Rival teams?

The ultra-Orthodox city councillors are opposing the new Sportek in Ramot on modesty grounds, and in response, the mayor has delayed a decision on building new haredi kindergartens.

Sportek center at Herzliya (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Sportek center at Herzliya
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
There is an old joke in which a man calls the police one night, complaining that his neighbor across the way is scandalizing him by standing in her room completely naked each evening. The policeman who arrives tells the complainer he fails to see anything, but the resident invites him to look through the telescope he has installed on his porch – through which, indeed, the woman is clearly visible.
This joke came to mind for some city council members a week ago Thursday, as some of the haredi representatives explained their decision to vote against the Sportek sports complex project on the slopes of the Ramot neighborhood.
“The rabbis of the haredi Mattersdorf neighborhood [which is not within viewing distance of the projected site] are afraid that members of their community might see some immodest sights,” explained one of them.
“Even with a professional telescope, nobody from Mattersdorf could see the Sportek,” acknowledged another haredi councilman, “but once we get orders from our rabbis, there is nothing we can do.”
The fact is that nobody saw this move coming until the final hour before the city council’s monthly assembly.
Not even Mayor Nir Barkat had really been aware that the haredi members of his coalition intended to vote against the complex. The Sportek project, which is important to Barkat, includes two soccer fields and a football field, and is part of a larger plan to upgrade the Ramot neighborhood.
The project has already undergone changes in the past following requests from the haredi representatives.
Fearing large-scale Shabbat desecration, the representatives managed to get it divided in two, with one part included in the Ramot Country Club (in the non-haredi area of the neighborhood) and the second part being the sports fields in question.
Most of the haredi city council members said, off the record, that they planned to convince their rabbis that the project presented no problems in terms of Shabbat sanctity or the residents’ modesty, and thereby get the rabbis to change their decision.
“But that requires time,” one of them explained to some of Barkat’s closest assistants. “We cannot disobey the rabbis’ rulings, but we will manage to convince them [the haredi city councillors]; it’s just a matter of time.”
Barkat, however – probably still sensitive after last month’s appointment of a Jerusalem affairs minister against his will – wasn’t ready to show any patience. The reply to the 12 United Torah Judaism and Shas members’ vote was immediate and harsh: Barkat decided to withdraw the next item on the council’s agenda, namely the approval of two haredi kindergartens for the Givat Mordechai neighborhood.
The residents of Givat Mordechai, which is still a primarily religious Zionist neighborhood with a small haredi minority, didn’t like the idea of having haredi kindergartens in their midst, to put it mildly – not to mention that according to an expert opinion leaked from the city’s education administration, there is only a need for one kindergarten. Barkat had nevertheless agreed to open the two, but the refusal to approve the Sportek project made him decide on the spur of the moment to remove the whole issue from that meeting’s agenda.
For the moment, war has not been declared; this is just saber-rattling, and may still come to nothing. Both the Sportek and kindergarten issues will probably reappear on the agenda for the council’s next assembly, which is scheduled for the end of the month – not a long enough time to sabotage the two projects.
But as a non-haredi member of Barkat’s coalition remarked, these cases of misunderstanding or unforeseen disagreement from the haredi benches vis-à-vis Barkat’s plans have been happening too often.
“I wonder how long he [Barkat] will take it,” said the councilman. “The [haredi] representatives sometimes seem to forget that they almost lost it all after the 2013 municipal elections, when they chose to support Barkat’s rival. He might finally remember that.”
Asked if that was a warning, the councilman refused to say, but added that “a coalition cannot really work out with unreliable members.”