Getting their house in order

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef’s son Moshe and his wife, Yehudit, are encountering many obstacles in their plan to turn a historic building in Beit Hakerem into their new home.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
The rumors began to spread about a year ago, but today they have become facts. And for some, they are very troubling facts.
Less than a month after the death in October 2013 of the spiritual leader and founder of the Shas movement, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and following the onset of the internal struggles and tensions among the rabbi’s sons and their followers, news about his son Moshe and his wife’s plans to move from the haredi neighborhood of Har Nof to Beit Hakerem began to leak. Until Yosef’s death, Moshe and his wife, Yehudit, had been not only his caretakers but also the only decision-makers regarding the rabbi’s meetings and activities, and they lived in the same house. Upon his death, the first cracks in their prestigious position began to appear, while Hakablan Street, where Yosef, Arye Deri and Eli Yishai lived, became an open battlefield among the belligerent parties, and the couple understood that they would be better off living elsewhere.
But the pair’s most surprising decision about their new address was their choice of Beit Hakerem, which is close to Har Nof but is one of the neighborhoods mostly widely identified with the secular residents of the city. The Yosefs purchased the house on the corner of Herzl Boulevard and Beit Hakerem Street, which is a historic building classified for preservation. The building was a guest house during the first years of the state and later became a home for seniors. About four years ago, the building was acquired by Rabbi Yosef’s family to serve as the center for his kashrut institution (Beit Yosef), as well as the publishing center for his books and his other written works.
The current use of the building has not been warmly welcomed, to put it mildly, by the residents, who fear that this would be a first step in a planned “haredization” of the neighborhood. Off the record, some of the activist residents who are trying to prevent the move say that as long as individual families – haredim or religious – want to move into Beit Hakerem, there are no grounds to oppose it.
But one of them added, “We all know, from what happened in Kiryat Hayovel, that haredim never remain alone for long. After one or two families move in, we will see attempts to open a haredi kindergarten, a yeshiva and so on, and we cannot let that happen.”
Not only the residents are worried but also officials in the neighborhood. City council member and neighborhood resident Laura Wharton has protested against the use of the building several times. She has also tried to prevent the change of its use from a place of residence to a commercial publishing enterprise, but to no avail.
In addition, the local neighborhood council is opposing the planned move, but it seems to have a better argument. The Yosefs plan to demolish a part of the structure and to build, through Tama 38 (the plan for consolidation against earthquakes), two more stories, in which 10 apartments will be constructed.
Officially, nine of the apartments will be sold, and the Yosef couple will move into the 10th. The demolition of a part of the historic building requires approval by the city’s committee for preservation – a request that has no chance of being approved. Besides other considerations, the 10 apartments would have an impact on the already short supply of parking spaces.
For the moment, the deliberations lie in the hands of the relevant committees at Safra Square.
In previous years, when Rabbi Yosef was alive and reigned supreme over his followers and wielded power on the political scene in the country and in the city, the outcome would have been an easy victory for the Yosefs. But today, with the decline of the Shas party, the warring factions within the movement and the minimal number of Shas representatives in Mayor Nir Barkat’s coalition, all options are open.
One thing is certain: The secular residents of Beit Hakerem are eager to prevent any haredization of their neighborhood.