A home in Kiryat Hayovel

After a city council haredi-Hitorerut kerfuffle, lone soldiers in Jerusalem finally have a place to call their own.

The Bar-Giora Home for lone soldiers (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Bar-Giora Home for lone soldiers
The stupor was soon replaced by anger, an attempt to convince and finally, great frustration – in facing the outcome of one of the recent disagreements between haredi representatives led by former deputy mayor Yitzhak Pindrus, and four Hitorerut members led by Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkovitch.
By the end of the April meeting of the city’s Finance Committee, it had become clear that a project that originally appeared to be one of the least likely to raise any opposition from any side of the council couldn’t be approved – following the haredi coalition members’ veto.
A rather modest sum – NIS 250,000 for the advancement and improvement of an already existing project, the Bar-Giora Home for Jerusalem’s lone soldiers – seemed doomed, at least for a while.
Following this Finance Committee failure, Berkowitz and his No. 2, city councilman Hanan Rubin, the major promoter of the project, finally managed to reach some understanding with the haredim – and the budget was approved at the next city council meeting.
This incident revealed, not for the first time, how fragile the political game is at the Jerusalem City Council. While it didn’t really harm the project, since the money was finally approved, it did reveal the depth of the disagreements between the parties.
The haredi representatives’ opposition was not towards the project itself, but in protest at Kiryat Hayovel’s Yuvalim community council – which, according to Pindrus, was systematically opposing any initiative for haredi residents of the neighborhood. “We are not against the IDF or the soldiers, of course,” clarified Pindrus, “but we had no choice but to make a point here.
After all, the money comes from the municipality budget but is distributed through Yuvalim, which constantly denies our rights.”
But, of course, there was more – the home for lone soldiers also helps ultra-Orthodox soldiers, whose families often shun them once they enlist. That aspect was not officially mentioned in the tumultuous debates at city council, but as a high-ranking official involved in the implementation of the project observed, “It was in the air all the time.”
Councilman Rubin doesn’t sound worried; after all, the first budget was finally approved and the work on the Bar-Giora Home is already advancing – one more point on the way to developing and renewing community life in Kiryat Hayovel. As for the lone soldiers who come from haredi families that refuse to keep in contact with them once they join the IDF, the home will furnish them with some of their most urgent needs; to help replace a familial atmosphere, residents are welcome to invite or adopt lone soldiers through the Bar-Giora Home.
There are quite a few organizations that take care of IDF soldiers across the country, but a home for soldiers without family has a very important aim – beyond one more TV set on-base or free refreshments for soldiers on the way back to their units. Until recently, most lone soldiers were young adults who, after spending years with their families abroad, decided to come back to Israel to serve; or in cases where they were not Israeli citizens, would volunteer.
Who hasn’t seen touching scenes of parents brought in secret by TV production staff to the country to meet a son or a daughter serving in the IDF? It happens almost every year, especially close to a major holiday.
In such cases, these young adults make a choice: Make aliya and go to the army, then decide if they want to remain here or not – mostly with the blessing, though with some anxiety, of their parents and families. But in recent years, another kind of lone soldier has appeared on the scene: young haredim who decide to leave yeshiva and join the IDF.
These youths have to deal with two fronts in the same time: the new environment and tremendous change in their life, as well as the too-frequent negative reaction at home. In some cases it is only disfavor, a silent disagreement; but in many cases it is a brutal cut from the family, which does not want any contact with the “rebel” son who wears a uniform representing what they hate.
And there is also another type of soldier – those who, following strong disagreements with their parents, mostly during a tumultuous period of adolescence, do not maintain contact with their families. Quite a few are young adults who didn’t fit in with their parents’ decision to become religious, and left home.
All these cases are officially handled by the IDF, which provides them with several privileges to ease their service conditions and their lives here in Israel. Yet a place open specifically for them on a constant basis, offering activities during their leave or on weekends, contributes much to their quality of life.
This is epitomized in the Bar-Giora Home, established in a building that belonged to the Jewish Agency and was renovated for this new purpose, at the corner of Rabinovich and Tahon streets in Kiryat Hayovel. This is the first and only place for such soldiers in Jerusalem – one that is very much needed.
Rubin, who right from the beginning led this project, says he became aware of the need after getting to know a lone soldier his family has adopted.
“I was in contact with and later adopted Adam Ross, a young American Jew who decided to leave everything behind and join the IDF. He told me about the Tel Aviv branch of the Lone Soldier Center and how much he appreciated it, and how it would be good to have one like that here,” Rubin remembers.
“I thought: He is right, why not?” Rubin and Hitorerut leader Berkowitz went to Mayor Nir Barkat to tell him about the idea, and “Nir immediately agreed and gave us the green light,” recounts Rubin.
This was soon after last summer’s Operation Protective Edge; today, the home’s 80 apartments are almost fully inhabited, and there are already plans for its enlargement. Rubin says that after a while he reached the conclusion that offering the lone soldiers a place to spend a night or weekend was not enough.
“I wanted this place to be alive, attracting people, interesting and full of activities,” he recalls, “otherwise it would have remained just another dorm for soldiers, which was not my objective.”
Today, a branch of Hashomer Hatza’ir holds activities on the home’s first floor, also operating its community center for instructors who come from the youth movement’s kibbutzim. A club offering in-house social and cultural activities for the lone soldiers is already in the advanced planning stages; as Rubin notes hopefully, it will be ready to open soon.
“We wanted more, we looked for something that would add life to this place on a daily basis, that would also attract local young adults and would add to the lone soldiers’ social life,” continues Rubin.
Toward this end, it was finally agreed to install an arts compound on the ground floor, for local artists and art consumers alike. Still in the beginning stages, this was the purpose of the budget debated in April. The idea is to enable artists to work and present their works here – and thus establish a happy day-long hive of activity in the Bar- Giora Home.