Making room for Fleur

"For the moment I am mostly learning."

New city council member Fleur Hassan-Nahoum (photo credit: FACEBOOK)
New city council member Fleur Hassan-Nahoum
(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
Between his study obligations at the rabbinical beit midrash at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and his position as spiritual leader of the Achva Bakerem community in his Beit Hakerem neighborhood, Tamir Nir – until a short time ago deputy mayor representing the Yerushalmim list at city council – has very little free time.
Over a cup of coffee and some bread and jam, taken at one of the coffee shops with alternative Hashgacha Pratit kosher certification – one of the major projects he supports here – he finds the time to say more about his experience as a city councilman and his plans for the future.
Nir was born in Gush Etzion and grew up as part of the national-religious stream, but today is reaching the end of his studies to become a Reform rabbi. Installed in Beit Hakerem, one of the city’s most secular neighborhoods, Nir insists that nothing he does is aimed at going against anything or anyone – including the religious groups or even haredim (who are increasing in number in his neighborhood) – but rather focused on an ongoing attempt to increase positive attitudes and reach out to those who may be, at first sight, his opponents.
Asked to give his view of what will happen if Mayor Nir Barkat indeed leaves his position for the Knesset, Nir says at first that he is far from being so sure that Barkat is ready to leave Safra Square at the end of this tenure (October 2018), as everyone around him assumes. “It’s true that this is his plan, but nothing is sure for the moment, and he might well decide to remain here another five years. So nothing is settled yet.”
A mayor largely supported by the haredim is not his first choice, but he adds that “there are haredim who play fair, and there are secular people with whom I couldn’t work on city affairs. I will not follow a prejudiced line.”
Nir and Rabbi Aaron Leibowitz (co-founder of Hashgacha Pratit) have been the two representatives of the Yerushalmim list since the 2013 election, moving up from one seat (held by Rachel Azaria, the founder of the movement and the list) to two. While it is no mean feat for a movement that doesn’t have any political backing, Nir admits that the expectations were for a more spectacular rise in the number of seats at city council – a result that, eventually, went to the closest thing to a rival to Yerushalmim – meaning to Hitorerut (which made it from one to four seats in the same election).
But there is more, since right from the first months following the 2013 election, talks went on – first off the record and later official – to bring Itay Gutler, the representative of the Labor Party’s joint list with Meretz to Yerushalmim. However, for various reasons (including the refusal of Labor to allow it), Gutler didn’t cross party lines until just a few weeks ago – too late to stop the process already under way – namely the rotation inside the list, with Fleur Hassan-Nahoum to replace Nir, and Yerushalmim losing the title of deputy mayor (with a salary) to Hagit Moshe, who replaced recently exiting city council member Shmuel Shkedi (United Jerusalem).
At the end of this game of musical chairs, not only had Yerushalmim lost the title of deputy mayor, but Nir had to leave, according to interim agreements… and also because, as he says honestly, he couldn’t afford to continue to represent city affairs at such a high level without any salary or compensation.
Amid the various issues he took upon himself during his years at Safra Square, Nir is particularly proud of the work he did to promote the identification and improved status of buildings classified for preservation, as well as the extensive activity to improve city sustainability – via bicycle and walking paths, recycling, “and more specifically, the founding of communities that take their residents from the place of receiving [what the authorities chose to give] to the point where the residents think, debate and decide what is the best for them.”
Nir adds that he believes totally in community and its power to change things on the ground, “to make life better,” and says this is the major task he is planning to take upon himself now that he is no longer at city council. “I am planning to do even more than I did up to now, anything that will reinforce the community, the sustainability of the community and the city.”
Replacing Nir is Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, the daughter of the late first mayor of Gibraltar. She made aliya in 2001, in the midst of the second intifada, and joined Yerushalmim – which she praised for its capacity to reach out to everyone in Jerusalem, from across the political and social spectrum.
It’s been a month since Hassan-Nahoum became a city council member, and thus far, she says she has experienced a generous, friendly and warm welcome by all. As an observant person, she was aware that being religious and a woman dedicated to liberal issues was not exactly the position most preferred by haredi representatives – as was the case with Yerushalmim founder Azaria – but adds that “apparently I am still a kind of an enigma for some of them, and in any case, I feel largely welcomed by all.”
Hassan-Nahoum points out that she was born into politics, via her father in Gibraltar. “I was born into this atmosphere of public duty,” she recounts, “and I’ve learned to know its positive and beautiful aspects as well as the more ugly ones. I know what politics means.”
As for Barkat, Hassan-Nahoum says she is impressed by his capacity to find solutions to difficult situations before they develop into full-blown conflicts, and that again, the welcome she received was warm and generous.
“I believe there will come the time for conflicts and disagreements and less harmonious moments, and I have a lot to learn. Tamir Nir had a great quality of work and good relationships with his peers in the council and with [city] professionals, and I plan to reach the same level.
“So for the moment I am mostly learning.”