This Week in Jerusalem

Peggy Cidor’s round-up of city affairs

Jerusalem light rail 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Jerusalem light rail 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Educational moves
Two pillars of the city’s education system have left their positions. The president of the parents association in the Jerusalem region, Etti Binyamin, ended a decade of hard work in the field last week. Despite serious disagreements with Mayor Nir Barkat (which ended up in court and resulted in a NIS 40,000 fine for Binyamin on grounds of defamation) during the last two years of her mandate, she has declared that her departure is simply the result of “great fatigue.” It is probably also due to her own children having finished their studies at schools in the city.
The second change could, according to sources at Safra Square, presage a small earthquake inside Barkat’s administration. Danny Bar-Giora, head of the education administration at the municipality and long considered one of the closest high-ranking officials to the mayor, resigned last week. Bar-Giora sent a letter of resignation to the mayor, which Binyamin and additional sources at the municipality described as a “vibrant support letter for the mayor and his policy,” but this is nevertheless the first serious – and perhaps even embarrassing – resignation in Barkat’s administration. So far, Bar-Giora has not provided any explanation, but Deputy Mayor Pepe Allalu has expressed concern that the public should receive one so as to prevent speculation. So far, neither side has answered Allalu’s request.
The Arena, light-rail style
It seems that monumental construction projects in the capital have in common an unfortunate fate – they all suffer from repeated delays. After the light rail scandalously multiplied delays – which, considering the poor results it has shown since becoming operational, were not so urgent after all – the Arena Stadium is now following suit. Officially – at least for now – the huge sports project planned for the city’s Malha neighborhood has been delayed until January 2014. The former official date was January 2013, but that now seems ancient history.
Not that Jerusalem doesn’t have enough venues for sporting events, but this one was being prepared for the Maccabiah Games opening (scheduled for July 2013), which Mayor Nir Barkat wanted to host here. Well, the Maccabiah will apparently have to find another place to stay – but the question of when, and at what price, the Arena will finally be ready remains unanswered so far. Right now, the additional – and unexpected – sum needed to finish the project is NIS 100 million, but none of the parties involved can promise that that will be the end. Sources at Safra Square have pointed out that January 2014 is beyond this mayor’s mandate. True, Barkat hasn’t announced that he is running for another term, but he also hasn’t said he isn’t. One thing is for sure, say the sources: The Arena has been wiped off the list of achievements this administration can claim in Barkat’s next campaign, a fact that might adversely impact its chances of survival – or at least of holding on until all the inquiries about the project’s unexpected cost are complete.
Budgeting memory
Part of our present is remembering the past – in this city’s case, remembering those who have paid with their lives, whether as soldiers or as victims of terror. About a year ago, the municipality decided to establish a website dedicated to their memory. The site contains the details of each of the fallen, as well as personal documentaries, provided by their families and the IDF.
The topic has even a portfolio-holder on the City Council, Yair Gabai, formerly a member of the National Religious Party list and today an independent representative. Gabai was horrified to find out recently, through one of the victims’ family members, that the municipality had neither prepared nor approved the budget necessary to pay the company that maintains the site.
Considering that the budget required is not a heavy burden – NIS 15,000 a year – he considers the situation unacceptable.
According to the brother of one of the terror victims, who did not wish to be identified, this could mean the site will be closed down – “a real disgrace for us and for the city,” he said.
Foreign landlords – end of game
Following a request from the municipality based on a council decision, foreign owners of properties in the city are facing less advantageous conditions. The municipality’s position, that foreign owners of properties must either pay higher taxes or rent out their houses, received approval earlier this week at the government meeting that voted on the Trajtenberg Committee’s report. As a result, foreign owners – the majority of them Jews living abroad who rarely visit more than a few weeks a year – will have to choose between paying double the arnona (property tax), and adding their properties to the pool of real estate on the rental market. The city’s administration believes that putting the “ghost houses,” as the local council has nicknamed them, on the market will increase the amount of available housing and lower rent rates in the city. Let’s all hope for the best, for quite a few real estate experts have already predicted that this decision may have the opposite effect and lead foreign owners to avoid holding property in Jerusalem.
Art for the holidays
Ahead of Passover, the artists of the 12 Agrippas Gallery, a community art gallery located on Agrippas Street, are organizing a special sale of art works at affordable prices, with 30 percent of the proceeds going toward the gallery’s community activities in the Lev Ha’ir and Mahaneh Yehuda neighborhoods.
The sale itself will take place at the home of Lena and Oded Zeidel, 40/4 Tel Hai Street, where the gallery’s artists are opening a studio for selling paintings, photos and additional works. The sale will run for three days: Thursday, March 22, from 9 p.m. until 11 p.m.; Friday, March 23, from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.; and Saturday, March 24, from 1 p.m. until 9 p.m.
The Iranians – not what you think
For those who have always wondered what Iran was like before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, what religion the Iranians had before Islam and what the nature of their relations with the Jewish community was (fairly good, by the way), here is the opportunity to hear (almost) all the answers. Next Wednesday, March 28, between 7:30 and 8:30, the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem will host an evening, in Hebrew, with Dr. Tamar Elam-Gindin, author of A Journey to Iran. Also participating will be Prof. Saul Shaked, the 2000 Israel Prize winner in linguistics. Entry fees are included in the museum ticket (NIS 40 for adults and 20 for seniors).
A new weekly fair of vintage clothes, antiques and artwork will take place at the Even Israel mall (connecting King George and Agrippas streets) each Thursday from next week and until the end of April. Between 12 noon and 10 p.m., “Retroshalayim” will enable vintage and antiques aficionados to find affordable pieces just a few steps from the city center. Visitors can even bring their own pieces for assessment by an expert, free of charge. And for those who get hungry from hanging around too long, Arkadia, one of the city’s famous restaurants, will open its garden and offer fresh organic products.