so people who turned up to support the fight against the closure of the swimming pool on Emek Refaim on Sunday night was, members of the action committee noted, itself a demonstration of why the neighborhood needs to ensure its continued operation.
Tooting whistles and shouting slogans such as "Only a fool would close the pool," the unusual group paraded from outside the pool to the Ginot Ha'ir community center at the other end of the road, gathering support from drivers, pedestrians, restaurant-goers and shopkeepers on the way. The walk and meeting at the community center were the latest, most visible, steps in the battle for the pool whose owners, Moshav Shoresh and the Ela Brothers, reportedly want to turn it into a parking lot or more lucrative real estate.
"This pool is an essential part of our lives," said one participant. "My child was all but born here. We come at least once a week, and if it closes I don't know what we'll do. We can't afford to go to a hotel pool, and there are no other easily accessible pools for people who live in this area and don't have a car."
The pool is also Jerusalem's only Olympic-size pool.
The residents at the initial stage are fighting the plans to close the pool at the end of the year, ostensibly for renovations, fearing that the owners do not intend to reopen it or will substantially change its size and character. Talks took place last week between the owners and the action committee, which has hired a lawyer who is paid for by the fund-raising activities like the hats and donations. As a result, new rumors have surfaced that the owners are willing to reopen the pool after the renovations but want to operate it only in the summer months (when it is more profitable) and only for a two-year period, contrary to the conditions on which they were granted the ownership rights in the 1980s.
The municipality has issued a statement clarifying that legally the owners are obliged to keep the pool open as an affordable neighborhood pool.
"You have nothing to worry about," said Deputy Mayor Kobi Kahalon at Sunday's meeting. "The pool is yours. It is a municipal pool, and there is no reason to take it from you."
Noting the reasons the poolgoers are suspicious of the owners' intentions, Kahalon stated: "The compromise that the owners are trying to propose is nothing more than an attempt to gain time. I would go straight to an injunction against destroying the pool and finish the whole affair."
The pool owners say they are interested in reaching a solution through dialogue with the local residents. At the moment, the management is willing to commit only to reopening it in April for the summer season.