Movie time

Screening movies on Shabbat has become a high-profile point of contention.

Greater Kiryat Hayovel (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Greater Kiryat Hayovel
Legendary Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek once said that this city is so high-profile and important in the eyes of the world that even moving a tree from its place requires a special meeting of the UN Security Council. Last Friday, we indeed had a glimpse of what it means to live in a city where anything you do, including the most innocuous act, may unchain powerful passions on the ground – and these are fertile grounds for politics.
Kiryat Hayovel has become a kind of battlefield for the character of Shabbat in the city. Once a center for blue-collar workers and olim, the only neighborhood built without Jerusalem stone building facades (due to the rush to house waves of immigrants in the 1950s) has become a preferred neighborhood for haredi homebuyers.
Close to religious neighborhoods such as Bayit Vagan and Har Nof, it remains attractively affordable in terms of both renting and purchasing.
With the growth in the number of haredi families there, tension and suspicion have transformed the neighborhood into a stronghold to be conquered by each side. One of the ways activist secular residents sought to bolster their position was the creation of the Kiryat Hayovel Hofshit group, which promotes public events on Shabbat and tracks ultra-Orthodox kindergarten and synagogue openings in the neighborhood.
The neighborhood’s local council has been one of the leading actors in this “battle” – including attempts to prevent new elections to its board for fear of being overtaken by haredi residents, known for greater organizational capacities than the secular sector. After intervention by Mayor Nir Barkat, elections were set for December (instead of this month, as previously planned) and the tension is escalating.
Screening movies on Shabbat (evenings and mornings) at the area’s Isaac and Rose Taylor Community Center has become a high-profile point of contention.
Like the trees that Kollek couldn’t move without creating a worldwide ruckus, screening a family movie as a community service has become a flashpoint for belligerent parties in the neighborhood.
A new frontier was crossed this past Shabbat. A direct order to prevent Friday evening’s planned screening was sent from Barkat’s office to the community center director. The screening was canceled and replaced by an evening of song and music on the grass near the center – an activity that also desecrated Shabbat.
A key issue here is the position of the local councils and community centers in Barkat’s administration. Once the flagship of civil activism, the councils and community centers seem to have been reduced to extensions of the city council, which, as we all know, is strictly influenced by the political parties.
The haredi representatives in Barkat’s coalition – 13 members, plus three additional religious members – are dedicated to preventing public Shabbat desecration.
For them, Kiryat Hayovel calls for a Stalingrad-like stand that should not be abandoned under any circumstances.
Beyond the basic question regarding the rights of residents to decide for themselves how they spend their leisure time, this incident has managed to reunite the secular-traditional parties – yet with very little success so far. City council member (and sole representative of the opposition) Laura Wharton, a longtime supporter of the secular side there, declared that “this behavior of the mayor is not only infuriating but illegal. Certainly the mayor does not have the right to determine what kind of entertainment is provided to the residents.”
Whether Barkat has that right or not, the facts on the ground are that, at least with regard to Shabbat movies in Kiryat Hayovel, he has taken the right, whether because he genuinely believes these are the conditions of his coalition or because, as some have hinted, he knows that on the national political field – his next target – he will need the support of the haredim.