Peggy Cidor’s round-up of city affairs.

Firgun is not always an easy task, and is probably the reason why it has become a day to mark in our public calendar.

The long-abandoned Solel Boneh building on King George Avenue is finally undergoing renovations (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The long-abandoned Solel Boneh building on King George Avenue is finally undergoing renovations
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Nicofouros was a Greek Orthodox monk who, in the 19th century, began to purchase plots located on the western side of the Old City. On these plots, he planted olive trees and vineyards; apparently he understood that a day would come when the plots would have a lot of importance and economic value. Today, they are located between Mamilla and Talbiyeh, and belong to the Greek Orthodox Church.
To learn more about this visionary monk and the extraordinary stories behind his activities and today’s situation, join the next “Al Hamakom” guided tour on Thursday, July 28, from 5 to 7 p.m., starting at Bloomfield Park (near the King David Hotel) and ending at the Independence Park. To register for the tour:
‘Firgun’ Day
Firgun means the act of sharing or even contributing to someone else’s pleasure or fortune, with a purely generous heart and without jealousy. It’s not always an easy task, and is probably the reason why it has become a day to mark in our public calendar. This year it was Sunday July 17, and is scheduled as an annual event, to be celebrated everywhere in the world – through social media of course. So next year, pick a person or a group that, in your opinion, deserves some firgun attention and post it on your Facebook – any language is fine, with a few explanations to accompany your choice.
Leadership mission
A Yad Vashem leadership mission has concluded this year’s week-long mission – first a journey to Poland followed by a sojourn in Israel, to learn about the behind-the-scenes work of the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. At the closing event in Yad Vashem’s Valley of the Communities, Education Minister Naftali Bennett said “Yad Vashem is shaping the future of Holocaust remembrance.”
His appreciation was echoed by Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev, who praised the young leadership component of the mission for taking initiative and interest in Holocaust remembrance and education: “Yad Vashem is committed to a future in which Holocaust remembrance remains relevant, and the continuation of meaningful commemoration of the Holocaust is guaranteed for generations to come – and you are that future.”
Man of vision
It was up in the air for some time, but last week it became official – city councilman Yossi Daitch (United Torah Judaism) went public on his plan to run for mayor in the October 2018 election. This is an interesting development, since for the moment the haredi sector is officially united behind city councilman Moshe Lion, who ran a losing campaign against Mayor Nir Barkat. Lion was the candidate of the haredi sector in 2013, and since he decided to remain in the city, he is still the ultra-Orthodox candidate of choice.
Daitch was deputy mayor for half a term, according to the internal agreements of the haredi list, and was replaced a month ago by current deputy mayor Yitzhak Pindrus. Sources in the haredi list at city council say that for the moment there is no backing whatsoever for Daitch’s initiative, and as usual in this sector, the decision as to who is representing the haredim at city council or even in the mayoral position is still far from being decided upon.
Less music at the square
A positive local initiative or a brutal affront to the rights of the residents to have a quiet night? The opposing sides of the argument concerning Music Square, located in the Nahalat Shiva neighborhood close to the city center, never stop quarreling. Last week, the local affairs court ruled that the square could – as any other public space – be used for open performances and music events, but not on a regularly scheduled basis. The municipality backs the initiative run by millionaire and entrepreneur Laurent Levy, who installed a spot for music events there despite the opposition of many residents.
City councilwoman Laura Wharton leads the opposition to the project, trying to at least reduce the number of events and their length; she has obtained, through the appeal submitted to the court by former city legal adviser Yossi Havilio, a partial achievement with the decision of Justice Nava Ben-Or, who ruled to reduce the number of events.
The New Gate
Extensive renovation and upgrading work will start soon at the New Gate (between the Jaffa and Damascus Gates) run by the Moriah subsidiary company, the Jerusalem Affairs and Tourism ministries, the Jerusalem Development Authority and the municipality. The total cost for the work that will improve access to the Old City and enhance it as a tourist attraction is estimated at NIS 10 million.
The project includes turning the narrow street from the gate into a mall, with coffee shops and restaurants, galleries and tourist attractions. Because it is the closest gate to the Christian Quarter, there is an urgent need to develop and upgrade it as a major tourist area.
Flags on my city
Unlike in former years, already this past Sunday the municipality began displaying Gay Pride flags along the path of the parade scheduled for July 21 (rather than a few hours before the parade). A large and unprecedented interest in the parade and what it symbolizes has been felt this year, for several reasons. Firstly the memory of Shira Banki, who was stabbed during last year’s parade and succumbed to her injuries three days later, has moved many Jerusalem residents to join this year, some of them for the first time.
On top of this, recent declarations from some prominent rabbis against those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender have also brought many to decide that this time they should be on the side of the community as a means of protesting these declarations.
At press time, it was still not clear how many people would take part, but sources at the Jerusalem Open House say that an unprecedented number of people, many of them not locals, were expected to attend. As for the flags, they seem to be the result of this year’s special atmosphere around the parade and the personal intervention of city council member Itai Gutler.
Meanwhile, Jerusalem’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Aryeh Stern has asked the municipality to consider avoiding hanging the pride flags near the Great Synagogue. At press time, Mayor Nir Barkat had declared he was not going to join the parade to avoid hurting the feelings of religious residents, while emphasizing that the LGBT community’s rights, including the right to march in the parade, are not in question and must be secured.
Up to the Mount
Ramadan is behind us, but it is interesting to note that this year the municipality tried to improve the conditions for Muslim visitors to al-Aksa Mosque during the festival. In a joint project of the municipality and the Transportation Ministry, special buses shuttled pilgrims and worshipers from checkpoints around the city to the mosque. “Until now, the situation on the ground was very difficult – with pirate vans and private initiatives which caused a lot of traffic trouble and were not easy for the visitors who had to walk part of the way,” says city council member Fleur Hassan-Nahum, head of the council’s transportation committee. The project’s estimated cost was some NIS 470,000 and it seems all the parties are satisfied.
The Blue Line
The Blue Line, the second light rail line planned, is raising a lot of apprehension and opposition regarding part of its path. At a special meeting on July 18 at the Ginot Ha’ir local council, between representatives of the residents and of city hall, some new decisions were made. The residents have submitted a few alternative proposals for the controversial segment passing through Emek Refaim Street. “Some of them are interesting, others don’t seem realistic,” says councilwoman Hassan-Nahum, who requested the meeting.
One of the most important meeting outcomes was the decision that from now on, all debates about the German Colony segment of the line will be done through the transportation committee at city council. Another meeting is scheduled for July 26, to update residents on project progress.
Meanwhile, Ginot Ha’ir director Shaike El-Ami, who coordinates the entire project, this past Sunday submitted a special request to the mayor to postpone for at least six months all project planning, until things are clarified and settled between the residents, the municipality, the local council and the Transportation Ministry.
Arnona effect
Is the city council’s recent decision to double municipal tax (arnona) meant to affect “ghost” buildings or just a coincidence? Whatever the reason behind it, the long deserted and very neglected Solel Boneh building on King George Avenue (opposite the Jewish Agency compound) is undergoing extensive renovations.
The six-story beautiful, modern structure built in 1957 by architect Reuven Strossler, which was inhabited by squatters during the summer 2011 social justice protests, was until some 10 years ago still property of the Jewish Agency. The building was sold to a private entrepreneur in the framework of an attempt to save the financial situation of the large construction company owned by the Jewish Agency, and is now undergoing extensive renovations to become a large hotel.