Five notable new developments in Jerusalem over the past year

From a world-class arena to the largest cineplex in the capital, the holy city had a productive 12 months.

Cinema City Jerusalem (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Cinema City Jerusalem
The past year was an eventful one for the capital in terms of welcome new additions. Here is a list of the top five.
Cinema City
Despite a lost legal battle to keep it open on Shabbat, Cinema City, the largest movie theater in the city, opened to great fanfare in February. The 15-screen, NIS 125 million complex, located above the National Government Center parking lot, was a lightning rod in the city’s religious tug-ofwar after its owners were given a building permit in 2010 with the stipulation that it remain closed on Shabbat.
That edict, issued by the Finance Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality to the private entrepreneurs who constructed it on government land, led to a protracted and heated debate about the perceived religious polarization of the city.
Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkowitz (Jerusalem Awakening) organized multiple protests to persuade the government to keep the multiplex open during the Shabbat, including two on the day of its official opening.
Nonetheless, Cinema City has been embraced and well patronized by thousands of satisfied customers who regularly go to see new films in the voluminous state-of-the-art theater.
The Payis Arena
The largest sports, cultural and recreational center of its kind in the Middle East, the Payis Arena was unveiled this month. Located next to Teddy Stadium in the Malha neighborhood, the cutting-edge mega-complex, which is wheelchair accessible, features an Olympic-sized swimming pool, ice skating rink, a bowling alley, fitness room, numerous activities rooms and a medical sports center, among other amenities.
According to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, construction costs totaled NIS 400 million, of which Mifal Hapayis financed NIS 281m. The arena has eight levels, is 37 meters high and goes 15 meters below ground. With a maximum capacity of 15,000 visitors, it has 11,600 seats, 18 galleries and 16 VIP boxes. Its centerpiece is a 200-square-meter video screen and scoreboard suspended eight meters above the floor.
Additionally, Barkat said the arena meets the International Basketball Federation standards for international games, including Euroleague and EuroBasket games.
Natalie Portman’s directorial debut
Hollywood met the Holy Land in February when Academy Award-winning actress Natalie Portman came to Jerusalem to direct and star in a film adaptation of Amos Oz’s memoir, A Tale of Love and Darkness. The film tells the story of the author’s mother’s mental illness and his father’s attempts to help her in 1940s Jerusalem at the end of the British Mandate.
In an effort to make Jerusalem more attractive for filming, the municipality gave Portman a grant of NIS 2.55 million from the Jerusalem Film Fund to direct, write and star in the film.
Portman, who was born in Jerusalem, had spoken repeatedly in interviews over the years about wanting to direct and act in a film version of Oz’s seminal work in Israel. To the delight of many aspiring Israeli actors, Portman hired dozens of local extras for numerous scenes.
During filming, a small street near Mahaneh Yehuda was given a starring role for several days after being retrofitted with antique cars and donkeys for the movie’s period-based set. Despite reports in the media that residents of the area complained about the filming, many interviewed by The Jerusalem Post expressed wonderment, curiosity and excitement about the project.
City street named for Yeshayahu Leibowitz
Despite nearly calling off a street-naming to honor the late Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz in the Givat Ram neighborhood, due to his controversial political leanings, Mayor Nir Barkat passed legislation for the eponymous street in April.
An internationally recognized scientist specializing in biochemistry – and former professor at Hebrew University, who also served as editor of the Encyclopaedia Hebraica – Leibowitz died in Jerusalem in 1994 at the age of 91.
Perhaps as notable as his achievements, however, was his deeply polarizing political ideology. Leibowitz was a staunch critic of the IDF who advocated for separation of religion and state, and insisted that Israel relinquish territory captured in the Six Day War and cease settlement construction.
Due to protests by right-wing politicians over his outspoken views, Barkat temporarily rescinded the honor. However, after putting the measure to a vote once again several weeks later, the city council approved the recommendation, and the street was officially named.
The committee also approved a street-naming for Ornan Yekutieli, who died at age 45 in April 2001 while awaiting a heart transplant in the United States. Yekutieli was a social activist, Jerusalem politician and founder of the NGO Free People. He served for 15 years on the city council Meretz faction and Jerusalem Now faction, as well as a deputy mayor for former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek from 1993 to 1989.
Refreshing urban renewal
In August, the Jerusalem Municipality unveiled a refreshing interactive urban exhibit in the Generali Square, combining artistry with respite from the summer’s sweltering heat. The installation features smooth and colorful mushroom-like seating for up to 45 people amid ground sprinklers to keep visitors cool. The prototype for the installation was introduced during the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Mayor Nir Barkat praised the 80-squaremeter exhibit, built adjacent to the light rail, as part of a large-scale artistic urban renewal project initiated by the municipality that will include about a dozen similar interactive installations throughout the city.
“This is a unique project in Jerusalem, created to revive and enhance key points around the city center by turning them into fun meeting places for the city’s residents,” the mayor said at the unveiling.