Party in the park

Attendees of a birthday party for a new park in French Hill hope there will be many more informal events for young people in the area.

Itai Litman with his daughter. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Itai Litman with his daughter.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There’s that perennial pesky question of what gift to get for the person who has everything, but what to get for a public park marking its first birthday strikes one as being an even more taxing conundrum.
Last Thursday, some 200 people descended on Gan Hashalom (Peace Park) in French Hill’s Rehov Abba Berdiczew to celebrate the public space’s first year of verdant and recreational existence.
In truth, it was less a matter of making sure the birthday facility had a good time and more a golden opportunity to get the locals out of their homes and outside for a neighborhood get-together.
“We wanted to generate an atmosphere of activity, that there’s something happening in French Hill, and in Jerusalem in general,” says Itai Litman, one of the people behind the idea of the birthday happening. Litman says the need for different programs and activities for local residents is definitely there and, judging by recent experience – even before the park’s birthday bash – people in the area are up for it.
“We had an activity for families and small children at the community center in French Hill about three weeks ago on a Shabbat,” he says.
“We had a bike ride along the route of the light rail as far as the Old City and back, and other stuff. About 150 people turned out for it. There was a real sense of community and togetherness.”
Litman was savvy enough to realize that it wasn’t enough just to announce the park’s milestone, but he also had to offer people something tangible and fun.
“Last month there was a fire that started near Ma’aleh Adumim and went almost all the way to the park,” he recounts. “The firefighters saved the park, and I thought we should find a way of thanking them. I believe that every child still dreams of becoming a fireman, so I asked the fire department if they could bring a fire engine to the park and the firemen could talk to local kids about what they do and show them the fire engine.”
That duly went down a treat last Thursday.
Volunteers from Hanoar Ha’oved Vehalomed were also on call at the park and put on a range of fun activities to keep the younger members of the crowd amused and entertained. And a local yoga instructor provided some good breathing and healthy stretching instruction for interested parties.
There was also some musical entertainment.
“A few days before the party, I received a call from a man who said his daughter plays the flute and that she and a friend wanted to play at the event,” Litman adds. “There is a really good feeling to the whole thing. People want to come together and share things. We need to encourage that.”
Litman says, however, that he didn’t want things to get too formal or professional. “It’s a neighborhood event, so we didn’t want things to be too organized. We wanted to have a sort of go-with-the-flow spirit to the event.”
French Hill Young Neighborhood Project manager Na’ama Katz was also enthused by last week’s events at the park. “The great thing about the party is that it was totally organized by the local residents,” she says. Katz would also like to see more cultural events taking place in French Hill. “Of course, people can go to places like the Jerusalem Theater, but that’s not the kind of activities we’re talking about. We’re talking about cultural activities for children, so that parents can find fun and rewarding things for their kids to do in the afternoons.”
Although French Hill has a sizable Arab population, Katz says that the birthday gathering was not specifically designed to bring local Jews and Arabs together. “That was not the idea of this particular event, although we have had other activities in which local Jewish and Arab residents participated.”
Katz and the other local community organizations are looking to put on more programs like the Gan Hashalom party. “On Shabbat, especially in the morning and the afternoon, many parents are desperate to find something for their kids to do. We now run a program called Abu Yoyo, with all sorts of workshops and activities for kids. It keeps them happy and interested and solves a problem for the parents.”
The Shabbat programs take place in various public venues in the area, such as Janusz Korczak School and other parks. The next program for children will take place on August 20, although the venue has yet to be determined.
She says she was pleasantly surprised by last Thursday’s turnout. “To be honest, I expected fewer people to turn up, but there is evidently a powerful need for such fun, free events here.
People need to get out and meet other locals within a loose, not overly structured framework. We’ll do our best to keep them coming.”