This week in Jerusalem

Smooth ride? The light rail will not be carrying passengers on April 17.

Jerusalem light rail 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jerusalem light rail 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Little mosque at Kikar Safra?
Muslim employees of the municipality have asked Zion Dahan, the head of the employees’ committee, to give them a room in which to say their prayers. Dahan says this is a basic right, not to mention that the current situation has become untenable, “with so many Arab employees who kneel down to pray in the corridors of the municipality during working hours.”
There are no official numbers, but it is estimated that at least 1,000 of the municipality’s employees are Muslims. This is not the first time that such a request has been made (the last time was during Teddy Kollek’s term, and it was rejected by the haredi representatives on the city council). Today’s coalition on the city council has even more haredi representatives, but at least two of them have admitted – off the record – that it would be difficult to justify why they would reject the request. “After all, observant Jewish employees and visitors at Kikar Safra have a synagogue at their disposal, so why not a mosque?” says one of the representatives.
A theatrical venue
Last Friday was a particularly festive day for many people in the city. After some 10 years of concerted effort, a home for three local theater companies was finally inaugurated. Beit Mazia, named after the original owners of the structure located behind Hamashbir (on Rehov Mesilat Yesharim), was completely renovated and will house the Jerusalem Theater Company, the Incubator Group and the Psik Theater, which have been putting on performances for years. The house was built and inhabited by Dr.
Aharon Mazia, a talmudist and a doctor who came from Belarus at the end of the 19th century and opened his home to Jews and non-Jews alike, and whose major work was the first Hebrew medical dictionary. The project was made possible by the personal involvement of and a grant from Martin Weil, head of the Beracha Foundation and former director of the Israel Museum.
Mayor Nir Barkat, who attended the inauguration ceremony, gave the project the green light when he adopted the position of opposition members such as Pepe Allalu and the director of the Lev Ha’ir community council, Uri Amedi, who were fiercely against using the building for two haredi schools. Haredi representatives did not attend the inauguration but have already expressed their opposition to Beit Mazia’s being open on Shabbat.
Driving a hard bargain
The light rail saga is far from over. Although the light rail was slated to begin carrying passengers this coming Sunday, it has now been confirmed that this will not happen until at least May 1. The 80 rail drivers now say they want better salary conditions and have threatened that if their demands are not met, they may go on strike. For the moment, the drivers are getting organized as a recognized committee within the Histadrut, whose head of the Jerusalem district, Danny Ben-Sheetrit, has already expressed his support.
A Holy Fire in the camera
For the first time, Jerusalem Capital Studios will produce a live broadcast of the traditional Holy Fire ceremony held annually at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City. The production will be broadcast for Russian Channel 1, transmitting the entire ceremony to millions of Orthodox Russian Christians. The production will include a mobile control unit inside the church, eight cameras and heavy lighting equipment. Thirty production crew members of the JCS will work with 15 Russian production teams on the other side of the world to allow for a successful broadcast, which will show some pleasant pictures from Israel rather than the explosive footage usually shown on the news.
The ceremony will take place on April 23 during Pessah, when the Old City is packed with visitors from here and abroad.
Peace project
If you notice in the next few days beautifully designed glass bottles of oil, these are the results of a no-less beautiful interfaith project. A group of young Israelis and Palestinians got together to produce a line of oil, which is a result of a joint effort to work together instead of boycotting each other. Ro’i Mordekovich, a student at the Hebrew University in conflict resolution; Nur Abu Katta, a student in European classics from Bethlehem; Yael Gidinian, a religious student in Middle Eastern studies from Jerusalem; and Yassin Muhamad, a social activist from Galilee, bought the first batch of olive oil from farmers in Tulkarm, refined it themselves under the supervision of the Italian Agriculture Ministry, and bottled it in 500 glass bottles from Hebron.
Oil of Peace, made from Palestinian olives and manufactured by Israelis and Palestinians, is sold in special grocery stores, not for a profit, to enable young Jews and Arabs to work together on a traditional product that can symbolize peace.
Seven out of nine
The municipality has, in contradiction to an earlier agreement, registered an official complaint with the police against seven of the nine employees of the haredi education department suspected of inappropriate work ethics. The nine employees, mostly high-ranking officials in haredi education, were followed and filmed while they were allegedly spending their working hours on personal matters.
At a first hearing at the director-general’s offices, in the presence of Zion Dahan, the head of the municipality’s employees’ committee, the nine were required to resign immediately or face a police investigation. But after intensive talks between the haredi representatives and director-general Yossi Heiman – and, sources say, with Mayor Nir Barkat – an understanding was reached last Tuesday that nothing would be done until after Pessah.
On Monday morning, seven of the nine employees were informed that official complaints had been made. Since then, the haredi benches have been stirring up trouble. They deny any decision by the haredi parties to leave the coalition but are sending Barkat clear messages. For example, at the city council meeting last Thursday, they prevented the mayor from opening the session by refusing to arrive for about an hour, thus preventing him from having the required quorum.