(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Political and religious struggles are not just a wonderful way to promote one's beliefs or opinions, they are also a very easy way to spend a lot of money. This is what the leaders of the haredi community involved in the riots following the arrest of the mother who allegedly starved her son have recently found out. Now that she is facing a long trial, the members and leaders of her community, an extreme group within the Eda Haredit, have discovered that her legal representation will be expensive. As a result, the Toldot Aharon Hassidim have launched an appeal to finance her legal bills. The goal is to raise at least NIS 100,000, and every family that belongs to the sect - which is not very wealthy to put it mildly - has been asked to contribute at least NIS 100, or better yet $100, to help "a member of our community in distress" as was written on the pashkevilim (billboards) in Mea She'arim.
For those who are afraid that the Har Hamenuhot Cemetery is running out of room, fear no more. For Sephardim at least, modernity has offered a bold and quite efficient solution. The local Sephardi Hevra Kadisha recently launched a new section, which will hold up to 2,700 graves (instead of the originally planned 700). And this new section is very unusual: It is the first to offer burial plots on five levels, each one accessible via a special elevator. The area will also include sophisticated lighting for those who want to visit their loved ones' graves after sunset. Not that the decision was easy to make. After years of halachic debates, a ruling by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, with the support of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, allowed the cemetery to be used in such a way.
Sects, allies and videotape
In the framework of the struggle against "haredization" in Kiryat Hayovel, the neighborhood action committee has organized movie nights in the community center auditorium on Friday evenings. As a result, the religious Zionist community, which so far has been a partner in the struggle, decided to protest and has threatened to withdraw its support. Its city council representative, Deputy Mayor David Hadari, claims that the use of the auditorium is a breach of the religious status quo. To date, Mayor Nir Barkat has refuted the argument, declaring that "screening films in a neighborhood auditorium for the residents of this neighborhood could not under any circumstances be considered a breach of the status quo." For the moment.
A call for rationality
The annual City Comptroller's Report used to be one of the highlights at Kikar Safra. For local journalists it was a juicy opportunity to review corruption, mistakes, squandering and mismanagement of taxpayers' money. True, the reports - which ranged from 1,000 to 1,300 pages each - were not always immediately translated into tough actions to reduce the waste and repair the errors, but at least the residents could have a glimpse into the reality behind politicians' empty slogans. But this year, the report deals with the period when former mayor Uri Lupolianski was still in office, which renders the report far less relevant.
Here are some examples of its contents: There are fewer disabled municipal employees than required by law, and many of the municipality's facilities, including welfare offices, are not wheelchair accessible. The icing on the cake is the exorbitant waste of taxpayers' money in the spokesman's department. Despite the fact that a large number of people work in the department, 69 percent of the work was handed over to external PR companies - some of them in Tel Aviv. All this didn't prevent the department's employees from increasing their cellphone budget by 73%. After all, they did have to use their phones to call the private PR companies.
What should residents who fear their neighborhood will fall into the hands of real estate sharks who will change its character do? "Fight back," most of us would probably say. Well, that is exactly what a group of residents in Katamon, Rehavia, Talbiyeh and the German and Greek colonies have decided to do. Organized under the umbrella of the Ginot Ha'ir neighborhood administration, the residents have asked the mayor to freeze any construction plans in these neighborhoods until a comprehensive and complete plan for them is ready and approved.
Following the increase in the real estate prices in these neighborhoods, the residents fear that entrepreneurs will not hesitate to launch construction that will not fit the special character and atmosphere of their surroundings. The residents' concerns are based in fact: During the past two years, there have been many cases of hasty demolitions of buildings slated for preservation, and many residents feel that they have to be constantly vigilant and find out about such plans and stop them before it is too late. At the municipality, however, the feeling is that although a master plan for these neighborhoods is the best solution, ways must be found to allow continued development and investment. Last Friday, the "opening" shot of this organization was a demonstration of Rehavia residents, holding signs decrying what they consider to be the mayor's abandonment of his commitment to preservation. "There should be some limits to the hysteria of the residents, who should allow us to do our job," responded an official at Kikar Safra.
Venom on the Web
City council member and Pisgat Ze'ev resident Yael Antebi has been receiving threats to her life on the Web. Antebi, who overcame quite a few obstacles on her way to city hall, probably thought that after she managed to win the respect of her neighbors who voted for her and the trust of the mayor, who appointed her to the portfolio of transportation and traffic there would be no limit to her success. Full of confidence in her abilities, Antebi decided recently to deal with the issue of loudspeakers transmitting the early morning prayers from the mosque near Pisgat Ze'ev. Following a letter she sent to the chief of police asking him to take action against the loud calls for prayers from Shuafat and Anata, Antebi received a threatening e-mail warning her that she go to hell if she didn't stop her initiative.
The first kudos goes to Dr. Etienne Lepicard, who recently launched a series of musical events at Beit Hagat in Ein Kerem, a house dedicated to fostering friendly encounters between people of different faiths and origins. The latest event was a delightful combination of a highly professional group of musicians - the Ritmo Anima ensemble - and a moving story about a journey across Europe of a Jewish doctor, Tuvya Cohen, whose ancestors left Jerusalem, where he eventually returned and was buried.
A second bravo goes to laureates of the Shalem Prize for 2009, which encourages special action for and by the disabled. This year's recipients of the prize are Akim Jerusalem and the recycling project led by Hadassah's Ruhamah Van Brill, who for the past 20 years has supported a mentally challenged girl abandoned by her parents. The specific project at Akim involves sending volunteers to visit the residents of Akim's homes every week to help them improve their social skills and integrate into society.