Saving the green spaces

After rumors of Shalem College’s possible takeover of a community garden, J'lem residents have rallied together to save ‘green’ cultural center.

German colony garden 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
German colony garden 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Once again, residents of the German Colony have mobilized in an attempt to preserve the quality of life in their neighborhood. This time, they are organizing to save their organic community garden located on the grounds of the city’s Museum of Natural History on Rehov Mohilever in the German Colony.
Late last week, residents received word that the Jerusalem Municipality is considering turning over the museum building and grounds (after the museum moves to its new location) to the Shalem Center for its planned new liberal arts college. The municipality had promised residents that the historic museum building, a century-old former mansion, would be turned into a “green” center to work in conjunction with their community garden.
After getting wind late last week of a meeting between the municipality and the Shalem Center that had been scheduled for December 19, within three days, residents sent more than 400 faxes and e-mails to the municipality protesting this idea. The meeting was postponed and rescheduled for early January.
For the past nine years, with the help of the ICCC (International Cultural and Community Center) and the Ginot Ha’ir Community Council, German Colony residents have worked to turn the neglected front yard of the museum into a flourishing organic community garden and recycling/composting center. They raised money on their own to restore the original water cistern, water channel and irrigation system. They created ponds and installed sitting areas with benches. There is also a petting corner.
The building is also used for the MariTani program, a volunteer tutoring program for high-school students, named in honor of Tani Goodman, a local teen who died in a tragic accident. The program, which requires those being tutored to volunteer in another project, won the Mayor’s Prize for an outstanding volunteer project.
“The entire area is being used,” states Jerry Goodman, a local resident and father of Tani Goodman. “[The] Amcha [program] brings Holocaust survivors to work in the garden as therapy as does Or L’Nefesh with the mentally ill. We have community activities and, now that the area has been restored, people have even started holding weddings and bar mitzvas on the grounds.”
“We, the community, volunteered to build these gardens,” Goodman continues. “This area is the pearl of the German Colony and it belongs to the community. It is an example of a neighborhood coming together to restore a place on its own.”
Ora Simchovitz is another local volunteer. She started working in the organic garden following a car accident several years ago.
“This was my rehab,” she says. “This place is amazing. We planned the garden so as to restore it to what it was in the past. We have a central path where we grow organic herbs and vegetables and we have a greenhouse. Groups come here from all over Israel to see what we did and learn how to do the same in their communities.”
The community garden has been visited by Mayor Nir Barkat and Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur, as well as other municipal officials.
Tsur, a huge proponent of community gardens in Jerusalem, is pushing for the “green” center. She says that Manhi (the Jerusalem Education Authority), which is in charge of the museum, has plans and a donor for this “green” center and wants the planned center to be part of its efforts to include environmental education in all Jerusalem schools. The municipality’s strategic department, unaware of these plans, began talking to the Shalem Center about the museum area. She also says that the museum area is not large enough to meet the needs of the Shalem Center. She hopes that the issue will be resolved at the January meeting and the “green” center will be established in the museum building.
The municipal spokesman’s office told In Jerusalem, “The Shalem Center has made a request to set up an educational center on the area of the museum and the community garden. In parallel, we are exploring the possibility of setting up a “green growth” center to be run by the municipality. A decision on this subject will be taken in the coming weeks.”
The Shalem Center’s vice president for communications, Suzanne Balaban, said, “Yes, we are working with Nir Barkat and the Jerusalem Municipality to find facilities for the first liberal arts college in Israel. We are discussing a number of different sites for the Shalem College campus. The Museum of Natural History is one of the sites being considered. There is no contradiction between these plans and the future of the community garden. Liberal arts colleges are especially concerned in investing resources in beautiful green gardens and open spaces for the students and the communities in which they live, and should these plans materialize, we would look forward to working together with German Colony residents to create these spaces.”